An open letter to the local Neocatechumenate communities at St. Nicholas of Tolentino, Bristol, England
by Karen Anderson, Spring 1992
Dear Neocatechumenate Presenters,
I understand that another set of Neocatechumenate sessions is beginning. I had grave concerns regarding the presented perspectives in the sessions I had attended in the post-Christmas group. I’d been asked why I’d stopped attending. For more than a few reasons I chose not to continue. It is important to me that you know why that is, especially as your message will be reaching out to others again. I accept that you may heartily disagree with the words I write but I ask you, as you so often asked us – "Listen. Don’t close your hearts. Be open to the Spirit’s work." I also ask you not to judge these paragraphs until you’ve read them all, as you often asked us not to question or make statements (even when we felt angry or confused) until we had attended all the sessions.
The message that I heard taught through the Neocatechumenate is written below.
1. Self doubt was encouraged.
2. Lack of self worth was promoted.
3. We were taught to feel insecure about our faith commitment.
4. It was suggested we doubt our current beliefs — to trust the Neocatechumenate beliefs.
5. We are incapable of doing good – sin is eminent.
6. If one doesn’t agree with the Neocatechumenate it probably is because Satan is closing one’s ears.
7. We are incompetent and have nothing to offer.
8. One cannot get away from one’s sins — must repeat one’s own wretched tales of vile living often.
9. Even if one thinks life is rich and growthful – it is really empty, full of suffering and is meaningless.
10. People who feel uncomfortable talking about sin are denying their evil nature.
11. If someone wants to take advantage of you, let him/her – you will show them God’s love and forgiveness.
12. We are wretched sinners. Christ died for us and we are forgiven. We must try to do what God wants – but of course really we can’t anyway because we’re sinful.
I realize that this may not sound to you like anything that was said, but this is truly the message that my ears and heart heard. I have already lived a life of legalism and doubt, and for many years I paced anxiously in my prison. I was blessed to become part of a faith community who acknowledged the anguish of shackles and opened my heart to feel Christ’s love for me and to learn of the implications such Freedom could have on my life. This is why I am angry when I consider the desperate pain that this Neocatechumenate message could leave with vulnerable people whose lives are crying for love. They are being handed a static God and a manual for life – black and white / cut and dried. God’s love is to be freeing, encouraging us to put our trust in Christ – not forcing us to clutch Christ’s ankles, pleading for help, afraid to let go for fear of being swept away on the wind of sin.
God created us and loves us. God didn’t just figure we were okay, He was pleased with the job He did making us. We’re made in His image. He lives inside of us (even if we’re not Christians) because He made us all. Since God made His home inside of us we can do good. Sin is not imminent.
In God’s love He gave each of us gifts and talents. He wants each of us to grow and become all we can. To snivel around through life saying "I have nothing to offer" is pushing God’s gifts back in His face. Each of us can do all kinds of amazing things. We can feel happy and thankful using these gifts.
Not only did God care so much as to give us gifts and talents. He also gave us a mind and our own life to spend as we choose. We’ve been given freewill. We can choose good. We can choose evil.
God loves us as unique individuals who are growing and becoming. This is a thing to celebrate, because God made us this way. God wants us to feel good about ourselves, to trust ourselves. We don’t need to worry whether or not we are really real Christians, or if we should have led muddier lives so that Christ could have more to save. We don’t need to let people abuse us in whatever form. Christ wants us to be whole and the abuser to be whole. To passively allow the sick situation to continue is to support the sickness. God wants us to respect ourselves. After all, He made us.
Because we know God cares for us we want to do what God wants of us. So we want to do God’s will not because we know we will be miserable unless we do, or because we’ll be punished if we don’t, but out of thanksgiving – knowing God made us, knows us better than anyone else, and knows what our spirits truly desire.
When we do wrong, God’s ‘finger’ doesn’t jab through the clouds and poke at us from heaven. God’s response to our sin is a loving thing. We’ve messed up. So we talk about it with God, and we’re forgiven. And God forgets it; wipes it off the slate. So we don’t need to dredge up our pasts again and again. We’re forgiven. We’re free. We’re in the presence of a grace-filled God who wants to hold us and help us when we fail. We needn’t live our lives tip-toeing in anxiety awaiting the next sin to pounce on us. God doesn’t grudgingly forgive us. God is forgiving us because He wants us to be whole in our interactions for our own sake and others.
I am not saying that sin and guilt shouldn’t be discussed. Of course we’re sinful and of course we need to know we’re sinful. What I am saying is that I question the relentless method I feel you utilise to ‘make’ us be aware of it. We need to hear more forgiveness and grace, and less sin – not because we are perfect, but because we are sinful. We need to hear tenderness and acceptance and hope because we are unworthy. We need to be reminded again and again of God’s love and forgiveness for us and His desire for us to be whole. Though we are sinful people, we can continually return to God’s gentle arms – we need not hold back waiting to be scolded and then creep closer. When the focus in on guilt, wretchedness and worthlessness, it’s hard to feel the joy of God’s grace. If the focus is on forgiveness and trust and hope, one can see one’s shortcomings without needing to be prodded.
I don’t believe that Satan is closing my ears to God’s message through the Neocatechumenate. I realise that Satan does tempt us. If my misunderstandings are indeed from temptation I believe it is because Satan is trying through the Neocatechumenate to encourage me not to trust in Christ’s love as I know it. I have been niggled at to set aside the loving assurance I feel in exchange for anguish and despair – and Satan likes it that way.
You may feel I am persecuting you. I know that Jesus said "Blessed are those who are persecuted". But persecution is not an automatic sign one is doing God’s will. I am not saying these things to have a go at you or to be nasty. I really believe that the message I heard through the Neocatechumenate is wrong, and I am sad for you and afraid for others. Please do listen to these concerns with open spirits. God does speak to us through each other. God is helping me see that you are earnest and sincere and believe in a loving God who has so changed you that you want to share your joy. But sometimes that is simply not the message that comes through. You’ve put yourselves on the line and you’ve worked awfully hard. But guilt and torment are what I heard and God is not a God of these qualities. Love changes lives, not shame. Forgiveness gives hearts new life, not fear. Grace opens ears, not misguided guilt.