Sunday, October 24, 2010

Experiencing the homeless shelter: no better place to stay.

- "We christians do not only have a ticket to heaven [God willing], but we are also already participating in the party we will find there." - With this words I was trying to explain to a friend of mine that spiritual experience of discovering -already in our midst - that One who is always live-giving; namely the heavenly Father, the resurrected Son, the ever-working Spirit. It is the experience of the kingdom of the loving God being at hand; an experience of the already-here-but-not-quite-fully-yet that infuses all christian life. We are constantly invited to share and grow into the life of God. My friend didn't quite buy my argument, and before departing he came with the teasing suggestion that my volunteering that very same night at a homeless shelter should be like participating of heaven, or was it not what I was saying? Of course it was.

Volunteering overnight at the homeless-shelter run by St Francis Xavier Parish was one of the experiences I myself wanted to live for a long time. For many months I didn't find the time to do this so when the joyful season of lent came I put volunteering at the shelter into my lent project, so as to cut any how-busy-I-am excuses. I'm glad I did it and the experience went very well.

I was first greeted by Jim, who has been in charge of the shelter for almost 20 years, who told me the few rules I had to follow.

Soon afterwards, about 9pm, the men came and we pull out some food and drinks for a light supper. After that some of the men start watching TV on the sofa area. This is when I produced a chess-table out of a closet and soon enough I was playing against one of them. Two games we played and I enjoyed them so much that I cannot recall the last time I had such fun playing.

At about 11pm the lights went off and everyone went to bed. Needless to say that I barely sleep that night. Being a light sleeper I noticed many of the sounds around as well as any casual trip to the restroom. And about 2am someone had to be told to turn off the music that he happened to start listening at, so we can have silence again. Night went on smoothly and I took the opportunity to pray to our loving God in thanksgiving. I was thankful because I could not imagine any better place to stay that night than where I was. Thankful for the gift I was given of an spot close to heaven. In this sense it reminded me so much of my active scouting days where it was so easy to discover the presence of God.

We turn the lights on at 5.30am. Isn't that a crazy early hour? Men where supposed to leave at about 6.30 when a bus picks them up and bring them to a day facility. As breakfast we had some cereals and milk and soon they were all gone. A new day started, and I left the place with many ideas to reflect on and comments to be done, yet these would amount for another post.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why confirmation should be before the age of ten. Part 2

In the previous post I argued that restoring the sacrament of Confirmation before the Eucharist, say at 3rd grade, is good because it erases the misunderstanding that confirmation is about maturity and commitment to the Church. This is, we do not earn or merit our Confirmation, because sacraments are free gifts from God.

Today I will comment on the two remaining points: 1) restoring the order of sacraments makes the relation between them clearer, and 2) makes more coherent the practices of the church across history and time.

1) Relation between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist

When looking at the relation between sacraments it may be opportune to quote Pope Paul VI, who stated the following:
The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and received in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity (CCC 1212).

Confirmation is a completion of Baptism by which we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And, as the Vatican II tells us the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Faith. (Lummen Gentium 11, CCC 1233) So at the end the question we have to ask is the same as Pope Benedict sets in his apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (2007). The Pope Says “Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation.” What do you think is the answer?
As always your comments are very welcomed.

extra notes: some documents including local european councils that (with bad arguments) defended late confirmation age, an schema of the First Vatican Council forcing restoring traditional sacramental order, and comments form Pope Leo XII, can be found here.

extra notes: in the most important documents, like Vatican II constitutions, when mentioned together, Baptism Confirmation and Eucharist appear always in these order.

2) Coherence across time, returning to the origins

Some copy-pasted history will show how we get to the current situation in the western church.

In the early Church the sacraments of initiation were three: Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist. They were celebrated together in a single rite, with a bishop as presider. This was the practice of the Roman Rite up until the 5th or 6th century when bishops could no longer be present at all baptisms, leading to a time of separation between baptism & confirmation. At first, the time of separation was short, but as time went on, the delay for the bishop to arrive grew. Still the Church celebrated the sacraments in the order of Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist until this century.

In 1910, Pope Pius X recognized that children were not being allowed First Communion until the age of twelve to fourteen. He felt that such a denial was contrary to the vision of Jesus who always drew children to himself. Pius X ordered that children be allowed to come to the table of the Eucharist as soon as they could distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary bread. The age was then lowered to around seven. Confirmation was not discussed and therefore the order of sacraments was upset. The reforms of Vatican Council II called the Church to restore the original order of sacraments. This is not without challenges and difficulties. Such a change presumes a deep commitment on the part of the family to nurture the life of the young. Such a commitment means that parents have a need to understand the reasons for change & the ways

By placing the Eucharist before Confirmation Pius X was stressing the importance of the Eucharist in the christian life. Now to stress the Eucharist again shouldn't we lower as well the confirmation age?

extra notes: from the text it seems that CVII would recommend the restored order, when in fact it says only that it needs to be revised: The rite of confirmation is to be revised and the intimate connection which this sacrament has with the whole of Christian initiation is to be more clearly set forth; for this reason it is fitting for candidates to renew their baptismal promises just before they are confirmed. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 71)

2) Coherence across space

a) across western and eastern Catholic Church

In the East, the bishops of the Catholic Church were not so concern about administering confirmation themselves, so the traditional order remained untouched. The Confirmation follow immediately the Baptism and is administered by the priest. (see CCC 290 and 291 for more information)

The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, (...) and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ's Church.

b) across cristian initiation for adults and children

It should also be noted that the Baptism Confirmation Eucharist sequence is the one followed by RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) which requires that children and adults in the catechumenate receive all three sacraments together, even if the children are younger than the age at which the Catholic children of the parish are routinely confirmed and by the Eastern Catholic Churches for infants and adults alike (CCC 1232).

c) but, what about ecumenical relations?

