Are We Too Busy to Be Catechized?

In my head, I keep going back to a small portion of the blog post from Bishop Kicanis that I shared with you yesterday:

A challenge for the synod fathers is to understand how we might better catechize the people, deepen their knowledge of the faith and their understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. All of us struggle with this challenge. So few people take part in adult faith formation. We have so little time with young people in religious education classes and in our Catholic schools. Can we find more effective ways of communicating the faith, especially with the young?

I read this post immediately after having lunch with a good friend, the RCIA director at my parish. Calling her simply “the RCIA director” feels like a slight to the amazing amount of work — and the tremendous level of commitment — she’s given to our parish for going on three decades. We tend to think big thoughts when we’re together, to ask tough questions of one another. Our friendship has spanned over fifteen years, and we’re still grappling with many of those questions.

One of them we tackled this week was exactly what Bishop Kicanis is discussing above – the challenge of bringing true catechesis to our parish family, especially the adults. I shared with my friend how many people I’m associated with online who are so tremendously knowledgeable about the faith. Many of us in places like Patheos’ Catholic Channel spend the better part of our days pondering the Church and her teachings. We defend them in the comboxes and “share” pearls of wisdom with our friends via those facebook and twitter buttons you see below. I argued that we are evangelizing all week long, but simply doing it in the context of our everyday lives. My friend was dubious — perhaps rightfully so…

How many of us who read every Catholic blog in town have ever taught a religious ed class in our parish? (I did, for one year, and promptly gave up out of desperation.) How many of us attend midweek Bible study at Church (or teach it?) or belong to apostolates in our dioceses? How many of us serve a regular shift at the local homeless shelter or have volunteered for Catholic Charities? Does the time we invest in learning and sharing online translate in a deeper living out of the Great Commission, or serve as our excuse to keep from more fully engaging in the “real world”?

On the counter side, does our Church — and do our parishes — need to get with the program, with the changes that keep busy families from making Wednesday night at Church the priority our Protestant brethren do? Can things like lunchtime parish webinars we can watch at our desks or evening Google+ Bible Study hangouts take the place of dragging our busy families away from the dinner table amidst weeks full of so many competing priorities? Should we accept that society has drastically changed and look at entirely reinventing our expectations for the way we “do catechesis”?

I ask these questions first and foremost of myself. But if we’re going to resolve the weighty issues our Synod fathers are raising at the Vatican, change begins right here, with each of us. If you’d like to ponder this, feel free to chime in in the comboxes — especially if you’ve worked out a great balance between faith lived out online and faith lived in that “real world” out there.

As for me, I’m still working on it. Baby steps… 


About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa Hendey is the founder and webmaster of and the author of The Grace of YesA Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and is a frequent television and radio guest and host. Visit her at

  • Margaret Rose Realy

    My living the faith “in the real world” just did a one-eighty…I can no longer work the gardens at the retreat center…and am asking myself how do I not become only a Catholic of words. I think I’m trying to live your questions in reverse.

    • lisahendey

      Wow Margaret, did I miss something??

      • Margaret Rose Realy

        I made a few references to the challenges of late in a couple of columns on my Patheos blog. It’s just a different season…

  • Marc Cardaronella

    I think it’s both/and. I think we’re all a little too busy to stop and be catechized but also, parishes can do more to make it more enticing. It’s the same problem everywhere. We’re all inundated with information and activities. Everything’s vying for attention. If the messages are not compelling, we’re not going to give our time to it. Offering online solutions is part of the answer.

    But I think another vital part is for parishes to understand how to make their catechesis more compelling. We can learn a lot from the way we try to grab attention online. We work on good headlines, we’re concise, we look to write or present on things people want answers to, we look to present solutions to the real problems people are facing. Anything less than this won’t cut through the noise clutter anymore. People are too busy to give their precious time to something they don’t see as an urgent need because there are too many other pressing matters that are urgent needs.

    Another part of that post has me thinking. You wrote, “Within the parish, the role of the catechist, the family, the laity and the priest are preeminent. Cardinal Wuerl raised the question whether this is the time to give the catechist an instituted, stable ministry in the church?”

    I think part of the problem is that the Church doesn’t practice what she preaches. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the gospel, teach, evangelize, and make disciples. That’s clear from the end of Matthew’s gospel. But most diocese’s don’t fund this. Catechetical departments are understaffed for the amount of work that needs to be done. Evangelization departments are few and far between. As an organization, y ou fund what you believe in. And, from what I’m seeing, the Church believes in Catholic education because that’s where all the money is going. But everyone agrees that we need adult education and catechesis. The New Evangelization is about re-proposing the Faith to Catholics that haven’t heard the gospel. Part of that happens within Catholic schools but not the bulk of it. Parishes are too understaffed to do this effectively. There needs to be a serious paradigm shift in our priorities if we’re really going to make strides in evangelization and catechesis. Sorry for the mini-rant.

