A Plea for Really Committing to Adult Faith Formation

We need to awaken.  We need to be stirred to action to do what Jesus sent the Church to do: “Make disciples,” and it needs to begin in the parishes.

“For although they knew God, they did not accord him glory as God, or give him thanks.”
-St. Paul

How Did It Come To This?

If the population in a certain town began to fall gravely ill—increasing numbers of citizens from one end of the town to the other growing weak and incapacitated, lethargic and eventually comatose—you would expect the town fathers to react with due alarm.  You would expect commissions and committees, meetings and studies, inquiries and action plans, ASAP.  You would expect the whole town to become actively concerned and eager to work in whatever way was needed, toward the elimination of this plague whatever it turned out to be!

Surely, I am not the only person to notice what is happening in this country, and in the whole of Western culture.  An insidious plague is indeed sweeping through the land, with persistence and to a deadly effect on many citizens, with truly horrendous results so far, and with even more horrific possibilities threatening us in the days and years to come.  The plague, as you have probably guessed by now, has many disturbing symptoms:

  1. For many practical purposes, atheism;
  2. In many actual practices, moral relativism or simply amorality;
  3. In matters of natural moral law and conscience, a growing desensitization – a moral numbness;
  4. In matters pertaining to fundamental human goodness, social interrelationships and solidarity, an increasing dehumanization and coldness.

We see it in the voluntary flight from real life into the mindless escapist virtual reality called “entertainment”:  in video games; in pornography; in the endless murders, brutality, and inhumanity of dramas; in the screams, lusts, and violence of popular music; in the banality and shallowness of what is called comedy; and, in insulting and tragic parodies of family life.  The victims of this plague have seemingly lost their humanity, showing a disturbing preference for what can only be called an abnegation of their human dignity.

Paul was not seeing into the future when he wrote the following passage, but describing the world of his own time, 2000 years ago:

As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God, they did not accord him glory as God, or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.  While claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man, or of birds, or of four-legged animals, or of snakes.  Therefore, God handed them over to impurity, through the lusts of their hearts, for the mutual degradation of their bodies.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1:20-25).

Paul was writing of a pre-Christian world, still responsible before God because of the natural moral law he had given them.  In our case, however, we are watching the degradation and decay of a world which knows Christ and His Gospel!  We are watching a culture reject, not only the natural moral law, but the divine revealed moral law, as well.  How dark are these times!

I do not write this merely to lament our times, but to question, out loud, our response as Catholic Christians sent to evangelize the world.  Who is evangelizing whom?  When we take a sober look around us, does it not appear obvious that this is not going to end well?  We are losing; they are gaining.  Therefore, we all are heading for an unhappy climax.  The Catechism prophetically teaches:

The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection (cf., Rev 19:1-9).  The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven (cf., Rev 13:8; 20:7-10; 21:2-4).  God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world (cf., Rev 20:12 2 Pt 3:12-13). 1

The Church does not have to give the world over, or surrender, to “the revolt of evil.”  The Church was sent to “make disciples.”  But the Church is drowsy—like the disciples dozing off as Jesus prayed in His agony in the garden—unable or unwilling to grasp the signs of the times.  As Church, we can hardly evangelize our own, in spite of the aching exhortations of Blessed John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, for a “New Evangelization.”  There is little visible zeal for such a great commission. Instead, there is lethargy, a lukewarm-ness, a continuing focus on the affairs of the local parish, at the expense of responding to the desperate needs of the world outside the parish.

There is a world outside of the local parish—a world losing its morality, its culture, its human sensitivity, its human dignity.  It is a world of practical atheism, lost in moral relativism, drunk from sexual addictions and materialism, lost in a barren wasteland, alone without truth or love.  And inside the parish, what are we doing?  What do our cycles of meetings concern themselves with, and what do we accomplish?

What Do We Need to Do?

We need to awaken.  We need to be stirred to action to do what Jesus sent the Church to do: “Make disciples.” This call to make disciples needs to begin in the parishes.  We cannot give what we do not have; we do not have a solid formation in the faith that Jesus entrusted to us. We lack the ability and zeal necessary to articulate it.  We must take seriously the need for adult formation.  We must provide adult formation in the faith for the sake of our marriages and families—now threatened by the advancing culture of death—and for the sake of Jesus, who sends us out to evangelize the world.  We have the teachings and concerns of the Church “on paper.” We only lack the implementation.

