Tag Archive: mission


AMDG

Adolescence, the phase of life which marks the transition between childhood and adulthood, has officially been extended – at least according to UK Policy Makers – from 10-24.  This takes into account earlier puberty and a delayed transition into adulthood.  According to  Laurence Steinberg, in the western world adolescence is now three times longer than in the 19th Century and twice as long as in the 1950’s.  So this new official ruling means in the UK, statutory care for care leavers is now extended to the age of  24. Children in ‘care’, usually provided by foster parents,  leave home at the age of 16-18 and have a more abrupt transition into independent life.

The human infant is a helpless creature at birth, virtually immobile and unlike other primates,  cannot even hold on to or cling to his mother. Seventy-five percent of our brain develops after birth,  as is described in David Brooks fascinating book, ‘The Social Animal‘. We require years of development before we can care for ourselves, well into adolescence.  If for whatever reason a mother or father can’t provide this and the government needs to step in, statutory care involves support with housing, health, education, employment and many other things that a family would usually offer support with.

The age at which puberty begins is fairly simple to understand the physical changes that happen are easily observed. It seems that the body changes earlier in societies with better nutrition and health. So the recognizable biological indicators of the onset of puberty often occur around 10.  However, adolescence encompasses elements of biological growth and major social role transitions, both of which have changed in the past century.As regards social role transitions, the digital age has unleashed unprecedented social forces, which are affecting health and wellbeing across these years. So this expanded and more inclusive definition of adolescence is essential for the framing of laws, social policies, and service systems that are developmentally appropriate. The end of adolescence is more difficult to detect, and can have dangerous consequences – you may think because someone is in their late 20’s this is an adult where you a really dealing with someone who still a little child, but they mask it very well.  In religious life, someone can be in their 60’s but you suddenly realise that their behaviour at times is still adolescent.

These changes are important for all institutions to understand, particularly those institutions that need to recruit new members.  In the Catholic Church we joke about confirmation as being ‘the sacrament of exit’,  and often we go all ‘starry-eyed’ about young people, throw a lot of money at pastoral initiatives that have a limited success rate. We often also shut our eyes to the dark side of adolescence, or what Bill Plotkin calls patho-adolescence.  Religious orders that are facing a crisis in attracting novices, often operate out of models of vocation promotion that still are targeting school or college leavers. It usually isn’t even on their radar in our very utilitarian- education factories. However I think the real rich picking grounds now are in the late 20’s /early 30’s when the first career is coming to an end, a re-evaluation is happening hard-earned earned wisdom is starting to sprout.

Which is why I think we have a lot to learn from the Mormons.  I really admire the way that they prepare their young people to be self-sufficient. As a community, it seems that they have painfully had to realise the importance of self-reliance and I think they transmit that brilliantly to their youngsters.  I have only worked with the Mormons through a visionary friend of mine, Brian Grim.  I asked Brian last year what he would say to the Pope, when he next met him and he thought about it and said,  ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every young Catholic was invited to serve a period of mission like young Mormons do?” ‘ Brian has had a fascinating experience of mission himself and an amazing faith-story. The website ‘Faith Counts’ has a series called ‘Holy Envy’ asking different Christians what their tradition could learn from one of the other groups of Christians.  Brian has just written a piece about this and I recommend reading it if you have the time – click here .  He goes on to say,

It’s not just the time young adults spend serving a mission and the lives they impact that makes a difference. It’s also the years of spiritual, financial, and psychological preparation supported by friends, family and congregations that make a difference. This all adds to the spiritual and temporal strength of the LDS Church itself.

It’s not that Catholics don’t have mission programs. They do – FOCUS Missionaries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Maryknoll Mission Volunteers to name a few. The difference is that serving a mission tends to be the exception for Catholics rather than the rule.

 

AMDG

360946-jpg-c_215_290_x-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx‘This is a spiritual & cultural artefact’ – was how a producer at the BBC described Scorsese’s recent adaptation of the Shusako Endo novel ‘Silence‘.   A work of historical fiction, i.e based on real characters, about the Jesuits in Japan.  Having seen the film about a month ago, I tend to agree, although the cinema was fairly empty and I notice there is no ‘awards buzz’ about it – I think it will grow in stature and popularity.  I hope it will slowly acquire cult status, it doesn’t have the feel-good, crowd pleasing appeal that LaLa Land has ( and surely people need that in our fragmented times) …. but it has a depth and leaves a ‘haunting’ imprint that will mature over time. Like an artefact it will stand the test of time.

If you think about explicitly Christian films that have gone mainstream, all have differing levels of depth. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in its own way a masterpiece – has the force of a sledgehammer and I would place it in the Key Stage 3 RE category.  Roland Joffe’s The Mission, slightly more complex interweaving of theology / politics/ ecclesiology maybe would be GCSE, (Key Stage 4) Level.  But Scorsese’s Silence – is certainly A Level (KS5) material – with all its glorious and infuriating ambiguities. Leaving scope for discussion and meditation.

