I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Mt 28:18, 20)
Objective: To recognize that the history of each faith community is intimately connected to God's history of salvation.
This session, if used as the opening session in this group process, sets the tone for future gatherings. Our stories are central to our faith and to share stories is to share ourselves. The Jubilee Year 2000 invites us to look back to where we have come from and to celebrate the events and people that allow us to be faith filled people journeying into the Jubilee Year 2000 and the Third Christian Millennium.
Set a table with photo albums, keepsakes, genealogy chart, yearbooks, etc. on one side (symbols of personal story), a cross, Bible, small statues of saints, perhaps even parish memorabilia such as trophies or photos on the other (symbols of the faith community's history).
Welcome and Prayer (15 minutes)
Welcome. We are glad you could join us today. We know that there are many other ways you could be spending this time, so we are grateful that you chose to be here. Advent is a time of waiting and preparing, for looking ahead to a brighter future. This year we experience Advent in a special way as we anticipate not only Christmas but also the beginning of the Jubilee Year 2000.
But before we can enter fully into the new year, it's important for us to understand where we are and how we got here. So in the spirit of the Jubilee, we will take some time out from the busyness of our lives--especially busy during the Christmas season--and let our land lie fallow for a while. We hope this moment of reflection will allow us to renew, rejuvenate and rekindle our spirits to the fresh new life that is, after all, what the birth of Jesus is all about.
We each come here with a story, a very personal story. Here on the table are symbols of that personal story in one's life. One of the most personal things we have is a name. It is part of us, part of our identity. Tonight we begin by introducing ourselves, sharing our names. We would like you to share a bit more with us, as well: tell us how you got your name. Who named you? Were you named after a relative or someone famous? Does your name or your surname have a special meaning? Do you have a nickname, and if so, how did you get it? When you tell us your name, please tell us the story of your name or nickname so that we can know more about you.
[After the activity, begin prayer.]
On the table here we also have symbols of our common story as a faith community, God's history of salvation. Sometimes we feel separate from the story of our community, other times we feel intimately connected with our common history. Today we will explore where our individual stories and salvation history come together. We come to tell the story...
[Play David Haas's "Cancion del Cuerpo de Cristo/Song of the Body of Christ" (Gather II, GIA Publications, 1998).]
Sharing Our Experiences (40 minutes)
Every human being is born and grows within a community and nation with its own particular history and culture. True community is too often an unrealized ideal, so we may not always appreciate the fact that our identities depend in large part on the knowledge and understanding we have of our own culture and history. Tonight we are going to use an exercise in examining our lives more closely to try to see the people and groups who have impacted our personal stories.
[Make sure everyone has a pencil or pen. The handout is simply a sheet of paper with a line across it from left to right in landscape orientation. As you go along, put up instructions that detail each step of the exercise up on a previously prepared transparency (if you have access to an overhead projector) or large sheet of newsprint--a sample of the transparency/newsprint sheet is included at the end of this session plan.]
Hold your sheet so that the line goes from left to right across the page. Above the far left-hand side of the line write the year you were born. Above the far right-hand side of the line, write 1999. This timeline represents your life.
[Each paragraph below describes a part of the activity that should take 3 or 4 minutes for a total of not more than 15 minutes. Move things along briskly, encouraging people to begin while you give examples--use the transparency/newsprint sheet. Although this activity can examine deep issues, it also works well on a lighter level, which may be more appropriate for this time frame. Feel free to expand it if you have the time.]
The first thing I would like you to do is fill in the significant events of your life above the line in about the right places. For instance, if you are 30 and you were confirmed when you were 14, put that in just short of halfway along the line. You will not be tested. You can simply write in words or if you prefer use symbols or drawings to represent the events. Put in events like beginning kindergarten, first communion, graduating from grade school, confirmation, graduating from high school, graduating from college, getting your first job, getting married, birth of nephews or nieces or your own children, the death of a parent or grandparent, important decisions or moments of discovery, achievements, commitments, moving to a new home, etc. The events you put on the timeline are specific to your history, so no two timeliness will look the same.
