As we approach the end of Lent, and the beginning of the Easter season, the thoughts of pastors, teachers, and catechists naturally begin to turn to those lovely days of sunshine in the spring and summer. In many places, catechetical classes, bible studies, faith formation groups, and other such activities begin to wind down, fade away, for a summer hiatus.
This need not be the case!
We are all called to continue nurturing our faith at all times, not only during the school year. There are many ways to go about this, and this blog will be an encouragement to do just that! It will also provide several ideas on ways to continue to invigorate parish faith life, even during the spring and summer slowdown.
Faith formation groups and classes are meant to be so much more than “something to do,” or a way to foster community. While they certainly are positive ways to build a sense of community and faith-sharing, it is really about nurturing each individual’s faith.
Reading groups and book clubs
After 2,000 years, the Christian tradition (and particularly the Catholic Church) has accumulated an unimaginably vast and rich intellectual patrimony. Some of the foremost men and women thinkers of all time served the Church founded by Jesus Christ, and we would do well to continue reading their words and prayerfully reflecting on them.
You might consider organizing reading groups or book clubs to prayerfully read and reflect on these great works from throughout the history of the Church. There are many dozens of beautiful encyclicals and other writings from the popes; writings of the saints, like the Confessions of St. Augustine, the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the Story of a Soul of St. Therese of Lisieux, or even Eusebeius’ Ecclesiastical History; more recent theologians such as Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and Adrienne von Speyr, who wrote monumentally profound and moving works, that are available in beautiful and easily readable English translations; British Catholic writers such as Ronald Knox (The Hidden Stream, to take one example), Robert Hugh Benson (novels including Lord of the World and Come Rack! Come Rope!), and G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, and everything else to flow from his pen); American fiction writers, like Flannery O’Connor (Wise Blood and a mountain of short stories) and Walker Percy (Love in the Ruins, The Thanatos Syndrome, and others); and current figures such as Robert Cardinal Sarah (The Power of Silence and God or Nothing) or Carl Olson (Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?).
Read the Bible. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read the documents of the Second Vatican Council. There is no shortage of beautiful and profound texts to read, and this is a terrific way to continue nurturing the faith.
While it may not seem like it when looking at the usual Hollywood fare, there truly are many wonderful, well-made, and thoroughly-enjoyable movies suitable for an explicitly Catholic viewing. Some of these come from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood; others are foreign films that come out of a more strongly Catholic milieu. Hosting family movie nights to view some of these films continues that faith nurturing to which we keep referring, and is also a pleasant social gathering for the parish.
Consider classic films such as The Song of Bernadette, Going My Way (with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Academy Award-winning performances), Jesus of Nazareth, The Ten Commandments, Becket, A Man for All Seasons (a marvelous film about St. Thomas More, which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards), or The Scarlet and the Black (with Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer). Alternatively, if it is more recent productions you are looking for, try The 13th Day, Ignatius of Loyola, Restless Heart, or Pope John Paul II (starring Jon Voigt and Cary Elwes as the old and young Karol Wojtyla, respectively). All of these make for great viewing, and all are beautifully edifying.
There is also the series called Footprints of God, by Stephen K. Ray. This is a documentary series in which the host/author takes viewers to the Holy Land, to the real places where Jesus walked and taught, where the saints prayed and preached and gave their lives. The series consists of several episodes, each of which would make for a fine night of community viewing.
Above all, parishes should encourage and foster prayerful reading of the Bible, and this can be emphasized during the spring and summer slowdown. Bible studies do not have to close down during the summer; if there is a volunteer to lead the Bible study, people will come.
There are many Bible study resources that can be utilized to help in this effort. Ignatius Press’ Study Bible series consists of commentaries that can easily be used to lead such classes; the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology also has many resources available. Jeff Cavins, Father Mitch Pacwa, and many others have made resources available to help communities break open Sacred Scripture, to fall in love with the Word of God. There is no better time than the present to do so.
While many parishes may struggle to find the resources necessary for much activity during the spring and summer, it is important to keep up the availability of catechesis, as the formation of hearts and souls is the primary task. God willing, holy habits have been cultivated during these last weeks of Lent, so let’s keep the momentum going through Easter and into summer!