It is not my intent to critique the methodologies of any single parish. I am simply stating my observations after more than twenty years of involvement in catechesis in five different states. The approach can be very different depending upon which parish you belong to at any given time. Thus, I have more questions than answers in regard to some of these matters.
1. If parents are the first and primary teachers of their children in the faith, what is the role of religious education in the parish?
2. If parents are the first and primary teachers of their children in the faith, what is the role of a Catholic school in regard to religious education?
3. What is the role of the parish in regard to adult religious education and faith formation so that parents can be equipped to be the primary teachers of their children in the faith?
4. Who has the responsibility of being sure catechists are well-equipped to teach the faith? How is that accomplished?
5. If the old ways of doing things (classroom model on a given evening or on Sunday morning) does not seem to be working, what are the alternatives?
6. How are programs assessed and evaluated?
The list could go on and on, but you get the point.
The theme for this year's Cathechetical Sunday is, "Stay With Us." I have read some commentaries about the theme that have been less than flattering. One critique said it sounds desperate. We are begging people not to leave. My question then is, "Why should people stay if the current practices are ineffective?" If you had to rate the quality of the religious education program at your parish, how high of a grade would you give it? Is the score high enough that you would feel comfortable asking someone to "Stay With Us"?
Any of us who accept leadership positions within the Church have a burden of responsibility that should not be taken lightly. I have commented in the past about scriptural things like having a millstone tied around your neck and being tossed into the sea if you lead a little one astray. Fancy titles are also bounced around a little--hypocrites, brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs. The consequences of not being faithful to our leadership responsibilities are a bit daunting. This applies to those entrusted with leading catechetical endeavors. The nagging question that haunts me is this: Do we as a Church too frequently become comfortable with mediocrity? Even when we know our methods are not producing abundant fruit, are we too complacent to try something else.
The Office of Readings today from the Liturgy of the Hours has a short portion of the beginning of a sermon "On Pastors" by Saint Augustine, bishop. While he is talking to pastors, I think we can extend that out a little to all who have leadership roles within the Church. He puts it right out there, "Thus says the Lord God: Shepherds of Israel, who have been nourishing only themselves! Should not the shepherds nourish the sheep?" As we have watched the scandals of the Church unfold in recent times, the question is just as valid today as when Saint Augustine originally asked it.
Do our parish religious education programs truly nourish the sheep?
I want to quote a whole paragraph from Saint Augustine as he explains very clearly the dual aspect of his role.
"I must distinguish carefully between two aspects of the role the Lord has given me, a role that demands a rigorous accountability, a role based on the Lord's greatness rather than on my own merit. The first aspect is that I am a Christian; the second, that I am a leader. I am a Christian for my own sake, whereas I am a leader for your sake; the fact that I am a Christian is to my own advantage, but I am a leader for your advantage."
I had the pleasure of attending the St. Albert Catholic High School fifty year class reunion yesterday evening. The members of the class of 1969 had traveled from various parts of the country to come back to Council Bluffs for this milestone celebration. As I was introducing myself as the new executive director of the school, one guy asked me, "Why would you take on that role?" Excellent question! The answer is quite simple actually. I felt called to do it. God has blessed me with the skills necessary to help build the Kingdom at this point in time here in Council Bluffs at St. Albert Catholic Schools. I accepted the position because I also share Saint Augustine's perspective in that it is "a role based on the Lord's greatness rather than on my own merit."
In saying that, I continue to ask for your prayers so that I can stay strong and faithful to the Lord. I need to be a faithful steward of what God has entrusted to my care. Saint Augustine sums it up succinctly today in the last paragraph in the Office of Readings.
"Many persons come to God as Christians but not as leaders. Perhaps they travel by an easier road and are less hindered since they bear a lighter burden. In addition to the fact that I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life, I as a leader must give him an account of my stewardship as well."
Please pray for our bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and all who have leadership responsibilities within the Church. Pray for all Catholic school administrators and faculty members. In a special way today, pray for all of our catechists as they embark on another academic year of handing on the faith. May they do it with great love and fidelity to Christ and His Church.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.