April 2021

Volume  100, Number 4

An essential part of a Spred catechetical session is personal expression. It is performed by the whole group after a leader catechist proclaims the Gospel message to each person and the whole group.  While it is commonly known as an ending or closure of a session in the celebration room, the personal expression offers three experiences relevant to every person present during the session.  It serves as a life-giving path for an act of worship, an enriching faith formation, and a celebration of a community full of hope.

 

As an act of worship, the personal expression involves several rituals such as sitting in silence, standing together, singing, raising hands gently, holding one another’s hands and praying.  The Spred group enters into personal expression with an apt hymn that speaks of the Paschal mystery of Christ.  Everyone in the group remains seated listens to the hymn and gets the feel of everything in the space.  It helps each person to become aware of his or her emotions which are evoked by the hymn.  When the hymn is finished, everyone approaches and gathers around the Bible which is on the sacred table surrounded by the candle and flowers. The hymn is played again and this time everyone joins in the singing with body gestures modeled by the leader catechist.

 

One of the hymns that we frequently use during our Spred sessions has a refrain that goes, “I am the way, follow Me, I am the truth, believe in me. I am the light, dwell in me. Alleluia.” 1 The repetition of words enabled us to remember the lyrics easily and sing together animatedly. The mood, tempo, and the words of the hymn helped us to be more mindful and prayerful.  While most of our friends could not clearly sing the lyrics of the hymn, we, the catechists, could sense their voices which gave us a feeling of their willingness to worship with the entire Spred community. They expressed their dynamic participation according to their own capacities.

 

Through gentle music, body gestures, and united spirits, we experience a kind of profound communion.  It is an experience that Thomas Merton describes as a deeper level of communication. “It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity...we are already one.  But we imagine that we are not.  And what we have to recover is our original unity.  What we have to be is what we are.”2 Through personal expression, an act of worship, we realize that we and God belong together with one another. 3 We encounter Jesus, face to face, in the presence of our friends and catechists, and we come to see Jesus as he is.  We worship by “being silent in the presence of the divine Word, and learning to use words that do not wound but console.”4 Our worship is an expression of our desire to make God’s plan more important than our personal time, our entitlements and our spaces. The act of gathering together in a sacred space, seeing the holy symbols, feeling the sacred presence, 

 

appreciate the holy time, and perceiving the message embedded in the hymn, we are called to remember the presence of God and our relationship with God.  Our experience led us to a deeper sense of the mystery of Christ who is the way, the truth and the light.

 

The personal expression is valuable in our faith formation with our friends with intellectual disabilities.  As a community, we build and strengthen our relationships which are essential for faith formation. Both our friends with disabilities and our fellow catechists enter into the personal expression not as a means to articulate intellectually a theological or philosophical understanding of God’s presence in our lives but with faith in Christ’s presence  we come “to experience the sacred presence of God and thus to believe.”5 Our faith and the faith of our friends are nurtured within the faith community.

 

Personal expression is a practice that is filled with meaning which animates, cultivates and reflects qualities of Christian faith life.  It directs us to discover “new approaches, new ways of acting, a different way of understanding and identifying with others, by welcoming and caring for the mystery of the frailty of human life.”  Our experience in personal expression reflects the reality that “people with disabilities are a gift for the family and an opportunity to grow in love, mutual aid and unity.”6 “Our friends are guided to recognize and experience their faith as a gift from God.”7 We include our friends “in the worship based on the work of the Holy Spirit who surpasses human expectation and understanding.” 8 Each one is given an opportunity to have an encounter with God and to open their eyes and hearts to the activity of God’s spirit of love.

 

Personal expression is a community celebration of hope.  The Spred community becomes an embodiment of hope where everyone gives support to revive each other.  During personal expression, everybody celebrates hope by coming closer and standing before the Word of God, the Bible, a fountain of eternal hope.  Everyone feels the joy of being close to fresh and beautiful flowers, reminders of God’s creation, a life-giving source of hope.  Each person encounters the mystery through the symbol used during the session.  As everyone stands together holding each other’s hands, the group becomes a community of witnesses of faith filled with hope.  We are constantly urged to embody the hope that “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart...Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our hearts and lift our spirits to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love..”9 The personal expression and the other essential parts of a Spred session are manifestations and expressions of what we believe in a community of hope.  The joy that we feel during personal expression goes beyond our celebration room.

