Sunday, August 08, 2010

Religious Education

A commenter over at the Anchoress asks:

Is there a reason why religious education apparently ceases after Confirmation? Not everyone goes online or to the CCC on a regular basis. I’m sure plenty of Catholics couldn’t explain why priests can’t marry, why they mustn’t eat on Fridays (or realize that it’s more than just during Lent), or what the sacraments do and how to prepare for them.

At some point, the birds do leave the nest, whether after the Confirmation year or later. So formal religious education is going to end at some point.

But not all parishes end CCD after the Confirmation year (and Catholic schools obviously do not), which typically in the United States is the early to mid teen years (7th to 10th grade). But even where the year of Confirmation is the last CCD year, many/most parishes have youth groups, and a good Confirmation prep catechist will be sure to repeatedly impress upon the students that learning about the faith DOES NOT END WITH CONFIRMATION. We are on a journey, and learning about the faith IS A LIFELONG PROCESS.

There is also the fact that, as brief as CCD is in practice (about an hour a week tracking the school year), after eight or nine years of CCD, one does kind of run out of new topics to teach about. Especially with Confirmation prep, where you might basically cover 80-90 percent of the topics in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (even if only briefly), there are often no new subjects to teach. And there is also the fact that, to a great degree, Confirmation is about sending people out into the world, joining in the mission of the Church to be a witness for Christ, just like, at some point, Jesus stopped teaching and sent the Apostles out into the world. So, by design, Confirmation is something of a natural, if not “ending” point, then a time to start transitioning to something else.

Certainly, by the time of Confirmation, they have already been taught the essentials in order to receive the Sacraments. So what is left to teach is merely going deeper and deeper into topics that have already been taught before, and finding everyday situations in which to apply what they have learned (which is increasingly necessary as they approach adulthood).

Going deeper into the faith is part of that lifelong endeavor, but when you are doing it in the classroom, you also have to account for the boredom factor. There comes a point where, no matter how important and interesting, teenagers are simply not going to sit around for formal CCD instruction. And that is where the youth groups can step in, to get teens involved in various activities in order to learn the faith by doing the faith.

And, of course, even after the end of CCD, many/most parishes have an adult religious education program. Blessed Sacrament has an excellent religious education program at all levels. And if your particular parish does not, then other parishes in a given diocese probably will, where people can go to various talks, seminars, etc. Arlington Diocese always has something going on somewhere.

Lifelong formal religious instruction is there, it is available for those who want it, but they have to come willingly. You can’t compel adults to come (unless they want to get married or have their kid baptized), and there comes a point where you can no longer force teens to go.

AND, to come back to Confirmation — we are ALL called to be witnesses for Christ, both to the world, and to our fellow Christians. We are ALL called to help and strengthen our fellow Catholics in the faith, including religious education. We have all been enlisted in the mission. It is not solely the province and “job” of parish religious education programs to teach the faith — we all have a Confirmation duty to help pass on the faith to teens. All of us, not just parish/diocesan catechists, not just parents — everyone — before CCD, during CCD, and after CCD ends.

At Blessed Sacrament (and other parishes in the Diocese of Arlington), we’ve been blessed with some excellent priests who fairly often combine some element of catechesis with their homilies. Of course, they have almost certainly read a number of homilies given by Pope Benedict, which are always a learning experience, and his manner of giving homilies has clearly influenced the younger priests of today.

And things like Theology on Tap and other “young adult” initiatives are really big in this area. Again, we are blessed to have a thriving diocese that has an enthusiastic emphasis on teaching the faith.

Unlike some places that are stuck back in the 1970s, where the same old dinosaurs are pushing the same warmed-over dredge for the last 40 years, Arlington is a young diocese that sees the future as bright. There are still too many young parents who need to be brought up to speed, but even if they themselves are not as knowledgable as they should be, they at least have a desire that their kids learn the faith. But then again, we are an enthusiastic diocese where most of the parishes are pretty strongly pro-Magisterium, and even those "social-justice" parishes that are not big cheerleaders for the Magisterium are still thriving in their own way, catering to the more progressive types. I think we are doing more right than we are doing wrong here.

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