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Unwrapping the Good News

“…I proclaim to you good news of great joy…”(Lk 2:10).
 
The angel’s announcement at the birth of Jesus let all who heard it know God had fulfilled His promise: He had become one of us in “all things but sin” to set us free from the tyranny of sin. This is Good News of great joy! This angelic announcement was given to a world not unlike our own, riven with strife, political difficulty, senseless violence, tears and hardship, especially for those on the margins — the poor, the sick and those of low status in Roman society. And it was to these — the poor shepherds — that this announcement of Good News was first given.
 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. … Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:18-21).
 
As He begins His public ministry, Jesus proclaims that the Good News first foretold by the prophet Isaiah to the people is now fulfilled in their hearing: He is here to offer liberty to captives, glad tidings to the poor and to bring sight to the blind. Who reacted with joy? The captives, those whom Jesus healed and the poor whom we see Jesus encounter throughout the Gospels, embraced Jesus with great joy. Yet not all reacted with joy — the leaders of the people responsible for governing and those responsible for leading them closer to God often reacted with hostility. What is our reaction to this Good News? Do we see that it is Good News? Are we ready to encounter Christ and look more deeply at what this Good News means for our lives — how can we be “set free?” Are we ready to sell all for this “priceless pearl” and bring others to encounter Christ and also be set free?
 
“The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”
 
Pope Francis reminds the world of the Good News as he begins his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium:” “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (EG, 1). This is Good News! For who? For everyone. God heals wounds, fills empty hearts, provides purpose and gives each of us the grace to become that which He called us to be from the beginning. I have seen this repeatedly in my work with those entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process. This is Good News for everyone: those who are wounded, suffering from addiction, lonely, insecure, purposeless or seeking love. In the silence of our hearts, when we find ourselves alone with God, we realize our complete weakness and how much we need Christ and this Good News! Come Lord Jesus and set us free.
 
How do we unwrap the Good News?
 
The joy and peace of Christ should be tangible wherever the Good News is shared and lived. So as we look around our parishes and communities, we can ask what we see and compare the scene to what Francis describes in the early Church:
 
“In the Acts of the Apostles we read that the first Christians ‘ate their food with glad and generous hearts’ (2:46). Wherever the disciples went, ‘there was great joy’ (8:8); even amid persecution they continued to be ‘filled with joy’ (13:52). The newly baptized eunuch ‘went on his way rejoicing’ (8:39), while Paul’s jailer ‘and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God’ (16:34). Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?”(EG, 5)
 
And why was there such joy? The Good News brings great joy! God has become one of us, Emmanuel, God with us. God has come among us: We have a Savior who knows us so completely and loves us absolutely so that we can always trust in His merciful love. He will always come to us when we call, and in that encounter He changes our lives for the better. Good News yesterday, today and forever. May we unwrap this Good News in our hearts and joyfully announce it anew to our communities and the world.

--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

Year of the Family: The Joy of Love

Following a successful Year of Creation in the Diocese of Burlington, 2018 will be celebrated throughout the Catholic Church in Vermont as the Year of the Family with a particular focus on Pope Francis’ 256-page apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” (“The Joy of Love”).
 
“Like last year’s Year of Creation, this Year of the Family offers us a year to ponder the Church’s teaching on the family and embrace it ourselves,” Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne said in announcing the special celebration.
 
Among the components of this special year will be a new diocesan Pre-Cana program, a World Marriage Day anniversary Mass, a Catholic men’s conference and diocesan women’s retreat, the annual Family Mass at St. Anne’s Shrine and other diocesan-wide and parish activities that are still developing.
 
“The purpose of the Year of the Family is to explore, reflect upon and implement the message of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” explained Stephanie Clary, manager of mission outreach and communication for the Diocese.

The 2017 year-long focus on “Laudato Si’” and 2018’s year-long focus on “Amoris Laetitia” aim to assist the faithful in understanding these global documents at the local level and supporting Vermont parishes with resources and ideas for furthering these Vatican messages in Vermont communities.
 
