Infantilizing the Church.

Beneath the apple tree: 
there I took you for my own, 
there I offered you my hand, 
and restored you, 
where your mother was corrupted.

– St. John of the Cross (stanza 23 of the Spiritual Canticle).

I read this stanza this evening to my 11 and 8 year olds. The 8 year old loves the romance and imagery of the Spiritual Canticle and is naturally poetic herself. The 11 year old is very bright and immediately picks up on the fact that this stanza is talking about the apple tree in the Garden of Eden and Eve. I go on to explain that the wood of the tree is also symbolic of the Cross. We talk about the fact that St John of the Cross always talks about things that go on in the depths of our hearts, and also the ups and downs in our relationship with God. We notice this especially in the words ‘corrupted’ and ‘restored’.

My 8 year old tells me that she thinks she understands it in her heart but not in her head! I tell her that is perfectly ok because St John often speaks more to our hearts than he does to our heads. The 11 year old goes on to talk about what ‘restored’ means, and links it back to a computer game he likes to play. He gets it. They are both eager to read the next stanza tomorrow night.

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

All of this is a far cry from “I wish I was a Butterfly” and all the other regular offenders that are spoon fed to my kids at children’s liturgies up and down the country. My 11 year old finds that absolutely cringeworthy now and so do I. I often find children’s liturgy is obsessed with making the children as physically active as possible during the Mass – which I believe to be a mistake. If our minds are completely taken up with actions and songs and carrying things in the offertory or watching our friends do bidding prayers, then when is the time for learning to properly, internally actively participate in the Mass?

I think that one of the biggest mistakes we make in children’s liturgy is to try to keep the children entertained. This teaches them from the word go that Church is somewhere you go to watch a show. And when they get a bit older, and that show is still the same show they were watching when they were 5 years old, they don’t want to go see that show anymore because it’s babyish. Their internal spiritual life has been neglected, and has not had a chance to mature past “This little light of mine”. Of course they are going to reject it. They are not stupid.

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Last week I heard that there was outrage in a Catholic Parish over a homily given at a First Holy Communion Mass. Apparently some of the parents felt the day had been ruined, and the children ‘traumatized’ because the priest had talked about the Eucharist being Jesus’ real flesh and blood. One has to ask the question what exactly has been going on here? But it is clear from this catastrophe that we are now looking at a 3rd generation of Catholics who have not been adequately evangelised or catechised. Whatever we have been doing for the last 3 generations has got us to this point. Something needs to change.

Another big mistake that I believe the church has made is to take evangelisation out of the home and into the catechist classroom. Now I am not saying that all Catechists are bad – far from it, most of them are absolutely brilliant. However, the faith is something that cannot be truly learned in a classroom. It needs to be witnessed through example. Parents are the first and most influential educators of their children, and it truly believe that if they are not living the faith at home, then there is very little chance their children will carry on the faith into their adulthood.

I do not think I am wrong in saying here that most Catholic parents today have good intention, but very little in terms of their own catechesis and evangelisation. In my experience, your average First Communion parent does not pray regularly, if at all, does not frequent the sacraments and does not own a Bible. And I must make it very clear here that it is not my intention to blame the parents for this. Quite the contrary – I am fighting their corner. It is not their fault they have not been taught properly.

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When the church decided to catechise children in the classroom, it seperated knowledge from lived example. Now this was not a problem until catechesis took a turn for the worse in the 1960’s. At that point, the first generation of children were lost to guitars, the socialist Gospel, and little fluffy baby Jesus. When these children grew up and became parents, that is all they had to pass on to their children. This pattern continued into the next generation, and the next, and here we are today. The difficulty now is that the previous two generations have been left as spiritual infants – almost completely unable to offer any sort of evangelisation or catechesis to their own children, and so once again it is being left to those outside of the family home.

