Friday, May 15, 2009

Taking my message to the streets

Sorry for the long absence. I've got a couple of good excuses. It's been a crazy week in the Not Strictly Spiritual household. The cats, of course, have added quite a bit of drama. Last night was the first night in a week that one or both of the cats did not wander around the house crying and jumping from dresser to dresser all night. So I guess that's progress. Actually, Fred the Cat and Mirabella the Kitten are a sweet little pair. In just a few days, they have adapted to a house filled with noise and general craziness and to each other. Now it's not uncommon to find Fred curled up with Mirabella, giving her little licks.

And then, on top of all that, there was work craziness as well. I taught a two-hour workshop on Wednesday for the Diocese of Albany's annual Spring Enrichment program. My topic was "The Lost Generation: Reconnecting with Adult Catholics." This is the fourth time I've presented this workshop, although never for two solid hours, and each time it's different yet fascinating. It's certainly a subject that gets people talking. How do we reach out to adult Catholics who feel cut off from their faith? How do we coax them back into the fold in unintimidating ways that will make them feel part of a faith community? There are no easy answers, but it absolutely has to begin with community first and catechesis second.

We can't expect people to show up for classes or meetings if they don't feel like they are part of something, if they have no stake in their parish or church. We have to give them ownership, welcome them, talk to them, answer their questions, and drop our preconceived notions about why they may or may not attend Mass, why they send their kids to faith formation but don't practice the faith at home. As I say in my talk, if they have any connection to the church at all -- no matter how tenuous -- it's a sign that they are within our grasp and may be hungry for something more. So many people who were born and raised Catholic feel isolated and abandoned today because they never really got the basics of their faith and because they feel like strangers in their own home. It's time to find a way to heal those divisions and reach out to those who are searching for deeper meaning in this superficial world of ours.

I could go on and on about this, but for now I'll just say that we need to begin first with the parents of all those children in faith formation programs. We need to reach the parents through the kids, educate the parents by involving them in the faith education of their children, connect with the parents not through mandatory meetings but through acts of solidarity and subtle, even hidden, catechesis. In other words, by making our faith real to them through our words and actions.

We are all living harried and overscheduled lives. We need to show people that their spiritual community can be a refuge in the midst of the chaos. But that means that parishes need to be truly welcoming, truly community-minded, truly open to new people and new ideas. It is no longer enough to simply pump children full of random Catholic facts and then send them on their way. It is time to incorporate families into the larger family of faith, to put those random facts into context so that people understand how all the individual threads of various teachings are woven together to form the beautiful tapestry that is the Catholic faith. We cannot demand discipleship. Instead we must extend an invitation that is so meaningful and so enticing that it simply cannot be refused.


Michele B. said...

Amen, Mary! I wish I could have sat in your Spring Enrichment workshop. I have always believed that we (the Church) need to foster a desire and a love of learning. Once people want to learn, we can give them 'the facts'. I would love to hear from you how the discussion went. Be well and thank you very much for your post.

Anonymous said...

I passed this along to my pastor and faith formation director--they so agreed with this post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,
I just finished my first year of teaching 1st grade RE. I really like the idea of catechizing the parents through the children. I started making handouts for the kids each week for them to take home with the hope that it would 1) allow parents to reinforce what we taught and 2) teach the parents also. I did have a few of the parents tell me they were learning things they didn't know through it so felt it had some success. I also made a few pleas in the weekly note about setting a good example in the faith by taking their kids to mass regularly, and seeing them receiving the sacraments, etc as the kids would blurt out the fact that they weren't going to mass. My strategy this year is to do the same in a little newsletter each week that also advertises opportunities for parents as well. Since I'm moving up to 2nd grade which involves 1st communion/confession prep, I'm hoping to purchase materials like the little St.Joseph 1st Communion Catechism that the kids can keep and take home each week with a little assignment that can get the parents involved as well.

Enjoyed reading your book and meeting you in Feb at the Denver Catholic Faith Conference.
Cathy S.