The Crucial Importance of Adult Formation

The Church has collected many documents, studies, exhortations and recommendations concerning the importance of specifically adult formation in the faith. 2  One such document is from the Vatican sessions on “Catechesis of Adults in the Christian Community” (1988). 3

Among problems, this document notes:

One must admit that in various communities, the formation of adults has been taken for granted or, perhaps, carried out in connection with certain events, not infrequently in an infantile way. Because certain external or traditional supports are sometimes lacking, a grave imbalance is created insofar as catechesis has devoted considerable attention to children, while the same has not happened in the catechesis of young people and adults (§21).

This imbalance is strikingly widespread and common.  It is not unusual to find parishes with no adult formation program at all, beyond what can be received in Sunday homilies.    Commonly, all catechetical concern is toward that of children, except for the group of adults in RCIA.  The impact of RCIA on the parish, as a whole, is small, however, and at best brief.  The Sunday homily as a solitary vehicle for substantive and systematic catechesis is not adequate.  The document continues:

In summary, in order for the Good News of the Kingdom to penetrate all the various layers of the human family, it is crucial that every Christian play an active part in the coming of the Kingdom. The work of each will be coordinated with, and complementary to, the contribution of everyone else, according to the different degrees of responsibility each one has. All of this naturally requires adults to play a primary role. Hence, it is not only legitimate, but necessary, to acknowledge that a fully Christian community can exist only when a systematic catechesis of all its members takes place and when an effective and well-developed catechesis of adults is regarded as the central task in the catechetical enterprise (§25).

It is worth stressing, that it is necessary for a systematic catechesis to exist in the parishes, and this requires “an effective and well-developed catechesis of adults” as the “central task” in the catechetical ministry.

The 1997 General Directory for Catechesis, quoting an older directory, asserts:

Catechesis for adults, since it deals with persons who are capable of an adherence that is fully responsible, must be considered the chief form of catechesis. All the other forms, which are, indeed, always necessary, are in some way oriented to it.

Blessed John Paul II’s teaching, Catechesi Tradendae, 4 discusses the catechetical needs of all Catholics, collecting us all into the universal right and duty of catechesis:

It must be restated that nobody in the Church of Jesus Christ should feel excused from receiving catechesis. This is true even of young seminarians and young religious, and of all those called to the task of being pastors and catechists. They will fulfill this task all the better if they are humble pupils of the Church, the great giver, as well as the great receiver, of catechesis (§45).

To actually implement such a parish catechetical program, having adult catechesis as its “chief form” with other forms oriented to it, having adult catechesis as its “central task,” is a truly revolutionary challenge.

Program Content

Sacred Scripture, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (or the recent Compendium), must be the two foundational necessities for an adult program.  Both of these are essential.  Both should be offered and accessible to as many adults of the parish as possible.

After the two essential components of the program noted above, many other offerings could be collected in a category such as: “Current Topics in Faith Formation.”  Such a category could include a single session, or a series of short sessions, on specific issues of particular relevancy:

  1. Catholic Family Life;
  2. Growing in Prayer;
  3. Catholic Sexual Ethics;
  4. Catholic Medical Ethics;
  5. The Challenge of Islam;
  6. Catholic Social Teachings;
  7. Catholic Education for Catholic Children;
  8. Keeping Home Safe for Catholics;
  9. Intermarriage and Catholic Ecumenism;
  10. Natural Family Planning in a Catholic Marriage;
  11. And, other contemporary matters.

For both the essential components, and the other offerings, obviously the catechists who teach adults must be selected with great care.  Catechists of adults must have, not only technical competence in the field, they must be faithful Catholics, having the integrity of a Catholic life.  They must have the teaching skills particularly appropriate to teaching adults, with all the challenges and purposes implicit in adult catechesis.

Integration into Parish Life

It is important that catechesis for adults be available and accessible to as many adult parishioners as possible.  The Adult Program, in other words, should be integrated, both into the parish calendar and weekly schedule, in such a way as to make it available and accessible to as many people as possible.  Being the “central task” of the catechetical ministry, it must have a place in the parish schedule that enables its due importance; it is not an “add-on” or an after-thought.  The parish calendar and schedule may need to be revised to reflect the due importance of this ministry, and past priorities may need to be reevaluated in the light of this “central task.”  Such revision may require reeducation of some parish leaders. Of course, this must be done with due care and diligence.  However, for the parish to meet its responsibilities, such correction and revision may be required if the current schedule and calendar effectively limit or discourage access.