“While certain events during the Year on the Family will focus on specific family situations (for example, Pre-Cana prepares a man and woman to start a new family together as husband and wife, and the annual Family Mass at St. Anne’s Shrine brings together multi-generational families of many forms for a celebratory day of joy), the overall focus of the Year of the Family is the joy and love that are experienced by being attentive to the important relationships in our lives and serving as an example of that love — God’s love — for those we encounter,” she said.
 
“No matter into what model our families fit — or don’t fit — they can serve as examples of joy and love in the world if they strive to be domestic churches committed to God’s will.”
 
Pope Francis writes of how “the Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes” and “every family … can become a light in the darkness of the world.”
 
Emulating what Pope John Paul II did in writing “Familiaris Consortio” in 1994, Pope Francis seeks to highlight the challenges that families face today and proposes ways for the Church to proactively respond in a new way: “Nowadays, pastoral care for families has to be fundamentally missionary, going out to where people are,” commented Deacon Phil Lawson, executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life.
 
The husband and father of six hopes his family exhibits love and joy. “The world needs more of both of these. As Pope Francis states in ‘Amoris Laetitia:’ The strength of the family ‘lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love’ and later on he refers to a ‘joy-filled witness.’ If my family and all our families can be agents of love and joy, we will have served our Lord’s mission well in the world,” he said. Michael Hagan, coordinator of religious education and catechesis for the Diocese, emphasized that that the Church truly is a community. “It is easy to make the faith strictly personal and forget that we are deeply connected with the other members of the Church as members of the Body of Christ,” he said.
 
“If we want to help and support families within our Church that are going through hard times, we will first have to take seriously the truth that we are deeply, spiritually connected to them.” He noted that Pope John Paul II many times made the point that the future of humanity is closely linked to that of the family.
 
“The claim, then, is that the world depends on the success of the family,” Hagan said. But how could the family hold so much significance? “The family reflects the Trinitarian community of persons, the family is the community in which God chose to become man, the family is where we first experience love, share ideas, form relationships, and the family is where we hone our skills to enter into society at large,” he continued. As persons seek to do God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven,” it is clear that the family is a gift from God to be both celebrated and protected, he said.
 
“The Church needs families!” enthused Josh Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington. “In so much as families hold the presence of Christ, the Church — which we know to be the Body of Christ — is strengthened by the presence of families. Throughout the document, the Church is referred to as a ‘family of families.’ The Church needs you!”
 
At the same time, the Church recognizes the many difficulties families face today. For some, Christ’s presence in the family can seem completely absent. “The Church tirelessly works to strengthen and support families through its accompaniment in pastoral ministry and its celebration of the sacraments,” Perry emphasized.
 
In keeping with the themes of joy and mercy, Pope Francis wrote, “It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life.”
 
Ways parishes and families can celebrate the Year of the Family:
• Offer special blessings at Mass to families, anniversary couples, children, engaged couples, pregnant women and those celebrating birthdays.
• Get “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for special occasions at home.
• Gather the family and invite the parish priest to bless the home.
• Attend Mass as a family.
 • Pray together as a family.
• Sponsor a parish family fun day that begins with Mass or adoration.
• Pray the rosary on a family car trip.
• Share the faith on social media.
• Begin an intergenerational faith formation program.
• Invite persons who might otherwise be  alone to share a holiday meal or a Sunday  dinner with your family.
• Reach out to an estranged family member.
• Read “Amoris Laetitia” and discuss it  as a parish family.
 
Topics to explore during the Year of the Family:
• Reconciliation with a family member who has been hurtful
• How the loss of a family member affects family dynamics
• How to support a family member struggling with doubt about faith • Living in a model of family you never anticipated (single parent, widow, step family)
• The role of faith in your family
• How to help a broken family heal
• Nurturing good physical, emotional and spiritual health within your family

“The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church... the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed.”
— “Amoris Laetitia”

 
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
  • Published in Diocesan

Church renewal begins with each of us

“Bad times! Troublesome times! This is what people are saying.”
 
The lead from today’s top story?  It certainly could be.
 
Yet, this was the beginning of a reflection some 1,600 years ago from St. Augustine (354-430) as the Roman Empire was starting to collapse amidst numerous invasions and interior decay.  
 