Now, you can have the best catechist in the entire world, and have a child who knows the New Testament off by heart. But if that child then goes back to a home where the faith is not lived with any maturity, and Church extends to some old boomer bashing out songs on their guitar from the 1960’s because ‘that’s what the young people like’, then at best the cycle of infantesized Catholic spirituality will be repeated once again. At worst, and more often than not, it will just be rejected. These kids are not rejecting the Catholic faith, they are rejecting the infantilised version of it that they, their parents and Grandparents have been spoonfed over the last 50 years or so.

Older children and teenagers will continue to find Mass boring and ultimately leave the church for as long as we keep them infantilised. And we will never break this cycle of misplaced catechesis until we begin to respect the fact that parents are the first and most influential educators of their children, and alert them to this fact. We need to equip and empower them to carry out this fundamentally important role that we have taken away from them.

This infantilization of the faith needs to stop. Today.

St. John of the Cross pray for us.

We travel by night…

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On Easter Sunday my husband and I had a conversation in which aspects of my past dawned on us both.
I was so ready to give myself away entirely into marriage age 20. I didn’t want responsibility for myself on any level, or should I say – I didn’t feel confident in myself in anyway. So my survival plan was to give it all to someone else to take care of for me. (Why he would want to take that on is another story we haven’t even discussed yet.)

So that is how things worked for the next 15 years. He looked after me like a dad. So when he got sick 2 years ago you can imagine how terrifying that was.
I had never had to stand on my own two feet in my life, emotionally, financially or in any other way. But it was something that needed to happen.

Even though he is doing really well now, long term illness in a marriage does change the relationship irrevocably. But this needed to happen. I no longer make my husband an idol by putting him before God in my life. No spouse can ever live up to those standards, and it is not fair to ever expect them to. I no longer cling onto him like an utterly dependent child.

The one I should be clinging onto like an utterly dependent child is of course Christ. But then that relationship had had to change too. Unlike my old relationship with my husband, Christ does not indulge me like a spoiled child. And even though He meets me where I am, He expects me to grow up and act like an adult.

Of course this is not the sort of relationship I want. I want a daddy to look after me and keep all the bad things away from me and fill me with endless consolations. I’m spoiled, and that’s what I’m used to. But Christ knows my heart better than I do, and He knows that deep down I don’t believe I can stand on my own two feet. I’m just a scared little girl in a big bad world.

On some levels I am meeting the challenge. I have started my own business that is doing really well. I am paying our bills. My marriage is much more balanced. But still, Christ is calling me to mature spiritually.

These last few days I’ve been doing everything possible to distract myself from the fact that He is calling me back into the desert, to be with Him alone. I know He wants more of me, and I’m reluctant to say the least!
But there is no escaping it 🙂 As a Carmelite the interior life is my vocation. It’s who I am! He made me that way – I can’t escape it!

So finally today I stopped struggling. I stopped the useless distractions that don’t even work anymore and I joined my God, my Love, my Father in the desert.

Through the dark night of my senses I can see His face clearly. He stares at me and smiles. I try to avoid eye contact. But soon, I hope I can find the courage to meet His gaze, and at least participate in this challenging game of interdimentional ‘stares’ 🙂

We travel by night…

Detachment, CFS and my route into Carmel.

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I have been having to let go of a few things recently. My 8 year old son has decided to stop calling me ‘Mummy’ and now calls me ‘Mum’ – He’s not my baby any more! My 10 month old has moved out of our room into her own room and my 4 year old is getting ready to start big school in September. Letting go is not easy.

It got to the point a few years back where I felt I had finally let go of everything and given it to God. And in my conscious mind I had. But the heart is full of secret chambers that hide deep, deep secrets. So deep that sometimes you are not even aware of them yourself.

In January this year the Lord was calling me to do something. I didn’t know what, and I was hesitating to give my ‘yes’ because I know what that means – He wants Everything. I had also recently just given birth to my third child and wasn’t sure I could commit to anything else. But eventually, one day when I was driving home from the school run I felt the prompt that now was the right time. So I said “OK, here you go – here’s my ‘yes’. I have no idea of what it is you are calling me to do but here is my ‘yes’ anyway – Jesus, I trust in you.”

