Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us 38-44: Priority of Adult Faith Formation

Let’s finish up Part I of Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us in 1999. The last item in this “new focus” discusses “The Priority of Adult Faith Formation.” We can ask in many settings: the diocese, the parish, and amongst adult Catholics: is formation a priority? Or is it financial support? Church attendance? Volunteerism? Children?

This document takes an optimistic view, speaking of “a vast pastoral agenda,” (38) and the importance of adult Catholics to be ministers in the world (citing Ephesians 4:12). And this:

We are convinced that the energy and resources we devote to adult faith formation will strengthen and invigorate all the charisms that adults receive and the activities they undertake, in the Church and in society, to serve the Gospel of Christ and the people of today. (39)

Our faltering efforts in this almost sink the premise that when adults are well-formed, the next generation will benefit. Or that lifelong learning and experiences give hope and example for others younger, older, and peers. (40) Or that quality for adults (41) means a high bar is set for formation of other ages, as well as specialty areas such as seminaries, diaconate training, colleges, graduate schools, etc.. The document stresses these efforts cannot be relegated to the “periphery of the Church’s educational mission but at its center.” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, To Teach as Jesus Did: A Pastoral Message on Catholic Education, no. 43)

An acknowledgement of a reality on the ground:

While most Catholic parishes place a high priority on the faith formation of children and youth, far fewer treat adult faith formation as a priority. This choice is made in parish staffing decisions, job descriptions, budgets, and parishioner expectations. (43)

The truth is that faith formation is not a meager ration to be parceled out with stinginess. The bishops don’t think that a focus on adults will impoverish the children. Nor will it marginalize catechists of youth who have served long and well. Citing that title from the 1972 document … “to teach as Jesus did means calling and equipping all Christians of every age and stage of life to fulfill their baptismal call to holiness in family, Church, and society—their mission to evangelize and transform the world into a more caring and just society.” (44)

Existing catechetical structures in parishes and dioceses can assist. We can ask today, a half-century since the early post-conciliar letters from the bishops, and nearly a quarter of a century since these statements on adult formation: Are we prepared to teach as Jesus did? Or have we preferred different persons to give us good example?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us 38-44: Priority of Adult Faith Formation

  1. Joyce Donahue says:

    That last question is at the heart of the issue. So many parents look to the parish to “make their kids Catholic” while contributing very little to the effort. The drop-off model is still the most common one for parish catechesis.

    I look forward to a day when marriage and baptism preparation for parents of infants lead seamlessly into relationship with the parish as “a family of families” as Pope Francis has described it. What we need are families who are supported and mentored by the community to form households that are true domestic churches, in which all generations under the roof are growing in faith. The culture of individualism we swim in makes this idea a very foreign one.

    • Liam says:

      What about the many households of one adult in midlife and beyond?

      I realize they are largely invisible in the traditional psycho-spiritual map of the Church’s View of The World (imagine a version of the famous New Yorker magazine map).

      Being an afterthought would be a step up from the current state of affairs.

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