Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Fifth Challenge: The Religious Formation of the Young

by Paula Ruddy

Continuing with our special Countdown to Synod 2010 series . . .

Writes Paul Lakeland in Church: Living Communion:

The first problem we have to face is the near bankruptcy of the way in which children are taught about and initiated into sacramental life. They are baptized before they know anything about what is going on. They are introduced to first penance before they have anything much to be penitent about and in a way that almost assures that their first confession will be their last. They approach first communion in a somewhat better spirit, but often not in a family context in which Mass attendance will be anything more than sporadic. And, worst of all, they receive the sacrament of confirmation as a kind of license to conclude their religious education just when it should really be becoming significant, and as a rite of initiation in nonparticipation in the community of faith. So confirmation comes to be known as the sacrament after which you no long need go to church if you don’t want to. (p. 87)

Generalizations, of course. There are families and DRE’s working hard and effectively throughout the dioceses to form their children in the Catholic tradition. But the statistics, as well as our personal experiences, back up the generalizations.

The chief recommendation Paul makes to bring youth into the mission of the Church is to practice what we preach, and in particular it is the Church’s teaching about social justice, so well-known to us in theory, that we have to put into practice. We can appeal to youthful ideals to “promote the defense of human dignity and combat the anti-human forces at work in the world.” He adds recommendations for adult leadership modeling and more persuasive teaching about sexual morality.

1. We have to make the faith community into something people might actually want to join.

The best approach for the Church in attracting and retaining young people lies in internal reform in two directions. We must find ways to speak more clearly about the vision of good life in society that is expressed in the body of Catholic social teachings, and we have to show in our practice that we abide by those principles ourselves. The worst turn-off is to be guilty of hypocrisy. And if we think about those two ways forward for even a moment, it is obvious enough that by fulfilling the second of the two we take a big step toward the first, while concentrating on the first without the second will be an utter waste of time. On the whole the Church has tended not to see the connection between Catholic social teaching, which is understood as a program for social reform, and the inner life of the Church itself, far too many of the details of which are asserted to be of divine origin and thus, presumably, beyond reform. But if universal human dignity, the common good, and a consistent ethic of life are important in secular society, they surely ought to be as important in the community of faith. You cannot preach a special concern for the poor and weak members of world society if you ignore your own, and you cannot effectively insist on political leaders attending to the common good if ecclesial life seems to have its own class structure, differentiation of power, and serving of special interests. At that point, you do not even deserve to attract the young. pp. 90-91

2. The way in which people are attracted into ordained ministry must change. ”Most important of all is to break down a clerical structure that rewards ambition more than it does genuine pastoral leadership.” (p. 92)

3. “Education for ministry must change too; any effort to train future priests in isolation from the people they will serve needs to come to an end.” (p. 92)

4. We have to come to grips with changing sexual mores and how we teach sexual morality.

The entrée into a life of self-discipline is going to be so much more likely if it is all placed in the context of a Church at work on its mission to the world and not so focused upon its own internal order that it becomes a barrier to the involvement of the young that the future of the Church depends upon. (p. 95)

NEXT: The Sixth Challenge: The Scandal of Sexual Abuse.

See also the previous PCV posts
The First Challenge: Identity and Commitment
The Second Challenge: Ministry - Ordained and Lay
The Third Challenge: The Roles of Women in the Church
The Fourth Challenge: Church Teaching and Individual Conscience

Theologian and author Paul Lakeland will be the keynote speaker at the Catholic Coalition for Church reform's September 18 Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table." For more information about this event and to register, click here.

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