In conversation with Devra Torres, she commented:
I’m starting to think that the habit of EVER addressing persons in clumps is a terrible idea, even though it seems so efficient and realistic. In fact, that’s one of the main points of personalism, but one that’s taking a while to sink in for me.
Her remark couldn’t have been better timed. One of my challenges lately has been explaining to bystanders that what often looks like a “club” or a “clique” in a parish may in fact be a very effective discipleship group. I think, for example, of the work of the Legion of Mary. It’s not a lay association that is going to be a fit for everyone, but the group is supremely oriented towards a life of prayer, service, and discipleship. An essential part of that discipleship is meeting in a small group week after week after week after week. Faith-building relationships grow over years and years of practicing the faith side by side with others who love the Lord.
By dint of owning a real soccer ball, I had a chance last night to chat with the leaders of a parish youth group that happened to be in the same place I was. Something I learned: The kids are begging for more adults to help with their youth group. Why? Because what they want is small group discussion. You simply can’t get into a deep conversation about your faith with forty other people. It doesn’t work.
Why adults? Because teens want serious discussion, and for that you need leaders who are knowledgeable enough of the faith, and of life, to be able to keep the conversation from diverging off onto shallow tangents. Some teen leaders are able to fill that role, but not all.
In my short time working with Family Honor, I’ve been blown away by how intensely parents care about passing on the faith, including the message of chastity, to their children. In catechetical circles you tend to hear a lot of complaining about parents — that they are apathetic, that they don’t take the Catholic faith seriously, that they just want to get their sacraments and run. I haven’t met these parents yet*. In all my years teaching the faith, chatting with parents on the playground after Mass, or talking even with parents who are inactive in their faith, I’ve yet to meet the one who really doesn’t care.
I meet plenty of parents who are overwhelmed, who don’t know where to begin, or who find parish life daunting and the catechetical offerings uninspiring. But the moment you get onto a topic that matters, and give the parent a chance to ask questions, share experiences, consider challenges, everything changes. Parents care. They care so deeply that when we break into small group discussions at Family Honor, it’s almost impossible to get parents to stop talking.
So how do you know whether your parish is serious about discipleship, or just a well-ordered golf club eighteen holes short? It’s the attitude and the focus.
- If newcomers show up and are given the cold shoulder, you’ve got a clique or a club. If newcomers are welcomed and encouraged to participate to the fullest of their ability, you’ve moved beyond the golf club into a functioning small group where strong relationships can form.
- If the focus is on something other than Jesus, you’ve got a social club. If it’s all about being a follower of Christ, you’ve got discipleship.
The Church makes a very bad social club — as anyone who is repulsed by the Church can tell you. It’s hard to convince people to put a lot of energy into mere social encounters, because there’s always a better club to be found elsewhere. But give people the chance to take their faith seriously, and they’re all over it. Can’t shut them up.
Related: Here’s Christian LeBlanc’s very well-received adult catechetical series. Videos are being added to the playist as he teaches. People love this stuff, because it’s Jesus, not fluff.
Artwork: Henry Ossawa Tanner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons