I teach confirmation class on Sundays. This, I think, is true for many who read this blog and especially those who write for it. I helped out at a new parish this year, and I took the first semester to acclimate to the way things were done. The catechists are top notch, and the parish leadership is faithful, committed, and very talented in this area. They have created a learning environment that effectively passes on the key elements of our faith. Talks, small group work, activities, and many other methods aid in the learning process. It is a very fine model of catechesis.
However, as fall classes drew to a close I began to become dissatisfied with the results of our efforts. The students were learning, and they can tell me much more about Christ, the Holy Spirit, and discipleship now than when they walked through the doors in September. What was missing was any sense of relevancy. This information they learned had almost no impact on how they lived their lives. This was particularly discouraging considering that the first semester was all about discipleship, and the living out of one’s faith.
I have had similar experiences in the two or three other parishes where I have taught confirmation, and the many teachers and catechists I have talked to over the years also echo this frustration. The sad truth is this should not be a surprise. We know this is the case. We know that students are coming to us for confirmation preparation without an invested interest in the God of Jesus Christ and his Church. How can we expect them to apply these lessons to their lives when they don’t see the relevance?
Perhaps it is time to rethink our approach to confirmation catechesis. It is impossible for religious education classes to nurture the seeds of faith, when those seeds have undergone little or no previous development by family, friends, classmates, or society. Understanding is not wisdom, and thus understanding the teachings of the Catholic faith is much different than having that learned faith change the way people live their lives. Indeed, the latter must be the aim and goal of all faith formation.
What, then, needs to happen? Instead of solely focusing on teaching students about Christ and his Church, we must teach young people how to recognize Christ already present in their lives, as well as give them opportunities to encounter Christ in the class. It is only by helping young people encounter the great mystery of our faith in their lives that the Church’s teachings can have impact on their lives. Gone are the days of cultural Catholicism where through practice and tradition Catholics learned how to live Christian lives. This lifestyle is no longer prevalent in American culture, and teaching as if students are already imbued with the basic elements of faith is simply unhelpful.
In the coming weeks, I hope to write a series of posts on what such a catechetical approach would look like. How do we engage the questions and challenges facing young people today with the faith of Christ? How do we provide opportunities for encounter with Christ? How do we facilitate conversion in a secular and consumerist world? These are only some of many questions surrounding catechesis in the twenty-first century. Anyone have ideas?