The Homily..A Fairy Tale

And so it comes time for the homily during a parish Sunday mass.

The congregation has heard the Word of God proclaimed.

Does Father walk to the ambo to deliver his homily?

As the faithful sit, waiting to hear an exposition, perhaps on the readings of the Sacred Scripture that day, they see Father moving away from the sanctuary, not towards the ambo but to the people.

Father then invites all the children present to come forward and sit on the steps of the sanctuary, in front of the altar, and therefore in front of the tabernacle, and Father wanders around, asking questions of the children, making a few jokes, having the congregation laugh, at his jokes and at the cuteness of the children.

A fairy tale perhaps?

I wish.

So why am I the stick-in-the-mud, the grumpy mother of seven who cringes at this style of homily? Why am I the lone wolf crying in the wilderness?

Why does it even matter?

It matters because it affects how and what we believe as Catholics. It matters because it, this style of homily, gathering children or lay people on the steps of the sanctuary, affects how we view the sacredness of the altar, the sacredness of Holy Mass, of where bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Our Lord. It matters because it affects how we view mass – mass centred on we the people or mass and thus adoration for and worship of God and therefore truly concerned for we human souls.
It matters because of taste, and style and reverence. If one wants cuteness and kitsch, one can turn on TV. If one wants worship and communion with other believers, if one wants lasting change in society as we claim Christ
as King, then our souls need to be fed within Holy Mass. Not entertained.

What does the General Instruction for the Roman Missal have to say about the homily within mass?

65. The homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.
66. The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.
There is to be a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with the participation of a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason. It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter Season, as well as on other festive days and occasions when the people come to church in greater numbers.
After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed.

Mmm. The homily is “necessary for nurturing Christian life”…not, then, for our entertainment or for the priest to gain popularity or even to make Mass more relevant for children. As a mother and a teacher, I know that children love to be challenged, not necessarily entertained. They will rise to the challenge of a homily pitched towards them yet still containing Truth and making them think. They, too, are tired of platitudes, of being fed dumbed-down material and deserve better…deserve to be shown, by the adults around them, and most especially by the priest, what it is that mass is all about. What it is that the Scripture passages tell us. What it means to be a Catholic child. How Christ loves us, appearing on our altars in the Eucharist. And how we love Him, by giving Him due worship and adoration. With reverence and without self-centredness.

“After the homily a brief period of silence is appropriately observed.” How can we have silence after the homily when, indeed, we had no silence during the homily? When the homily consisted of questions and answers, a priest walking up and down, children laughing and fidgeting or, worse, looking bored, while sitting around or in front of the altar ? What was there to reflect upon? Any salient points that may have been made have become lost in the blur and noise of bodies, of movement, of distractions, of laughter, of cuteness.

Better to move straight on to parish notices. Just keep it moving along, in case we, the faithful, get bored or restless or have time to think or reflect or pray in silence.

Yes, better to move on, rather than have the faithful absorb the religion -and-popular-culture mix of sentiments that may be contained in the homily.

In the homily to be given, care is to be taken so that the light of Christ may shine upon life’s events. Even so, this is to be done so as not to obscure the true and unadulterated word of God: for instance, treating only of politics or profane subjects, or drawing upon notions derived from contemporary pseudo-religious currents as a source. Redemptionis Sacramentum

So, if the story above was a fairy tale, a tale of a homily, how would it end? Now, this would not be a bitter, dark fairy tale. In this tale, a tale of a homily, we would see a moral.

The moral being that we, faithful and priest alike, see that abuses “contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament”.and ” hinder the faithful from “re-living in a certain way the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus: ‘and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him’” ( Ibid). In my version of this fairy tale, we come to see that our internal disposition must affect our external actions. And vice verse. Even in liturgy. Even in homilies.

Or should I say especially in liturgy and in homilies?