As Jesus tells us, the “times” will always have trouble (Jn 16:33). Trouble has plagued us since the fall of Adam and Eve. The history of the world is full of the rising and the falling of peoples and civilizations. It’s why this world is sometimes referred to in prayer as “this valley of tears.” 
 
We are a pilgrim people, in this world, but not of this world. This is illustrated at every Mass as the priest and servers lead the congregation in procession towar the cross. We look toward the Cross, toward our salvation and our heavenly home.
 
How does the Lord concretely respond to our “troublesome times?” First, by sending His Son Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16).  And secondly, in each generation, raising up men and women as His disciples to share the Good News with the world.
 
Move forward some 1,500 years after St. Augustine, and Bishop Louis deGoesbriand, another man of faith, raised up by the Lord, is trying to establish the Church in Vermont.  In a letter trying to recruit missionaries to work in Vermont in the 1800’s, he describes the difficult conditions: “…telling you of a mission where the harvest is great, for the Diocese counts 300,000 inhabitants, but where the laborers are not many. Until now I have had only five priests. … It would also be well to explain to you the spiritual needs of my flock, as well as the poverty of the mission, for what can five missionaries do…over a vast territory.  Moreover the children of the Church are poor, so that our most common temples are their tiny cabins, our usual altars the table at which they sit” (“Vermont’s First Catholic Bishop,” Father Lance W. Harlow pp. 66-67).
 
Bishop deGoesbriand would go on to successfully build, recruit and nurture the beautiful foundation of the Church in Vermont. In fact, by the end of his time shepherding the diocese the number of churches had risen from 7 to 71; the number of priests from 5 to 50 (Harlow p. 97). 
 
That foundation has carried us till today.
 
St. Augustine continues his short reflection by offering this sage counsel, which was reflected in Bishop deGoesbriand’s life: “Let our lives be good and the times will be good.  For we make our own times.  Such as we are, such are the times.”  
 
The times will always change, but Christ does not; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8).  And the mission Christ gives us is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  That mission is no less than to go out to all the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ (Mt 28:19-20). 
 
The New Evangelization, the seeds of renewal of the Church and our culture begin with each of us, right here, today, in Vermont in 2017. 
 
What does that look like today?  Pope Francis maps out a path forward for us as disciples of Jesus Christ: “An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. … He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear”  (Joy of the Gospel #24). 
 
We have the privilege and responsibility to do just this in our present “times.”
 
St. Augustine concludes: “What can we do?  Maybe we cannot convert masses of people to a good life. But let the few who do hear live well” (Sermon 30, 8). We are called to be those men and women of faith today, transforming our own times with the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  May God bless and guide our efforts to do just that in Vermont in 2017.
 
Interested in hearing more signs of hope both locally and around the world in the area of the New Evangelization?  Deacon Lawson sends a “New Evangelization Update” email each month. Write to him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to receive these.
 
Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Saying 'yes' to God

By Deacon Phil Lawson

She said “Yes!”
 
Some 13 years ago, I got down on one knee in the adoration chapel and asked Patty to marry me.
 
After a short pause, (during which the mind tends to operate very quickly!) she said “yes.” My heart soared at that one word response.
 
Some 2,000 years ago, the Angel Gabriel approached Mary and asked her to be the Mother of God. At her “yes,” all of heaven rejoiced. In the years since, our Lord has continued to ask for our “yes” to His call or even his proposal to be part of His life and to be His instruments in this world.
 
This year we mark the 100th anniversary of Mary’s appearance to the three shepherd children in Fatima. And when she appeared, for what did she ask? For their “yes” to being part of God’s plan.  “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?” To which they said, “Yes.” And no doubt Our Lady smiled. For these precious three children, had echoed her own “yes” so many years before.
 
Being a person of faith, at its root, is simply about saying “yes” to the Lord, which is exactly what Mary and the three shepherd children did. It’s that simple; it’s that difficult! We said “yes” to the Lord at our Baptism, at our First Holy Communion, at our Confirmation. We say “yes” to the Lord every time we go to Mass. And we say “yes” to the Lord, every time we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and act in accord with the Lord’s will.
 
Pope Francis, commenting on Mary’s “yes,” stated: “Every yes to God creates stories of salvation for us and for others…. God desires to see us and awaits our “yes” (Dec. 8, 2016).
 
