The US Bishops published Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us in 1999. Paragraph 3 is a significant bit, and includes a very basic statement about the Church’s ministry to adults. Women and men have a “calling and identity.” The bishops identify a threefold and progressive aspect to this:
- people of faith,
- contributors to the life and work of the Church,
- disciples whose mission is to the world.
This is a natural movement in any Christian. First, people are called to faith. Point two has that whiff of old school. While I wouldn’t argue against the support of lay people for the institution and its structures, it tends to obscure the most important calling, that of disciple acting in the world. Support for a parish and diocesan appeal is good. People are always more valuable in what they contribute through their own charisms and abilities.
The bishops rightly recognize this doesn’t happen in isolation. Faith and discipleship requires support. They cite “vibrant parish and diocesan communities” as vital. These communities are supported by catechesis and lifelong conversion. (4)
Adult formation must be the “central task,” though at first it’s hard to tell in the script (5) if the bishops mean central compared to other ways we minister to adults, or as central to the catechetical effort of the institution. Paragraph 6 offers a clarification, which I think nearly all Catholics have yet to see:
To make this vision a reality, we (bishops) call the Church in our country to a renewed commitment to adult faith formation, positioning it at the heart of our catechetical vision and practice. We pledge to support adult faith formation without weakening our commitment to our other essential educational ministries.
Unfortunately, the support for the educational efforts toward children and adolescents has weakened the resolve for adult formation. I’m sure my friend Joyce will offer significant commentary as she wishes. She’s in the thick of the effort. I think many of us were self-motivated in seeking our formation in the 70s through the present day. It’s not an easy path, unsupported as our experience has been.