The Archdiocesan Catechetical Office invited the Catholic faithful to attend a two-day session about everyday life and relationship with God on the weekend of February 4 to 5. The faithful in Couva, however, could match any young crowd in energy, vigour and creativity as was evidenced in their singing, praying and the ex- tempo thank you offered to Fr James Mallon, the youthful priest from Halifax who was the main presenter and author of the programme. Fr Mallon is also author of Catholicism 201 and director of the John Paul II Media institute.
Fr Mallon loves animals (especially his pet dog, “Monsie”, short for Monsignor). The programme entitled Dogmatic Theology is really a analogy between his dog and his relationship with him and mankind’s relationship with God and each other.
On the first day Fr Mallon built a bridge for “Dogmatic Theology” on the foundations of the former successful “Alpha” and “Catholicism 201” courses. He looked at evangelisation and relationship with God in our present day lives. He looked at obstacles and how we can overcome these. The question of suffering was dealt with and many left the first day with a more loving heart towards God because they did not see suffering as God’s punishment. The session helped people answer the questions of the purpose of suffering and our choice of response that makes the difference.
The second day, two main concerns were dealt with “Pre-evangelisation, Faith and Science” and “Ten Qualities of a Renewed Parish”.
The session on Pre-evangelisation was a serious academic treatise dealing with issues like faith and reason, faith and science, anthropology, art and media, epistemology and theosophy. Fr Mallon espoused the view that the Catholic Church today has allowed itself to be put on the intellectual “back foot” on some of these issues, and so the religious views of Catholics seem weak to young people who trust implicitly in science. In a way science has become their religion.
He stressed that the onus was on us to develop a response to the claims that the Church is anti-science, anti-reason or anti-youth culture. He reminded his audience that the Church has always been a supporter of science and reason. From early times St Augustine incorporated the ideas of Plato in his work, as did Thomas Aquinas with the ideas of Aristotle. He questioned the validity of many so-called scientific truths. Young people today accept the claims of evolutionists unquestioningly he averred. The “Big Bang” theory is accepted, although the concept of nothing giving rise to something remains a problem to be worked out. The idea of human identity as being determined by nothing more than the size of brain and the implication that only biology separates us from the animals seems to be coming more popular. Father also made it clear that that the Enlightenment ended up with two world wars. His conclusion – reason is necessary but not sufficient for full human living. “The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #362)
Fr Mallon argued for an informed response to the intellectual substructure of the “new atheism” as a necessary pre-requisite for evangelisation. Secularism based on false science is a danger to mankind.
The audience listened with rapt attention and willingly postponed the break time to facilitate completion of the session. It was a moment for satisfying a hunger deeper than the hunger for food. He brought tremendous skills and technology to the task and applied them well.
His short video clips on the debate on Big Bang theory and the immortality of the soul by Fr Robert Spitzer made light work of these heavy issues. Fr Spitzer’s work has been put on DVDs and will be available at a reasonable price very soon.
The second session on Sunday afternoon dealt with the “Ten Qualities of a Renewed Parish”. These 10 values included: a welcoming environment, hospitality, liturgical celebration, homilies and testimonies, meaningful community, experience of the Holy Spirit, spiritual growth and discipleship, calling forth of gifts, formation of small communities, becoming an inviting Church.
The theme song from the sitcom Cheers was used as an introduction for this session with special emphasis on the words “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name”. The audience was able to identify with the analogy and immediately sang along joyfully.
The 10 qualities really emphasised how the joy, power and true meaning of community and personhood were inter-related. Father combined religious insight and some sociological understandings, with leadership insights to shape his 10 values. He emphasised the need for the Church to be truly inclusive, challenging and engaging to members of the parish. The responsibility for developing the people of the parish is as important as getting the work of the parish done.
The message was very relevant. Some examples of our behaviour was even questioned as he asked… How many times in our churches do we see people who seem to experience considerable distress when they have to move around to let someone have a seat? Or encounter persons who have mastered the skill of looking past others even during the sign of peace? Or, are we so interested in a quick getaway after Mass that we literally park in the gateway. Do we really know who the members of our parish are and do we really care to know? The moment led to some introspection and highlighted the need for change.
At this conference the message was delivered by means of more than just words. Fr Mallon values modern communication technology and uses it well. He mixes religious ideas with modern management ideas and human resource practices. The message is also the man. His passion and energy come across as he shares his ideas for community-building with his audience. As Catholic Christians, celebrating Catholic Culture and Identity we were spiritually nourished, informed, encouraged, awakened by the torch-bearing, dynamic, charismatic Fr James Mallone. We give thanks.
The programme will be available at parish and vicariate levels. – S Lochan & A Alleyne