What does this look like in terms of evangelization? We say “yes” when the Lord allows us to enter into someone’s life. We say “yes” when we are invited to pray with and for someone. We say “yes” when someone encounters Christ in us. We say “yes” when the Lord allows us to share the joy and beauty of our faith with another (1 Pt 3:15). We say “yes” when we willingly witness the importance of faith in our lives. We say “yes” whenever someone sees the joy of the Gospel in our life and thereby, as Pope Francis shares, create stories of salvation for countless others, as both Mary and the children of Fatima did in their own lives. All of these “yeses” are forms of “evangelization.”
 
There was exultation in heaven when Mary said “yes,” exultation when the children at Fatima said “yes.” And there will be exultation in Heaven as well each time we say “yes” to the Lord’s will.
 
As a final note: The name of the church where I proposed to my wife? St. Mary.
 
Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of 
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Coordinator of evangelization and catechesis

Joshua M. McCusker says that evangelization begins with becoming friends with people. 
 
New to Vermont, the coordinator of evangelization and catechesis at St. Luke Church in Fairfax and Ascension Church in Georgia is doing just that.
 
He understands the importance of showing interest in people and concern for what is happening in their lives. “Treating everyone with dignity and respect is key,” he said.
 
He plans to get involved in the community and befriend people who are not Catholic in hopes of showing them the beauty of the Catholic faith. He wants to work with youth, particularly the teens in the community. “I hope to help them fall in love with the Lord just as I did at that age,” he said.
 
This is the first time the parish has had a full-time person to address catechesis and evangelization. “It can be helpful when the same person who invited you to the Church is the one who accompanies you and instructs you in the faith,” said Father Henry Furman, pastor, adding, “Every confirmed Catholic has an important responsibility to spread the Gospel.”
 
Pope Francis in “Joy of the Gospel” invited everyone to be bold and creative in the task of rethinking goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities, noted Deacon Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
He called hiring McCusker to have full-time responsibilities for evangelization “a very exciting development in our Diocese and one that I hope can be a model for other parishes going forward.”
 
Currently there are two parishes in the diocese with a staff member that has part- time evangelization responsibilities: St. Mark in Burlington and St. Francis Xavier in Winooski.
 
In the Fairfax and Georgia areas, McCusker “will be helping with both outreach in the community and in equipping and inspiring parishioners to be joy-filled missionaries of the Gospel,” Deacon Lawson said. “Father Furman and St. Luke and Ascension churches are to be commended for responding to Pope Francis’ call to be bold and try new models in fostering the New Evangelization.”
 
McCusker’s job in Fairfax/Georgia will entail catechetical adult faith formation, confirmation preparation, baptism preparation, marriage preparation, “Post-Cana,” altar-server training and forming new ways of evangelization both within the parish and beyond it for adults and youth.
 
“When I first heard about the need for evangelization and missionary work among the Catholics in Vermont, I was instantly drawn to the challenge,” he said. “From the time of my Confirmation, God has placed this desire on my heart to be missionary and to evangelize in the parish, but also outside it.”
 
Many people have never heard the Gospel. “Many lapsed Catholics have never been approached by the Church since they left. There are many on the peripheries,” Father Furman said. “There are a number of people awaiting the first announcement of the Good News to them. As our Lord says, the harvest is rich but the workers are few. For these reasons a coordinator for evangelization is important.”
 
McCusker was born in Rochester, N.Y., and also lived in Rhode Island and Georgia.
 
He was a member of a vibrant and faithful parish community and spent much of his time as an altar server and volunteering in the middle school and high school youth groups, Respect Life Ministry and Knights of Columbus. “I loved everything about parish life and all that it had to offer,” he enthused.
 
He attended Ave Maria University in Florida, earning a bachelor’s degree in theology with a minor in history. 
 
It was there that he met his wife, Jovannah; they were married in June.
 
McCusker enjoys sports, music and the outdoors, and he has worked various jobs during the past eight years in restaurants, landscaping, radio communication and athletics.
 
“I know that God is calling me to work for the Church, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity here in Vermont,” he said. “Catholics are called to evangelize. It is part of our faith, and it is an obligation. If we truly believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, how can we not share this truth with others?”
 
