An introduction to the Lenten Gospel Enquiry program, If today you hear his voice, by Pat Branson.
I wrote this program because I wanted to make a contribution to the Australian Cardijn Institute. At the same time, I am very well aware that there are others in this country who are more knowledgeable and more skilled than me, so to avoid making a fool of myself, I will speak about what my faith means to me, how I live it liturgically and how I want to apply the See, Judge, Act method I learned from students nearly 50 years ago.
To “see, judge and act” is “organic”, meaning, it seems, to me, to be the natural way of thinking and acting in a religious key. I have come to see that Cardijn’s method is intended to bring about personal and social transformation, so that Christ’s disciples can experience their divine destiny in their present, temporal destiny. This is how I want to look at Lent and these ideas are embedded in the program.
When I think about the Ash Wednesday liturgies that we celebrated at Kolbe Catholic College in Rockingham, Western Australia, I recognise the See, Judge and Act in the simple ritual we created in the school grounds. We reflected on the purpose of Lent, our human personal, spiritual and social need to fast and pray and give alms. The Gospel was proclaimed and related to our Christian vocation. In response, we received the Sign of the Cross with ash on our foreheads. Project Compassion kits were distributed and we were sent forth to live the Gospel. This Lenten program, “If today you hear his voice …” was written as an extension of the Ash Wednesday experience that many of us have each year.
I remember encountering the slogan “Live simply, that others may simply live.” It is attributed to Gandhi. I like to think that my encounter with Action for World Development came about because of YCS. And I want to see Lent through the lens provided by Gandhi. My response will involve stripping away what is not essential (fasting), so that I am better able to recognise the presence of God in my life and in the world (prayer) and hear Jesus say, “Come, follow me,” to choose to act in God’s name (give alms).
In my rather simple way of looking at life, I recognise the transformation that can occur in a person who does take Lent seriously. It is much more than me choosing as a ten year old to give up having sugar in my tea and never returning to that practice.
My transformation begins with me developing the habit of opening my Bible each morning and reading and reflecting prayerfully on a passage from one of the four Gospels. This was another “giving up something for Lent” action from some years ago, and one that holds the promise of transformation, much more so that giving up sugar in my tea. Why?
Jesus reminds me often that I pay too little attention to the details of his story, like discovering recently that when Peter entered the courtyard of the high priest’s home and denied knowing Jesus while he warmed himself at the fire in the courtyard, Jesus was in that courtyard, in the dark and cold. I have this image of Jesus looking at Peter, not accusing him of cowardice, or apostasy, but looking at him with love and forgiveness in his heart and soul — his very life and existence as the Son of God made man was there in that look and his grace for transformation of Peter, too. And Peter wept. In living out his fantasy of being Jesus’ protector, he had failed miserably.
Transformation happens bit by bit. It is lifelong. It is lifelong learning. Every year, I set out to dedicate forty days and nights to seeing the presence of God in every part of my life, in the light and bright spaces and also in the dark and cold of my sinful ways because it is the grace God gives in those moments of recognition that I am the beloved of God that will transform me (Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus). I hope and pray that I keep looking into those spaces in my life and that I use Lent for doing so.
So, this looking, is the See stage of Cardijn’s method. I learned recently from Pope Francis that this stage includes recognising God’s presence in my life and in society, both locally and globally. God is not absent from Kyiv because bombs are falling and people are dying. God is not absent from the lives of the oligarchs of Russia as they listen to the “k-ching, k-ching” of the cash registers of their off-shore accounts. Seeing God’s presence in their lives might well be the last thing on their minds, but it should be the first thing on my mind.
Transformation is nor just personal, it is also social. In Cardijn’s mind and in the mind of Pope Francis, the See stage is about recognising in my life and in society, the divine and temporal destinies that I share with all people and coming to recognise the signs of God’s presence in my life and in society, both locally and globally.
In an ideal world, I would be reading the next Sunday’s Gospel and reflecting on it in the days leading up to Sunday Mass. The words and actions of Jesus become the lens through which I view my life during the week, how I live it and how I interact with the world around me, both locally and globally.
In this context, Lent is no different than any other time of the year, however, it can be viewed and practised as a Gospel living intensive, a five-week course in how to live as a disciple of Jesus who seeks friendship with his leader, his brother.
The Gospel becomes the means by which I critique my interaction with life and with culture. And over the five weeks, leading up to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, each reading should help me to fine-tune my responses to life and to culture, the aim being that I no longer live, but Christ lives in me is who you see.
This is the JUDGE stage of Cardijn’s method. What I see in my life and in the world, and how I perceive things to be and the signs of God’s presence, are critiqued through the teachings and actions of Jesus to bring myself ever closer to him.
And why do this? Why spend time using the Gospel to analyse what I think, my attitudes and my behaviour? The answer I have always given myself has been “to become more like Christ.” Each and every Sunday Gospel has something to offer. I think I see and hear what I am ready to receive from God. Disciples are like novices, rough around the edges, blundering along like Peter, but as and when they are open to change within themselves, they become ever more attuned to being Christ’s instruments of salvation.
The ACT stage of Cardijn’s method is just this: Pope Francis said recently “The Gospel teaches us that the action, which is in the very name of your movement, should always come from God’s initiative. … action belongs to the Lord: it is he who has exclusive rights to it, walking “incognito” in the history we inhabit …. Our role therefore consists in supporting and encouraging the action of God in hearts, by adapting to the reality which is constantly evolving.”
If I adopt his view of the ACT stage, then I allow Jesus to walk with me and his Spirit to work in me to mould and shape me as I critique my actions in the light of what he reveals to me through the Gospel.
Structural elements of the program …
I had planned the program late last year, before Omicron, and I had in mind the people in my parish. I added sections on the use of the See, Judge, Act method as I underrstand it, and on how to use the booklet … Our parish uses booklets for such activities rather than relying on digital devices. In the end, I did not inform my parish priest of the existence of the program because so few people have signed up to join the groups being offered … the impact of COVID, I suspect.
The program that you have access to has evolved as I sought to bring together in my mind memories and images and scripture passages chosen somewhat randomly to create opportunities for reflection and provide for people’s memory, imagination and intuition to play their part as they reflect on the Gospel readings for the five Sunday’s leading up to Holy Week.
The program booklet has five sessions, one for each Sunday’s Gospel reading. A scripture quote has been added to the title page for each session. I don’t know why I chose them, but I did. They came to me as I was putting the book together.
Most of the images have been taken from video I shot in Cambridge, England, during a brief visit in 2019. For instance, as I panned up the front of the Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, I paused at the Calvary scene. This is the image on the front of the booklet. All of the images speak to me in different ways of the love of Christ and of the call to discipleship. They provide opportunities for reflection and prayer on the actions of disciples seeking to follow Jesus.
Such randomness appeals to me. It allows for the imagination to work, creating opportunities for me to reflect on bringing Jesus into relationships that matter the most to me in new ways. So, they are there to aid reflection on my relationship with Christ. I hope they do the same for those who use the program.
Perhaps I should say at this point that my original plan was to create a journal, which I have done for myself — there is an ePub version which works well in the Apple environment and I am able to add notes to the text and use them as I journey through Lent, as part of my examination of conscience.
Each session begins with an Acknowledgement of Country and followed by an opening prayer. Originally, I had written an opening prayer, but deleted it when I found the three elements (Acknowledgement of Country and the opening and closing prayers) on the Australian YCS website.
The SEE section of each session is used to bring together the Gospel and a situation or event chosen by the group to be the focus of their reflection, prayer and action. Ideally, the choice is made before the first meeting, so that the group comes together with their intention defined. For instance, I might be in a group that has decided to look at the impact of climate change on our local community.
Notice the direction that is given in the last part of the instruction: “Identify the signs of God’s presence in the situation you want to change.” This directive is a key feature of the program. I find this to be the most challenging part of my life at present, seeing the “signs of the times” as signs of God’s presence in the world.
Part of the JUDGE section from the Second Week of Lent takes me deeper into what challenges me most: seeing God at work in the world … and also in me, too. I designed the questions to bring me into confrontation with my own attitudes, which often do not reflect the mind of Jesus. So, what will the transformed Pat be like because he dared to explore this within the group? I hope that I will become more like Jesus and more prayerful and open to God’s guidance and his use of me in whatever way he knows is for my good and the good of people I live with and associate with daily.
Part of the ACT stage from the Third Week of Lent has been used here to illustrate how and why I constructed the stage as it appears in the program. I have worked from my experiences of reviewing with students in the past. Over a period of time, we fine-tuned our actions so that they would reflect more truly what Jesus was asking of us.
The last part of each ACT stage introduces some form of evaluation of the meeting – an action in itself. I put this in to remind myself that I am just as responsible as everyone else for the success of our meetings.
The Closing Prayer reminds me that I need to be outward looking, that my action needs to be what Jesus would do. His unconditional commitment to doing God’s will is the mindset that I need to develop — and Lent, with its call to fasting, prayer and giving alms, is an opportunity too good to miss so that I can follow Jesus.