The observance of the norms published by the authority of the Church requires conformity of thought and of word, of external action and of the application of the heart. …The liturgical words and rites, moreover, are a faithful expression, matured over the centuries, of the understanding of Christ, and they teach us to think as he himself does; by conforming our minds to these words, we raise our hearts to the Lord. ( Redemptionis Sacramentum)

We need it because…

At Mass with a friend recently. On the way home, we talked about the new translation of the missal.

“Oh, I suppose we need a new translation,” said my friend. “We get bored and don’t pay attention to the old so something new is good.”

I stopped.

I looked.

A trifle aghast.

And I said that this comment was exactly why we need the new translation..not because we need change but because we need to return to the use of more sacred language, not more innovations. We need a continuity with Tradition not a break from it. To paraphrase a homily I heard yesterday.

Okay, so what exactly do I mean?

The Holy Father describes this continuity…

The proper celebration of the Eucharist involves knowing, understanding and loving the Church’s liturgy in its concrete form. In the liturgy we pray with the faithful of every age — the past, the present and the future are joined in one great chorus of prayer. As I can state from personal experience, it is inspiring to learn how it all developed, what a great experience of faith is reflected in the structure of the Mass, and how it has been shaped by the prayer of many generations. Pope Benedict XVI Letter To Seminarians.

We pray, we understand, we draw close to God and to the community of believers m
ore effectively when pray the liturgy within the living Tradition of the Church. We then live out our life in a spirit of Faith and in a spirit of prayer.

We do not need liturgy that is all about superficial emotions, feel good phrases or homilies; we do not need innovations, extraneous activities and words inserted in the rite, to help us pay attention. The liturgy itself, and our understanding of the liturgy, should help us to pay attention, to draw closer to God, in a spirit of adoring prayer.

One could say that we need the new translation of the missal in order to re-introduce all the faithful to the use of, the importance of, sacred language…and to thus use this introduction of the new translation as an effective means of liturgical formation. As we learn why we need the changes; as we learn of the changes; then we can also learn, and be instructed in, the sacred meaning of our Divine worship.

What an opportunity, for priest and faithful alike, to instruct, to learn. To know and understand the liturgy, the public worship of the Church. What an opportunity to place our liturgy within the history and Tradition of the Church, to continue to pray with the saints with a deeper understanding, to stand before God, adoring Him. not only with our feelings but with our entire self — our intellect, our emotions, our love, our physical presence and internal and external actions.
As we understand the new translation of the missal and the changes, as we pray with more conscious intent, we will see development in our formation as Catholics. Formation, leaning closer to the will of God with understanding and knowledge, is a lifelong process. The work of both children and adults.

Why the need, for example, for change in the language used in the missal? Why the emphasis on sacred language? Bishop Peter Elliott, auxilary bishop of Melbourne, writes:

But do we need a new translation of the Mass in English? Is the text we currently use not good enough?

No, it is not good enough because it is not particularly good — and “good enough” is not the way to describe the language we should use in the worship of God. The time has come to change because what we are using is not only often inaccurate as a translation, but the style of English is rather dull, banal, lacking in the dignity of language for worship, more like the language of a homily than a prayer. Adoremus Bulletin, Why We Need the New Translation of the Mass

Think about this. Is good enough ever good enough, when we speak of our worship of Our Lord?

If we pray with dignity, if we use words and phrases of dignity, that is to say, sacred, set apart, different phrases and not colloquial phrases ( And with your spirit; through my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault), won’t this change the way we respond? From the use of every day phrases ( and Mass sometimes seeming akin to a second rate TV performance) to a respectful. reverent, dignified celebration.

Why is this so important? Why should how we pray at mass make a difference to our Faith, to what we believe and to how we act? To our relationship with Our Lord?

Again, to quote the Holy Father, there is a connection between how we worship and what we believe. A deep connection between action and belief.