Parish Support and Involvement

The active support, leadership and involvement of the pastor, or at least one resident priest, is very important. If the pastor does not give genuine, sincere, and continuing support to adult catechesis, it has a small likelihood of widespread success. Pastoral support can include personal endorsements of the need for adult formation; personal announcements at Mass of program offerings; personal attendance at sessions, from time to time, as his schedule allows; and personally teaching some of the sessions. Bulletin articles are important on the need for continuing adult formation, along with integration of the need for catechesis, and the actual catechetical ministry, included in homilies, and so on.

The pastor’s support in scheduling is clearly important. Of course, different local conditions have different local concerns, but the Sunday schedule ought to be open to rearrangement, if needed, for the sake of adult formation. An example that could work in parishes I have attended, is to fit a full hour of adult formation between the two most attended Sunday Masses, if the pastor is willing and able to schedule this. In such an arrangement, adults participating in either Mass could conveniently choose to also participate in adult formation, making only one trip to the parish. Children’s sessions could be offered concurrently, even coordinated with the same general catechetical theme. But, most importantly, adults need the opportunity and possibility for faith formation. With the support of their pastors, it can happen.

The pastor can strongly encourage, or even require, participation in some adult formation sessions: for couples being prepared for marriage; or couples seeking Baptism or Confirmation for their children; or parish council members, and other laity, involved in other parish works and ministries.  The pastor can help all parish leaders and workers understand the importance of their own continuing formation and participation in adult formation, thus helping to extend such formation to all parish groups and ministries.

Parish Ministries and Lay Leadership

Not only the priests, but deacons and all lay leaders of the parish, can set the tone in the parish: “We are a parish of growing disciples; we take continuing adult formation seriously, personally.”  By their personal example, and encouragement of all members in their groups, they can help establish this tone and atmosphere.  In this way, the acceptance of, and participation in, adult formation can pervade and permeate the entire parish.


Adult formation is crucial to the mission of the Church, and to the local parish.  The Church “exists in order to evangelize,” 5 Pope Paul IV taught.  To ignite this mission in our times, Blessed John Paul II called for a “New Evangelization”:

Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings, and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). This passion will not fail to stir in the Church a new sense of mission, which cannot be left to a group of “specialists,” but must involve the responsibility of all the members of the People of God. Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him. 6

In the light of this call for a New Evangelization, that must begin in the Church, among Catholics, we see that the mission of the Church demands of us attention to the crucial ministry of adult catechesis.  Adults deserve an adult catechesis, an opportunity to encounter Christ in His Word, and in the teachings he has entrusted to his Church.   Adults are called in their lay vocation to be “full, conscious and active participants” 7  in the liturgy of the Church. Hence, they are also called to full and personal living out of this liturgy in the secular world.  We cannot give to the world what we do not have in our hearts; we cannot bear witness to what we do not understand, or even know.  We cannot raise our children in a faith we do not understand, and love.  We cannot bring light to this darkening culture if we ourselves can hardly see it, or articulate it.  We need to know the faith, growing in that wisdom, and in that life, for the rest of our lives.

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church §677. Online version at old.usccb.org.
  2. A good example: Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States, available online here.
  3. Available online here
  4. Catechesi Tradendae, available online here
  5. Evangelii Nuntiandi §14, available online here
  6. Novo Millennio Ineunte §40, available online here.
  7. See the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium §14, available online here.
R. Thomas Richard, PhD About R. Thomas Richard, PhD

R. Thomas Richard, PhD, together with his wife, currently offers parish presentations and adult formation opportunities. He has served as religious formation director for parishes, director of lay ministry and deacon formation at the diocesan level, and retreat director. A former teacher, engineer, Protestant minister, and missionary, he has earned graduate degrees in Catholic theology and ministry, Protestant ministry, and physics. He is the author of several books in Catholic spirituality, which are described on his website, www.renewthechurch.com.


  1. This morning’s Zenit online carries a painfully relevant analysis and exhortation on this very same theme. Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy gave a talk on the formation of priests in Rome, on the theme of “Educating Formators in a Time of Educational Crisis”. He spoke on the crisis of “human formation” in the world today, acknowledging that the educational crisis “is among the priorities of our time”.

    He said, “Obviously, the deficit in human formation does not regard only ecclesial realities: indeed, to be honest, compared with our situation, the crisis is much more entrenched and widespread in civil society, and its effects, visible to all, have and will continue to have grave anthropological, social, and finally, theological, consequences of great significance.”

    Citing “the explosive hedonism, narcissism, pansexualism, in which the people of our time immerse themselves and from which it is necessary to help them free themselves with every means at our disposal,” the Cardinal reinforced the Church’s mission to this world.

