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March 8, 2006
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Forgiveness and Mercy
Lent started late this year; it began March 1. Those of us who live in the midwest and east should be able to celebrate (hopefully) this season of healing and reconciliation watching spring heal the dry, hard winter earth. We have six weeks to look at our own lives and see where we most need watering or even healing.
Unfortunately, I know from my days in parish ministry that there is usually little time in those six weeks for personal enlightenment and purification. Getting ready for Easter is exhausting and time-consuming. There is a great temptation to stay so focused on watering other people’s spiritual gardens that your own home field can turn into desert.
Find something to read this Lent just for you. (Chuck has some excellent suggestions in his column.) Or just go to your local Catholic bookstore and pick up something that appeals to you.
Another suggestion is to read something for yourself with the idea of possibly introducing interested parishioners to it next Lent. One book Iíd like to suggest is Lyn Holley Doucetís Healing Troubled Hearts: Daily Spiritual Exercises, which invites the reader to look at the hurts and disappointments of his or her life and to see opportunities for healing and renewal.
The book offers 15 weeks of daily meditations with prayers and questions for reflection. The daily readings are short, so it would be possible to finish the book during Lent, but I would suggest reading it slowly—one meditation a day. You can finish the book by the end of the Easter season. Healing Troubled Hearts also offers an outline and suggestions for how people can pray and process the book in small group meetings together. (Click here to see the table of contents.)
In her preface the author writes:
It would be a shame, indeed, if all of our lives passed us by, and we didnít initiate an opportunity to go inward and learn both about ourselves and the God within and around us, who has loved us with an everlasting love. If we did take an inner journey, we might even dare to believe that God has a plan for our lives and has gifted us with exactly what we need to live out Godís dream for us. In the silence of prayer we could hear the whispering magic of Godís call.
Our wounds can keep us running from ourselves, from healing and from Godís call. Negative voices within and without us drown out the simple sweet voice of Spirit. Perhaps this is the day you decide to stop for a while. Perhaps this is the day you begin the most important retreat you will ever take.
Lent is a time for healing and reconciliation. It is a good time to let the earth teach us how to allow some things to die so that other things can find new life. That, after all, is the lesson of the Resurrection.
Family Forgiveness
Few of us are really big public sinners. Most of us are closet sinners, and it’s the people at home or closest to us who most often fall victim to our shortcomings. Honor this reality by providing simple prayer services for families to celebrate at home. Click here for two samples from Mary Cronk Farrell’s book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families. (Click here to view prayer services.)
You might also arrange a family reconciliation service to be held at the parish this Lent. It needn’t be a sacramental celebration (although that could certainly be an option). The key is to keep it simple. Challenge yourself to come up with a reconciliation prayer service that can be done without handouts.
Begin with an icebreaker. Have families take the words "I’m Sorry" and come up with some household sins (in words or phrases) that begin with each letter in "I’m Sorry." After about ten minutes, call families into a large group to write their answers on newsprint.
Break into small groups of families (not more than ten adults and children in a group). Ask them to come up with any other household sins that are not on the newsprint. (Make sure they represent the shortcomings of both adults and children.) After ten minutes, join into a large group and share answers. Add these to newsprint.
Take a short break while you and a couple of helpers create an environment appropriate for a Penance service. (Set up a prayer table with cross and candle.) Ask participants to form family circles with their chairs. Keep a suitable distance for privacy, and play quiet background music. Give participants paper and pencils. Tell them to walk around the room, read the newsprint and to write down those things they think they are guilty of.
Provide paper for children who are not yet old enough to write. Ask them to draw a picture of something they did that may have hurt someone (something they are sorry for). When most people are done, have them return to their family chairs.
Ask participants to share with the whole family (or privately with individual members) those things they are sorry for. Suggest forgiveness be granted by giving a hug. End the service with families standing up, holding hands and saying a prayer together. Follow the service with pizza, a potluck or an ice cream social. Even though it is Lent, occasions like this need to be celebrated.
Electronic Media on Reconcilation
There’s a lot that’s wrong in this world. Some days it seems that the wrong is all I can see, or at least all I tend to focus on. Most days I take a certain pride in being a “person of hope” and look for the good in every situation and person. I think that as servants of God’s Kingdom, we’re all called to be people of hope. But sometimes even the best of us have a bad day.
One thing that can really pull us down and color our whole view of the world is when a relationship is out of sync. It might be a relationship with another person or our relationship with God. Asking for and offering forgiveness are two of the most challenging parts of being human—at least in my experience. It can be especially difficult when the person who we judge has wronged us doesn’t ask for our forgiveness, and in those circumstances when we need to apologize but the person we have wronged has died before we are ready to say we are sorry.
Lent is a time when we consider the many ways our lives may be out of sync, out of focus. We try to sharpen our focus through our Lenten observances so that our Easter celebration is more authentically joyful. One common Lenten observance is celebrating the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation. In this celebration, we are reconciling, coming back together again with God, because our relationship has been hurt by our sinful attitudes and actions. One reason we confess our sins to a priest is because sin isn’t just between oneself and God; each person’s sin affects others either directly or indirectly. The priest acts as a representative of the larger community.
As we prepare our communities to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation, it is vitally important that the people are convinced of God’s forgiving love. It still amazes me how many people I meet, especially through the RCIA but those raised within the Catholic Church as well, whose image of God growing up was not of a God of love but of a God of judgment. Not all of us were raised in healthly, loving homes in which forgiveness was readily given. In some homes forgiveness is withheld as a punishment for the “crime” until the “criminal” has paid his or her debt; even then, misdeeds are never truly forgiven and forgotten. Sometimes people can have a skewed understanding of right and wrong and feel worse than may be necessary. And sometimes people rightly know how damaging their sin has been to their relationship with God, and fear that God won’t forgive them because they cannot forgive themselves. All of these people need our help approaching God for forgiveness.
A video resource that can help you in this effort is the Catholic Update Video The God Who Reconciles. I’ve selected a clip from its story segment “Pardon and Peace…Remembered” to share with you (RealMedia | Windows Media). Many of you will remember the Franciscan Communications classic “Pardon and Peace”—a modern-day version (from 1985) of the Prodigal Son story found in Luke’s Gospel. It was such a powerful story that we updated it, using the original story in flashback, and, in the process, adding to the overall program’s strength and scope of uses.
Books for Lenten Growth
Lent is always a good time to do a little something extra for your spiritual life.  Here are a few book suggestions for this season of renewal from St. Anthony Messenger Press and Servant Books:
Your Spiritual Garden: Tending to the Presence of God by Pegge Bernecker offers a personal retreat focused on tending our spiritual gardens and cultivating a relationship with our “Master Gardener.”
Instruments of Christ: Reflections on the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi by Albert Haase, O.F.M., explores six “seeds” we need to sow if Easter peace is to blossom in the world.
God, I Have Issues: 50 Ways to Pray No Matter How You Feel by Mark E. Thibodeaux, S.J., offers a wide variety of prayers to get you through Lent.
From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality by Richard Rohr, O.F.M., with Joseph Martos, challenges men to grow and change in response to the gospel message.
The Awesome Mercy of God by John H. Hampsch, C.M.F., assures us of God’s healing love—“as near as the air we breathe”—no matter how we are feeling or what we are enduring.
The Passion of the Lamb: The Self-Giving Love of Jesus by Thomas Acklin, O.S.B., reminds us of the passionate love that God has for each of us, if we will simply have faith in Jesus.
And finally, The Untapped Power of the Sacrament of Penance: A Priest’s View by Fr. Christopher Walsh is an inspirational look at the great gift that is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
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