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Outsourcing Religious Education

I wrote the following essay for the web site Unfortunately, this is no longer an active site so I am posting the essay here to keep it accessible.

Our culture has grown more and more accustomed to outsourcing household tasks that were once typically done by family members. We now hire others to do the cooking, house cleaning, laundry, yard work, and routine auto maintenance. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. Consider it the perks of prosperity. However, this outsourcing mentality has extended into parenting. In addition, to basic childcare, parents are paying others to teach their children everything from math to manners.

Once upon a time, children learned to say “Please” and “Thank You” and to keep their elbows off the table at the family dinner table. Now this education is expected to take place in the pre-school, elementary school, or the local cotillion class. Parents send Junior off to Miss Emily’s School of Etiquette and consider their obligation for educating Junior in the social graces fulfilled with their writing of the tuition check. Discussion of manners, or more importantly, the insistence on the practice of good manners in the home is disappearing.

Unfortunately, this same attitude creeps into religious education. Parents drop their children off at CCD and pick them up an hour later assuming their little brains have been adequately filled with religious knowledge. Parents abdicate their role in faith formation. They outsource it.

Having been a catechist off and on for nearly twenty years, I know this is the perennial catechist’s lament. How can we teach children about the faith when their families are not living the faith? What can we really accomplish if the first time our students hear about prayer is when we ask them to memorize prayers as part of First Communion preparation? How can we tell them their Faith is important when a round of golf or just sleeping late trumps making it to Mass on Sunday?

Too often the response of the religious education community is to try and fill in the gaps. We try to cram more and more into that tiny little block of time we have the children in CCD class. Confirmation preparation becomes a last gasp effort to cover a lifetime’s worth of religious education. Yet faith cannot be taught in a classroom. If faith is not being lived at home, all our efforts in the CCD class are like the seed that fell on the pathway or the rocky soil. They are never watered and nurtured. They never take root.

If I were going to propose a solution, I would begin by moving away from the classroom model of religious education and towards the family catechesis model. Parents and children gather together on a monthly basis. They study lessons on a monthly theme, then take those lessons and incorporate them into their family life. For example, if the lesson of the month is on the Eucharist, families may try to attend at least one Daily Mass together or go to Eucharistic Adoration together. Families are also encouraged to make the liturgical calendar part of their family life by celebrating the feast days and liturgical seasons at home. They mark family occasions with Mass or a family Rosary. Family prayer is crucial. It is sad to see how many Catholic families don’t even say “Bless Us O Lord…” before eating. A routine of family prayer lays a strong faith foundation.

Rather than excluding parents and enabling them to outsource their child’s religious education, those of us who are catechists need to work harder to draw parents into the process. This needs to be a parish wide effort. Our priests, our religious education program and our various parish ministries need to be advocates of family catechesis. Religious education is much more than memorizing the precepts and tenets of our faith. It is living them as well.


Ebeth said…
...."living them as well." My rant exactly. Thanks for sharing, too bad Daily Catholic went away.

I understand your concern of "outsourcing". However, it would be important to find a way to help parents carry out a comprehensive religious formation. Once a month family catechesis and the rest of the month maybe touch on it in the car going to school or the store might not be enough. It is without a doubt that parents need to lead their children in the ways of Christ and His Church and not merely leave it up the the catechists at their parish, but if family catechesis is to be successful it must build adequately on each aspect of the Catholic Faith. As a DRE, I have been thinking a lot about this. Most parents are not finding the time to be a part of their child's religious education. Something has to change and as you have said before it is a slow process.
Catholic Mom said…
William & Sarah,
You are absolutely right when you say we need to help parents carry out this comprehensive religious formation. If we tried to throw our current parents into such a program, it would be totally ineffective. This is especially true since most of the parents are products of the "Jesus loves me so let's make a collage" generation of religious education. We have to build up to this. Right now I am approaching it by inviting the parents in to my 7th grade CCD class every couple of months. I hope to do it four times during the year. Every time they come the message they receive is they are the primary catechist. I am here to help them pass on the faith. I am hoping this approach will be implemented in the younger grades next year and we inspire this attitude earlier. It is a true cultural shift so we are inching along.
William and Sarah said…
Thanks for your response to William and Sarah's comments. As a DRE in the Southwest I'm working very hard to put the formation of the children in the hands of parents. Unfortunately it is a very slow process. I have parent catechesis once a month on topics such as Advent, Lent or how to put family and faith at the center of your busy life. I also have meetings twice a year for both First Reconciliation parents, First Communion and Confirmation parents. I stress until I'm blue in the face that parents have a far more important role than we do in the Religious Education Program. Keep on keepin' on! I have a blog entitled Catechesis in the Third Millennium.

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