Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Ascent

This is one of the most exciting things to have happened in youth ministry in this country...But its my prayer than it will fade into non-existence in due course.

One of the issues facing the Church today is the lack of commitment and the lack of formation. People get hit at First Holy Communion and Confirmation, and that's about it until perhaps a couple of sessions with a priest before their marriage. As to-be-saint John Paul II said, there are too many people in parishes all around who have gone through the sacraments without ever being evangelised. Too many people who aren't in relationship to Jesus, and too many who do not understand the simple message of our faith. But, we have the other side of the coin. There are many people, young especially, who are on fire for their faith - who have experienced the grace of initial conversion yet lack substance. Often, they remain in this place of mere emotional or spiritual high, without impacting their lifestyle. They might attend events and get a kick start and go up the mountain again, but increasingly this becomes not enough. There comes a time when something more needs to enter. It is often remarked that the longest journey we make in life is that from our head to our heart - to be able to say 'God is good' (as Aristotle) to saying 'You are great' (as Augustine), from saying God loves me, to knowing that truth in our heart. But Monseigneur Patrick Lynch, founder of Sion Community, said an even longer journey is that from the heart to the head. I know I've experienced the transition in micro scale in both directions in the past. Our faith needs to be integrated into our life.

Here we get to the Ascent. The Ascent is a process of discipling a group of 15-18 year olds over 3 years. Through a series of 9 weekends we provide input and fellowship, but the main growth is hoped to occur between the events. We are running online meetups through the Google plus social networks, which serve as a place to share our journey, support each other in prayer and to have some input - its a virtual youth group. We know many parishes are unable to have a thriving on-going youth group, especially for this age group, so we have this safety net provided to catch everyone. The Ascent is a process. Its more than a programme. It is not an event. We do not want to be a parish community in ourselves, the young people and leaders must be plugged into their own Catholic parish, and will be encouraged to serve there in some way.

The first 'weekend' was in fact last Monday-Wednesday (during school half-term holidays). This first weekend focused on the Word of God. Through looking at the biblical covenants, we hope to have provided the tools to understand the context each biblical book and to have given enough of an introduction to enable personal reading. Our hope is that the Bible will come alive in Mass, through both a deeper understanding of the readings and also a appreciation of the importance of movements present in the liturgy. The first weekend of each of the three years will focus on evangelising and inspiring the participants too. In between this weekend and the next one in February, they are encouraged to read through 14 books of the bible which provides an overall narrative of the bible (and avoiding the dreaded Leviticus) - a task that we will encourage each other with through our weekly PoD (pockets of disciples) meet-up online. 

This first weekend was very blessed. Two weeks before ewe had just 7 people booked to come, and we ended up with a almost full contingent of about 22 (we could take up to 30). In terms of teaching, we had 8 teachers each giving a packed 30 minute talk with loads of integrated bits and pieces, and of this 3 teachers ended up dropping out! So people stepped in and stepped up to the task. We also had to get a band together to lead worship times, and arrange priests to say Mass and hear confessions. But arriving on Sunday afternoon we transformed our teaching room and the teaching fell into place. We even had fireworks and some very messy games involving flour on the middle night! Now, just that little matter of picking up the bible (I have a large collection of bibles of various translations in an interesting twist) and reading!

Why do I say that, in spite of the great ambitions of this process, that it will fade out of existence? Like a good teacher, I won't give the answer now... but I have already hinted at it and Pope Francis already proposed the ideal structure for this type of formation (but long before he was pope!) in a document known as the Aparcida Document. If you want you can look it up, for hope that I remember to explain more later on!

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