Friday, August 17, 2007

Completing the circle

Denise at Catholic Mom really pushed my buttons with this post. In particular, this part is something that really gets to me:

Right now we are stuck in a cycle of poorly catechized parents that don’t support faith formation at home. Their children are in the parish CCD system where we provide a band-aid fix with classroom style religious education. These children then do their time in CCD and are sent out into the world. However, an hour a week for eight months out of the year cannot make up for a lifetime lacking in family faith formation. These children are very likely to grow up to be poorly catechized parents and the cycle begins anew. I really think the only way to break this cycle is to address the parents directly. Their lack of involvement is more out of ignorance than out of indifference. When was the last time you heard a DRE or a priest tell parents that parents are the primary catechists of their children? It is the parents’ responsibility to form the faith of their children. The parish is here to help but children learn to live the faith when their family lives the faith.
I have been lamenting the complete lack of adult formation in the Church since before I even received a single sacrament. Many will, rightfully, lament how far we still have to go in catechizing our children. While I have no argument at all with the sentiment that we need to find ways other than rock concerts and rock climbing to reach our children, I'm absolutely flabbergasted at the general lack of even that level of effort to catechize our adults.

Certainly there are efforts beginning in some parishes and I absolute commend them for doing this mostly on their own. For the great work of a few, however, we cannot overlook the lack of effort of the many. My own parish has just announced a parish mission which, from what I'm told by parish "old-timers", is the first in many, many years.

Why is it that we seem to have left adults by and large to fend for themselves? I don't know. Certainly for many years there was an apathy towards any kind of substantive catechesis for anyone, an apathy whose effects we are still feeling in the uphill battle against felt banner teaching. Perhaps there was a certain cultural momentum that kept kids in CCD so they could "graduate" at Confirmation. One does have to wonder whether, for all the negatives about that phenomenon if it has not simultaneously been a primary force in keeping the catechetical system afloat. While momentum is never a good reason to move toward a sacrament, without it I have to think parishes would have had a very hard time finding teachers for CCD classes that were almost empty. Perhaps that's an example of God pulling a greater good out of a bad situation.

That momentum, however, does not seem to have existed for adults. When faith is transmitted as "God loves you and that's all there is to know" why ever would an already busy adult take time out to sit in a church basement to learn the finer nuances of the word "Abba"? With adults away from an active participation (hah! Who'd have thought I could use that term in such a way?) in their faith for so long their momentum is gone and now we have to overcome a significant inertia that has become as cultural as it is personal.

How do we overcome this inertia and generate the kind of momentum that will bring along with it those who may not have a great felt interest in their faith? I think there are two places it starts, and the first must be the pulpit. I'm not talking about flame throwing homilies or anything of the sort but rather a recognition of the fact that people respond better to invitations from clergy than those run out by a lector droning out a series of mostly-irrelevant-to-me announcements. When the priest or deacon takes time out of his homily to promote a lecture or presentation, not just to announce it but to explain why it is important to attend the result is almost invariably far greater attendance. I'm told there are even statistics for this, although I haven't the first clue of where to look for them.

If I might be so bold as to offer a piece of advice to the clergy as well - if you are not the one making the presentation, be sure to attend it if possible or at the very least stop by for more than a wave. The presence of a priest or deacon at these events adds an immeasurable weight of felt importance to those in attendance. In management (and the military) this is called "showing the flag" although we know it should have a deeper weight than that in this case. And hey, while you're there, offer a blessing, an introduction or a closing. Your personal involvement shows in another way your commitment not only to the session but to those in attendance; it shows you are actively interested in making sure they get the nourishment they need and not passively acquiescing to someone else's idea.

The second place we must overcome this inertia is, naturally, in person-to-person contact. That means not only talking to your friends but often enough your spouse. It involves not just talking about a presentation or inviting someone to one but also showing the impact of it in your life. Our response to attending a lecture or presentation should be a radiance akin to that of Moses - we need not, indeed should not, come out as a charging lion but rather show forth the loving grace of the saving Lamb. A lamp set on a stand can light a great area; we should allow those lamps to spread that light and not burn those around them.

So...with all that I'll make it simple. Do what Denise did and ask to help present on some topic that adults can relate to, something that can expand the spiritual horizons of those around you. Even if you're turned down, offer again later. We can only offer our services, we cannot impose them. No matter what, above all else, encourage and support your priest when he offers or promotes any kind of learning opportunity. In these small ways we will get this large ball rolling.