Questions for Divine Renovation Reading Groups

During Lent and Easter this year, I heard of some parishes who gathered reading groups together to go through the book Divine Renovation by Fr James Mallon.

In my parish, I wanted to break the book up using questions to help reflection and discussion. It was easy to push readers too quickly, so the whole process lasted over 8 weeks, at the end of which we are coming together for a social to discuss things further.

If this would be of help to your parish then please use them and let me know how it goes. I tried to keep them relatively short so that I could send them out by text message. Enjoy!

Thanks so much for agreeing to read this book together for Lent! The following questions will be connected to the first chapter. I suggest reading two chapters a week (at least initially) perhaps slackening off towards Easter. I will send some more questions at the weekend. May God bless you as you read!

Introduction: House of Cards. Fr Mallon says we are ‘an essentially missionary church‘ (p12). What does this mean for our parish?

Chapter 1: House of Prayer. What do you think of Fr Mallon’s assessment of the central crisis facing the church?

The Temple. In our parish, who are those ‘outside the walls’ or who do we unintentionally excluded from parish life?

The Mission. Do we as a parish make disciples? If not, how can we do this? Would you describe yourself as a disciple?

Evangelisation. Fr Mallon says that to announce the Good News we must first have encountered Christ for ourselves. In the light of this, what steps might we take for our parish to begin to experience a ‘divine renovation’?

Please find the questions for chapter 2. Don’t feel you have to answer all of them. You might want to keep notes for a future get together.

Chapter 2: Rebuild My House. (p28) Alongside the call to be missionary, how do you strive to become holy?

Evangelisation is not just about giving information, but about encounter with Christ (p30). How might you speak about your encounter with Christ to others?

What do you think of the four findings on p38? Are there people you know who have left the Church for these reasons?

Where do the apostolates/groups in our parish fit into the schema on p40? Are they directed toward ‘making missionary disciples’? (also see RM no.3 quote, p31).

Chapter 3: House of Pain. Pope Francis describes a ‘self-referential’ church as one which glorifies herself and not Christ. This has caused great pain within and outside the Church, and has contributed to the abuse crisis.

Has this crisis influenced the way you speak to others about your faith and how has it affected you/your faith?

What can we/our parish do to participate in the process of forgiveness and healing? – during Lent is there some action (eg prayer, sacrifice, service) that you could do to aid this process?

The abuse crisis has touched every aspect of the Church’s mission. What does a repentant and renewed missionary Church look like and do?

Read the Lamentation passages in this chapter as part of your personal prayer this week.

The chapters get a bit longer now so I will be sending questions once a week. I hope you are still finding the book encouraging and challenging.

Chapter 4: Clearing out the Junk. On p60 Fr James quotes Pope Francis, who warns about ‘temptations against missionary discipleship’. Can you see why people might be tempted to envisage a brighter future for the Church by uniting it to (and I paraphrase) politics, psychology, elitism or ‘bring-backism’?

Have you heard of Pelagianism before? How do you respond to the teaching of the Church that there is nothing we can do to deserve God’s salvation from our sins – ie that we are saved by Grace alone? (pp62-65) What grace or gift from God do you have that you can ‘sing about’ (p71)?!

What do you think of Fr James’ description of clericalism (from p71) as a kind of elitism (or super-Christianity) in which priests and people are both complicit? What do you think of Fr James’ remedies to this problem?

What does a renewal of the Church based solely on a total trust and obedience to Christ look like, both for yourself and corporately? What formation can help our parish to embrace this renewal?

This chapter is the longest one in the book so I will split it up and suggest about a week and a half to read and digest. I hope you are enjoying the book and are perhaps seeing your part in bringing our Church from maintenance to mission.

Chapter 5: Laying the Foundations. (pp87-95) Try to describe the ‘culture of your parish’. What are its values? – ie What does it celebrate, tolerate and presume? Is this culture, or foundation, a secure base from which to form missionary disciples?

Will your parish church be ‘here’ in 5, 10, 25 or 50 yrs time? Will it hold the same values; what will it look like?