    Again, Church leadership sees and proclaims insightfully, truthfully, faithfully. I ask, is the Church listening so as to hear, hearing so as to believe and believing so as actually to do what the truth requires?

    Cardinal Piacenza’s address is here:

  2. Dear Dr. Richard,

    Your article has left a deep impression on me and also my wife. She is in contact with a lady who seems quite influencial in the distributtion of bulk email religious letters almost each week. We are going to encourage her first, to read “A Plea for Really Committing to Adult Faith Formation.” Secondly, to use it as an example, we do not have any meaningful Catholic Christian training for adults at home.
    Thank you for such valuable information.
    Gene Vienneau

  3. Avatar Deborah Mary says:

    This article on “real” commitment to Adult Faith Formation is excellent. The quotes from both the Vatican and the USCCB greatly strengthen the plea of the author. Thomas Richard’s comment following his article further emphasizes the need for all of us to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to and through the Catholic Church. I hope many of our clergy, as well as religious, and lay men and women read this article and take it to heart. By God’s Grace, may each of us ask in prayer: “Lord what would you have me do, to live and share your Truth?”. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Kindle in us the Fire of Your Love.

  4. Dr. Richard, I have been teaching adult catechesis, RCIA and Confirmation for the past decade. The problem is not with the students; it is with the curriculum. I always set out with the the ancient catechetical formulae – the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Seven Sacraments, the Lord’s Prayer. The problem comes with the 1992 CCC and the Second Vatican Council. I did not seek out such a tension, and certainly did not look for the contradictions we encountered. The Mass of Paul VI introduces even more problems as it leaves barely a hint of propitiatory sacrifice. The coherent, sound, and reliable catechetical formulas inherited from tradition have been discarded for the new ecumenical, science-friendly forms and approaches that are calculated to appeal to the (fictional) “modern man.”
    Your approach would be most welcome, but I believe the first order of business is to recover what we have separated ourselves from. We are salt and light, but if the salt loses its saltiness, it is fit only to be trodden underfoot. We are perilously close to that condition now. We have accepted a contraceptive mentality closed to life, and it is the fruit of a religious philosophy closed to supernatural grace. This begins with Holy Mass, which is almost universally desacralized and desecrated in the West by worldy clergy and indifferent Catholics who have been taught that hell is empty and all paths lead to a “salvation” that few can define. Unless we are willing to return to the solid and firm metaphysic of St. Thomas Aquinas and biblical science that is practiced by believing exegetes, the problems will continue to multiply and spiral downward. This is none else than chastisement, and my prayer is that it wakes us up before the violent persecutions, which can spring up most suddenly, begun in earnest.

    • Hello John Proctor. Thank you for your comments. I have heard before, of course, of the same troubled sense that you communicate here of shortcomings and failures in the Church. But I am particularly grateful for this comment: “Unless we are willing to return to the solid and firm metaphysic of St. Thomas Aquinas and biblical science that is practiced by believing exegetes, the problems will continue.”

      I think you rightly perceive the root problems causing many troubling symptoms – modern widespread fundamentally unsound philosophical foundations, and simple but pervasive disbelief. The ability to reason among many is impaired, and the gift of faith is more presumed than sought. These most interior of interior realities – faith and reason – must be present and treasured, rightly formed and nurtured, that good fruit can result. The righteous call for renewal must, I am convinced, begin there at the center of things, deep in our heart of hearts, in earnest and kindled with zeal.

  5. Avatar Gene Vienneau says:

    Dear Dr. Richard,
    I remember talking with a young priest, he mentioned that the most difficult barrier he had to overcome when he was studying to become a priest were by teachers who were not sincere, they had lost the Faith.
    John legitimately laments that “Unless we are willing to return to the solid and firm metaphysic of St. Thomas Aquinas and biblical science that is practiced by believing exegetes, the problems will continue.”
    Religious classes, at least here, unhappily focus on the vertical,and nature, rather than our Creator and his Commandments.

  6. Avatar William Hulett, M.D. says:

    Dr. Richard,
    For the past three years I have been the facillator for an adult catechetical class, scheduled between masses as you suggest. All material is presented in a DVD or CD format using material that has the Imprimatur of the Church. I have used several courses from the St Paul Center, Jeff Cavins Bible Timeline, courses from the Catholic Company. Where can I obtain a systematic curriculum for several years’ presentations? As a former Protestant, there was never a shortage of available material from which to choose! There is a true “hunger”!for adult catechesis in our parish.

