Challenging discussions can enrich our Faith, writes Rachel Sherlock
Doom and gloom is the typical tone when it comes to talking about young people in the Catholic Church. From parish pulpits to Vatican synods, there are endless calls to reach out to a demographic that seems more and more to be moving away from the Church and from their faith. In this context it could be easy to assume that the experience of being a young Catholic in Ireland is a bleak and lonely experience.
However, in Dublin at the very least, this is far from the case – indeed young Catholics in the capital city are rather spoilt for choice when it comes to prayer groups, events, and talks. Whether it’s Taizé prayer, or praise and worship, or book clubs, there are more than enough to fill your month let alone your week.
The almost overwhelming choice available is summed up in my experience of moving to Dublin four years ago. The range of events was a big change from rural parish communities, or even from the tight-knit university chaplaincies. With so much to choose from I dived into as many groups as possible. As time went on however, more events kept cropping up, and I was uncomfortably stretched, with my free time dwindling to almost nothing. As fun and worthwhile as these groups were it became clear I needed to cut back.
I made a decision to focus on a select core of groups and events, and I was absolutely determined to guard my new-found free time carefully. It would take something exceptional for me to commit to anything new. In September I found that exception.
I was invited to attend Spiritual Batteries Live, an evening of adoration, guided prayer and discussion. It was the title of the discussion topic for the evening that caught my attention, ‘Socrates & The Temptation to Conformity’. It put me out of my depth. I had to admit it wasn’t something I knew anything about, either in terms of Classical philosophy or what it had to say in a Catholic discussion. The challenge made me curious, and before I knew it, I found myself making plans for how to get to the event.
I arrived at Our Lady Queen of Peace on Merrion Road as they were just setting up for adoration. In an otherwise simply decorated church, the sanctuary draws all eyes to it. The deep red wall decorated by a lofty wooden crucifix hanging in front of a large gold circular setting made a striking backdrop.
As the lights were dimmed, the incense rose and the monstrance was brought out. In the shadows and scented smoke, the gold glinted in a poignant parallel around the Host and around the crucifix above. There was a reverence that I have seldom found at youth events, and I knew I’d made the right decision in coming.
Fr Justin Gillespie began his guided prayer, a mix of anecdotes with spiritual readings and reflection, and what might have been a distraction in another setting was instead an opportunity to be drawn into the mystery of Christ’s presence.
Once the adoration had ended it was time to look around. I saw many familiar faces, but there were also plenty that I didn’t know. The event had clearly brought together a wide range of people, and there was an air of excitement as the group piled into an upper room, dived into the cheese and wine and settled in for the talk.
Here Fr Justin deftly took us through Socratic philosophy, the need for a never-ending search for truth, and what the absence of ‘seeking’ can look like. The tone was friendly and approachable, but there was no shying away from big and complex ideas.
The discussion and questions which followed were an indication that this was a challenge the young attendees were grateful for. At the end of the evening there was a chance to relax and talk with everyone, and I have to admit for someone who had been reluctant to come out to another event I found it difficult to drag myself away.
Since then each month the event has gone from strength to strength. October featured a talk from Fr Justin about ‘Distracting Ourselves to Death (The Science of Focus & the Christian Life)’, which provided the ideal mix of practical advice and theological insight about living fruitfully in the modern world, while November featured a talk from the widely esteemed Fr Bill Dailey on ‘The End of History: God or Supermassive Black Hole?’
Each talk has taken its own approach to theology, keeping the monthly format fresh. The friendly and engaged atmosphere has continued as the numbers grow. Spiritual Batteries offers something more to chew on, and judging by its success it’s clear that there’s a hunger for that.
In reflecting on my experience of attending Spiritual Batteries I took some time to consider what makes it such an engaging event. I began to think about the two halves of the evening, the beautiful reverence of the Eucharistic Adoration, and the lively engagement of the talk and discussion and there I found my answer. It works because it takes God seriously, and it takes Catholics seriously.
The next Spiritual Batteries evening will be on December 5, where the discussion topic will be ‘God exists: a statement of faith or of fact?’ I’d really urge anyone who is interested to come along. Even if you’re sure you don’t have time, you will find this is definitely worth an exception.