Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, June 07, 2019

A Lived Model, not an Academic Model

Last week, when the Spirit was pouring words through me, I wrote to all our parish catechists asking for their support as I went to the parish offices to propose different model of religious education. PSR means "Parish School of Religion", the regional term for religious education classes.

Every one of us knows, and many of us have talked about it together, that no matter what we do in PSR, what is most important to children in learning to live the Catholic faith is their parents' example. We know that parents are the primary educators of their children. I would like to suggest a once-a-month family catechesis model for next year, a strong support system for helping parents live their faith and model it for their children so that children are actually immersed in Catholic life, instead of just hearing about it in a classroom once week. For our children, for our families, for our parish, this is crucial!

Our children will be better prepared for First Communion if they are living every day in a family that is making efforts to pray together, to attend mass every Sunday, and to take advantage of the sacrament of Confession. Our teens will be better prepared to receive the Spirit at Confirmation if they see their parents actively trying to use the gifts that they received at their own Confirmations.

I want a family catechesis program to be open to every single family in the parish, not just to "PSR families". We have a line of demarcation between school families and non-school families that is divisive, and I would like to heal that division and help our parish to be a true family. I'm sure that there are school parents who would love support in living their faith more deeply so that their children won't just shrug the Church off after graduating.

This is why I'm proposing a lived model, not an academic model. I believe deeply in knowing the history of the church and in understanding the doctrines and tenets of the faith, but all the Diocesan graded courses of study in the world cannot replace a family going to mass together each Sunday, or reading one bible verse together before supper. Children can tell what their parents really prioritize.

The kind of model I'm thinking of is a program like this: This is NOT in addition to our weekly classroom hours, making more work for catechists and putting our already strained resources to the task. This is INSTEAD of our current classroom model. The classroom model is failing our children -- not because our teachers aren't dedicated, because I've seen you all at work, week in and week out, pouring your hearts into your classes. But if parents are not living out the faith, not going to mass, then PSR is just a band-aid, a cosmetic check-the-box fix for a deep and festering wound in our parish life.

What I hope for with family catechesis, and what some parishes around the country do, is to work with parents to help them live the faith for their children. Instead of weekly classroom time where parents drop off children, family catechesis would involve once-a-month meetings with families to help support parents in becoming living examples of the Catholic faith for their children. Our classroom model simply isn't working as a means of passing on faith -- it just lumps religion in with other school subjects for kids. I'm suggesting transitioning away from the classroom almost entirely, even just as a one year experiment. I hope that a program like this would actually increase family participation, by cutting down on the "check the boxes" aspects of PSR which have little to do with the heart of Catholic life and practice.

This would reduce the time burden on families, and would put the emphasis not on the academic knowledge of Catholicism (which our students don't seem to be retaining anyway), but on putting the faith into practice. If we can increase family mass attendance, if we can bring families into going to confession more often, if we can support parents in modeling forgiveness, mercy, patience -- in making the real lifestyle changes that show their children that they believe that the faith is real and will make a difference in their lives -- we will have accomplished more for our parish than any classroom instruction we can give children.

Many parents want help and support. They're interested in having their children learn about Catholicism, but feel like it's something for experts or other people to teach. My point is that if we help families to realize that the main way to transmit the faith to their children is to live the basics -- to pick up a pin for the love of God, as St. Therese said -- we will have done more for our parish than years and years of PSR.


Unknown said...

Our parish uses this program! The kids separate and parents have a speaker on the study topic of the month that will be covered in home lessons. It's been a treat to have knowledgeable people come educate the parents as well.

Joseph Moore said...

So, what happened? This whole issue is of deep concern to me. I hope you succeed.

mrsdarwin said...

As Chiang Kai-Shek said of the French Revolution, it's too soon to tell. Immediately, there have been just about no results. The price wavered, and then was reset at the original level. The "family formation" that's going to be incorporated is a weekly handout sent home with students, to be treated with the seriousness, I assume, of everything else that's sent home. Darwin meets with the financial council soon, so perhaps there we will see some movement. But as of this point? Well, I did what God asked of me.

Amber said...

A few years ago I felt called to bring that same program to the attention of the DRE at my parish. She heard me out politely, said it sounded interesting, and then brought up some issues I’ve been considering ever since.

Her main objection was that many of the kids in the religious education program at our parish come from divorced families and the child is with the father on the weekends. Invariably, the father is either not Catholic or no longer practicing and does not take the child to Mass. So anything that happens on the weekends or requires Mass attendance won’t work and alienates those parents. Or the child lives in a family situation where the faith is not being practiced at all and a grandparent is bringing the child to RE, hoping that something will rub off. But the grandparent generally is not allowed to bring the child to Mass. Her point was that a program like you and I are describing would be a non-starter for these parents, so while it sounds very nice and all, it wouldn’t actually serve the people in our parish.

But what I keep wondering is... how can a RE program serve these parents in a way that is beneficial to their salvation and the salvation of their children? And in fact are we doing them a disservice, by giving the children a thin veneer of Catholicism and assuaging some parental guilt, while not actually helping them to live authentically Catholic lives, centered around the Sacraments and Our Lord in the Eucharist? I just finished teaching the 2nd year Confirmation students at my parish and I have to wonder, am I really doing any good, helping people who seldom attend Mass check the boxes so that they can “get the Sacrament”? I can hope that perhaps I am helping to plant some seeds and helping to open their eyes and their hearts... but the reality is that these kids, living in this rural area, can’t get themselves to Mass for several more years yet. And if their parents are happy to drift along and fill their lives with other activities...

Banshee said...

Well, obviously we have to look for guidance to things like Communist countries, where kids only got partial catechesis, or kids raised during the French Revolution, or immigrant kids back in the 1800's whose parents were working all the time and didn't have time to come to Mass.

Because what we have is a gentler version of the same situations, and it's time we face it.

Banshee said...

Anyway, you were not wrong to speak up, and I'm glad you picked up your courage in both hands and did it.

But yeah, I think we need to think more about "educators and missionaries in a state of partial social and familial collapse" as a model. Not that everything is necessarily dire, but everything is chaotic.