    • Hello Dr. Hulett,

      I’m very happy to hear you have been able to “sandwich” adult formation between two masses – that seems such an obvious way – easily – to make the opportunity available to a large group of parishioners. I hope you were able to find a full hour! That full interval can also be a practical difficulty.

      I have to confess that I do not like “canned” packaged and produced programs. A meta-message is communicated, it seems to me, that is counterproductive to the real goal of catechesis, which is to place persons in communion with Christ and His Gospel. The technology, the distant but recorded expert, the accompanying textbooks – all work together to transfer information, but something intimate, human and relational, is lost. I don’t see the development of a maturing personal and human formation in supernatural faith. That is, I admit, an opinion that seems not to be widely shared!

      But to address your question about a systematic curriculum, I suggest that you lead the sessions yourself with the help of trustworthy Bible commentaries and the very trustworthy Catechism of the Catholic Church. I suggest that you consider alternating weeks between Catechism sessions and Scripture sessions: one week the Catechism, the next week Scripture, and so on for 9 or 10 months of the year, and then take a break.

      The Catechism itself provides the systematic curriculum. One year you can work your way through the 1st section, the Creed. The next year the next section, the Sacraments. The third year, Morals. The fourth year, prayer. In that fourth year I would suggest supplementing the Catechism (which has a short section on prayer) with materials I can suggest to you, if you were to adapt this program.

      On the “Scripture session” weeks, you could choose from the many books of the New Testament to begin – perhaps following a discipline of a chapter at a time, in the chosen book(s), per week. There is an excellent commentary in the Navarre Bible series that could help you gather background and reference material for the presentations. The Catechism also has an included list of Scripture references that could help. I would also recommend encouraging comments and questions and thoughts from the class members, to help them toward that personal engagement with the material that is essential to right formation.

      A very beautiful result was seen in such a blending of Catechism (or actually I used the Compendium for this last year) and Scripture in alternating weeks – members began to see the unity of Scripture and their Catholic Faith! This was truly wonderful and encouraging to them and to me. Some had felt intimated by their Protestant relatives or friends who seemed so knowledgeable about Scripture, and who insisted to them that our Faith was non-Biblical. But as the year progressed, they grew in confidence on several points of doctrine – seeing for themselves our Biblical roots and foundations – seeing for themselves how weak are many Protestant arguments against us.

      Such a systematic program can address several important concerns at once, it seems to me, and is worth the work of the leader. The leader will grow far more than anyone else, I can almost promise! But in any case, participants will grow.

      Please let me know if you are interested in trying something like this. Perhaps I can help further. May the Lord lead and guide you in this very important ministry!

  7. “I have to confess that I do not like “canned” packaged and produced programs… counterproductive to the real goal of catechesis, which is to place persons in communion with Christ and His Gospel. ”

    Yes and yes. My wife and I have taught RCIA straight from the Bible and the Catechism; and for the last two years I’ve taught 6th grade catechism in the same no-textbook way. It’s much more effective, but it requires a very motivated teacher who doesn’t like packaged religion (although I can understand why it exists) and is fed up with the continuing trend.

  8. Hello Christian LeBlanc – Just a note to thank you for your comments, and especially for your sense of teachings from the sources – both in RCIA and in Middle School. Yes, we are to use the modern media to evangelize – but surely the more direct and personal is the encounter between the catechist and the ones catechized, in general, the better. We yearn to place persons in communion with Christ! We have heard from Blessed John Paul II, in his work “On Catechesis in Our Time #5”
    “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Trinity.”

    May the Lord bless the work of catechesis in the Church in our time – it is needed, and the need is only growing more urgent.

    • “the more direct and personal is the encounter between the catechist and the ones catechized”

      Yes again, and it’s likewise more effective for the kids to see & hear Scripture read out loud in chunks from an actual Bible, not in snippets from another book.

      • Hello again Christian. Your true comment, “… it’s likewise more effective for the kids to see & hear Scripture read out loud in chunks from an actual Bible…” is true and important for adults as well. The truth of this coheres beautifully with the observation of John Paul II, “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ.” When a person holds the Bible in his own hands, and sees the words of Holy Scripture there in front of him – part of God’s divine revelation to him – and hears these words in his own ears – how close is the Lord to him, then and there! As Paul writes, “… faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17)

        I search for one word to express the distance too many Catholics feel from the Bible. I see how “unfamiliar” are so many with the book itself; I see how “awkward” they are trying to use it. Many stumble and struggle to find a given book within the Bible, not to mention a given chapter or verse. It is painful for me to see this among adult Catholics – and I fear it is embarrassing for them – to need help finding a reference for them in a Bible that they have owned for decades. How have we, as Church, let this happen? Catholics ought to be familiar, intimate with this book as we ought to be intimate with Christ – the sacred book of their Church, the Word of God from the Word of God.