 
 
 
  • Published in Parish

Convocation of Catholic Leaders

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl urged participants at the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of The Gospel in America" to take a look at each other in the hotel ballroom and realize that they, as lay leaders in the Church, are responsible for spreading the Gospel message, and they shouldn't waste the moment.
 
"This is not something new that we haven't heard before," he told the delegates in Orlando in a July 2 keynote address.
 
The cardinal stressed the sense of urgency of evangelizing and inviting others to Christ, stressing that Catholics have a perfect role model for this in Pope Francis, who has continually presented the church as inviting and open.
 
Cardinal Wuerl also acknowledged that Catholics are not always comfortable with the idea of evangelizing but they need to be willing to step out of themselves and talk with people about their faith as part of an encounter often spoken of by Pope Francis.
 
An encounter is not meant to tell people "they can be as wonderful as we are," the cardinal said. It is about telling them about Christ. He also noted that as people take this Gospel message out to the peripheries that doesn't just mean economic peripheries either but spiritual ones as well.
 
People need to be asked about their faith and encouraged in it, he added.
 
He spoke about an experience he had on a plane where a woman sitting beside him asked him if he was "born again." When he said he was at his baptism, his seatmate said: "You Catholics are big into this church thing, aren't you?"
 
She then asked him to tell her more and joking, he told the crowd: "You asked for it!"
His point was that many people have questions or even misconceptions about faith and need to be part of a conversation about it.
 
Stressing that church members today, as always, are called to be evangelizing disciples, the cardinal said this role requires courage, a sense of urgency, compassion and joy.
 
Deacon Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington and one of the convocation attendees, said it was “inspiring to be part of such an incredible and joy-filled gathering as the Church in America looks to move forward.”
 
The concept of a joy-filled missionary discipleship “must undergird all of our efforts in the Church—from our institution to our outreach to the margins of our society,” he said. “There are so many who are hurting, wounded and marginalized. The Lord can heal those hurts. And we have the privilege and responsibility to be the Lord’s instruments of mercy and love in the world. What a privilege and responsibility!”
 
Members of a panel of Church leaders who spoke at the convocation, similarly stressed the need to evangelize in simple ways of sitting and eating together, sharing conversion stories, and also reaching out to parishioners and urging them to be more involved.
 
The cardinal and many of the panelists also emphasized that reaching out to others requires a reconnection of one's personal faith.
 
Or as Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said: "If you want to go out in world, start by going in."
 
Deacon Lawson said the convocation energized him for his ministry in Vermont: “The Lord continues to send us out into the world, but He never sends us out alone—always two by two right? To be with some 3,600 other Catholic leaders all seeking the same goal was inspiring and enlivening.”
 
Also in attendance was Bill Gavin, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
-- Vermont Catholic Content Editor and Staff Reporter Cori Fugere Urban contributed to this story.
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Are we ready to listen?

“What do you want me to do for you?”
(Jesus said to the blind beggar.)
--Luke 18:41
 
Jesus is seeking a conversation with you. He is awaiting your response. He is calling you to enter more fully into His life.
 
“In the New Testament, Jesus asked 183 questions, gave three answers and answered 307 questions with a question in return like a true rabbi,” Sherry Weddell points out in “Forming Intentional Disciples.”
 
He waits for us. He listens to us and waits until we are ready to listen to Him. Only then does he ask a question for us to ponder in our hearts.
 
We see this dynamic over and over again in the Gospels. Jesus engages Nicodemus in a conversation. He draws a story out of the Samaritan woman at the well. He goes to dinner at Matthew the tax collector’s house! He asks the rich young man to consider where his treasure really is.
 
What does this mean for evangelization? Two things. One, what is your response to Jesus? One of the more beautiful features of the Gospels are the stories of individuals encountering Jesus. We see Jesus lovingly speak to the depths of their hearts, healing wounds, challenging notions and offering a better way.
 
The 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization highlighted this need for all of us. According to the 2012 Synod of Bishops, "New Evangelization for the Transmission Of The Christian Faith," calls, "all believers to renew their faith and their personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the Church.”
 
