I came across some nice thoughts about parents of children in religious education from Lisa Mladinich. She relates how many catechists lament the fact the some parents take little interest in their children’s faith formation. She then goes on to offer some positive advice for honoring them instead of critizing them and provides some practical ideas for catchists to reach out to parents. Good article.
Honor Their Fathers and Their Mothers
I do have a small bone to pick with regards to one generality in her article however where she says that, “After Vatican II, a lot of well-meaning experimentation resulted in religious education being dumbed-down and sugar-coated for the masses.” While this happened in some cases, in many other cases, it resulted in exciting new ways of making the Catholic faith more relevant to a generation that was being bombarded by the cultural revolution of the 60s. Don’t forget that, at the time, we still weren’t allowed to see the following on TV: Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke Show) in the same bed; Elvis shown below the waist; The Doors singing “girl we couldn’t get much higher“; and the Rolling Stones singing “Let’s spend the night together.” The radical shifts taking place in culture and society were (and still are) unparalleled.
As a child of the 60s, I remember the incredible turbulence of the times as well as some of that catechetical experimentation that came along with it. And yes, some of the catechesis was awful. However, some of the catechesis I received BEFORE the experimentation was equally as bad. As a result of catechetical experimentation, however, I recall being inspired for the first time in my life, by various teachers, both religious and lay, to involve not only the head, but also the heart, in my faith formation. Indeed, in some ways, the pendulum swung to an extreme (touchy-feely catechesis) but only after it had been stuck on the other extreme for far too long (rote memorization). Today, we know that it is important to involve BOTH the head and the heart in faith formation.
So, I think it’s time we stopped making negative generalizations about the catechetical ministers of the 60s and 70s who sought to proclaim the Gospel to a world that was being turned radically upside down and inside out and who often did so with very little guidance and direction from the Church’s hierarchy. Sure we’ve lost some Catholics because of catechetical experimentation that was ill-informed. However, without the bold experimentation of many catechetical pioneers following the Second Vatican Council, who knows how many folks might have been lost to Catholicism because of stagnant and irrelevant catechesis?
Which brings us back to Lisa’s main point. These folks (parents) are here in our midst so let’s honor them by evangelizing them!
Thank you for these insights. It is easy to criticize the past and feel good about the present and the future. I look at the growth of catechetical publishing over the last sixty years and it is so interesting how things have developed. As a child of the 80s (I guess), raised by parents of the 60s, I was exposed to a catechesis that stressed a personal relationship with God (something that is still quite strong in youth ministry models). This was still pre-Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has really revolutionized catechesis more than even Vatican II (in my opinion). We are still working out the balance between personal experience and spiritual knowledge/belief, but this is an issue that has been a problem from the earliest days of the Church. There must be a balance and my hope is that years from now catechists look back and think we did a good job balancing the two.
That being said, Lisa’s point is clear. Without the parents involvement, our work is irrelevant. One of our challenges is to catechize the parents along with the children.
Thanks for weighing in, Jared! Good point about the Catechism.
As you know, I was a catechist in the 60’s, and have continued as a catechist through the decades down to the present (in my 6th decade now.
In the 60’s the content was there. We were becoming Christocentric thanks to the emphasis on kerygma. We began focusing on salvation history, and so began using Scripture as more than just an apologetic tool. We got to know our Catholic Scripture scholars. We studied church and culture with the help of persons like Harvey Cox. We saw revelation as a relationship with the divine rather than a pool of doctrinal statements protected by the magisterium under the tutelage of persons like Gabriel Moran. We studied the culture of the times including youth culture with the help of people like Marshall McLuhan. We studied education under Bloom and discovered affective methodology, reaching the heart as well as the head.
Above all of that, we went back to school and majored in Theology, Religious Education, Religious Studies. We needed to in order to sort everything out and develop a workable direction for the field of Catechesis under the guidance of such experts as Thomas Groome.
We insisted that our schools develop academic religion departments moving away from the “all Catholic school teachers can teach religion” approach the 60’s began with. We developed curricula and methods that have evolved into where we are today in the field. And we do have a lot of excellent resources to work with.
Of course, we are still losing Catholics. Look at the recent studies of young adults and faith that are coming out of Gallup, Pew, and Notre Dame. Maybe catechetics is still mistakenly being expected to do it all, and it can’t. The Church just has to move itself to become what we teach it could and should be. We have glimpses of it and some good models of vibrant, engaged Church; but we also seem to be regressing into the triumphalist, individual-focused, defensive Church I remember from my youth.