        May the Lord arouse us, call us ever more deeply into holy communion with Him!

  9. One, I see the need.
    Two, the list of eleven subjects makes my brain cloud over.
    Three, Mysticism is the prerogative of faith.
    I am not a Catholic but I have been informed by Our Lady of Medjugorje, I have taught myself to pray the rosary, and I pursue the practice of Lectio Divina These are what attract me to the Catholic Church: Confession, the Eucharist, Marian Devotion, and the Mysteries of faith. If I wanted modernism, partisan politics, and a laundry list of things I must affirm and perform before I am allowed Christ I would go to the world/evangelicalism/televangelists/talk shows. The knowledge of the Holy One is our only and most valuable distinctive.

    • Hello Chuck,

      I appreciate your sense, if I understand you and may express it differently, of the priority in the life of faith of one’s prayer-communion with God. Without the reality – the authenticity – of that true communion, all other expressions of religion are not enough. But in response to your statement about “a laundry list of things I must affirm and perform before I am allowed Christ,” I must say that I am concerned. There are truths that ought to be and deserve to be affirmed. There are acts – works – that ought to be and deserve to be performed. As James insisted, “Faith without works is dead.”

      I suppose that the search for all those truths, and all those works, is the religious pilgrimage we are on. May the Lord continue to lead and guide us forward!

      • Thomas, Yes that is the sense of it. In the essentials we are in unity, so I am content. As for those other things, of course you are right. They are of vital importance. May I suggest that they are the outcome of “one’s prayer-communion with God”, not the cause? May God bless your mission to encourage and promote adult formation. I have added you to my daily prayers because with all the disasters facing our world today I sense that strong families build a strong Church- the only hope for our world today. I loved your conversation with Ed. I think you touched an important issue of our times, perhaps the most important one and am looking forward to your follow up article.

  10. How do you teach a person to care?

    In the endless “new evangelization” rhetoric about formation,and past-formation-failure, the emphasis seems always placed on content, but there is an unbridgeable gulf between content-competence and caring about the person sitting next to you in the pew. Most of us don’t actually care about that person. That’s the failure. We don’t genuinely care.

    Content informs us that we should, or must, but content-formation can’t carry us across that chasm in our own hearts. We have to do that, ourselves; from that jumping-off place, content-formation is as often an obstacle as it is an aid.

    We could argue about that, of course, but that’s not the same as caring.

    • Hello Ed – thank you for your comment. The article needs a follow-up, and I’ve been struggling with the writing of it for some time. We NEED adult formation! We also need something else that is not learned but is enabled, enkindled, by grace: namely, life-receiving faith. Adult formation must include this other, this supernatural, dimension. For that reason, I stress Catechism and Scripture. And by Scripture I do not mean learning about Scripture, but hearing it. Rather, hearing Christ in Scripture in a life-transforming way. Thus I do not advocate education, but formation into and then in a living faith. Faith – authentic, living, dynamic faith – cares very much. Indeed it cares to the point of the Cross.

      • Thanks for responding, Thomas.
        As I’m sure you are aware, too many people, including me, tend to take the terms “evangelization” and “new evangelization” to mean “talking about God,” and “formation” to mean “memorizing the rules.” This misunderstanding seems to stick to us no matter how many wonderful catecheses on, for instance, The Apostles Creed, (like Joseph Ratzinger’s, or Henri de Lubac’s,) we may be exposed to.

        A lot of people in the Church, and especially a lot of clergy and religious, behave as if “evangelization” and “formation” are about talking. They seem puzzled that we could find such an approach intrinsically dismissive of our humanity and personhood.

        For my own clarity, I went to a Vatican document on the topic:
        http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/ rc_synod_doc_20120619_ instrumentum-xiii_en.html. The following quotes turned up in a quick search on the term “love:”

        At the beginning of his ministry, he proclaimed that he was sent to preach the good news to the poor (cf. Lk 4:18). To those despised and dejected, Jesus declares: “Blessed are you poor” (Lk 6:20) and, by standing with them, enables these individuals already to experience a sense of freedom (cf. Lk 5:30; 15:2). He eats with them, treats them as brothers and sisters and as friends (cf. Lk 7:34) and helps them to feel loved by God, thus revealing his great compassion for sinners and those in need. …

        A fruitful proclamation of the Word of the Gospel calls for profound communion among God’s children which is a distinguishing sign accompanying proclamation, as St. John the Apostle recalls: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(Jn 13:34, 35)….