For the rest of the chapter (pp95-195) I suggest reading one section a day if possible, on these 10 characteristics, and ask yourself the following questions: 1) Does this happen in your parish? 2) …Whose responsibility is it? 3) If not, could it happen in your parish? – what would it take?


Chapter 6: The Front Door. (p198) Does our ‘yes’ to enquirers include a commitment to walk with them on the road of discipleship? How can the sacraments be a door/threshold into the life of the Church?

(p204) What is your response to Fr Mallon’s comment on Baptism creating invisible members of a visible Church? Are the Sacraments ordered toward making disciples who are visible members of this visible Church?

Read and reflect on the second paragraph on p208 in the light of our own discipleship. Do you recognise the situation in the 5 points on p210?

Catechesis presumes evangelisation (paraphrase p212). Read and reflect on the principles starting on p213.


Chapter 7: Leader of the House: The essential role of leadership. Fr James writes “…a second crisis [of our Church] is one of leadership” (p233). Do you agree with this? He also says that “everyone has some degree of leadership ability…” – in what area do you think God is calling you to be a leader in His Church?

Leaders are willing to be vulnerable (p241) and admit they cannot do it by themselves. What help do we need to ask of others in our parish, to grow from maintenance to mission?

The remainder of this chapter addresses Vision and Strategy – elements to which leaders need to give special attention. As you read on, consider your involvement in the development and growth of these aspects, as a leader in your parish. What can the Church offer you, so that you grow as a truly missionary disciple?

In the Easter season, I will arrange a short meeting & social to hear about the vision (“picture of the future that produces passion”) that God has given YOU for our Church, while reading DR. If you feel you are behind on the reading, don’t worry, and certainly don’t let it stop you from coming! I will be in touch again soon.


Parish Evangelisation Leaflet – Leamington Parish

Have you ever wanted to encourage the parishioner in the pew to evangelise? What sort of information they might need or how they could begin to consider themselves as a missionary disciple?

Well, Leamington parish have produced the following leaflet to help Catholics do just that. It looks at different areas of life in which one can evangelise and lists ideas which can be put into practice.

It has been produced so as to be used in any parish, so feel free to download and offer to your parishioners to help them see that they can be missionary disciples!

Sharing the Joy of the Gospel pdf

Advent: Prayer and Retreat

Making a retreat in Advent is the perfect way to prepare for Christmas, says Paul Northam.

Advent is approaching, and once again the Church, through liturgy, presents us with themes that touch on waiting, hiddenness and preparation.

However, Advent is a relatively short period, and we can sometimes miss the season in the rush to be ready for Christmas -a mistake every Christian should avoid!

I hope to offer some ideas which can help you make the most of your Advent.

Making the Most of Advent

Lent has been called our annual retreat.

However, I see no reason why Advent can’t embody some of that same character, stripping away those things which obscure the face and love of God in our lives by renewing our commitment to prayer, rejecting what is evil and doing good (Psalm 34:14).

Therefore, would you consider making this Advent your second ‘annual retreat’?

Depending on your daily commitments and duties, your retreat might involve one or more of the following elements:

·      Taking up of a spiritual or corporal discipline.
·      Abstaining from some food or activity.
·      Holy reading and time alone for personal/prayerful reflection.
·      Spending time with family/loved ones for purposeful and holy recreation.
·      Spiritual direction with a priest or religious.

Whichever discipline or devotion you take up in Advent, the renewal of faith comes particularly from a deepening of our relationship with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – through prayer. That involves personal as well as corporate prayers, such as attending Mass.


‘Prayer does not help your relationship with God,’ so the saying goes. ‘Prayer is  your relationship with God’. So why do so many of us, even those who have been Christians for a long time, find prayer an alien, or even hostile, environment?

The reasons can be varied: we may, for example, be plagued with doubts about the depth of our relationship with God. Or perhaps we have become discouraged at our own lack of holiness.

A retreat is the perfect time to face those difficulties and go into the ‘desert’ with Christ to do battle, using the armour and weapons God has given us. This involves the spiritual armour St Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:10-18, but also includes the virtues the Church encourages us to practice.

In his rule, St Benedict speaks about what he considers to be the primary virtue:

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,.. taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience. 

