Handing on what we have received from the Lord

This week I was at the fifth international convocation of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate in Cleveland, Ohio. The Forum offers a wide-range of pastoral institutes for anyone involved in initiation ministry, having as its goal the full implementation of the RCIA. The convocations, held every five years, are an opportunity to bring together those who have been training others in these institutes (the team) as well as those who have been doing catechumenal ministry for some time. Honoring the 35th anniversary of the promulgation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the 25th anniversary of the founding of Forum, this year’s meeting of over 500 people focused on Handing on what we have received from the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:23). Although I attended my first Beginnings and Beyond institute just two and half years ago and many more focus institutes since then, I have been involved in initiation ministry for ten years now and so am familiar with the work of colleagues and mentors whom I was able to either meet for the first time or reconnect with this week. Ample time was given also to converse with publishers and other vendors who support our ministry, swap resources with one another, and brainstorm innovative responses to future needs.

The opening address was given by Richard Gaillardetz who outlined a number of challenges implicit in initiating people into the Christian community that calls for commitment to a disciplined community practice in contrast to the atomistic individualism and consumerism of American culture. Mary Birmingham (author of Word and Worship, Year Round Catechumenate, and more) gave a riveting presentation that first analyzed what is meant by apprenticeship and then shared concrete stories of apprenticeship to Christ through liturgy, scripture, and tradition—the three elements of liturgical catechesis. Finally Bishop Gerald Wiesner, OMI of Prince George, British Columbia called for a radical commitment to community based on a theological understanding of God as community in the Trinity that included concrete steps to form our parishes as initiating communities in order to bring not only the catechumens but the entire Christian family as well to their full stature in Christ.

A large number of interesting discussions and breakout sessions were available throughout the week, so I purchased the complete set of recordings on MP3 that I hope will be of use not only for me but also for catechists, sponsors, and the rest of my parish community in deepening their role as an initiating community. The sessions I attended focused on canonical issues in the catechumenate (Father Patrick Lagges), celebrating the minor rites of the catechumenate proper (Kathy Kuczka), issues particular to young adults in the catechumenate (Michelle Miller), and using the catechumenate as model for all catechesis (Sister Catherine Dooley, OP). Liturgies of course make up an integral part of any gathering, especially of Forum. Each day began with Morning Prayer and ended with Evening Prayer. On Saturday night we celebrated Mass for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome which provided an opportunity for the talented Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Alexandria-Cornwall, Ontario to reflect in his superb homily on the Church to which we both initiate others and of which we are parts of the body. The music at all of the liturgies, but in particular the final Mass (coordinated by Steve Janco of WLP), was executed in such an amazing way that by the end of the Mass everyone was left with the sense that we had, for those two brief hours, sung with the angels in paradise!

Because I attended the convocation with Father John Durbin, my pastor and a Forum team member, and his closest friend who is also a long-time Forum team member and foodie, Monsignor Michael Clay (author of A Harvest for God: Christian Initiation in the Rural and Small-Town Parish), I was guaranteed to have a foretaste of heaven at table as well. The first evening we were joined by Clare Colella (one of the foundational members of Forum, from San Bernardino) at Osteria di Valerio e Al where we dined on a dozen or so dishes selected by the chef, which included several dishes with Crimini mushrooms which I am now determined to cultivate. On Thursday evening we were joined by Mary Birmingham for a slightly rushed but exciting nouveau fusion dinner at Crop Bistro and Bar, including such creations as the Cherry Bomb appetizer and Thai-D Bowl curry entree. Friday’s much more predictable meal at Blue Point Grille, Cleveland’s most well-known seafood restaurant, gave me an opportunity to pair the various excellent courses to sophisticated Belgian beers. Our final meal was the convocation banquet which included not only a nice meal prepared by the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel but also a hilarious mystagogical romp through the history of Forum by Christopher Walker (OCP).

I was also able to see a bit of Cleveland in some of our downtime, which included my lunches at the much less sophisticated hot dog stands on the sidewalks. Moseying around the streets, I took in the sights along Lake Erie, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the USS Cod submarine, and the Browns Stadium. Other highlights included the surprisingly beautiful skyline, the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, and a chance happening into a recreated settler’s log cabin in the Flats along the Cuyahoga River where I received a lesson in Cleveland’s early history from a very enthusiastic fellow. Unfortunately I missed the Cleveland highlight, A Christmas Story House, although an iconic leg lamp stood prominently in the otherwise exceedingly posh hotel lobby.

After returning back to RDU, I ended the week by going to an informal presentation by Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas, Lessons from L’Arche: Wisdom for Peacemaking and Hospitality in Local Congregations, which is part of the Teaching Communities Week, Living Gently in a Violent World, sponsored by the Duke Center for Reconciliation. I first encountered Stanley Hauwerwas when he came to UCSD to deliver the Burke Lecture in February 2004 when I was on the lectureship board. And, although this was the first time I’d met Jean Vanier, I had known his ministry in founding L’Arche through Henri Nouwen‘s The Road to Daybreak. Having received peace at the hands of the those whom the world would otherwise find of no value, Vanier‘s story of L’Arche seemed a most fitting way to finish surmount this week of reflection on handing on what we have received from the Lord.

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