… and that is what I (and many of the catechists of the 60’s) have spent a lifetime trying to do something about. And some of us are beginning the sixth decade of our efforts.
Frank, thanks for this passionate comment. You are indeed one of the “pioneers” that I refer to and I think there has been too much generalized blame thrown at the catechetical efforts of the 60s and 70s for the woes our Church faces today. 6 decades of service! I admire you and thank you for your passionate dedication!
Your comments from Lisa’s article and the comments that have followed are interesting. It seems valuable to take note of the positive and negative catechetical endeavors of the past and learn from them. I just listened to a lecture that spoke of the fact that due to the experimentation after Vatican II certain aspects of the faith were watered down or omitted (for example, by 1983 there was no mention of sin in catechetical textbooks. This is an example of something that was not fruitful from the past, because without the understanding of sin there is no need of a Savior). On the other hand, many people were ready in the ’60’s to leave the Church (and there were plenty who did) because of how judgmental and unapproachable they experienced it to be. There was a great need to encounter the Gospel through emphasizing a relationship (as you said, involving the heart) and discovering that Christ’s teachings and the Church’s teachings are life giving.
William, thanks for sharing your excellent thoughts. As usual the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the 2 extremes when it comes to characterizing post-Vatican II catechesis. I’ve sat through too many lectures and presentations, however, that lambaste and dismiss all of the efforts of that era. In particular, I recall sitting with a large group of DREs as their bishop spoke to them about all of the damage that was done by the catechesis in the 60s and 70s. Apparently he did not realize that most of the folks he was speaking to were pioneering lay catechetical efforts during that era! Not surprisingly, many were offended. The bottom line, as Lisa points out in her article is that many folks today, for a variety of reasons, are in dire need of good solid catechesis…so let’s give it to them!
Thanks Joe! God be with you!
My sincere thanks to you for inviting your readers into the conversation at Patheos. I have a very high regard for the work you do, as do many of the catechists and writers I know and with whom I work closely. I also appreciate the passion and sincerity, and above all the lifetime of commitment so beautifully expressed in the comments of your readers. But I do want to clarify, for those who may not have time to read my comments in context, the point I made about catechetical experimentation and the culture at the time. Here’s the actual quote:
“It’s a huge problem, but I have great sympathy for those parents, having once been like them. After Vatican II, a lot of well-meaning experimentation resulted in religious education being dumbed-down and sugar-coated for the masses. The anti-authority movement of the 60s and the “me” and “money” generations of the 70s and 80s gutted our culture’s connection with the teaching authority of the Church. Many went their own way and generations of Catholics were lost.”
Please note that I don’t place all of the blame on poor catechesis, but — as you also pointed out — took specific note of the upheaval in our society at that time which “gutted” our connection with the Magisterium — a critical point. As a result, “Many went their own way” in terms of secular humanism, eastern religions, the occult, the New Age, the sexual revolution and materialism, among other popular pursuits. Because the focus of my column is the parents themselves and how to reach out to them, there is only so much space to devote to this particular aspect of the piece, so I worded my thoughts on a complex problem as simply as possible.
I was born in 1959 into a devoutly Catholic military family, so we experienced a lot of different approaches as we moved around. I lived in Monterrey and San Diego, CA, Virginia, Pensacola and Jacksonville, FL, and a few towns in Rhode Island in the course of growing up and being catechized. My parents assumed that we were learning our faith at parish programs along the way, not realizing that we were being taught precious little. For all the good intentions and the admirable goal of leading children to a more personal and heartfelt relationship with Jesus Christ, we were taught that Jesus loved us and that it should feel good — and not much else.
When I was finally about to be confirmed, after lots of feel-good retreats and peer-led discussions, I was told to pick a saint’s name. I chose a name I liked from a book we were allowed to view briefly at one class. We were not challenged to do any research or justify our choices. The teachers all seemed to want to be our friends and meticulously avoided being identified as authority figures. They tried, at all costs, to avoid alienating us by challenging us with the fullness of Truth. The supernatural power of God was down-sized to a soft, humanistic psychology of peace and good will. We knew nothing of the redemptive value of suffering, consequences for sin, nor the Church s extraordinary and beautiful teachings on sexual morality. We sang sentimental songs based on scripture, but we never really read the Bible. We didn’t know the transformative power of the sacraments, saints’ lives, or many of the fundamentals that were once taught by rote (fruits of the spirit, marks of the Church, and so on). We went out into a hostile world undefended and unable to justify our faith in Christ. Since we were schooled in “feeling good” about religion, we jumped at anything that felt good. And we got good and lost.
