NOURISHING YOUR FAITH
Preparations are already on their way for next year’s children Faith Formation. What about adults among us?
What do you think of when you hear the phrase religious education? For most Catholics, this probably calls to mind images of CCD classes or religion classes at a Catholic school. Others may think of learning prayers, morals, and Catholic traditions from their parents and grandparents. Convert Catholics will remember going through the RCIA to prepare to come into the Church as an adult. Whatever comes to mind, most Catholics are probably under the impression that religious education, also known as faith formation or catechesis, is something intended primarily for children and teens.
This impression is justified when one considers that the dominant model of catechesis in most parishes focuses on religious education and sacramental prep for children. However, since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has emphasized that religious education for adults is just as important as religious education for children. In 1990, the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Clergy released the General Directory of Catechesis as a guide to those who are involved in religious. This document clarifies the importance of adult catechesis, saying that 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.This passage clearly asserts that adult religious education should be the “chief form” of catechesis. It should serve as the frame of reference for faith formation for all other age groups and all faith formation these programs, should in some way, be directed toward religious education for adults. Essentially, what we learn about the Catholic faith as children shouldn’t be the full extent of our faith formation. Instead, it should prepare us for further religious education as adults.
Why is religious education for adults so important? To answer this, we must realize that all baptized Christians, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is a lifelong faith journey; it doesn’t end when we reach adulthood. Speaking of this, in Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, a pastoral plan for adult faith formation, the United States Catholic Bishops Conference writes,
We are eager to witness and share the word of life about the reign of God faithfully, so that each new generation can hear this word in its own accents and discover Christ as its Savior. Every disciple of the Lord Jesus shares in this mission. To do their part, adult Catholics must be mature in faith and well equipped to share the Gospel, promoting it in every family circle, in every church gathering, in every place of work, and in every public forum. They must be men and women of prayer whose faith is alive and vital, grounded in a deep commitment to the person and message of Jesus.
In this passage, the US Catholic bishops assert that all baptized Catholics, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are called to share in the mission of evangelization. This means that each of us must develop a mature faith and a deeper relationship with Jesus in order to share the gospel with our families, our friends, our co-workers, and our communities. This is why adult faith formation is so important. If our religious education ends after Confirmation, it will be difficult to develop mature faith as adults. We gain life experience as we move from childhood and adolescence into adulthood. This experience often changes the way we view our faith. Adult faith formation gives us the opportunity to learn about Catholic faith from an adult perspective which, in turn, helps us integrate our life experience with the religious education we received as children. Ultimately, it helps us to grow in our faith and prepares us for our mission of evangelization.
Finally, the bishops mention another important feature of mature faith: it must be grounded in a deep relationship with and commitment to Jesus and his message. This being the case, while religious education must teach us about our faith, it cannot be a merely intellectual enterprise. It should also bring us into relationship with Jesus himself. If we only work on forming our minds by learning about the doctrine and teaching of the Church, we will not develop a mature Catholic faith. We must turn to prayer, scripture reflection, and discussion in order to develop a real relationship with Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI makes a similar point in his encyclical Deus caritas est(God is Love). He writes, Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Pope Benedict urges us to realize that Christianity is not primarily intellectual (it’s not “lofty idea” or an ethical system that must be learned). Instead, it is first an encounter, a relationship, with Jesus Christ that motivates us to live our lives in a decisively different manner. Adult faith formation is, therefore, essential because it helps us develop a mature Catholic faith, brings us to relationship with Christ, and prepares us for our mission of evangelization so that we can live out the gospel each day of our lives.