Call me a bore, but I’m becoming more and more convinced of the great need for adult catechesis. Two conversations this week sparked this new concern in me.
The first was with a parishioner at the weekend. She had been present at a diocesan study day on Church unity, together with parish representatives from around the diocese. Among the questions that arose during the day was confusion over why Catholics can’t go to an Anglican service in place of Mass. From the sounds of things, this wasn’t somebody with a misconceived agenda, but rather a genuine question. I would like to say that I was surprised, but in all truth, I wasn’t, really.
The second was at supper with a friend during the week. She is a mum who has been on a big conversion over the last few years, and she knows the ins and outs of being a parent “at the school gate”. A lot of people comment on the wide range of catechesis we offer in the parish. It is true, but I am aware that we barely reach the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface are hundreds of adults ‘on the edge’ – coming to Mass each Sunday, certainly believing in God, but never quite managing to make the assent of faith that means actually committing your life. They would be unlikely to miss Sunday Mass, but they would be just as unlikely to commit to anything more: formation, spiritual direction or daily prayer.
I was talking about this problem with my friend. A friend of hers (at the school gate) had commented about formation: “It’s just not fun“. I was actually shocked. Here am I, a twentysomething (OK, OK, going on fifty…) being amazed that women in their forties need to be tempted like a teenager by something Fun. OK, so we need an MTV approach to adult formation – cocktails, a dancefloor, maybe some designer labels to peruse? A C-list celebrity kicking things off? Our teenagers are happy with Krispy Kreme donuts and a game of Jenga. But their parents?!
It has got me thinking though. How can we best use the Year of Faith to reach those in our parishes who are happy not being reached? Who will bake cakes for the PTA but don’t need any more God-stuff, thank you very much.
What I have noticed over the past few months during the Catholicism course is that young adults in their twenties and thirties who came on the course, for the large part, lapped everything up. It was clear from the outset that many of them with little previous formation suddenly realised that the scraps of understanding they had about the Faith were not enough, and they committed eagerly to the course, and were soon to be found at any formation opportunity in the parish. With these people, it is like working with a completely blank slate, so poor has their Catholic formation been. I thank God for this, because it’s much easier to work with a clean slate than with a slate with lots of dubious writing in crooked lines…
It is the next generation up (forties and fifties), with some exceptions, who are far less eager. We’re talking about people with a lot more life experience and therefore with set views on life, whose formation in faith has not developed at the same rate as their life has. Throw a few complications into the mix (living with their partner and not seeing the point of getting married; divorce; contraceptive approach to their family planning; etc) as well as wealth and an expectation of a certain lifestyle (an added complication in our area) and things get messy, difficult, complicated. Suddenly formation in the faith becomes a lot harder. On top of this, older generations tend to have more hang-ups about the Church which the younger generations do not – problems with authority, especially where they see it threatening their lifestyle.
So, what is the best approach? Stick with the younger generations and leave the older ones to themselves? Of course not (however tempting it may be)… But we need a new, different and creative approach.