Now that you have the rough outline of your life so far sketched in, I would like you to place the people who have shaped your life on the timeline in the appropriate places either above or below the line--but be sure to leave space for the next step. Your parents or grandparents or siblings might be down there in the early years. Friends and neighbors from your hometown might be included. Maybe a teacher or counselor or classmate or best friend or even an old antagonist from school fits in there somewhere. Maybe you had a parish priest or sister or youth minister or spiritual director or a mentor that you knew from a faith community. You might want to include roommates or co-workers, significant others (as they say), spouses, children. People you do not even know, your heroes or idols, may have affected your life in important ways. Again, these are the people who shaped who you are today, so your timeline will be completely unique.
The next step is to fill in the groups that have had an impact on your faith life. Some of these may be overt faith communities: parishes and churches, youth groups, scouting groups, campus ministries, prayer groups, retreat movements, etc. Others may not always be recognized as faith communities, but have spiritual impact just the same: a group of friends, a class on a topic that was important to you, an Internet chat group, even your family (the church of the home!). By now things may be getting kind of crowded on your paper, but leave a little more room.
Finally, we would invite you to include faith experiences that were important to you. Perhaps you went to a retreat or took part in a prayer group. Maybe you had an epiphany while walking in the woods or reading from Scripture. Maybe you had a relationship with someone who really deepened your faith life. Perhaps you had a period when you did not feel close to God at all-those can be significant faith experiences, too. You will probably find some of these experiences are unique to you because our spiritual paths are all so different.
[Allow 20-25 minutes for discussion. Hospitality tip: plan for groupings beforehand--when they are in a new situation, most adults prefer to be placed in groups and even veterans need to be challenged to go beyond their comfort zone and meet new people. Facilitation tip: if possible, include one person in each group prepared to help the discussion progress smoothly.]
In your groups, please discuss the following questions
[Put questions on overhead transparency or newsprint. For a shorter session, concentrate on one or two questions.]
Reflecting on Our Faith Tradition (40 minutes)
Present generations are living in a very special moment in the history of humanity--the welcoming of a new millennium. This historic moment is of particular importance for Christians, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus two thousand years ago.
Time is important to Christianity. God does not save us from somewhere far away. God is here with us in the world. Within time, the world was created, and within its limits, the history of salvation unfolds. It will culminate "in the fullness of time" (Tertio Millenio Adveniente, no. 10). Jesus Christ is the Lord of history, the key and goal of humanity (cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 10). He walks by our side and gives direction and hope to our lives. He tells us: "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20).
This truth--that God is with us, a living part of our history--has infinite value in a world plagued by problems and painful events, events that can even lead us to question the meaning of life. In the face of horrors of racism, the suffering of innocent people, the loneliness of broken families, and the ravages of illness and poverty, Christians do not lose hope. We believe that God is with us in times of pain, struggle and sorrow. We believe these evils will be overcome, not in some heavenly afterlife but here in our world in the history of humanity. We believe that one day the beatitudes of the reign of God will be realized (Mt 5:1-12).
To believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord of history and that he has conquered death and sin is to accept the invitation to see the history of the world as God sees it. We are called to believe all his promises will be realized, to have strength to bear personal suffering and the suffering of our neighbors. We are called to recognize the wonders of God throughout human history and in our lives; to give our life with love for the building of a better world; to believe that the history of humanity has its meaning in Christ--for all human history is a great pilgrimage to the house of God (cf. Tertio Millenio Adveniente, no. 49).
In your groups, please discuss the following questions
[Put questions on overhead transparency or newsprint. For a shorter discussion, focus on only the first of the questions above.]
