I wrote the following essay for the web site CatholicDaily.org. 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.