    • Mark S.

      Marc, great insights about putting the money in what is important. Also, actions speak louder than words. unfortunately in many cases the church as an institution still operates from a now antiquated baseline. I don”t necessarily propose throwing money at problems but when you have an institutional look, maintaining the institution is what people see. Not much evangelization happening there although it might be possible to make that element of Catholicism more appealing. I think a sea change in approach, practice and follow through, completely visible, is needed for new evangelization to be more than just a catch phrase.

    • lisahendey

      Marc, I’m so happy to have your educated insights on this – so thank you for chiming in. Just want you to know for sure that the quote you shared in your comment was actually written but Bishop Kicanis (not me…). But the issue is still very much on the table and what you say is true. If we are going to call this (the catechesis and faith formation of adults) a priority, we need to effective fund it and also give those involved in the mission field in that way the tools they need to be effective in their work.

  • Rhonda

    Our new parish here in Michigan has, fortunately, quite a bit going on for the adults. I think it’s a matter of the will – I have to choose to participate, to make it a priority, to give up something else to make it happen, and (first and foremost) acknowledge that I actually *need* catechisis.

    The last point is perhaps the trickiest, I think, because as a faithful, practicing Catholic (who also happens to be married to a theologian), it’s easy to assume that I already “know it all.” I don’t. Because of a parish program that I recently joined (after several years of learning “on my own), I was reading the CCC this morning on the nature of the Trinity, and I was blown away by what I don’t know, don’t understand, and don’t put into practice in my prayer life. Nope, don’t know it all, at all!

    As for lunchtime, techy ways of interacting, I think they can be fine substitutes when time is short, but face-to-face interaction (and time in front of the Blessed Sacrament) is always better.

    My two cents. :)

    • lisahendey

      Rhonda – love the two cents. Share them any time! And your final comment is a huge challenge to me personally. I think ultimately you’re absolutely right.

  • Mark S.

    It seems that the same small cadre of parishoners populate the various programs and activities. We struggle with finding ways to engage more. I think that before a new evangelization can get must traction we as a church need to understand where our “underevangelized” folks are in their daily/weekly lives. A coarse impression is that they run, run, run trying to keep up with jobs, kids, aging parents that exhaustion sets in nightly. That’s real life. For many, Sunday is a workday, whether on payroll somewhere or in trying to catch up with home chores. Combine that with the misperception that church activities are designed to get money or time or both out of them it makes it a mighty big wall to breach. So….somewhere in there is a beginning a path, at least for me and some of us here in Philadelphia, to look at the situation and from that, pray that we will be guided by the Holy Spirit to engage folks in a way that is fresh and alive and conveys the joy of belonging to Jesus Christ as members of His Body, the Church.

    • Mark S.

      that would be “much” traction…sorry

    • lisahendey

      I love it Mark — that engagement thing. It seems like so many of us wait to be asked, and then that when we’re asked we’re quick to come up with every excuse why we can’t participate. The joy you speak of — that infectious sense of *wanting* to be Church to one another — is what seems to be missing in many parishes…

  • Sharon

    I just finished a short class on the Gospel of Mark. The class was offered by our Pastor,during the same time that 1-8th grade RE meets. Of the 60 or so people in the class I was one of 2or 3 that had children in RE during that time. I was surprized! The time was offered to cater to those parents, and hardly any took the class. It is a shame that so many parents missed the change to take this class, choosing instead to simply drop off and then pick up their children. I have always felt that something regular should be offered for adults. Once children reach 8th grade, get confirmed and go on to High School there are few opportunities to continue on in Catholic education. It is a shame really. I filled out my “survey” after my Gospel class ended and noted that I would like to see more education for parents of those in RE. Gave my survey to our Director of Evangalition, she asked for my name and number, turns out that she is looking for our parish to head in this direction!

    • lisahendey

      Sharon, I’m so curious to know who the 60 people were… adults? Older, young adults, married, single? How great that you’d have such a good reception for that class!

  • Marc Cardaronella

    Mark S., I think you’re right regarding the institutional mindset. There’s a lot invested in maintaining elements of the standing institution that perhaps is not the best use of time and resources. Nevertheless, it’s there and not going away any time soon. And perhaps it shouldn’t. However, there will need to be a re-prioritization if lasting change will take place. A change in methods and a smarter approach are a must. We just have to work smarter to break through the noise. But I’m not sure we can keep doing what we’ve always done and add on other things as well. Something’s got to give. Unless you are going to spend a lot more money and I don’t see that happening.

  • Allison

    I found myself nodding to Marc’s remark that some adult catechesis can be online. It may, in fact, be the best option for those who have overwhelming schedules.

