To teach or not to teach, that is the question. It is that time of year again. CCD will be starting up in another month and our parish needs teachers. I have been an on again-off again catechist for years. I feel compelled to teach in one form or another which is probably why I am blogging. However, do I really want to commit to a year of teaching seventh graders in preparation for confirmation? You see, my desire is to teach the parents of these seventh graders so that they can properly prepare their own children. My frustration with teaching CCD is that I feel like I am working independently of rather than in conjunction with parents. Parents must be the primary catechists. Unfortunately, as with most Catholic parishes, we don’t have an established culture of adult religious education. So here is my dilemma. Do I break new ground and work to initiate a parents’ religious education program or do I put my energy into the established program and hope I can teach the children well enough to have a “trickle up” effect on the parents? Is there a way to do both?
As you may remember, I ended up teaching seventh grade CCD last year. While I made every effort to include the parents, I don’t think I was wholly successful. Last week I once again trudged to the CCD office. Not only was I offering to lead a discussion group on the book Keeping Your Kids Catholic, but I was suggesting we try to offer a series on Pope Benedict XVI’s book The Apostles using the study guide available on the Our Sunday Visitor web site. This year we have a new DRE. She is young, well educated at Franciscan University in Steubenville, and sensitive to my concerns about adult education. When I proposed bringing a faith formation program for the parents, once again I was met with, “This sounds wonderful, but we can’t field enough teachers for the CCD program. Won’t you please teach seventh grade CCD?” Déjà vu.
Right now we are stuck in a cycle of poorly catechized parents that don’t support faith formation at home. Their children are in the parish CCD system where we provide a band-aid fix with classroom style religious education. These children then do their time in CCD and are sent out into the world. However, an hour a week for eight months out of the year cannot make up for a lifetime lacking in family faith formation. These children are very likely to grow up to be poorly catechized parents and the cycle begins anew. I really think the only way to break this cycle is to address the parents directly. Their lack of involvement is more out of ignorance than out of indifference. When was the last time you heard a DRE or a priest tell parents that parents are the primary catechists of their children? It is the parents’ responsibility to form the faith of their children. The parish is here to help but children learn to live the faith when their family lives the faith.
What I see right now is a religious education culture that all too willingly takes on the total burden of faith formation in children. It is a system that gladly excludes parents because “most of them are so ignorant about the faith anyway, they really aren’t any help. We are the experts so just leave it up to us.” Unfortunately, teaching the faith is not like teaching algebra. We catechists can give children facts and talk about examples of how the faith is lived, but children will not really embrace living the faith unless their families live the faith. We may plant seeds that lie dormant until some future experience causes them to germinate. But wouldn’t it be much better if their families were to nurture these seeds so that they sprout now?
In spite of my misgivings, I will probably end up teaching seventh grade CCD again. I probably will not see my dream of adult education in our parish be realized this fall. What I am going to suggest is that we invite our families to attend the Saturday morning Mass on one specific Saturday every month. I think if families see other families doing something extra for their faith, it will strengthen them in their convictions. Perhaps we could even come up with some sort of monthly family newsletter to suggest little things each family could do in the upcoming month to bring our Catholic faith into their homes. Maybe if we can find just a little energy to focus on building up our “domestic churches” we will have fewer poorly catechized parents and much more faith formation going on in our families.