S.P.R.E.D. – Special Religious Development.
We were born into the community of a family and extended family. We depended on this community for the fulfilment of all our needs, physical, emotional, social, moral, economic, and religious. Our community of family went a long way towards making us who we are. When we grow up we can move away from home, get a job, set up a home; in other words become independent. Our friends with learning difficulties do not have these options in the same way. They really do need a community that will allow them to be individuals who have dignity, choice,and a sense of giving as well as receiving, a sense of being part of a community. They need friends outside their families and work places. The first community we experience outside the family is that of the Christian community when we are brought to church to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.
Each Baptised person is welcomed into the community of the parish and is given the opportunity to develop his/her faith, initially by receiving the sacraments and then by ongoing attendance at the Eucharist and other liturgical events. Our aim in Spred is to integrate our friends into the liturgical life of the parish. Our faith is our greatest gift from God. Our friends have as much right as we have to grow in their faith. We, in Spred, can give them a chance to experience the spiritual in life, also a chance to grow in the faith that they received in seed at baptism. Faith education is only possible if our friends feel they are loved. We are opening a door that allows our friends to appreciate who God is for them. Often it is our friends who opens the door for us. It is by giving to those who have learning difficulties that we not only receive but also enable them to give. Then, their joy, simplicity, and honesty, for example, may be seen and experienced by others. Others are consequently modified by being with them. With them we can be weak and receive of their strengths, of their love for us, of their trust, of their approval, if we give them time and space to be with us.
Spred is all about friendship. We are referred to as volunteers while we ourselves are known as faith companions because that is our role- to be a companion in faith to our faith friends. We all need friends outside of our family. We all need community. It takes time to build up this bond of friendship. We realise to be a faith companion we need to accept one another as we are, to be loving, sincere, honest, genuine, compassionate, kind and authentic. Our friends can easily discern if we are lacking in these attributes. We respect one another and this can be seen in the way we relate to one another. We are sharing our faith. We are faithful companions on a journey with our friends. The depth of our bonding as a small faith community is a symbol of the depth of God’s love for us. Through Spred our friends can experience the Church as a group of believers who come together to share life.
A Christian community, is the web of relationships that provides the sacred, safe space where all members can discover and develop their uniqueness, their giftedness. It is the locus where God, acting through others, removes the scales from our eyes so that we can discover God’s presence in every respect and dimension of our lives. Through this process, we become seers of God in everything and in everyone and this vision impels us to go out of ourselves to serve others. We often forget that the English word ‘church’ translates the Greek word’ ekkl-sia’, which designates a gathering of people. A great metaphor for community is given to us by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (12:12-27). Paul uses the image of the human body to explain Christ’s relationship with believers. Paul explains the need for diversity of function among the parts of a body without threat to its unity. Community is not just ‘a place’; it is a living organism, dynamic, alive, and always changing, just like a family. In a healthy family system, the role of each member is not defined by his or her level of productivity, but by the love that is given and received.
Jesus teaches us clearly that God calls us, not just as individuals, but as a community and that how we relate to each other is just as important religiously as how we relate to God. Or, more accurately, how we relate to each other is part of how we relate to God. For Jesus, the two great commandments, to love God and love neighbour, can never be separated. In Spred we have a wonderful opportunity to reflect on some aspect of our lives each week. We also read a small section from God’s Holy Book. In Spred we share our own experiences of our daily lives. They may be little happenings that have stayed deep within us. Meaning is derived from the shared experience. The event, the experience, can be entered into time and time again. The re- telling of the story, its re-enactment, can put us in touch with the primary experience. In the theology of Karl Rahner, “God is experienced in the ‘mysticism of everyday things – not in the distilled essence of things, not the highest abstractions from the world but the experience of God’s life at the very heart of the world, in flesh, in time and in history. Presence to self, presence to the world, and presence to God are all aspects of one and the same experience, the experience of God’s real presence in the world which he created to be his real symbol”.*
Spred companions and friends grow in faith through the process known as symbolic catechesis or the method Vivre. This process is to interpret life situations within a group, through the process of evocation, in faith, in the light of the Word, moving toward communion and witness. We recognize the gift of each other; that each of us is a gift to the other. Like any gift, none of us is perfectly wrapped – we all have our faults, failings and problems, but we are happy to be a gift to another who accepts us as we are. It is only by giving that you are able to receive more than you have already.
We have all come to be companions for different reason, many and varied, but at the heart of these surely must be the willingness and urge to share the gift of faith that we have by which we live our lives. All faith companions come with a wish to help, encourage, and share what they had experienced on their faith journey with others. All companions can speak of the gifts they have received on that journey and want others to be able to experience the same. Faith companions tell of how much they get from their faith friends and the other group members; about the gifts they receive which they never expected; and how they all hope that the giving and receiving of all these amazing , wonderful gifts will just go on. This experience is also felt by the families of the faith friends and their own families and the wider community because the community of Spred have become more loving people or as Pope Francis said – we are part of the ‘Revolution of Tenderness’.
References: *The Achievement of Karl Rahner; W. Dych. 1984.
The Way of the Learning Disabled; J. McClorry. 1995.
The Spirituality of Community; A.J. Gonzalez. 2009.