    Just today my husband emailed me that he was really enjoying the daily emails from, whereby he will read the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a year. He can do it when he has a moment. The reminder comes TO him.

    Perhaps there can be more options like this and like Fr. Barron’s Youtube and DVD series on Catholicism. Is anyone aware of a Catholic Church where the Pastor is using a Facebook page for Ask-The-Priest type questions?

    Parents absolutely need catechesis in order to meet the responsibility of living and teaching the faith to their children, but some may only do so in private ways. #Cathmedia is full of hope for ways that parish websites, Facebook pages, emails and Twitter, even Pinterest can bring our faith in front of us….where we are.

    Looking forward to reading more in this thread.

    • lisahendey

      Allison — I agree that the combined efforts of great, faith-filled and high quality online resources and “real life” opportunities is likely the answer. I’m actually so thrilled that we have so many faith-filled Catholics (like Matthew Warner and his team at who are ready and will to rise up and answer the needs of the Church by sharing their gifts and talents.

  • Pat Gohn

    I stand by the paradigm for adult faith formation in this document: Were Our Hearts Not Burning put out by the USCCB years back: It’s a great document for reading and reflecting on during this Year of Faith — especially for church leaders, staff, and volunteers.

    I’d also suggest that catechesis for adults has to be offered in shorter doses, and offered during times that adults can attend, or possibly in non-traditional setting (= it doesn’t always have to be in a church classroom, etc). That might mean an hour after each Mass. That might mean during week at coffee shops/ local pubs/ etc… smaller groups/less formalized… almost like those early church kinds of meetings: in the homes in a neighborhood, around a potluck meal. Of course, to do this, you need a small army of good catechists who are “on the move” in the parish.

    Another idea is that catechesis can continue in the Advent or Lenten Mission model, or the small group model, say 4-6 weeks at a time, but that every session (i.e. content that is presented) is videotaped or recorded as an audio for later use (downloads) for parishioners on the move.

    Finally, every church meeting, from the catechesis team to the finance team to the volunteers who help clean the churches… EVERYONE should have an opening prayer and maybe 10 minutes of catechesis before they start their ministry. This still seems like a foreign idea in some churches. All I can say is if we do it enough, and across the board in EVERY ministry, it will become a holy habit. It will become this-is-what-we-do-at-church folks. We do all things in and through Jesus.

    • lisahendey

      Love this Pat — and thank you especially for taking the time to link to that document. You continually teach me new things. Thanks!!

    • Mark S.

      Oat, thanks for the link. Must have read it and forgot about it back when. Downloading for meditation. Love the idea to plan to deliver “small doses”.

      • Mark S.

        Sorry, Pat….can’t type tonight.

  • Marcus Allen Steele

    Last night I went to a memorial service at the Mission. My friend’s husband had died unexpectedly and the church was packed––terrific support by family, friends and community. It had been a hot day so the church was quite uncomfortable (built in 1804, the Franciscans had elected to not spec air conditioners in the plans). The kids were squirming, the parents were patient and not one person left. The service was in Spanish––I don’t speak Spanish––so I struggled with the prayers. It seems like I was on my knees for an indeterminable length of time and when we finished the rosary for another long participatory prayer, I began to observe more than pray.

    I remember thinking that this great outpouring, among so many things, was a matter of will. Through hell and high water (a little excessive, I agree, but trying to make a point), these loving folks were not going to abandon Rafael (the deceased), Irene, or their kids. They were going to do the right thing and not let go of the family’s hand. It was quite moving.

    In thinking about catechesis, a few things pop to mind. People growing and expanding in faith has to be framed as one of those “big deal” kind of things for the church community. Secondly, as a matter of will, families have to prioritize catechesis not just as an activity but THE activity––to do the right thing. And lastly, there has to be church leadership somewhere, somehow, that can inspire people to participate. I know, easier said than done.

    What appeals to me? Hearing great speakers, watching series such as Fr. Barron’s Catholicism, roundtable discussions on Magisterial teaching, event outings, big screen simulcasts of great programming (EWTN)––anything that engages and excites.

    • lisahendey

      Marcus – I love the comment you’ve shared. I can almost imagine having been there as the situation you describe mimics a recent mass I attended. Love your topic suggestions at the end too!

  • Sarah Reinhard

    Within the parish context, I *so* feel what you’re saying here, Lisa.

    Within my personal life, the same is true.

    I do teach classes at my parish, but how much of that is because (a) I have a “calling” to teach, (b) I have kids in the program, and (c) we have a small parish?

    I don’t know, but I think there is always room for improvement and I think that, in many ways, much of that improvement and reaching out for adult catechesis is going to involve being creative and open to the use of new technology integrated with face-to-face.

    Love this conversation and wish there was a way to subscribe to it! :)

  • Sarah Reinhard

    A book to consider reading, Lisa and commenters: Matthew Kelly’s new book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. I’ll be purchasing copies for our parish staff and probably giving them away like water.

