Raising Up Disciples: The Problem
This is the article that stirred me up enough to revive the old blog: I Look at My Students and See Our Future Ex-Catholics. The article was posted on Facebook by one of the Relevant Radio shows, Morning Air. Go and read both links. They are short; I’ll wait.
God bless the author for trying to make a difference and ignite some faith in the young ones. This kind of observation is not new. Travel around Catholic news, blogs and other websites and you will see this recurring theme. The comments and proposed solutions are also typical, ranging from the failures of the Church in preceding generations to the crisis of the domestic Church, and so on. What I only see hinted at in the articles and the comments, though, is that this is a symptom.
The problem is more vast than can be solved on Wednesday night in Faith Formation classes. The reality of the problem is that it is directly tied to the current Catholic understanding of sacramental theology. As such, implementing the solution cannot be a simple. The ultimate solution we are seeking can’t be achieved without a full on, top down revolution in how we as the Church approach faith formation (with small ‘f’). That doesn’t mean that local parishes cannot begin to implement changes to begin to turn the tide. But we are a universal Church, with a seeming universal problem (if the breadth of reports on this are to be acknowledged), and the solution cannot be realized without knowledge of the problem’s full scope.
If you read the Facebook comments, you’ve seen this, but I’ll post a slightly edited version of my comment so we’re all on the same page:
What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to raise Catholics? Or are we trying to raise disciples? We are failing miserably at both, because we are focusing on the former. Turn our focus onto the latter, and we will catch both.
I am a convert, raised in an Evangelical home, so I have a perspective of what works to instill faith in a child from my growing up, and what the current Catholic Faith Formation approach produces through the experience of my children that span the gamut from Confirmed down through infancy. It is appalling. We moved our children from our home parish because they were still cutting and pasting with no apparent consistency and too much criticism of the hierarchy and the faith in general, to a parish that has a very solid program. Yet my children still report how little the other children in their classes understand, that have been raised in a parish with FF attendance at record high levels. As good as the program is, they are not catching hearts.
There needs to be a monumental revolution in the Church at large that centers solely on discipleship from the oldest down through the youngest. We are not focused on winning hearts–simply focused on force-feeding rites, rituals, prayers and facts into minds. It won’t work. And we’ll lose even more than the previous generation.
We became Catholics because of the sacraments; they were the missing ingredient that formed a fully functioning, logical and reasonable whole expression of the faith, consistent with the entirety of Scripture and the historical progression of Christianity. But, somehow in the modern world the theology that has developed upon and around the sacraments has supplanted certain fundamental and vital expressions of the faith, and created anemic Christians. Because the sacraments are effective–that is, because they are a direct avenue of outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which can effect spiritual growth in the properly disposed soul–modern Catholics have depended on them as if they were almost entirely self-sufficient. Even our “Faith Formation” classes are designed as Sacramental preparation classes. It is the singular hook through which we can snare the lackadaisical Catholic parents and attempt to breed some faith among the young.
This is never going to work. While the author of this particular article I have responded to frets that we will lose the children to protestant groups, she is far more optimistic than I am. It is much more likely they will number among the “nones” in the annual faith surveys. I am not at all concerned that the children can’t recite a single Beatitude, differentiate a doctrine from a discipline, or enumerate the Corporal Works of Mercy. What is missing from all of this is WHY we are doing any of this at all? There is little faith to be formed in most Catholics. The re-evangelization needs to begin in our own parishes, through direct discipleship drawing upon the heart-needs that only the Savior, our Lord Jesus can fill. It is stated simply by our Lord, himself: “But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” [Matthew 6:33]
We have one mission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” [Matthew 28:19-20a] It all hinges on making disciples. Without the first, we cannot achieve any that follows. My Entrepreneurship instructor was a firm believer in R&D, which to him is defined, Rob and Duplicate. We don’t have time for trial and error, as we have spent generations now doing within the Church. We have plenty of experience among our protestant brothers and sisters about what works and what does not. We have a wealth of converts that can speak to their own experiences and enrich the Church.
In subsequent posts, I will do just that to expound on a few practical ideas that can stimulate Christ-centered Discipleship in our parishes, so that in the words our our former pastor who welcomed us into the Church, Father Bill Kuhr, we can “get to heaven and take as many with [us] as we can.” Until then, I’d love to hear others’ observations on what is working and what is failing in your parishes and faith communities. Please share in the comments.