 

It has been more than a year now since we gathered together for our usual Spred sessions due to the pandemic.  We miss seeing our friends and fellow catechists in person so much.  In spite of the many difficulties we encounter, we have been able to continue to provide something more than what we could do usually inside our physical environment. We have been able to initiate contact and develop relationships through phone calls, notes, letters, zoom chats, birthday car parades.

 

Pope Francis tells us that “fullness evokes the desire for complete possession, while limitation is a wall set before us.”10 We are aware of this tension between fullness and limitation while we are apart during the pandemic, but we also experience this during a session.  When parents, parish volunteers and other catechists came to the Spred Center to observe our sessions, a common comment and feedback they gave us was about how they were inspired, moved and touched 

by the session. We rarely heard a comment about the tension that the catechists and friends had experienced. Those of us who are catechists long that everyone would experience a certain fullness during a session. However, considering the different abilities and sometimes unpredictable behaviors of our friends, we acknowledge their limitations as well as the limitations of catechists.  When we worship together we see their effort to participate.  In spite of the tension, we continue to provide support and aim to see progress in their faith development.

 

During this time of the pandemic, our Spred ministry is going through a tougher time of tension between fullness and limitation. One path to cope with the tension is to relive the spirit of personal expression, its meaning, significance and purpose.  We are called to reawaken our sense of fullness in the midst of tension. “Hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.”11 We may not be able to gather together physically to worship, but we can offer prayers more intentionally for each other as we realize that we and God belong to one another.  We can encounter the face of Jesus through the prayers we share with one another. Our communion empowers us to move toward fullness despite our limitation.

 

A few weeks after he officially took on his role as the new Spred executive director, Joe Quane immediately initiated and conducted a series of online meet and greet gatherings with members of various Spred groups in different parishes.  Many catechists shared their stories and insights about the challenges they were facing in their own communities.  These online conversations were one of the initiatives taken to revive hope among Spred communities.

 

Personal expression is a taste of Easter when we resonate with the disciples’ feeling of being overjoyed when they saw the Risen Lord (John 20:19).  When we worship the Risen Christ, our faith is formed and nurtured.  We celebrate the hope that the Risen Christ brings to us.

 

As we celebrate the Easter season, we are empowered by the spirit of the Risen Christ and we marvel at the great mystery of life born out of death.  The spirit of the Risen Christ helps us to deepen our commitment to our friends.  We value more freely, share more generously and prioritize more intentionally the time we offer to our friends in our Spred community.

 

We create and promote a mission-oriented faith community.  We are called to give time for others by becoming evangelizers even during the time of the pandemic.   Together, we continue to explore ways to bring our friends nearer to a welcoming and loving community, to make sacred places where they can experience not just participation but communion.  Personal expression is not simply a closure nor an end of a Spred catechetical session but rather it is a time given to us for our awakening and renewal of profound and active communion with the Risen Christ through friendships in our Spred Community.

                                                                      Rev. Marlon Bobier Vargas, SVD

                                                                       Chicago Spred Catechist in Spain

 

1. “I Am The Way” Collegeville Composers, Where Two or Three are Gathered, Liturgical Press 2007, Collegeville, MN,

2. The Art of Thomas Merton: A Divine Passion in Word and Vision, Franciscan Media 2017, Cincinnati, Ohio pg.123

3. Courtney Mares, “Pope Francis: When We Do Not Worship God, We Worship Ourselves” Catholic News Agency, March2, 2021

4. Joseph Serwach, “Pope Francis: The Meaning of Worship,” Medium. January 7, 2020

5. Hwarang Moon, Engraved Upon The Heart: Children, the Cognitively Challenged and Liturgy’s Influenced on Faith Formation, 2015, Introduction

6. Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family, Apostolic Exhortation, 2016 Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN #179

7. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Holy See Editors, 1994, Liguori Publications #179

8. Moon, Ibid. introduction.

9. Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, Oct. 3, #55, www.vatican.va 2020

10. Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium: Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, Nov. 24, 2013, #222,

11. Pope Francis, Ibid, #28  

 

 

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