Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We Need Adult Catechesis

The “Year of Faith” is in the news, of course, and the phrase “new evangelization” keeps popping up alongside it. Fifty years since Vatican II…new evangelization…hmmm. The Vatican News agency noted in a 6/20 article about the next Bishop’s Synod::

"New methods and new forms of expression are needed to convey to the people of today the perennial truth of Jesus Christ, forever new and the source of all newness... This renewed dynamism in the Christian community will lead to renewed missionary activity (missio ad gentes), now more urgent than ever, given the large number of people who do not know Jesus Christ in not only far-off countries, but also those already evangelized." This is what His Exc. Mgr. Nikola Eterovic, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops writes in the Preface to the Instrumentum Laboris of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: "The new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith" (7 - 28 October, 2012).

It seems to me that we certainly do need an infusion of faith! And to accomplish that, we need to re-evangelize the people sitting in the pews at Mass on most Sundays who are in the process of being lost to the modernistic interpretations of Vatican II that have Protestantized our Catholic liturgies and poisoned the minds of the faithful with personalistic philosophy, moral relativism, and disdain for the hierarchy and the Magisterium of the Church.
We need to get back to the basics – for adult Catholics who never really got them in the first place. 
Too often, though, the focus is on programs for the youth, to the exclusion of adult formation. The youth are seen as our future – and of course, they are our future, but we cannot just give up on the adults. A recent article by Sandro Magister, “Religious illiteracy: The First to Send Back to School are the Adults”, addresses this issue. Magister quotes from an article by Professor Pietro de Marco [my emphases throughout]:

The trusting decision of making adolescents the primary and sometimes the exclusive focus of pastoral strategy is a mistake. [Christian formation for the youth] has thus become the only formation existing in the churches. But this formation is by definition inadequate for adults. And as a result it will be inadequate for the same subjects who are now being formed, once they have become adults.

The evidence of this error is there every day. What remains for the young person who has become an adult? There remain the "narratives" about Jesus and good sentiments or ideals, meaning all the weakness of contemporary catechesis.

I have seen a prime example of this in a nearby mission parish (meaning there aren’t very many members!). The people there love the children,as of course they should… but all catechesis is directed toward them, and even liturgical events are viewed with the aim of making them attractive to the kids, involving the kids (even in inappropriate ways), and making sure the kids are “comfortable”. The result is that the adults have come down to the level of the children in their knowledge of the faith, rather than raising the children up into responsible adults who seek to grow in their faith.

And think about it: when the focus is on children in the Mass, and when the catechesis is limited to at best a 2nd-grade level, what is the message to the teen-age crowd? “Been there, done that”, is what I’m thinking. It seems to me that the teens will see “church” as something for kids, something they themselves have outgrown.

Well…that is, unless there’s Wednesday night basketball religious education provided for the high school crowd (during which nothing controversial is discusses for fear of offending the parents).

De Marco adds:

It is not true that "well formed" young people will for this reason be good adults. Over the years, the young person is powerfully "socialized" by processes of identification and emulation, by new knowledge and communication communities, by unexpected possibilities of self-realization, all mediated by adults; who will help him to increase his understanding of the faith in parallel?

If the adults of reference today are not consistently led to confirm the Christian formation above all in themselves, as adults, then in intergenerational communication, the formation in the Catholic vision of the world offered today to adolescents in pastoral care is already at risk of failure.

Adults are in need of faith formation and religious education even more than their children – or they will not be able to pass on the faith!

In a recent post on the “Reverend Know-It-All” blog (which looks like it may have been removed…try here), Fr. Richard Simon talked about “Catholic education” in recent times, noting that

Catholic schools, by and large, have become failures themselves…Catholic schools have become inexpensive private schools for middle class people who have little or no interest in the Catholic faith, maintained at great expense by Catholic parishes. Catholic schools are, for the most part, over.

