Sunday, January 13, 2013

What Would It Look Like...

This evening, over a glass of wine, one of my Jesuit brothers told me of a program being run at the parish where he assists on the weekend. The gist of it is this: religious formation, so often thought of as only for those being prepared for one of the sacraments, is offered to the whole family. That is, it's not the case of mom or dad dropping the kid off and then collecting him/her a few hours later. Indeed, it's a full-family investment into the progress of learning about the family's Catholic faith.

The mantra, playing over and again in my mind, has been "We'll get what we are." This insight, taken from Christian Smith's book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (p. 57), recalls to my mind that so many of our values are not simply learned but, rather, imitated. Just as the rituals of watching Monday Night Football or a Sunday game are something children are brought up into so, too, might we raise our children to share the family's commitment to learning about their faith.

Hence my question: What would it look like if Catholic parishes began to require that the whole family participate in religious education? I find learning about my religion endlessly interesting and suspect that, if adults were exposed to some of the riches of the Catholic tradition, that they would too. I simply cannot accept the idea that after one's confirmation in the 8th grade that the whole of the Catholic tradition has been mastered....hell, I'm 33 and totally invested in this and I'm still an apprentice! If our parishes, however, started to make it an expectation that the whole family take part in the preparation for the sacraments...what would that look like?

Listen, I'm an Irish pessimist: I've gone over the 100+ reasons already why this wouldn't work. Nevertheless, as an idea person, I think there'd be enormous value in providing a venue where the whole family could learn, both together and in age-appropriate groups, about what Catholicism has to offer. G. K. Chesterton wrote that "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried." I suspect that providing a framework wherein parents could model to their children the value of learning about their religious faith - providing a good role model while simultaneously enriching their own spiritual lives - would help our youth take religious faith and its nurturing more seriously.

I write this and acknowledge some of my own hypocrisy: every day at the Eucharist, I remember my niece and nephew in a special way (along with my whole family) in the intentions. But am I doing my best to make sure that they are learning about their faith, that their parents and the rest of my family are continuing to be nourished? Alas, I am derelict in this but I do resolve to make this a priority because, as I am increasingly convinced, the credibility of the Catholic faith will not be found in our bishops or hierarchy but, rather, in the quality of lives lived out courageously by moms and dads.

Ultimately, I'm not sure of how tenable this all is. I look back on my experience teaching CCD and realize that it is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified system of babysitting where little content is ever passed along. Yet if it were taken more seriously and real resources were put into the training of teachers and the construction of worthwhile programs for children and adults, I think asking Catholic families to commit a bit of time each week to learning about their faith and their Church would help them to come to know the Lord more intimately and enkindle within them a greater fire and joy for their faith. 
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