The key to effective adult faith formation can be found in church basements all over the country.
And what, exactly, can be found in church basements? Twelve Step meetings. People do not go to Twelve Step meetings because they like the music. They don’t go because of how the space is decorated. They don’t go because the seats are comfy or because of a big video screen. They don’t go because the food is good.
They go because they recognize that they are broken and that they cannot fix themselves through an act of their own will. They accept the fact that they need intervention. In order to get their lives in order, they must first admit powerlessness over their addiction and then come to believe that only a greater power can restore their sanity (steps 1 and 2).
Likewise, in order for adult faith formation to be effective today, it must focus on brokenness—the brokenness that is shared by all of us as part of the human condition. For many, this brokenness is subtle: a sense of incompleteness, boredom, or restlessness. For others, it is dramatic: the collapse of life as it was once known. In order for the Catholic Church to become a “Church on the move,” it must proclaim to the world that we all experience brokenness and that we are incapable of “fixing” ourselves.
Perhaps the first step toward making this happen is to revise all of our flowery parish mission statements—you know, the ones that say, “We, the people of St. Such-and-such, are dedicated to forming a loving community in Jesus Christ, in worshipping with joy and praise, and in sharing love with all we meet.” Yuk. This is what a parish mission statement should look like:
“We, the people of St. Such-and-such, recognize that we are broken and cannot fix ourselves. We embrace Jesus as the one who heals us. And we are committed to inviting other broken people to experience this healing.”
Everything we do then as a parish, including adult faith formation, would necessarily flow from the notion that we are broken and need fixing by someone other than ourselves. Maybe, just maybe, people would start to recognize the need for formation, the need for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, and especially, the need for the Eucharist.
Think about it: no one ever wrote a hymn about how they have been transformed by the remodeling of a sanctuary or by the coffee and donuts served in the parish hall after Mass (something that I’m actually a big fan of, but more about that later). What we do have, however, in our treasury of hymns is one of the most moving testimonies about human brokenness and the power of God’s intervention:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.