Obedience To Prayer

Obedience is the hallmark of a disciple, and therefore our obedience to Christ will be made manifest in our obedience to prayer.

However, you do not need to do this alone. Could you also embark on this journey with another person, holding each other accountable to what you have decided to do on your Advent retreat?

A mistake to avoid is to do too much. Choose just one thing, or a manageable amount, and then do it with all the love of a disciple in service of the true King.

The take home message this December, then, is to go deeper- especially in prayer! Our retreat will be the poorer if we don’t.

However, do not worry if you feel you are just going through the motions. Tony Campolo put it well when he said these words: ‘When we get into the habit of prayer, we won’t just pray when we want to, we’ll pray when we don’t want to – which is when we need it the most’. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you on your journey.

Have a blessed and prayerful Advent retreat!

“Practical Ideas for Missionary Parishes” – #9 Don’t Inform, Invite!

For this practical idea, I’m featuring a leaflet created by a parishioner on behalf of the parish of St Peter’s, Leamington.

As a church we often mistake informing for inviting; or information for evangelisation. Or to put it another way, are we a church that sends ‘postcards’ or ‘wedding invitations’?

When we receive a postcard from a friend or relative, we instinctively know that the person is not looking for a response, but is just letting you know they are having a good time, perhaps on holiday. However, when we receive a wedding invitation, we don’t just pop it on the mantelpiece and say ‘that’s nice’! We understand that it is something that we must reply to, and promptly. Evangelisation is similar to sending a wedding invitation, rather than a holiday postcard.

Indeed, the Good News is an invitation to meet, and respond to, Jesus Christ and experience His great love for us. Below is an example of how our churches can extend an invitation to meet Christ to those in our locality through offering a simple leaflet or by posting it though a neighbour’s door.

Can your church be one that invites rather than simply informs? Let me know your good ideas and I will feature them here. In the meantime, Leamington parish would be happy to help you think about how you evangelise or to produce a similar leaflet for your church. Please see their web-page and get in touch:



“Practical Ideas for Missionary Parishes” – #8 Online Welcome Mat

Tamworth Web shot

Fr Michael, at the parish of St John with Sacred Heart, Tamworth have been undergoing a parish renewal which has sought to look again at the welcome the parish lays out, and the ‘doors’ through which people can enter to discover more about the Catholic faith or to meet Jesus for the first time.

One of the things they have done most recently is to reorder the parish website with those principles in mind, and which resembles a church building in a number of ways. First, you receive the welcome, as you would at any church porch or narthax: here you are signposted to the various notices and information you might need to orientate yourself. Second, you are given information about the worship life of the church: this includes information about the Mass and the various ministries of the Church. You can also find out about how to become involved in those ministries as a member of the church.

With more people making ‘first-contact’ with our Catholic faith online, I’d like to recommend a visit to Tamworth’s new website and to think for yourself how your own parish might become an evangelising parish for digital pilgrims as well!



Parish Evangelisation: A Bird’s Eye View

In this post, I will be linking to 4 important summaries on evangelisation to help anyone interested in learning more about the reason why the church exists in the first place!

Fr Gareth Leyshon, of the Cardiff Archdiocese, gives us a birds eye view of how a parish can begin to think purposefully about mission, and provides resources to support the process. The links below take you to Fr Gareth’s website. Enjoy!





“Practical Ideas for Missionary Parishes” – #7 Preparing for Mass

I’ve often been asked how parishes might encourage a prayerful atmosphere at the beginning of Mass, where people can prayerfully focus on what the Church has called the source and summit of the Catholic life, rather than on the parish notice sheet!

One parish priest in Stoke in Trent (Fr Julian Green) has devised something called “Welcome to Mass” – an alternative mass sheet to aid that preparation – which is given out as people enter the church. He has decided to keep the notice sheet until the end of mass, offered to people when they return their “Welcome to Mass” sheet.

The parish priest has reported that it appears to help the atmosphere of prayer before mass, and subsequently during the mass itself, so that people are more open to receive what God desires to give them.

I’ve attached two example of this sheet below. They might also help to orientate newcomers, who are at mass perhaps for the first time!