Q: Archbishop J, why a meeting of schools in World Mission Month?
The purpose of the meeting of schoolchildren in October, World Mission Month, is to inspire our young Catholics to be bold, brave and to be Catholic.
To see other young Catholics, witnessing to the faith, is inspiring. It brings forth a sense of the normalcy of faith. It also offers the opportunity for formation and assists the young person to see the connections between faith and ordinary life. Ultimately, the hope is through inspiration the young Catholic will then be better prepared to own their faith, live their faith, and share their faith. This is what missionary discipleship is all about.
Mission Month is a festival of things Catholic, intended to inspire our young to see and embrace their faith differently. Have we always achieved our goal, not yet, but we are on our way.
In Synod 2009, we focused on the New Evangelisation. We agreed that the New Evangelisation had to be dedicated to the Catholic family, the school, and the parish. These three, interlocking and holding hands, would ignite the Catholic imagination for the present and future generations.
The Synod document stated: “The renewal of three institutions is vital to the success of the New Evangelisation in our Archdiocese. These are the family, Catholic school, and the parish. All three must become communities of faith, forming disciples rooted in an authentic humanity and life-giving Catholic culture.”
Mission Month is an attempt to inspire our schools to become a space of Catholic formation. The intention is not only to form disciples, but also missionary disciples by the end of secondary school.
Our formation this year was on prayer. Prayer is to the Christian what water is to fish. Without it we die. How do we inspire our young to build habits around discipleship? I believe the habit of prayer is the foundation to all the other habits required for discipleship.
If a young person has a habit of prayer that is deep and sustainable, then God has them and can do so much in their lives. If there is no habit of prayer, we could give them knowledge, but not easily a living faith.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) opens the section on prayer with a definition:
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.”
(§2559, citing St John Damascene and St Augustine)
In our school assemblies, we have taught our young people prayers—the rosary, the morning offering, prayers for various occasions, the psalms, etc. Learning rote prayer is vital in the formation process.
In times of challenge, we all need prayer that comes spontaneously. The second stage is to teach how to raise our mind and heart to God, while we say our prayers. This requires humility before God—a recognition that we do not yet know how to pray.
How do we move prayer from the lips and the mind to the heart? This is the question that must trouble every parent, catechist, teacher, and priest. How do we invite our young people to experience prayer as an encounter with God and then help them to make a habit of it?
This movement of prayer from the outside to the inside is vital for the movement to discipleship. For this, I have asked all our Catholic schools to punctuate their day with prayer: Christian Meditation in the morning and the Examen in the evening.
Christian Meditation: If we begin the day with five minutes of Christian Meditation, it will invite the entire school community to encounter Christ at the beginning of the day. This form of prayer, a practice of the fourth century Desert Fathers, was recorded by John Cassian who travelled extensively, learning from many holy mystics in the desert.
Christian Meditation or Centring Prayer focuses on a sacred word, posture, and the breath. The word recommended is Maranatha, an Aramaic word (the language of Jesus) that translates “Come Lord”. It was a prayer of the early Church that is biblical (see 1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelations 22:20). In both texts, it is a cry from the Church to their risen Lord to make haste and return.
Evoking faith in the risen Lord and this return, this ancient Christian prayer reminds the disciple that while Jesus may delay, His coming is as certain as the dawn.
The word is broken into four syllables—Ma-ra-na-tha. It is said in harmony with breathing in and out. The posture, the word and the breath hold the prayer in a dynamic tension, inviting the risen Lord to come with every breath. When we have prayed this way for a while, we find in unguarded moments the prayer is praying in us.
Last week, hundreds of children—from primary to secondary school—gathered in church each day for this prayer. After the five-minute timer went off there was still profound silence.
The young people stayed in the prayer. They closed their eyes again and kept in prayer until interrupted. What they recounted was an encounter with Christ that led to an inner peace they could not explain.
The Examen: The second prayer I teach is the Examen. St Ignatius of Loyola said if someone prays the Examen each day, they cannot be far from God. It is a gym for the conscience.
The prayer revolves around a conversation with Jesus in which the disciple recounts his or her day, in five steps: (1) gratitude, (2) examining whether one has been the best, or not the best, version of oneself, (3) becoming aware of the one big or pivotal experience of the day, (4) asking God’s forgiveness, and (5) a commitment to grow. My request is for every school to end the day with this prayer.
Socrates says the unexamined life is not worth living. This prayer gives the young person the tools to examine their motivation, actions, and movements of the heart. If done well and daily, it will form a generation of disciples who both encounter Christ and know and live His teachings.
There is no discipleship without prayer; no mission without discipleship.
Review your prayer. Is there a routine that suggests a habit of prayer? Can you strengthen your prayer by adding one or both of these methods?
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18