Second, to evangelize we must listen first. If we hear the questions a person is asking, then we can answer them. The noted 20th-Century theologian Francis Schaeffer was once asked, “If you had one hour to evangelize someone, how would you do it?” He responded, “I’d spend the first 55 minutes listening.”
 
There is a lot of wisdom in that response. Jesus just could have given long lectures on the principles of the Christian faith—and that probably would’ve been less time-consuming for Him. Yet, He took the time to engage in conversation, to ask questions and then to listen. We must do the same in all of our encounters and conversations.
 
Concretely, as we move into Lent, think about what Jesus is asking of you. Perhaps this Lent, take some time each day, or each Sunday to look at some of those encounters in the Gospels. Spend some time in adoration or the quiet of your home meditating on these encounters. For our encouragement, the Church offers many of these examples in the Sunday readings during Lent.
 
Let us joyfully seek to continue drawing closer to our Lord!
 
Deacon Phil Lawson is the director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 

Lenten confirmation program

Parishes throughout the Diocese of Burlington have been invited to participate in a Lenten program to prepare adults to receive the sacrament of confirmation at Pentecost.
 
Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne confirms adults at Pentecost at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington. “Offering this program through Lent and the Easter Season allows those adults [18 and older] who are seeking confirmation to be adequately prepared to receive the graces of the sacrament both intellectually and spiritually,” explained Deacon Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the diocese. “Journeying with the community through Lent and Easter is a wonderful opportunity to grow closer to Christ and prepare to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.”
 
Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of Initiation, the initial sacraments by which persons become members of the Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Through these sacraments, one is first welcomed into the Catholic community, nourished by the body and blood of the Lord and strengthened through intensification of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
 
Leaders for the confirmation program vary; in some parishes the director of religious education teaches the participants, in others it is a parish priest or volunteer catechist.
 
Deacon Lawson provided a workshop and online training for the parish leaders.
 
Paul Turnley is co-facilitating the program with RoseMaria Doran, for Our Lady of Seven Dolors Church in Fair Haven, St. John the Baptist Church in Castleton, St. Paul Church in Orwell, St. Matthew of Avalon Church at Lake Bomoseen, St. Frances Cabrini Church in West Pawlet, St. Raphael Church in Poultney and St. Anne Church in Middletown Springs.
 
Their program will include seven two-hour sessions: Each will use the framework of prayer, discipleship and mission to present its theme using as resources “The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults,” “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and the Bible.
 
Topics include “Desire for God,” “The Holy Spirit,” “Prayer. Challenge of following Christ. Moral Life. Mary and the Communion of Saints” and “Discipleship.”
 
“The Adult Confirmation Program is built around the framework of Encounter, Accompany, and Mission,” Turnley explained. “The first four and a half sessions, which include the three sessions during Lent, are focused on ‘Encountering Christ’ through focusing on our desire for God; the Holy Spirit; the sacraments of confirmation, reconciliation and the Eucharist; and prayer. These are preparation for accompanying the participants as they accept the challenge of following Christ, responding in love and giving their whole selves and lives to Him….”
 
Pope Francis has called for the Church to be “a facilitator of grace,” and providing an opportunity for adults who haven’t been confirmed to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in confirmation “certainly fits the bill,” Deacon Lawson said.
 
Evangelization is about going out and sharing the joy of the Gospel, so the Lenten program “is a tremendous opportunity to reach out to those who may have drifted away from their faith,” he said.
 
The foundation of this process is a type of mini-catechumenate. Participants encounter Christ -- especially in the Gospels -- the leaders journey with them, and then the participants are equipped and sent forward on mission to live a life of faith.
 
Edmundite Father David Cray, pastor of St. Jude Church in Hinesburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Charlotte, likes the idea of a “uniform…flexible and convenient” process throughout the diocese to prepare adults for confirmation. Offering it during Lent has the benefit of proximity to the Pentecost confirmation by the bishop.
 
However, offering the program during Lent is what is suggested but not required.
 
Turnley said the program combines the elements of re-enkindling love, devotion and commitment to Jesus as the Christ through prayer, the sacraments and a willingness to be Christ in the world “with the opportunity of refreshing our understanding of our faith and our beliefs.”
 
The process in the diocese will be ongoing and offered annually as well as on an as-needed basis.  

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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 
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