A Personal Experience of a New Catechesis
|David Barrett FAITH Magazine January-February 2009
Fr David Barrett, doctoral student at the Gregorian University, Rome.
I first came across the Faith movement through some fellow students when I was studying for the priesthood at the English College in Rome. I had entered the seminary in 1986 at the age of 18. Whilst I remain convinced that I was responding to God's call I think I was fairly naive. I was aware of a crisis of teaching in the Church which seemed to me was sapping the spiritual lives of the people in the pews. My first year, however, was marked by my own lack of spiritual commitment and I found many distractions from following Christ. Then in the beginning of my second year I experienced something that changed me. It happened oddly one morning when I was waking from a dream-filled sleep. God in his goodness, intervened in my life to change my heart, make me aware of what I haddone wrong in my life and let me see that I needed to turn to Him through a real spiritual life. This moment was a turning point and made me look at life more spiritually. It made me more aware of the kind of people who might help me come closer to God. It reduced the strength of suspicions and difficulties I had concerning the approach of friends who had been deeply influenced by the Faith Movement. I think that true doctrine, when it is married to a genuine search for holiness, can often be a threat to us.
Central to the Faith Movement is the perception that the modern scientific world view has deeply affected our culture. Any new evangelisation needs to take account of this. Rejection of scientific discoveries is seen as inadequate. Modern technology is evidence of the fruitfulness and truth of the basic discoveries and theories of modern science. Moreover the Church has always believed in the power of reason to reach the truth. There is this need to show, for example, how evolution is not contrary to revelation but in fact part of God's supreme wisdom and plan for the universe, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ. As St Paul says, "All things were created through and for Him... and in Him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:16,17). God had set forth in Christ a plan torecapitulate all things in Christ, a plan for the fullness of time (cf. Ephesians 1:9-10).
More and more scientists, in fact, have found that the discoveries concerning the origins of the universe and of life point us more conclusively towards the existence of a Creator. The cosmos is an ordered whole across time and space. This can be accurately expressed by a mathematical equation and equations are not random but the consequence of mind.
Furthermore if Christ is the culmination, the crowning point of God's plan for the universe, it means that the universe is incomplete without Him. This means that no branch of knowledge and no person can be complete without Jesus. Jesus is the master key that unlocks the meaning of the universe and of every human person's life. God made man
is essential to man. After all St Paul taught, "in Him (God) we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17.28). The Church and the Sacraments are also indispensable for human beings. As the new Catechism says "Creation was made for the Church" (para. 760). Holiness thus becomes the fruit of living united to God and we can only do this through Christ in his Church.
Such a vision as it becomes clear is thrilling. It fits in so deeply with the Faith of the Church, takes in the beautiful teaching of the Fathers from early Christianity, and also tries to makes sense of modern science, in much the same way as St Thomas Aquinas attempted to do in the thirteenth century. Initially, however I found this quite difficult to accept, as I had been steeped in an approach to philosophy and theology that admitted only the supremacy of the mind of St Thomas Aquinas. The Faith Movement's approach seemed to diverge from this in some ways. It incorporated a more relational view of nature and of knowing.
In the end, after many arguments and discussions, I eventually met the founder of the Faith movement, Fr Edward Holloway. I found him an unsettling man. Holy people often are. He could be brutally honest in a sweet and loving way. He had an encyclopaedic mind but also an awareness that only God possesses the fullness of wisdom and we are the servants of that wisdom. We are not masters of the Word but its ministers. All we need to do is open our hearts and minds to see how He has revealed Himself through His masterpiece of creation and most of all through the Incarnation of His Son. All would reveal the beauty and deep joy of His plan.
Fr Holloway often said that he found the whole faith vision "deeply thrilling". You could see it in his eyes and face. He taught that the presence of God could be a lived experience and often when you looked at him it seemed to be the case. It was extraordinary to see such a great and fine mind in such calm and simple communion with God.
It was Fr Holloway who convinced me, not just by his words but by his personal witness. He showed me that such a vision is not just a matter of ideas but it affects everything, including one's prayer. Good doctrine is meant to join us more fully to God. Through it I believe that God has led me a long way though I know this is only a part of my journey.
After having become involved in the movement I discovered that the insights at the heart of the vision were written down by Fr Holloway's mother, Agnes, in the 1930's. This was following what she claimed to have been some private revelations. She died in 1991 and Fr Holloway himself in 1997. But their teaching and insights continue to be spread. Faith conferences then became a singular source of encouragement to me as I went through seminary and as I have lived my priesthood in parishes. Many vocations have emerged from this work, not just to the priesthood and the religious life, but also to the married state and the single life. To see it all bear fruit in the minds, hearts and lives of our people in our parishes is truly "thrilling". Perhaps that was the work for which God hadbeen preparing me all along.