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?