Ecumenical relations with Eastern Orthodox Churches would probably be easy with this change but it remains to be seen how this would affect the Catholic-Anglican ecumenical movement. Maybe in the provinces with both Anglican and Catholic churches one can introduce a (voluntary) solemn proclamation of faith at the age of 16 years old or so, but would it not start the vicious circle again? I think I would rather not do this, but you may have other ideas or comments, which are as always very welcomed.
Hope you enjoyed the post.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Following Christ

For my last class as catechist with the 15-18 years old boys in the parish, last academic year, I started to reflect on what is to be a christian in the light of Lumen Gentium 31, which states that the baptized people are made sharers in the priestly, prophetical and kingly functions of Christ. I ended up writing the following commitment:  

Following our Lord Jesus the Christ, and willing to be moved by the Spirit that God had sent us through Him, I, Marc, offer and pledge my heart to be His heart, as priest, always blessing, always praising, always sharing and presenting the sorrows and joys of the people to the Father;  my voice to be His voice, so I may speak to the world as prophet, challenging the nations and telling them the good news and the beautiful plan of our God; and my hands to be His hands, so love may be concrete and real, receiving and making present, as king, the kingdom of the always loving and caring God. 
Heaven and Earth are full of His Glory!  Alleluia, alleluia! 

I just wanted to share it with you. Please, feel very free to comment. I would very much appreciate it. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why confirmation should be before the age of ten. Part 1

Hello everybody,

Since May 2005, the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has restored the traditional order of the Sacraments of Initiation: first Baptism, second Confirmation, third Eucharist, which will be received at third grade. This very wise movement of bishop Olmsted is well sounded in theology, ecclesiology and pastoral care.

Restoring the sacramental order is a good idea because:
  1. it makes the relation between sacraments clear: Confirmation as a completion, or perfection of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism; and the Eucharist as a source and summit of our faith.
  2. it erases the common misunderstanding that Confirmation is about maturity and adult commitment to the Church, which in turn is an opportunity for a renewal of the youth ministries.
  3. it makes more coherent the practices between eastern and western traditions of church and across history.

Today I will copy-paste some questions and answers regarding point b), which I get from the Diocese of Phenix web page. I very much liked to write about a) first, but since I already have this information at hand I'll go ahead. Next post I will comment on the other points. As always your opinions are very welcomed.

Q: When our children are confirmed prior to First Eucharist, how are they to make an adult commitment to the Church?

A: All sacraments are a gift from our Heavenly Father, who desires to give us His very life, which we call grace. Sacraments are not earned or merited. For this reason, Confirmation should not be perceived as the sacrament of adult commitment to the Church. In fact, the Church even requires priests to confirm infants and children younger than the age of reason when they are in danger of death so that they may receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. An authentic mature commitment to Christ and the Church is expressed in full participation in the Eucharist and apostolic life of the Church. It is not achieved at a single moment but throughout the life-long deepening of our relationship with Christ. This begins in childhood and continues until death.

I'd like to stress: adult commitment to Christ is expressed in fully participation in the Eucaristh and apostolic live of the Church.

Q: Isn't Confirmation a sacrament of maturity that should come after First Eucharist?

A: Not really. Confirmation is actually the completion of Baptism (by the full gift of the Holy Spirit). The perfection of baptismal grace found in the Sacrament of Confirmation is not dependent upon age or knowledge of the confirmand. The grace that is conferred is a free gift and ‘does not need ratification to become effective (Cf. CCC 1308). The common practice of high school reception of Confirmation has given the impression that somehow the sacrament is merited by virtue of age or training. In truth, the Sacrament of Confirmation is an effective vehicle of grace at any age as long as it is validly conferred. Thus, those that receive the sacrament are able to reap its benefits from the moment of reception. The graces of this sacrament conferred at a young age could be of great assistance to young people as they grow toward adolescence and young adulthood. Regardless of age, Confirmation is always a Sacrament of Initiation. The important thing to remember is that sacraments are not about age alone, they are about growing in faith, about sharing in God's grace. In the Diocese of Phoenix as of May 15th, 2005 established the reception of Confirmation and First Eucharist in the Third grade.

I'd like to stress: confirmation is a free gift not dependent on knowledge, the graces conferred could be of great assistance to young people as they grow towards adolescence and adulthood.

Q: How will this change impact ministry to teens and our youth ministry programs?

A: In the long run, we believe this is a great step for youth ministry. “Receiving” the sacrament can be used as a carrot or bottom-line motivation for attendance. Instead of drawing teens by our own creative efforts and quality ministry, we can easily be tempted to rely on having a “captive” audience who is required to be present. The problem with captives is that they may really feel and act like prisoners, as they are forced to be present at meetings they really do not want to attend. Also, because the sacrament tends to be the focus and destination, few teens stay involved once confirmation is celebrated. Instead of understanding the sacrament of confirmation as a beginning or the strengthening for a more committed Christian lifestyle, many teens walk away with a sense of relief that it is all over. As a result, it is viewed more as a rite of graduation from religious education. The irony is that confirmation celebrates an initiation into a church from which many immediately drop out. Parish based Youth Ministry programs are called to have the mission of the church as its purpose. They are called to incorporate the proclamation of the Gospel, through evangelization, growth in holiness and fullness of faith; and by loving and serving all those in need. Our youth ministry teams must evangelize, build teens up through formation, and send them out to minister, thereby help these young disciples, through the power of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism and Confirmation, become mature apostles to their peers.

I'd like to stress: releasing adolescents of being captive until confirmation-graduation could indeed help youth ministry.

Hope you find it interesting: more on the following post.