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Deanery ‘crosses the threshold’ for adult faith formation

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Friday, November 13, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. MARY’S DEANERY — This past Lent Catholics in St. Marys Deanery completed the adult faith formation program Why Catholic?, a four-year process based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that enabled hundreds to grow in their understanding of their faith.

Now, nearly 700 members of various parishes throughout the deanery are continuing their journey of faith by taking part in the Threshold Bible Study series by Stephen Binz, a Catholic biblical scholar, speaker and author of more than two-dozen books on the Bible.

The Crossing the Threshold program, which will span three years, was chosen after a committee surveyed parishioners and worked with deanery pastors and lay leaders to determine a way to continue the education of adult Catholics.

“What is unique and exciting about this series is that it is made up of different themes that are examined through the eyes of biblical authors and shared in an easy to understand way that is faithful to the church’s tradition,” explained Precious Blood Father James Seibert, dean.

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(CNS photo)

With the assistance of Carolyn Stucke of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis in the north, the deanery implemented the program in September. The topic of the first year, noted Father Seibert, is Eucharist because “the Eucharist is the central sacrament of our faith and our survey indicated most adults wanted to learn more about it.”

Binz visited the deanery in May for a presentation on Lectio Divina (sacred Scripture), the church’s most ancient way of studying Scripture that helps readers to move from attentive listening, to reflective prayer to contemplation action.

The Threshold Bible Study series is designed for small group participation, using one book for a 12-week series of sessions lasting 90 minues, similar to the Why Catholic? process. Each book contains 30 lessons that participants can use on their own for daily study over the course of a month or which can be divided into six lessons per week, providing a group study of six weekly sessions.

St. Marys Deanery members met primarily in small groups for the first six-week period and will gather for a second session in Lent. Because the series is adaptable and beneficial for individuals, couples and families who wish to study on their own, some deanery members chose to take part in that way, said Tess Mescher, deanery center director, noting that participation is voluntary.

Sessions begin with warm-up questions posed to participants, such as “What is your good news since the last time we were together,” or “What is your God sighting for the week?” Prayer follows, with suggestions for environment and music offered. A participant then reads the first Scripture reading for the session out loud, after which there is a 60-minute study and reflection period.

Possible questions for the general reflection on the Scripture reading include, “How does this reading relate to you personally?” and “How does this reading challenge you?” The group also discusses the reading and shares ideas on the reflection and discussion questions in the book.

This is followed by a response discussion that poses questions related to how insights from the session will affect their Mass participation and asks what they are being called to do in the next week in light of those insights. The sessions conclude with prayer.

Mescher, who took part in the first six-week session herself said, “It was so good for me. The small group relationship is so incredible. You just grow so much from each part and putting it all together is such a rich experience. The author is very gifted at pulling the Old and New Testaments together.”

To complement the small group experience and bring the larger group together, the deanery will host a presentation on the Eucharistic Prayer by Precious Blood Sister Joyce Ann Zimmerman at St. Charles Center on Feb. 9.

Next year Bible study participants may read the book on the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, Mescher said. Other books in the series include The Tragedy and Triumph of the Cross, People of the Passion, The Resurrection and the Light, The Names of Jesus, Angels of God and Stewardship of the Earth.

In a letter to members of St. Marys Deanery introducing Crossing the Threshold, Father Seibert stressed the importance of ongoing adult faith formation saying, “Going to Mass every week is simply not enough for Catholics in our world today. Our faith needs to be updated.”

He noted that many Catholics keep up with everything but their faith and, as a result, “We can’t instruct the younger generation or evangelize because we don’t know what to say. It time for us who are absent from our faith to learn why we believe and do what we do as Catholics. It is time to gain sufficient knowledge to discern the true from false, to be able to refute the nonsense and affirm and explain our faith.”

Eileen Connelly, OSU, can be reached at [email protected].

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