The genuine believer, in every age, experiences in the liturgy the presence, the primacy and the work of God. It is “veritatis splendor” (“Sacramentum Caritatis,” No. 35), nuptial event, foretaste of the new and definitive city and participation in it; it is link of creation and of redemption, open heaven above the earth of men, passage from the world to God; it is Easter, in the Cross and in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is the soul of Christian life, called to follow, to reconciliation that moves to fraternal charity……... The correspondence of the prayer of the Church (lex orandi) with the rule of the faith (lex credendi) molds the thought and the feelings of the Christian community, giving shape to the Church, Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit. No human word can do without time, even when, as in the case of the liturgy, it constitutes a window that open beyond time. Hence, to give voice to a perennially valid reality calls for the wise balance of continuity and novelty, of tradition and actualization.Pope Benedict XVI Message to Italian Bishops

The new translation of the missal, then, can be a time for Catholics to renew their Faith, to reinforce their belief, to be brought closer to God, to a more perfect adoration of God, to live their Faith with knowledge and understanding, to make a difference within the world. Through their prayerful participation in the celebration of Holy Mass, the Divine public prayer of the Church, with respect of rubrics and of sacred language.


Because…Unschooling Q & A

Some recent questions that I have received, about our unschooling homeschooling lifestyle. And some of my replies. Because there is never a new question or a dumb question and because blogging is all about sharing and because this blog reflects my unschooling mentality i.e. sharing bits and pieces.

What do you think are the positives of unschooling?

I guess I see some of the positives of unschooling to be rather nebulous, things like joy and an interest in learning; strong family ties; a sense of identity .Things that can’t always be measured but are with our kids for life – so, there is still that difference, for example, in my older sons, long term unschooling graduates.

In other words, you may not see the fruits of unschooling right now, this very minute, but instead catch glimpses of the fruits but over time. Just like the way our children grow. They seem to be little forever and then, one summer, we notice that they have shot up, their jeans are too short, their shirts too small , and we think, with wonder “How they have grown!” It is the same with unschooling. We worry today about that lazy son. about not enough reading and then, one day, we find a Shakespeare novel under a pillow ( “For night time reading, Mum”) and a clean kitchen, cleaned by a son, upon your return from work. Maturity and growth.

Sometimes you don’t see quantifiable things – knowing history or art, for example – but you see, instead, their passions, how much the kids know about their passions – or simply, in the case of one of my sons who has no one passion, just a general happiness, a brightness and an interest in life.

But I see value in a classical education. How can I mesh this ideal with unschooling?

Can you let go of your agenda ( the classical education ) and see where God will take you and your children in learning? I think that is the first step to successful hidden agenda, trusting in a rich home and community experience, in your own influence, in living the Faith, in learning through life. For joy in life and learning, joy in adoring Our Lord, joy in family relationships has to come first, before we even talk about classical education or the tools for learning. We are more open to the goals of the education of “the free man” (to quote Plato and Aristotle) when we are in a healthy environment.

One can also strew a classical education rather than require a classical education. Via books, movies, excursions and outings, music, art, discussion. Living, eating, breathing the classics. Learning Latin or Greek yourself. Learning our prayers in Latin. Learning the Latin in Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Endless family discussions and debate and reference to logic. In other words, using the materials and resources of a classical education within your daily life and home.

One can also educate oneself classically – and then share this with the kids…as you share who you are.

A case in point here. Liturgy is my passion. I don’t teach the kids about liturgy but because I read about it, I blog about it, I talk about it, the kids end up knowing about liturgy. Recently , we had two priests over for a cup of tea. And, as often happens here, of late, we began discussing liturgy. The kids were strong in expressing viewpoints and discussing concepts and ideas – and one son said that this year, liturgy had become something of an interest for him too. Education via osmosis.

But I want my children to learn perseverance and self discipline and commitment.

In family life, especially within my larger than standard family, it is impossible not to learn self discipline and perseverance. We have to discipline ourselves to share, to take our turn, to pitch in and help with chores, to do something we don’t want but which others want, to persevere through annoyance or irritability…and through the normal duties and strains and giving and taking that comes with the pleasures of family life.

Unschooling is not wrapping a child in a is opening the world to a child, sometimes warts and all…be it in family discussions on budgeting..or in volunteer work in our parishes or in the homeschool community, working with and rubbing shoulders with a myriad of people.