        In the new evangelization, the love shown to those in spiritual and material need, which is expressed in works of fellowship, solidarity and assistance, speaks louder than words.

        I agree utterly with your admonition that “we NEED adult formation,” but I compassionately question whether what “we also need,” which you describe as “something else,” isn’t actually the most integral component of the formation itself. The authors of the Instrumentum Laboris clearly suggest it is.
        The challenge is the same challenge as ever; in our participating in the ‘formation” elements of the new evangelization, we are being asked to stop on the road ourselves, to climb down into the ditch, to take a potentially broken, beaten, half-dead classmate in our own arms. That, seemingly is how other people will know who we are, and what they are invited to. Our words are part of it, but not the biggest, or the best part.

        Led by Pope Benedict’s writings and catecheses, I personally keep finding the richness and depth and beauty of Catholic teaching and tradition dizzying. I’m even more blown away by the possibility that I may be called to apply it in my life, that I might be given that gift. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same instant; it’s when I feel closest to God “for real.”

        Incidentally, Pope Benedict XVI provides the answer to my opening question about teaching people to care. In “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Introduction to Christianity,” and “Dogma and Preaching,” to name just those few, the Pope explains that we learn to care by being cared about. It’s the only way.

  11. Mr. Richard –
    Loved your comments and those of others.
    I grieve that our bishop and priests in Boise,lD do not preach the truth about abortion, homo relations, etc… I’ve writen to the bishop and one parish priest about this. They and others have turned a deaf ear to the idea.
    Very serious question: What do you think of my writing an open letter, via Idaho Statesman, asking the bishop and priests of Idaho why they don’t preach on these horrible sins?

    Yours in Christ,

    Phil Ferguson, O.P./L

    • Hello Phil Ferguson,
      Thank you for your comment. I don’t know what the exact situation is in your diocese, but there are ways of making your views known, as you have the right to do by Canon Law:
      Can. 212 §1 Christ’s faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound to show Christian obedience to what the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and prescribe as rulers of the Church.

      §2 Christ’s faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church.

      §3 They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.

      There is a great deal that could and should be said in response to your comments, but maybe this little bit can help you consider other ways than by a secular public newspaper. This is a matter internal to the Church – I would not recommend taking it out to the world.

  12. Avatar Janet Secluna Thomas says:

    When I was a child in the pre-Vatican 11 Church, all we had was a littlered booklet comprising about 340 questions and answers which was called the Penny Catechism and it started off with the first question ” Who made you? ” ” God made me “, ” Why did God make you / ” God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” It went through similar questions dealing first with Faith, then the Apostles Creed ,the Ten Commandments, the Sacraments and and so on so that by the time I reached the age of fifteen I had been through this booklet several times learning it by heart and expanding and deepening my knowledge as I grew older and could understand more. Then we studied some basic apologetics and at age 17 some of the crucial encyclicals like Casti Conubii. Thrown into this mix over the years was a study of the saints as their feasts came up like St Therese of Lisieux, St Bernadette, St Maximilian Kolbe and others. We recited the Rosary and the Angelus, the De Profundis in November, the Regina Coeli after Easter. We had a annual retreat of one day when being silent for the whole day was at first a great novelty. This kind of education was common to all Catholic children who went to catholic schools and even those who wen to non -Catholic schools learnt the catechism. Until I was almost forty I had never met another catholic who didn’t know their faith. Now, most Catholics under the age of sixty don’t know the most basic Catholic doctrines. In my youth, we used to be amazed at other Christians who confused the Virgin Birth and the immaculate Conception, now almost any Catholic i meet does the same. It may not seem important but it is a sign of how little seems to have remained even in Catholics who have spent all their schooldays in Catholic schools. Now, we need Baptismal classes, then, everybody knew their faith and understood what it meant to have their child baptised. I have often heard much criticism of the Pre- Vatican 11 Church but I thank God I was fortunate enough to grow up in that Church and was given a sound grounding and knowledge of the Faith and the Scriptures.