Little did I know that this was a preparation for Carmel. The thing is, that when the Lord calls you into the desert with Him you go alone. I mean, you can take literally nothing with you. And it seems that in the deepest secret chambers of my heart I was holding onto something – security.

I got married 14 years ago aged 20. I went from living with my parents to living with my husband. I have never lived alone. I have always had someone to take care of me be it emotionally, financially or whatever. I have never been on my own with anything my entire adult life. My husband is my rock – he always has been. A week after I gave my ‘yes’ to God, my husband collapsed on the sofa with an unknown illness. By the next morning he couldn’t raise his head off of the pillow. It was terrifying, no-one knew what was wrong with him and he was getting worse. Blood test after blood test came back negative and at one point we even had the heart wrenching conversation “You know where all the life insurance documents are right?”

To cut a very long story short, after a month of searching we eventually got a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). There was relief that it was not life threatening. There was despair that there is no real cure. If you can imagine having run a marathon and having the flu and the worst hangover of your life – well that’s CFS. Every day without a break I would wake up to watch my husband suffering terribly knowing there was nothing I, or anyone else could do to help him. His courage and resolve throughout all this puts me to shame. He truly is the bravest man I know. The kids took it in their stride as kids do.

The hardest part for me is that my rock had been taken away from me. I was terrified and alone and had to hide my feelings not only from the kids but from my husband who had enough to deal with just getting through the day. There was not a day that went by for months and months that I would just find a place to be alone and just cry out of desperation and fear. I was alone in the dark with no-one to cling onto. “Why are you doing this to us?!” was all I could say to the Lord.

“Where are you hiding,
Beloved, having left me to moan?
Like the stag you fled
After wounding me;
I followed crying aloud, but you had gone.”

– St. John of the Cross

It began to dawn on me in prayer that there was something within me that was an issue, and the Lord was leading (a better word would be dragging) me through it. I was given the consolation of Our Lady reminding me that when I hold the Rosary, it is really her holding my hand. But things didn’t end there. The Lord also brought several ‘false rocks’ into my path that in varying ways seemed to offer me a perfect solution to the fear and despair I was experiencing. “Why are you doing this to me?!?!” These were some of the biggest tests I had ever had to face. Each time the Lord was testing me to see if I would rely solely on Him or not. He was testing me to see if I was ready to go into the desert with Him alone.

After much struggling and agonising, and being stripped down to my core, it seems that at 34 years old, I finally am ready!

My husband has improved so much since January and now is fairly normal at home. He has a good prognosis and has been told to expect to make a full recovery – in time. It could be a few years – we just don’t know. I the mean time he will remain at home and enjoy spending time with the baby. This does mean that because he cannot work we now have no income for the foreseeable future and I would ask you to pray about that for us. But quite frankly, I am at the point now where if we lose the house, we lose the house. So be it! It’s just a building and we can find another one if we have to. I am learning the true meaning of detachment – in every area of my life.

It’s been the hardest 8 months of my life. I’m bruised, but not broken. The main feeling I have is of incredible gratitude and relief that the Lord allowed me to go through this now, so I can learn to rely completely on Him and draw even closer to Him. I am beginning to learn the incredible beauty, purpose and value of suffering within the context of a relationship with Christ. He was amongst other things, preparing me to enter the desert that I now realise has always been my home – Carmel.

I hope this gives some insight into what has been going on for the last 8 months. I have not written about it before now because i had no way of articulating what on earth was happening. This is by no means the end – and there is of course much more to this story, but I’m afraid those things are to remain deep secret desert conversations between me and the ruler of my heart.

So now i ask you – What attachments are hiding in the secret depths of your heart? 

“…In the happiness of the night,
Secretly, unseen by anybody,
Looking at nothing else,
With no other light or guide
Save that which was burning in my heart.

This light guided me
More certain than the light of midday,
To where one awaited me
Whom I knew well
In a place where no one would appear…”

– St. John of the Cross