“Let’s just stop catechising children”

Filed in Catholic by on February 7, 2014 4 Comments

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Joanne McPortland over at Patheos has been causing something of a stir… She is proposing that what is wrong with the parish formation set-up is that it has, for too long, been catechising the wrong people – children, not adults. It’s true that the Church attempted to make the shift from child-centred catechesis to adult-centred catechesis certainly since the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC 258 “Adult catechesis must be given top priority” is just one reference made to the paradigm-shift in this document), if not before that. But, on the whole, this ‘paradigm-shift’ has remained in the catechetical documents of the universal Church, and the national documents of the Bishops’ Conferences, and has not been translated into reality.

Why? I think one reason is that it is far easier to focus on children’s catechesis than adults’. There’s an institutional set-up in schools and sacramental preparation which means that children are captive audiences. Catechising adults is the Mount Everest we still have not conquered because it requires evangelising people first (exceedingly hard and slow work) in order to get them there. And, if we are parents, it is so much easier to focus on our children’s faith formation than our own.

But, we can’t deny that focussing on adults is the real deal; this is where it’s really at. The fact that it is so relentlessly difficult shows us that this is precisely where our efforts, energy and resources need to go.

I think to some extent Joanne is right. I would love to see the results of a parish stopping all their sacramental programmes for one year and focussing all its energy into evangelising and catechising adults. I’m fascinated by a new approach in a parish in Wales. Here, the parish priest has announced that this year he will not, as they normally do, invite the archbishop to confirm candidates after a short course. Rather, young people of Confirmation age are being invited to undertake twelve months of learning discipleship – through mentoring, attending Mass and the sacraments, service, and prayer. What a courageous move, and one that I am sure the Lord will bless, since it seems faithful to his desire for us to be his disciples, not just sacramentalised, tribal Catholics.

[First posted at Transformed in Christ]

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About the Author ()

Hannah Vaughan-Spruce is an experienced catechist and youth worker, who now works for the Diocese of Portsmouth. Some of her Jericho Tree articles were first posted at her personal catechetical blog Transformed in Christ. They are used here with permission. See http://www.transformedinchrist.com/

Comments (4)

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  1. Stephen Fry says:

    Trying to convince people around me of exactly this argument but surely it should be – “let’s stop just catechising children” ?

  2. Mari Carmen Barbabosa says:

    Children are tomorrow adults they are moré poema yo the Faith and should receive christian formation. It is their right and our obligation. It should not be adults or children parishes should have formation for both. But children should be educated in our faith. It is not an option

  3. David says:

    The idea not to instruct children in their faith would be a disaster. Children need to learn the faith and what is more they respond to good catechesis. The problem I feel lies with the parents. The parents need instruction with the children.
    We have developed catechesis in our parish that takes nearly a year for the children and parents which culminates in the reception of the Eucharist. the sacrament of reconciliation is undertaken half way through the course.
    The main thrust is that both children and parents need catechesis, they need to work together, learn together , grow together in love of a personal God.

  4. Paul Rodden says:

    But what if someone’s clearly still ‘not ready’ at the end of the year, whilst someone else is ‘ready’ after three months? Is it fair on the latter that they continue for the rest of the year? And how do we judge ‘readiness’? What valid/observable criteria?

    Doesn’t this tacitly reinforce the idea that sacramental preparation is ‘intellectual’, despite any talk of ‘discipleship’? Discipleship goes outside the boundary of what can be observed in liturgical and catechetical settings as it’s also about transformation of the whole person and fundamental relations and behaviours outside the Mass and the classroom which the Catechist can’t observe because it’s not just about becoming ‘nice’.

    Discipleship would then have to rely on the report of the candidate – who might say whatever they want to hear, or behave ‘nicely’ in front of the catechist, in order to ‘get done’ ASAP – so we’re back to square one. Whatever, it puts the issue onto the subjective judgement of the catechist, and I’m not quite sure how good an idea that is without any other objective criteria (regurgitation of facts or tests), especially if there’s likely to be more friction by insisting on a whole year (as well as possible accusations of violations of rights or brianwashing – forcing young people to listen to your ideology for such an extended period like in totalitarian correction centres).

    In fact, isn’t there likely to be a feeling of more duress or obligation upon the parish to Confirm all the candidates, including those still unready, if they’ve had to ‘put up with’ a whole year programme?

    I simply cannot see how the duration of a programme is a function, or evidence, of readiness for the reception of any Sacrament. However, I can see how regular assistance and participation at Mass with their family from their Baptism onward would be, rather than mere attendance just to ‘get through the hoop’, however long or short the programme is.

    If you want (hell fire) insurance (as the predominantly folk-Catholic/superstitious non-regular parents do for their little Johnie), you have to pay the premium, however much it is, and they’ll probably be willing to pay it, except with more griping. But. it’ll also encourage deanery/diocesan ‘comparethemarket.com’ shopping to find the cheapest offer for the same level of insurance, and that’ll always be available (remembering Sacraments are valid, ex opere operato).
    Poor people weigh up whether they can afford the insurance premium balanced against other priorities. Sadly, those Poor in Spirit will do the same.

    But, isn’t this is the mentality we have created in the past but now have to break? The suggestion proposed above does nothing towards altering that goal, but simply reinforces it in a more draconian manner, and so the parents will have even higher expectations of ‘bang for their buck’.

    Why aren’t we just honest and say that many of our congregations are toxic, unfriendly places, that no normal person would want to belong to after they’re confirmed? But it’s the biggest elephant in the room no-one’s addressing, isn’t it?

    It’s been created by promoting a consumerist ‘get Mass’ culture for decades, so our congregations – as well as those we never see who darken the door apart from when they ‘need essentials’ – are more like shoppers in Tesco than communities. Many moan if their shopping takes too long or about the length of the communion queue, but leave as soon as they can after they’ve completed their transaction, and then moan when they couldn’t park close enough to the entrance either.

    Catechesis works with the docile, but it won’t with the obstreperous and bloody-minded (which is more of your congregation than you think if you start smoking the nest). They’ll just go to the next parish, or not at all if you haven’t filled their heads with the mortal sin/hell fire threat which is the only thing they think is worse than coming to Mass…

    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/01/why-catholics-dont-care/

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