  13. I agree with the need. I agree with everything. But in this busy world, I can’t see people leaving their homes, after coming home from work, driving the kids to their extra-curricular activities, making supper, helping with homework, house work, and such, to go out again, for anything. They just got home, for gosh sakes!
    I think the way to reach people is through TV. Bishop Fulton Sheen did it in the 50’s. The programming on EWTN needs to adjust its schedule so that from 5 on is adult catechesis. That way adults don’t have to go out again. Also programs can be taped and viewed when convenient.

  14. Hello Janet,
    Thank you for your comments. Your experience is similar in many ways to that of my wife, who was very well-formed in the teachings and life of the Church from her youngest years. (My own experience was much more scattered and inconsistent.) But the changes in formation and knowledge that you comment on are factual, are widely recognized, and are very painful to me to hear once more and to acknowledge. I ask the question in the article, “How did it come to this?” with deep emotion, because this loss in our very identity as Catholics is a profound tragedy. For the love of God and His Church, for the sake of the mission He entrusted to us, we need to correct it. We need to awaken. We need renewal.

  15. Avatar Charlie B says:

    I’ve been watching these threads, and guess I’ll jump in. After over 30 years in church ministry, I am of the opinion that all the concern with orthodoxy is wasted energy if we don’t realize we’re in a pagan world, and many of our baptized adults are secularized Christians (if there is such a thing). Our current formation efforts are not working. To me, that means we have to be missionaries. Fruitful missionaries established relationships with their audience, and when trust took hold, could tell them about Jesus, and salvation. Reiterating church teaching over and over again to an audience that a) isn’t interested, or b) doesn’t care, presents a challenge of method. Aquinas said, if you want to convert someone, take their hand and walk with them. We have to help people see that the hungers of the human heart are fulfilled by Jesus, his Mother Mary, and the Christian community centered on the Eucharist. I think the papal emphasis on the need is called the New Evangelization, though I’ve not seen how it is to be put in place in a way that’s different from how we currently “pass on faith.” A Mormon, the late Stephen Covey, in a business context, once said: every organization is perfectly aligned to get the results it is getting. If we want disciples in our parishes, we have to re-think or re-learn how people come to and how we form people in faith.
    I’d start with marriage and family, because if it doesn’t occur there, “CCD” classes are at best, remedial work; at worst, a poor use of human and financial stewardship. I pray about this on the 3rd mystery of my nearly daily Rosary. I think it is worth praying for.….I would offer that the failure of our pastors to evangelize, convert, and form couples and parents – from engagement to at least the confirmation of their children constitutes the greatest pastoral vacuum.
    In the name of the 8th capital sin – expediency, most parishes process something like this: we have inadequate marriage prep; we insult and underwhelm them at infant baptism preparation, as well as first reconciliation and Eucharist, and then confirmation. Put another way: after their babies are baptized, the adults drop out of faith formation and we deal with children as if they are converted little adults. This rocky terrain occurs over a 15 – to- 20 year period. Excluding Sunday mass, the average number of catechetical contact hours a couple will have over that time frame is about 20 (minimum) to about 34. Meanwhile, we collude with a stronger, counter-evangelization most effectively implemented by the hypersexualized, violent, and nihilistic Hollywood and Madison avenue. And we wring our hands about cohabitation, annulments, and a dearth of celibate vocations but don’t do anything to counter the secularization of our people. Writing documents for a people who aren’t listening is a waste of time. Parish ministries must be re-constructed. But I doubt the bishops have the insight and courage to put something in place, as well as deal with the resistance. With the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the bishops rightfully took action regarding seminaries and priestly formation. Marriage has been in crisis since the 1960s. Is that not a scandal? The best counter to the apparently inevitable enshrinement of same sex “marriage” in our culture would be the lived witness of sacramental marriage and healthy families. They need the spiritual, pastoral, and doctrinal resources of the church but a radically new approach is needed. I hope we will find one. Forgive the length of this post; further, forgive me arrogance, but I have a one page, first draft if anyone is interested. E mail me. And keep praying.

    • Hello Charlie B – thank you for your comments. I especially appreciate your concern for marriage and the family, and the need in the Church for greater support and proper formation. You wrote, as an example, “The best counter to the apparently inevitable enshrinement of same sex “marriage” in our culture would be the lived witness of sacramental marriage and healthy families.” Well said.

      Many in the world (and many Christians) do not see the great beauty of a marriage in Christ – and so they seek elsewhere. Just as many in the world (and many Christians) do not see the great beauty of life in Christ – and so they seek elsewhere. The world needs a faithful Church! The world needs authentic witnesses of Christ! Thus the Church needs renewal.


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