landscape-1482951700-martin-scorsese-silence-religion-on-filmHere in Manchester – many of the students are divided by it, and fascinating discussions ensue.  Some get hung up on the priests apostasy and a sense of betrayal from that, without taking into fact the incredible commitment and self-offering that have got the missionaries their in the first place. In a similar way many of the reviews are polarised.  The more secularised, the less they ‘get it’ – including one absurd review accusing it of ‘torture porn’ (I actually thought the film wasn’t as harrowing as I was expecting). It is as though the sheer fact that you can believe in something enough that you are prepared to die for it. is inconceivable to the more superficial reviews.  Many people (even the usually prescient Robert Barron)  seem to fixated on the ‘apostasy’ element. Which I think misses the point of the film (and the novel).  For me Kichijiro is the main character in the film – and it is God’s Mercy for him , through sacramental confession, this is the most powerful aspect for me.

silence-00977A former student sent me a wonderful email which expresses it like this, “I found myself really focusing on more in the film was the mercy of God, which I think is and should be the big focus within the film and book. The question: How much should I forgive my brother? Seventy seven.  Is something I often thought about when watching this film especially when witnessing Kichijiro continuously plead for confession. For me Fr. Rodriguez and Fr Ferreira are insignificant as for me really the true Christian is perfectly embodied in Kichijiro. As he is what a christian really is: a sinful and weak creature totally dependent on God’s mercy. Interestingly Kichijiro does not really seem to care about human respect or his reputation as seen by his continuous grovelling and humiliating display of weakness before the priest. To me I think the book and film do a great job in showing this about Kichijiro and the mercy of God; but seem to overlook it and get a bit too obsessed with somehow trying to justify someone’s apostasy.    The real question I think is how much are we willing to accept our weakness and plead for forgiveness

Maybe this is echoing Scorsese own life – as revealed in this fascinating interview with the America Jesuit James Martin,  his sense of rejection at a crucial age when he wanted to be a Maryknoll Missionary. He was asked to leave the seminary, and ‘crushed’ in his own words,  and then his ‘pilgrimage’ slowly and painfully from the outside and back to God (?) . Jim has also written a very good  reflective piece on common questions people struggle with after Silence.   So is Silence really about about the Silence of God or the Deafness of Man? .

 

 

 

Heroic Faith (1)

AMDG

$T2eC16RHJIIE9qTYKDQ4BRo1n+7-z!~~60_35Whilst I was on my retreat last week, I was able to do some spiritual reading.  I was inspired by a book called ‘The Flying Bishop’  Fifty Years in the Canadian Far North, by Gabriel Breynat OMI.  It documents how the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Sisters of Charity (Grey Sisters) did heroic work in Canada and Alaska at the turn of the century.  The author, pictured right, was called the Little praying man by the First Nations when he arrived in 1892 at the St Bernard Mission in Athabasca – 10 years later he was named Bishop at the age of 35 – and served as a bishop for 42 years.  He saw the mission grow north of the Arctic Circle,  establishing churches, Schools, Hospitals, Farms, Harbours even Coal Mines.

With such a huge mission territory and such harsh conditions the work that they undertook was incredible.  Originally visiting various communities entailed sleeping out on the ice, occasionally building igloos, surviving hurricanes, Ice Drifts, boats being crushed by Ice flows, having to eat their own dogs to survive, frostbite (losing toes), Bear attacks, Plane crashes, 3 month long winter and twilight, fishing under ice flows, hunting caribou (with migrations of 3  million of them at a time).  It is gripping reading. $T2eC16h,!ysE9sy0kzGKBQuDq7vLPw~~60_35The Travel was rigorous – but as the ice began to break up travel by canoe and boat became possible. mission boat evolved  went from 20hp to 120hp, finally they were able to buy a mission plane. This lead to him being known as the Flying Bishop – but the plane made possible a visit in 9 hours of various mission stations what would have taken him 9 weeks in his early days.  

Pope Pius XI took special interest in the mission – the first book he had read as a boy was an account for the quest of the north west passage.  The Pope was especially interested in the most remote and northerly mission, the mission of Christ the King in the Minto Inlet, on Victoria Island.  004272On occasional visits to him in Rome, the bishop would always have an audience with the Pope who was entranced and gripped with his updates. He presented a chalice to be used on this mission.  A Papal delegate visited many years later and reported ‘The Fathers dwelling was a big tent of tough canvas, about 15 feet by 20 feet and served as a chapel, presbytery, kitchen, bedroom – in one corner, behind an Indian curtain, was a little altar, surmounted by a poor tabernacle arranged like an ammunition box. IN the middle was a rich chalice presented by Pius XI and used by himself .  It was engraved Pius XI, Christus Vicarius, Christi praeconibus (Pius XI, Vicar of Christ to the Heralds of Christ)’

The missions had it own martyrs – The killing of Fr Le Roux and Fr Rouviere by Sinnisiak and Uluksak (two Inuit) near Bear Lake. Also the drowning of another priest who misjudged the thickness of the ice as he was trekking to another mission station.  It is inspiring and moving to hear about the dedication of these men and the sisters who were helping them – but the last word is for the one of the Inuit leaders who addressed the pope’s delegate in these words.

You the envoy of the Very Great Man of Prayer, have come from far away to see us.  Even though we live at such a distance, as though hidden in a wood, and even though we may seem, like Cain of old, to flee from the presence of the Holy Spirit, yet the men of prayer have sought us out: they are great hunters.  For a long time they pursued us, as though hunting, before they could catch us in the lasso of their prayer. It is nearly twice a thousand winters since the birth of Jesus.  At last the men of prayer have reached us: thanks to the Great Spirit we should say. You will tell the Very Great Man of Prayer that we venerate him most respectfully and love him with all our hearts; we thank him for having sent you here to see us.

.