    I also think all of us involved in catechesis, New Evangelization, and living out our Catholic faith should probably read it and take it to heart. (I’ll be reviewing it at some point, but I’m swamped right now with other stuff.)

    • Mark S.

      Thanks for the book recommendation, Sarah. Ordering it right now.

  • John Janaro

    These are great questions and great ideas. People are blessed with different gifts, and we should all pray for the grace to discern how to use them well. We also have to recognize and embrace our limitations, which is humbling, but also helps us appreciate how much we need to receive from others.

    When I think about these questions, I always seem to end up in the same place, which is the recognition that I need to beg for the mercy of Jesus Christ to change me and enter more fully into my life. Not just because I need “help” to be a better person, but because this is what its all about: knowing Jesus, and through Him the Father in the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict expressed it very simply last week, when he said, “Christianity consists of faith in the triune God and in a personal and communal encounter with Christ who orients and gives meaning to life. Everything else flows from this.”

    I find this very provoking. When I take up the task of the New Evangelization, what is it that I want for people? I want people to meet Jesus Christ, or to “meet” Him in new ways, to recognize Him more. Because to belong to God in Christ is the reason why human beings were created. Its the reason why we exist. And I must recognize this first of all for my own self. I don’t just need a “deeper spirituality”–I need Him!

    We must beg for His mercy, for the grace that will open us up and let Him love us more. Then, as the Pope says, “everything flows from this.” Our contributions to the New Evangelization will have value to the extent that we allow ourselves to be “newly evangelized,” to be loved by God through Christ in the Church.

    I have studied and taught and written about the Catholic faith for almost 30 years. But I find myself continually challenged by this fact. Its so “basic,” and therefore so easy to take for granted, to forget. I can only beg Jesus to deepen my desire for Him and my awareness of my total need for Him.

  • Sarah M.

    I come at this from a slightly different perspective – I desperately want to get more involved in my parish and don’t know how! All parishes are different, and some are excellent at this, but I would encourage parishes to let people know where they need help and what opportunities there are for us to volunteer. In getting ready to move so I’ve been thinking quite a bit how to go about really joining a parish beyond just the paperwork.

    As a mom of young children, I would really appreciate catechesis opportunities where young kids were welcome, too. I know that involves substantial extra challenges, but I suspect if my family is seeking something like that others would be interested, too!

    • Lisa Hendey

      Sarah, does your parish have religious education or a ministry department? I’d think that either of those places would be the place to start. I know that most parishes are really hurting for people to be involved in religious education, and it’s likely something you could have your children do with you. But your point is well taken – an interesting idea might be to give parents who are coming for Baptism preparation a “pep talk” and information on how greatly we need them to be involved in the Church. Thanks for chiming in!

  • Sarah M.

    Lisa, thanks for the suggestion! I also just treated myself to a copy of The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Thanks for writing such a great book!

    As far as catechesis goes, too. I have really appreciated the blogs at Patheos and the year of faith writings. I’ve had a bad case of “busy life syndrome,” and this has been a great way to start getting back to actively thinking about my faith.

    • lisahendey

      Oh Sarah thank you for buying my book – I hope to sign it for you some day! And I’m glad that you’re enjoying the Year of Faith with us. I think it’s been an incredible start!

  • Heather Renshaw

    I’d like to piggy-back a smidgen, if I may, on Sarah M.’s comment. Perhaps this is a bit of a rabbit trail, but it is a concern for me and my circle of friends when it comes to engaging in real-world catehesis, so here are my thoughts. I, too, am a Mom of small children, and my honest-to-goodness largest obstacle to participating in on-site/eyeballing-other-adults catechesis is childcare. Anyone who has attempted to attend catechetical opportunities at church or elsewhere with young children in tow can attest that it is, shall we say, less than ideal for engaging, learning, and retaining. I like the idea of online courses in a pinch, but, frankly, as much as I love my little blessings, I prefer spending quality time with other Catholic *adults* who desire to dig in to their faith from time to time. My general observation is that the Catholic Church has much to learn from our Protestant brethren when it comes to making sure little ones are otherwise cared for so Moms and Dads are free to grow in their faith outside of Mass time. I am sure there are pockets of parishes who do the childcare thing very well, but I personally haven’t come across many. Something to pray about and hope for!

    • lisahendey

      Heather thanks for bringing up this issue — it’s so important. I’m convinced that we lose a lot of our young families to neighboring Christian churches with beautiful child care centers and fantastic programming that keeps young families in mind. I am going to search out examples of Catholic parishes getting this right and share the good news about them. They’ve got to be out there! Thanks for raising an important issue!

      • Heather Renshaw

        Thanks so much, Lisa!! God bless you, your family, and your work for the Church. You are loved. :-)