In case you don’t quite know me yet, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Robert and I am a catechist. Over the past few years I have facilitated small groups, hosted lock-ins, gone on retreats, taken 15+ hour bus rides across the country, given talks and workshops, spent countless hours in the confessional and even longer on my knees in prayer… all in the name of handing on the faith to a bunch of teenagers and young adults. Parish ministry is messy and I am here to tell you that without the Sacraments, it will undoubtedly steal your soul. Working in ministry day in and day out is taxing and has a tendency to keep you up at night from time to time.
Today, I am going to focus on another tendency that can creep up, especially in youth and young adult ministry, if you allow it. When trying your best to lay the groundwork for some sort of Holy Spirit encounter to take place, nothing kills your enthusiasm faster than a teen that couldn’t care less… It is important to keep in mind that conversion is 100% the work of the Holy Spirit and that we, as ministers of the faith, cannot force an experience of faith, but with the right amount of prayer and elbow grease, can facilitate these opportunities.
However, when a regular attendee suddenly loses interest or begins to exhibit a gradual decline in enthusiasm, a certain amount of due diligence is necessary so that any potential threat to their formation might be eradicated. In my own experience, sudden or gradual turns for the worst are usually the result of traumatic events in the life of a young person or the more common lack of reinforcement. There is one thing, of which, we can be certain: young hearts are hungry for the truth. If the ecclesial community fails to offer any real substance, we’ll lose them to something else that can satisfy or at least appear to satisfy.
Authentic Christian living isn’t something that can be faked for any lengthy period of time. When the rubber meets the road and hardship sets in, only those who are grounded in their faith can withstand such a test. Young people notice that. They notice when the adults in their life are the real deal or when they are just going through the motions. At this point it is important to establish that it is not the pastor, nor the youth minister, nor the catechism teacher who is solely responsible for the formation of a young person’s faith. Throughout their childhood, adolescent, and teenage years it is the parents who must act as the primary teachers of the faith.
This type of assertion might cause some to fret but I say to you FRET NOT! A theology degree isn’t required for such a responsibility. Your child isn’t necessarily concerned with the immensity of the truth bombs you are willing to drop so that they might grow up into a mature and faithful Catholic. The secret is not in what you say but more often in what context you begin to say it. ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ is popular and can get the job done in most parenting situations, but when it comes to matters of the faith; it is what you do that makes the difference.
The cold hard truth is that your parish’s religious education program can, in some situations, be a mere exercise in cruel and unusual punishment to a young person who goes home to a faithless environment. Of course, there are some obvious exceptions to that statement and in many scenarios a child can defy the odds and become the next great witness of the faith in their generation. In any case, we cannot ignore the importance of a solid observance of faith in the home.
Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self–denial, sound judgment, and self–mastery—the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. – CCC 2223 abbrv.
The tendency of which I write about today is the level of animosity that can develop between the parent and the parish religious educator. From the perspective of the parish employee, the amount of frustration that accrues from nominally involved parents is a call for conflict. Sternly written letters, texts, blunt phone calls, and the occasional heated face-to-face meetings are all part of the job. On the other side of the coin, parents might feel as though the parish expects too much of them or that what is asked of these young people simply isn’t necessary.
This is a struggle that, unless communication improves ten-fold, a wedge will be driven between the parish church and the domestic church; the church of the home. The reality that both parties need to come to understand is that while, at times, a certain element of frustration breaks out over the young person’s formation; the parents and the parish are not enemies, but partners against a greater evil. When both parties come together and acknowledge the gravity of the task at hand, the differences and disagreements suddenly become menial and irrelevant as they relate to the state of the young person’s eternal soul. All involved would also do well to realize it takes both a domestic and a parish church to raise up faithful Catholics.
Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents. – CCC 2226