Yes, this is my own subjective experience, but it has been corroborated by friends and colleagues from various parts of the country, and in our diocese here in New York. We, collectively, cannot judge every catechetical approach or program that existed during that time. Undoubtedly, good programs emerged, as well. But between a culture gone wild and a church deeply anxious about appealing to youth, I d have to say there were serious mistakes made.
But there is great hope, because we are a people of faith; and because folks like you and your readers still live vibrant lives of faith, clinging to the sacraments, trusting in the power of Jesus Christ to win souls, and teaching the Faith accurately and passionately. As a workshop leader for catechists, it is my pleasure to know a great many catechists and DREs whom I admire and whose efforts give me reason to be optimistic about the future of our church. But ultimately, we are too little to solve the problem on our own. My hope is firmly rooted in the supernatural love and power of God.
Again, my sincere thanks and appreciation for your interest in my comments. I am humbled and very honored to have been mentioned here. I am sorry to have run on so long. I m not known for my brevity, I m afraid.
God bless you all, and please do feel free to reply to me here or at Patheos, or to write to me directly. I welcome all your comments, pro and con.
Prayerfully in Christ,
Lisa thanks so much for joining in the discussion. I too have high regard for the work you do to promote catechesis and to support catechists! Thanks also for sharing your story more in depth. I think all of the discussion on this topic has been and continues to be very fruitful as we seek to learn from our mistakes, draw from our successes, and continue down a road that leads to the most effective catechesis possible. Thanks especially for your ideas for honoring parents…they do indeed get a great deal of criticism in this area which does us (and them) no good. Keep up the great work and I look forward to future dialogues with you!
Thanks, Joe. It’s been a pleasure!
Joe, I am so touched by your article today with regards to honoring the parents of the kids who are learning our catholic faith in catechism. As a catechist Joe,no amount of words can describe the immeasurable joy that I felt as a follower of Jesus Christ. The kids are the most most precious, priceless,and valuable gifts to their parents, as well as to us who are in catechism ministry. Our being the light of Jesus to the kids is also a sort of evangilizing the parents. I can feel the happiness the parents felt,espececially our pastor, Rev.Fr. Jeffrey Day, celebrated a Holy Mass every after the catechism classes every Monday of each week,with the parents attending the Holy Mass,…What a heavenly celebration with the kids and their parents. Families learn the essentials of being united together in spirit and ideals through our catholic faith. Thanks a lot for all those involved in this wonderful job of building God”s kingdom in this beautiful planet called earth.
You and Lisa are both right about the need to hornor the parents of our students. As I have pointed out to various parents along the way “God has placed your child in your home because he knows that you have the gifts to help that child grow to the person whom he or she is called to be in God’s eyes.” I can inform, advise and guide but ultimately parents need to listen to the Spirit in their own hearts to make the best choices for their own children because each child is not the same. I believe strongly that God makes that grace available to all parents.
I have noticed in over 15 years of catechizing parents whose children are preparing for the sacraments ( Baptism thru Confirmation) that parents genuinely want to be able to share their faith with their children. They are open to learning more about what they may have missed along the way and open to reexamining more deeply what they already know. Some are hesitant to share their faith because they have questions about it themselves but most embrace the opportunity to do so when we model it for them and give them the tools to be confident in what they are sharing.
As we Catechize adults we need to be respectful of the fact that they have faith and experience. Even when their “knowledge of facts” is weak they have something to bring and their journey of faith that must be respected. They are disciples journeying with Jesus Christ as much as we who are catechetical leaders are and their ablity to influence the next generation of the church is far greater than any catechist in any classroom.
P.S. I understand Lisa’s experience of the church in the 70’s. I like to joke that I was taught that God Loved me but it wasn’t until I was an adult when I learned who that God was. I think the assumption among my Catholic School teachers was that we already had the head part and they were filling in the heart piece. I notice that the High Schoolers I work with definately are seeking the wholeness and integration of both head and heart but they also are constantly challenging us to “Live it!” and make our faith external as well as internal.
Thanks, Maura…well said!