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December 7, 2007
Advent blessings 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 Jeanne Hunt. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers media 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." As we prepare our hearts and home for the nativity may God send a few Epiphany moments to surprise us.
—Jeanne Hunt

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The Lord Is Coming Soon!
An awakening of any kind, spiritual or physical, requires staying alert. I love a children’s Advent hymn that proclaims, “Stay awake, get ready. The Lord is coming soon!” As parents and catechists, we must be as alert as possible to those occasions when we can be surprised by epiphany moments. A child’s question, a teenager’s dilemma, a quiet moment of prayer can all lead to a deeper awareness of God’s presence. Epiphanies seem to come when we are ready to see with new eyes. In these days before Christmas, I encourage you to slow down and see Jesus Christ in those for whom you care, to listen for the ancient sounds that call you to prayer and to make your hearts ready for his coming. His presence is always meant to surprise and amaze us. The only prerequisite this Advent is to stay awake and get ready.
Epiphany for Adolescents
One of the impossible dreams of catechesis is to engender moments of epiphany for young adults. It is the challenge of the junior high catechist to teach with such a passion that these young adults will, for the first time, see Jesus Christ as someone real and meaningful in their lives.
It is so easy to share faith with little ones. They are ready and willing to see a Jesus who is their invisible best friend. But that childlike ideal fades as adolescence arrives and the prove-it-to-me age begins. What can parents and catechists do to encourage a personal epiphany for the young adults in their lives?
One of the best ways to understand evangelization for young adults is to get into their skin. Their language and culture is beyond the reach of most catechists. I recommend a wonderful book that bridges the generation gap. I Choose God: Stories From Young Catholics, by Chris Cuddy and Peter Erickson, offers 21 down-to-earth stories of very real young Catholics. These young people are looking for truth in a culture that is evasive and offering little in the way of values and inner peace. As I entered the journey of each storyteller, I was amazed at the common connections with new life in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that play out with different details but the same ancient quest. The book abounds in epiphany moments…21 to be exact.
For this baby boomer, a collection of sacred stories like this gives hope for those who will follow us on the road to the Kingdom. There are differences in the language, in the music and in the clothes, but the deeper presence remains the same. We all encounter Jesus Christ in an epiphany that opens our eyes to something beyond us and that endures throughout our lives.
Audio Resources for Epiphany
A cherished friend of mine (with whom I now correspond far too infrequently) taught me something important about prayer. We interned together at a retreat center, serving on a team that gave retreats for high school students. Whenever Colleen (now Sister Colleen Maura of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of Clyde, Missouri) led or contributed to team or group prayer, she prayed for a greater awareness of God’s presence. Her constancy in making this request in prayer led me to deeper exploration of my own prayer and awareness of God’s presence.
We celebrate God’s presence made manifest in the person of Jesus—first at Christmas and again at Epiphany. We associate this celebration (officially a solemnity) with the coming of the three kings (Magi). That these “wise men from the East” traveled to acknowledge the presence of God in the child Jesus is remarkable. The fact that these men were gentiles also speaks of the reality that, through Jesus, God is made manifest and available to all people.
What difference does it make whether one is aware of God’s presence? I have found that it makes a big difference in my life. I have faith that God is present with me and within me at all times and everywhere. I have had many experiences of God’s revelation through the words and actions of other people and through life events. I know that God speaks to me through Scripture and the wonders of creation as well. While I believe it, I can also forget it quite easily—or take it for granted and not really think about what it means.
Including a prayer for awareness of God’s presence whenever I pray has changed me—for the better. I am more conscious of God as my constant companion. I more readily look for the ways that God is at work even in the difficulties I encounter. I more readily draw on God’s strength, compassion and patience—whatever is needed from me by another, especially when my own well of those resources seems dry. I am better able to keep things in perspective because I benefit from God’s view of things.
As our Church calendar moves toward the celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, I invite you to reflect on the meaning of the Epiphany in your own life and in the life of the Church. I have selected a clip from the audiobook Eternal Seasons: A Liturgical Journey With Henri J.M. Nouwen to share with you. This work is a compilation of selections from Nouwen’s books, arranged in order of the Church year. In the selected clip, you’ll hear a brief introduction by the editor, Michael Ford, and just two of the many offerings on Epiphany and the “Feasts of Epiphany” (from Anthony of Egypt 1/17 to Shrove Tuesday) in this book. Click here (Windows Media | RealMedia) to listen to the audio clip.
This audiobook can serve you in a variety of ways as you prepare for each season and celebration of the Church year. Selections of it can be shared regularly at pastoral staff meetings and gatherings of the worship commission and those responsible for art and environment in your worship space. Introduce RCIA participants to each season and some of the celebrations of the liturgical year by using a reflection or two from Nouwen’s writings. Share selections at meetings of catechists and school teachers, at parish council meetings and gatherings of local catechetical leaders.
Walk with Christ through the Church year—and invite others to join you—ever mindful of God’s presence within you.
Building Bridges
In my parish, one of the highlights of the Christmas season comes when we are given the opportunity to share the blessings we have received with those outside our parish who have more pressing needs. One of those groups is a parish we call our “twinning” parish in Central America. All through the year we have fundraisers benefiting our twin community. We send a group of volunteers to work there during the summer, and we pray every week for the twin community. Our efforts help the members of our twin parish materially, but we, too, are enriched as a parish by our efforts and by their response to us. 
Dennis O’Connor, a Catholic journalist from Cincinnati, has written a wonderful new book explaining how parish communities can establish a faith-based partnership with a “twin” parish in another region or country. Bridges of Faith: Building a Relationship with a Sister Parish is the ultimate source and guidebook for members of churches, schools and other faith communities who want to experience the benefits of these spirit-filled relationships. If your parish doesn’t yet twin with another community, this book would be a great place to begin exploring the concept.
Dennis O’Connor has also written a handy journal, Bridges of Faith Personal Journal, for use when making trips to a twinning parish. It is full of tips and insights, from simple hygiene and handy items the pilgrim should pack to practical tips for better appreciating cultural differences. Reflection questions and plenty of space for writing personal observations make this journal a great item for recording your hopes and dreams for building that bridge of faith.
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