Spring Reading Week in Assisi

‘Imagine someone saw you wearing a crucifix and asked you, “Why is there a little man on your cross?……

One volunteer is worth ten pressed men, they say! As a young man I was ‘pressed’ parrot fashion to learn the ‘penny catechism’. Now in later life I am that volunteer – both studying and cherishing the post Vatican 2 Catechism as a student on the School of the Annunciation’s foundation course at Buckfast Abbey.

The course is a labour of love and St Thomas Aquinas’s word echo in my ears ‘Love takes up where knowledge leaves off’. That is because as a Eucharistic Minister at my Holy Family parish, (Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton) I love to share and promote my faith but in truth sometimes lack confidence to do so – Redemption, Incarnation, Ascension etc. – what do they all mean?. The course is helping me greatly with this – based upon four pillars of our faith: The Creed, Sacraments, Commandments and Prayer – it is slowly but surely enriching my knowledge, my faith and my confidence to evangelise.

The structure of the course suits my learning style perfectly. Over two years it is a mix of six learning days at Buckfast with my 16 or so fellow students, alongside excellent study handbooks to support distance learning and the electronic submission of tasks on which I receive positive encouragement and critical friend feedback from the wonderful tutors. All of this is knowledge and guidance is helping challenge and inspire my faith.

It is early days and I am just coming to the end of the first of the four units and completing a task which asks me to summarise in 300 words how I would respond to the following ‘Imagine someone saw you wearing a crucifix and asked you, “Why is there a little man on your cross?” Fortunately I wrote my response whilst being on a Reading Week in Assisi, with my parish staying at the convent of the most humble, welcoming and spiritually beautiful Franciscan Sisters at the Suore Francescane Alcantarine convent.  Whilst there what at an honour it was to have our shepherd, Fr Philip Austin, co-celebrate mass at the 10th century, Santa Maria Maggiore   with 20 plus priests to mark the inauguration of a shrine at the place where St Francis of Assisi threw off all his worldly possessions. This gave me the inspiration to theme my assignment response with a powerful and simple message about why I wear my crucifix-it is in my own little way to follow St Francis and our Pope’s example and message ‘reclothe ourselves in Christ’.

The world can be a complex place and studying 2,000 years of the Church’s ‘Deposit of Faith’ can likewise be taxing and challenging. When I struggle with the learning, which anyone on a course inevitably will I remind myself of the simplicity that sits beneath all of my study and my faith and what can be achieved when each of us evangelises. That message was beautifully and plainly summarised in Bishop Mark’s recent letter to us all ‘Remember that Jesus is your friend, make a new friend, introduce your friend to Jesus’

— Paul Clarke