Thinking Outside the Box on Catholic Religious Education – UPDATED

Joanne McPortland posted only two pieces in all of January, but they were both hum-dingers.

Yesterday, she dared to ask “What is really wrong with Catholic Religious Education” and then answered her own question with: “just about everything”. In fact, she says we’re catechizing “the wrong damn people!”

. . .part of the reason the adult formation classes and workshops we do offer are so poorly attended—adult catechesis just not a part of our regular expectation and structure. And adding it to an already overscheduled parish calendar doesn’t seem to be much of a solution.

So here’s my totally immodest proposal, audaciously presented on the virtual eve of the grand ComicCon of Catholic religious education, L.A.’s RECongress: Snap out of it. Let’s just stop catechizing children.

Let’s take the whole Titanic of faith formation–the mechanism of decades, the time and money and energy we spend on textbooks and videos and computer programs and crafts and puppets and afterschool programs and catechist certification and convention receptions with Irish dancers and an open bar—and turn it around so it focuses on supporting adults in their faith formation. Let’s stop expecting 7-year-olds to teach their parents that the Real Presence is not some cannibalistic mumbo-jumbo, or that there’s more to the grace-filled witness of Matrimony than the fact that gay high school teachers get fired over it.

Let’s stop sneering at adults who do Veddy Veddy Improper Things at Mass, and invite them into the splendors of liturgy. Let’s stop expecting Deacon or Father to deliver complex moral theology that’s both impeccably orthodox and eminently practical in under 10 minutes on Super Bowl Sunday, and make support for living authentic adult Catholic lives a part of everything we do. Let’s look at sacramental preparation (for all sacraments) as a parish family affair, in which adult Catholics form and prepare younger Catholics. Let’s make the faith formation of adults a priority, and believe me, their children will benefit.

Read the whole thing. Print it out and bring it to church with you tomorrow. Discuss it in the vestibule before or after mass. Bring it up with your pastor, your DRE, other parents. Find out what people think.

I’ll tell you what I think: parents who are truly excited about the faith — because they truly understand it — cannot help but want to teach it to their children.

Jennifer Fitz has
more thoughts:

Parents don’t need to be reminded how little they know. They need their questions answered. They need someone to take them seriously. To patiently, and yes, sometimes firmly, teach them how to be that responsible parent who knows the faith and passes it on. Parents need you not to give up on them the seventh, or the seventy-seventh, time they goof it up. Don’t wipe your hands of parents and announce, “I’ll do it all for you then!” Keep going. Keep teaching. The grown-ups are just as hungry for Jesus as the children are.

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  • FW Ken

    Our DRE is a good friend of mine and I’m working up the nerve to send her this. It’s like to retain our friendship. ;-) I’ve long ago dropped my favorite mantra: get the adults, they’ll bring the kids along.

    You see this with my Baptist relatives. My mother went to Sunday School as long as her health permitted (well past 80) and my 86 year old stepfather still goes. These departments are organized by age group and the classes form primary fellowship groups throughout life. Do Baptist kids fall away? Sure. Heck, I’m a Catholic. But there is a structure that helps sustain a family identity and bond children to a Christian community.

  • Adam Frey

    My eyes were pretty opened to this a few years ago. I enrolled in the Catholic Biblical School at the University of Dallas on a whim and discovered how bloody little I know about scripture. This is true despite having 19 years of Catholic schooling (elementary school through law school). I’ve never read the Catholic Bible all the way through. (I once read a King James Bible straight through, but I had no context for what I read, none of it stuck, and I honestly didn’t know that I was missing seven other books.)

    I’m about 2/3 of the way through the program, and I have a much healthier understanding of what the Bible is and how Catholics use it. I’m also shocked at how much scripture is used in the Mass. Really. I had no idea that “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts” comes from Isaiah until I read it and was like, “Wow, we say that every Sunday!”

    Subjecting myself to adult catechesis has been great. I just wish that I’d learned what I’m learning now twenty years ago.

  • Mike

    Been teaching CCD to kids for about 10 Years now and probably 8 or 9 years ago I said the same thing to my deacon. I still teach but to be quite honest I find it yo be a losing battle. I agree that youth catechism should be ended and replaced by adult catechism but it won’t happen. We’ve already lost one or maybe even two generations and I’m afraid this next one is also not in too good a shape.

  • James Milliken

    In high school religion classes I taught (in a Catholic school) there would be about 3 or 4 students out of 16 who attended church regularly, about evenly split between Catholics and Protestants. It’s hard to get through to kids for whom God or religion has never been a part of their lives. I also think our focus on kids sends the message that religion is a kid thing, and adults are concerned with more serious matters. Adults are being catechized, by the way, in places where there is Catholic radio, so if you have a local station support it; if you don’t, work to get one!
    -James Milliken

  • Frank

    The concept is great, but really … would adult catechesis be any better than the crap we have now? I became a Catholic via RCIA, as an adult. It was awful. Unspeakable. I was thoroughly depressed by the time I was baptized.

    We don’t just need to focus on adults; we need to rethink the whole idea of “Christian education” from the ground up. I think the official RCIA texts give a pretty good foundation for that, but embodying those ideas in a pagan society where being Catholic is just an alternate form of paganism will be a very steep challenge. In the absence of authentic faith, trying to engage in formation that’s shaped by the paschal mystery is a fools’ errand.

  • Stefanie

    I just finished our monthly Sunday family RCIA class — with 24 attendees from age 2 to 75 years old. We went to chapel first; then went to Mass together; then met for an hour in a large meeting room with plenty of tables, goldfish crackers, and iced tea (we’re in Los Angeles). The children’s homework assignment was to complete a crossword puzzle I designed about the Holy Family and Family Prayer. Nearly all of them had 100% and were eager to share what they had learned when doing their research for the answers. We discussed the importance of prayer, the Presentation of the Lord/Purification of Mary/Candlemas. The children were given palm-sized green lined journals (the kind you can get at the office supply store for $3) and 9 prayer cards to glue to the pages. We learned daily prayers for Papa Francis, Papa Benedict, our bishops, our priests (St. Therese’s version). The children consecrated their families to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We added to our prayer journal the names of the people we know who have troubled hearts and minds. We had a blast!
    Parents and children need to learn together. Always.

  • dnb03

    Having taught RE for over 25 years I don’t it should ever for ended for either youths or adults. However, esp. for high school students, they should be thought as adults, the same lessons as adult RCIA participants. There should also be no assembly Confirmation dates. Confirmation should be done only when an adult (high school age or over) truly believes.