Catechesis? Or Rather Discipleship

Msgr Francis Mannion makes a case for a better RCIA, but the commentariat jumps on him. Formation tools, be they a Catechism, a Lectionary, a Fr Robert Barron video, or a 12-Step manifesto can all be abused as well as anything else by inept catechists. I think Msgr Mannions critics are spot on. I might also have no reason to suspect that the priest’s experience with poor formation may not be true.

His most prominent post has been as founder of the Mundelein Liturgical Institute. Maybe this is just a flare-up of the old internecine tussles between liturgy and catechesis. Some of us just want to kiss and make up.

goatWhen I chum with my liturgy colleagues, there’s a tendency to cluck at religious educators. But I suspect in some cases it’s a matter of ignorant scapegoating, as Cathleen Kaveny suggested here. With leisure suits, gas lines, and Watergate, maybe a lot of people just want to forget anything happened between Neil Armstrong and Ronald Reagan. Maybe Ms Kaveny shouldn’t have been surprised by what she found in her mom’s storage:

(M)y mother, who taught sixth-grade CCD for many years, held on to her old teacher’s handbook, which I recently perused. The content is surprisingly rich. The series proclaims itself to be “grounded in the traditional teaching and practices of the Catholic Church, while respecting recent developments in the theological and social sciences.” Among the theological developments it reflects is the emphasis on Scripture called for by Vatican II. The theme of sixth-grade religious education was “Growth in the Spirit,” which is explored in units titled: “Abraham and the Mystery of Faith,” “Moses and the Mystery of Freedom,” “David and the Mystery of Service,” and “Jeremiah and the Mystery of Hope.” The series took care to emphasize that these mysteries were deepened and revealed in Christ Jesus, and passed on in their fullest form in the Catholic tradition. A final unit in the book reinforces the Christocentric understanding of the themes by reflecting on the meaning of major Catholic holy days.

Anybody want to go to war against that? Not me.

If some catechists bungled that in the 70’s, I’m sure their tv sets will flicker with Fr Barron’s content, too. Are we setting ourselves up for another round of blame in, say, the 2030’s?

Ah! For the good ol’ days of Silver Burdett Ginn–those people knew how to write a real religion book. Humbug to those postmodern filmmakers!

I think there are three elements missing that Father Smith, good 70’s catechetical materials, and Catholicism cannot provide.

With children, the lived faith witness of parents, including Sunday Mass attendance. The single biggest indicator of active Catholicism in adulthood is not their classroom experience, but weekly time spent at worship.

The quality of parish catechists is absolutely key to making use of any learning materials. It’s no different with parish musicians, as I’ve said on this site many times. Mozart and Proulx can be botched by subpar musicmakers as easily as trite sing-along songs. Do pastors hire experienced ministers to form catechists? Or does the position fall default to the catechist with the combination of the longest tenure and the most willingness to work long hours for little pay. And to be clear: quite often those dedicated catechists are well-suited to building up a good core of teachers. In that case is Father Smith prepared to offer resources–time and money–for substantive theological formation for an up-and-coming faith formation director? I’ve worked for many good pastors who have. I’ve heard of many who aren’t, preferring to shuttle money into the parish school instead.

The biggest need is to form believers into disciples. Only when people get a whiff of the deeper commitment offered by the Lord who seeks those committed followers are they ready to leap into life with a full motivation for curiosity, listening, and service.

mount taborIn his videos, Fr Barron appeals to the initial stages of that commitment. He offers an experience, and quite often inspires a hunger for that experience. Do watchers of his films want to Guadalupe or Chartres or Rome? Or do they want to create those experiences of inspiration in places like Missoula or Seneca Falls or Las Cruces? When I watch Catholicism, I might yearn for a spot on Fr Barron’s filmmaking crew. But when I come home, what then? When we come down from the mountain, are we looking for more mountain, or are we looking to follow and imitate the Lord?

Mount Tabor image credit.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Catechesis? Or Rather Discipleship

  1. Melody says:

    “With children, the lived faith witness of parents, including Sunday Mass attendance. The single biggest indicator of active Catholicism in adulthood is not their classroom experience, but weekly time spent at worship.”
    Absolutely agree with that. I think the most important witness is not that the parents made the kids go to Mass (even though that’s important), but that the kids saw Mom and Dad do it. Every. Single. Sunday.

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