Wishful thinking?
That’s true in my limited experience as well. The Catholic school where my husband served as Associate Principal and I served as a religion teacher for a couple of years, had a student body that was 50% Catholic. The parents of the non-Catholic students were not sending them there for the Catholic education, and when I gave almost every student a “C” in my freshman religion class – because that’s what they deserved – the parents protested in droves. The principal decided to make the class “Pass/Fail” at that point, so the little dears wouldn’t suffer a drop in their GPA’s.

Fr. Simon adds:

The few kids from our schools who go to church don’t go because the school has converted them. They go because they have parents dedicated enough to bring them every Sunday, even in summer. Even in soccer season. Those kids may end up Catholic, not because they went to our schools and religious education programs, but because their parents were the first and best of teachers.

The children will follow along with their parents’ example of faith and duty to the Church. If the parents don’t go to Mass, how are the kids even supposed to get there?! But if the parents are faithful Mass-goers, chances are the children will be, too. Of course, there comes a point where the children become teens and then young adults, and they make their own choices, but if the foundation is firm, there’s certainly a greater possibility that they’ll remain faithful.

Fr. Simon makes the astute observation that:

We have turned sacrament into sacrilege. When you “get your sacraments” you’re “outta” there… Sacraments are an ending instead of a beginning.

And actually, doesn’t the staff of every parish know this? I remember many conversations in the parish staff meetings where we lamented that we would see a family when they wanted their child baptized, then when they wanted the child to receive first Holy Communion, and maybe for Confirmation. But especially after first Communion, there was a big drop-off in Mass attendance. And if you dare to mention to one of these parents that they should…you know…like, come to Mass more frequently…even, like, you know, every Sunday…they get a little defensive. As Fr. Simon notes, they’ll say that they are “perfectly good Catholics” because they “go to Mass every single Easter and every single Christmas without fail”.

What I witnessed in my few years as a parish secretary was that the parents were not held responsible for passing on the true faith to their children. If they wanted a baby baptized, the only requirement was to attend the baptism class. Now that’s a start, but I don’t really know what was taught; I know, though, that I saw plenty of examples of inappropriate God parents being chosen and taking part in the baptism rite. For example: only God mothers present, and no God father; fallen-away Catholics named as God parents and participating in the rite; non-Catholics as God parents.

RCIA, where we had a chance to education and form new adult Catholics, was pretty lukewarm, too. The office staff always told me not to expect the new Catholics to remain in the Church; “seems like they come in one door and go out the other in a few years” they told me. My husband and I did our best to teach the true faith, but when we suggested to the pastor that there were a couple of candidates who really were not ready to come into the Church, our evaluation was discounted. It seemed to be more important to have a certain number of new Catholics at the Easter Vigil than to be sure they were really going to be Catholic.

Sandro Magister, in the article noted above, cited some remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI in a 2009 homily concerning “adult faith formation”. (Does that phrase make you roll your eyes, too? These courses always seem to end up being some fluff to help adults “feel good” and believe that they are growing in their faith, but with no actual substantive content, and no wish to touch on any controversial subjects.)

The words ‘adult faith’ in recent decades have formed a widespread slogan. It is often meant in the sense of the attitude of those who no longer listen to the Church and her Pastors but autonomously choose what they want to believe and not to believe hence a do-it-yourself faith. And it is presented as a ‘courageous’ form of self-expression against the Magisterium of the Church. In fact, however, no courage is needed for this because one may always be certain of public applause. Rather, courage is needed to adhere to the Church’s faith, even if this contradicts the ‘logic’ of the contemporary world.

This is the non-conformism of faith which Paul calls an ‘adult faith’. It is the faith that he desires. On the other hand, he describes chasing the winds and trends of the time as infantile. (Pope Benedict XVI, homily at the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, 2009)

The Church definitely needs a “new evangelization”. And, in my humble opinion, it definitely needs to start with the adults we already have in the Church who don’t know much about their faith.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be courteous and concise.