In early January, Katie Mescall, 19, gave homilists throughout the diocese a piece of her mind.
Mescall, a student at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, recently took part in First Thoughts: Intergenerational Responses on the Sunday Readings from the People in the Pews. Through First Thoughts, parishioners of all ages preview the readings for an upcoming weekend liturgy and prepare written responses to those readings. The responses are then posted on the diocesan Web site, www.dor.org, and e-mailed weekly to pastoral leaders, who often take them into consideration when preparing their homilies, said Shannon Loughlin, diocesan director of young-adult and campus ministry.
The diocesan Office of Liturgy and the Department of Evangelization and Catechesis launched a trial version of First Thoughts during Lent 2005 with the hope that it would encourage people to become more involved in their weekend liturgies, Loughlin said. Participating in First Thoughts did make her feel more involved with the liturgy and made the readings seem more relevant, Mescall said.
“Oftentimes the homilies don’t connect with me, and I know they don’t connect with other people my age, and it can get frustrating,” Mescall said. “To know that the priests are concerned and willing to try to reach us is awesome. Knowing that my input might help someone understand or have the Gospel touch them in a different way is really cool.”
Although the trial version of First Thoughts concluded with Easter 2005, the program was so popular that the diocese brought it back during Advent 2005. The diocese hopes the program will become a permanent fixture, and Loughlin already has parishioners lined up to respond to weekly Scripture readings through May, she said.
Loughlin invited young adults, teen members of the Diocesan Youth Committee and catechumens going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults to participate in the trial version of First Thoughts.
“We were trying to focus on people who were hearing Scripture for the first time or really starting to try to process what it means for the first time in their lives,” Loughlin said.
Now, however, First Thoughts has been opened to anyone who would like to participate, she added. After reading their assigned Scripture selections participants fill out a response form, indicating which words, phrases or events from the readings stood out to them and what the readings remind them of. Each participant also explains how the readings speak to people of his or her particular age group or status and what actions, if any, the readings encourage him or her to take.
“We’re not asking people to go out and do research. We’re just asking people to read the Scriptures and reflect on them from their perspectives,” Loughlin said.
In this way, First Thoughts gently urges people to participate more fully in weekend liturgies and to integrate the Sunday Scriptures into their lives, she said. Participants aren’t the only ones to benefit from First Thoughts, however. Several priests have used the responses to help them create more effective homilies, Loughlin added.
“People who are preachers have spent a great deal of time with Scripture. It’s easy to forget what it’s like to hear a reading for the first time,” Loughlin said.
Father James Fennessy, parochial vicar for the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva, said he always reads the weekly First Thoughts e-mails, and he has occasionally formed homilies on the basis of those responses.
“I think what I like of it is that I get their first impressions. I read (the Scriptures) and I get an impression from me, but it’s nice to hear what other people’s impressions are, especially those of the young. It’s not that I necessarily use everything I hear, but I think it’s a good starting point,” Father Fennessy said.
Thirteen-year-old Ashley Platt, a member of Guardian Angels Parish in Henrietta, recently responded to the Scripture readings for March 5 and 19. The first reading for March 5 recounts the story of God’s covenant with Noah after the flood and made Ashley think about how important it is for us to keep promises.
“Many things can be affected by one comment or promise,” Ashley said.
In the first reading for March 19, God delivers his commandments to Moses. This reading reminded Ashley about the importance and purpose of the rules she follows at home and in school. If we follow God’s rules, we will eventually be rewarded, she said. The commandments instructing people not to worship false gods or covet other people’s belongings especially stood out to her.
“It tells a 13-year-old you should not idolize other kids; only God. We all have what we have for a reason. Everyone is blessed with something different. Be happy with what you have. We are all special in our own way, and God loves us all,” Ashley said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about First Thoughts or to sign up for a particular weekend’s readings, e-mail Shannon Loughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Completed responses must be e-mailed back to Loughlin at least two weeks before the designated Sunday.