I have also found that one can pick just a single subject in which to learn perseverance …and that academic discipline can be learned by consistently studying one subject formally, rather than “doing school” …. and we can leave the other subjects to life and strewing. Sometimes this single subject discipline has been Latin in our house, sometimes Kumon maths or English, sometimes Religion.

But my son’s strength is maths but he is not interested in society and environment .

It helps me not to think of my kids in terms of education ( one son is into history, one doesn’t like writing, ) but in terms of virtues ( patience, prudence, fortitude, and so on ) and in terms of character traits ( friendly, quiet) and who they are right now as people. This kind of thought changes my mindset, away from school, and onto the idea of Charlotte Mason that children are born persons. Thinking of children as persons means we think of who they are and what they need; we encourage and acknowledge their input; we don’t see them as blank slates on which to write.

Even at work, I see this in my students. I do not mould them; I work with them and guide and instruct and sometimes discipline. I get to know them as people, first.

So, how do we start unschooling?

My suggestion is to start unschooling by taking a vacation, a holiday – in your home, your suburb, your hometown. Act like you would on vacation – make yummy breakfasts, go for walks, play games, watch movies, cook, build Lego, go to museums and libraries, etc.

Don’t think in terms of education, just in terms of living and spending time – and keep a journal of what you do each day. I recently purchased a lovely 365 journal and I am writing brief notes of what we do, things we talk about and think about. It’s hard not to see learning after awhile.

The other thing we do is just celebrate the liturgical year together – you would be surprised how much fun, how much learning occurs just naturally through celebrating the liturgical year. For example, this week we talked about St Martin de Porres, and Peru and looked for Peruvian dessert recipes. We prayed the De Profundis for All Hallows Eve and had an All Hallows Eve party. We went to mass and learned about the history of All Saints and made Soul Cakes. We prayed for the dead on All Souls Day ( and read about horse racing for our Melbourne Cup lunch !) and we talked about St Charles Borromeo, his influence on Blessed John XXIII and about Milan and made Milanese pizza. Who needs school ? And doing activities like this is a good way to fill in that gap that sometimes seems to happen if you stop school and wonder what to do next, what are our passions, what do we do as unschoolers?

But I panic without school!

I used to read unschooling books or websites or blogs, every day. No kidding, this is what I used to do.. read a little bit of unschooling wisdom every day, to help me keep on track when, perhaps, the rest of the world thought I was crazy or lazy. I would pray, workout, read about unschooling each morning.

So is unschooling like unit studies or thematic units?

Well, in a rabbit trail kind of way. Not a full blown you must complete x and y integrated units method but more like..hey, this looks interesting, let’s go….The latter describes our unschooling rabbit trails.

For example, it was Harry Potter week and I suggested we do some Harry Potter reading and movies and related activities from a unit study that I found free online. Last year, we were going on a beach holiday to Wollongong so I used some ideas from a homeschool Science blog re a shell project and we did that together. Last year, or the year before, we did the growing tomatoes thing from the Canadian Space project and the Journey North as a family. Earlier this year, we were into the 1980s because we like 1980s music and movies and we went several times to a back to the 1980s exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. So, I downloaded some teacher resources from the website and we chose some activities to do .

Then we had our whole Legally Blonde/romantic comedy genre study going…and now are into C.S Lewis: Voyage of the Dawn Treader ( new movie coming out); Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters. And unit study ideas from a study guide …integrating subjects in a Choose Your Own Adventure fashion.

Can you see how unschooling flows from life, is life, is learning?

So, unschooling is…

Different for everyone.. we have always been very influenced by natural learning, unschooling, delight directed learning, John Holt. And I have found that each of my sons have grown more into self discipline and into academics and continue this interest and inner motivation at university and work.

Therefore, for us, unschooling has lead to more rigorous academics, to learning how to follow a path, to perseverance.

Of course, our family home and family culture has a role – strewing, chores, family life, valuing self discipline and academics, our values and Catholicism . But these are hard to separate from unschooling. And that really sums up is who we are…and it makes us into open books for our children.. avid learners at all ages.