Putting Our Faith into Action (40 minutes)
The Holy Spirit's sanctifying action guides the life of the faithful and gives them the gift of unity in Christ (Tertio Millenio Adveniente, no. 34). This truth helps us understand the importance of truly coming to know one another and to build one faith community together. We are not a loose group of separate congregations; we are one church. When we come together and share the stories of the various cultures and generations that make up our community, we recognize the guiding and sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit in each story, and we see that each is really one part of the one history of salvation. This is how the faith community grows like the mustard seed of the Gospel until it becomes a great tree, capable of covering the whole of humanity with its branches (Tertio Millenio Adveniente, no. 56).
If one part of the community is absent or ignored for being young, for speaking another language, for being of another race, for being newcomers or for any other reason, the history and life of that community is incomplete. To be a Christian is to recognize Christ in each of our brothers and sisters, but it also is to recognize them for who they really are: to see them, to know them, to accept them and to love them. Only then can the faith community experience the wholeness and the unity to which we are called.
We would like to tell our story: a history not just those of us gathered here, but of our entire community. The goal of the project will be to help us recognize that though each of us may be different, we share an essential oneness in Jesus Christ. To prime the pump for our action step, we will present another timeline, like those we made earlier, but this one will represent the life of our faith community.
[Present a timeline of the different persons and events that have influenced the history of your faith community. Include: significant dates and events (founding of the parish or college, opening of parish school, new construction projects, installment of pastors or presidents, etc.); key persons (bishops, pastors, principals, teachers, secretaries, associate priests, youth ministers, etc.); and important economic, political, cultural, social and religious factors that influenced the development of your community. In the average parish or campus setting, few will know all such facts off the tops of their heads, so the presenter probably will be required to research the community's history. Most parishes and campuses have materials on hand that can speed the process.]
Let's brainstorm ways to bring this timeline to life in a presentation to the entire faith community. How can the facts be personalized into stories that people can relate to? How can this information be shared effectively with the community?
Post suggestions from the group up on newsprint. Follow the "no bad ideas" rule, making no negative comments about anyone's suggestion--calling any idea impractical or foolish at this point only stifles participation. In case the group is slow to respond, here are some suggestions:
Here's what will happen next: over the next few months, the faith community will form a committee to turn the ideas we've brain stormed tonight into achievable tasks. The result will be a presentation of the community's history during the Jubilee year. Thank you for all your help!
[Be sure to follow through with the presentation in some form. Assemble the committee from the most dedicated and supportive young adults at the meeting. Do not ask for volunteers: pick those you believe have the talents to make the project work and invite them personally--go outside the assembled group, if necessary. As promised, they should use the material brain stormed by the group to create a presentation for the entire community in the coming year. Young adults are very busy people and their lives can change dramatically in very short spans, so make commitments short--two to three months at the most.]
Gathering Our Experiences (15 minutes)
Celebrating Our Faith as a Community (25 minutes)
For Those Attending WYD 2000
Our vision of our faith community can be as small as our immediate family or a few close friends. Often it is the size of our young adult community or a prayer or retreat group or even as large as our entire parish or campus. Very seldom do we get the opportunity to experience the universal church, the faith community that spans the entire globe. But we, like all the other faith communities in the world, are tied together by common history of salvation through Jesus Christ and sanctification through the Holy Spirit into one great faith community. This is also our community. We share their story.
At World Youth Day 2000 you will have the opportunity to experience the larger church. You will meet people from every part of the world. Naturally, there will be many Italians there, but there will also be people from Poland and Argentina, Australia and Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Ivory Coast, as well as people from all over the US and Canada. They will represent vastly different cultures and peoples, but they will all have one thing in common: the saving story of Jesus.
In your groups, please discuss the following questions:
[Put questions on overhead transparency or newsprint. If time is short, limit discussion to one or two questions.]
[If time for the entire session is limited, use only the following segments: Hospitality and Welcome, Introduction and Prayer, Sharing Our Experience and Putting Our Faith into Action; limit discussions to one or two questions, as recommended.]