Religious Education and the Future
We send our children to catechism (or Sunday School) for a very good reason, to learn the faith we know ourselves. But this early formation cannot be seen as anything more than a beginning. This may not be the case everywhere, but it is a growing crisis in the Church as I see it. And we are all part of the transmission of the faith from one generation to the next.
I can’t imagine that many people would think a Grade 8 education (aged 13 or 14) complete in any other subject area at school, so why should we think that for faith formation that this is acceptable? This happens in many dioceses and the result is that the children “graduate” from catechism at Confirmation. The young people either simply stop learning any further their faith, or stop coming to church all together because they have finished the course and are “free to choose to come to Mass or not” on Sundays!
We should, in fact, expect the children to continue studies until they are older and had a more thorough and rounded education in catechism. But needed today even more so is an ability to defend the faith against the secular onslaught. And this should be demanded by parents.
So why, in so many diocese do we stop catechism so early in the life of a young person? If we would like to see excellence in our children in other areas of their academic lives, why do we sell short their faith preparation? Why do we not seek excellence in and a solid knowledge of the faith?
In many areas of the world, including my own, there is no religion/faith taught in school. (Catholic schools were suppressed in Nova Scotia in 1864 and in Prince Edward Island in 1873). So for many parts of the world Christian education is dependent on the family and parish. What was left to the teaching orders of sisters or the catechism programme in school up to completion of Grade 12 is long gone.
I believe there is a direct correlation between this shortened, undeveloped and immature understanding of the faith and the numbers of people that walk away from the Church. Perhaps also why there are so few vocations to the priesthood and the religious life since there is a truly limited understanding of the sacraments and role of the priest. There is perhaps an assumption that the children and young people will continue to come to Mass and activities with their parents and learn more of their faith in that way. In some cases this will happen, but is this always the case?
Will a Grade 8 catechism understanding of the faith, child oriented and lacking in depth, be enough for the perpetuation of the faith in the next generation? Are these young people ready to stand up for their faith in the drive of secularism, indifference and relativism found in society all around them when they “graduate” from Catechism at Confirmation? With public school moral education being oriented often completely at odds with that of the Church can we really expect Christian beliefs to survive among the children bombarded with the secular message offered for a further four years in school after the completion of the Catechism programme?
I don’t believe so. And I believe that this is perhaps the greatest failure in many dioceses and will see the complete collapse of the faith within two generations. In areas where the previous parochial school system has been suppressed or abandoned, a new vision needs to arise from the people most concerned, the parents who have the right to expect more.
So what can be done? This may depend on the diocese and/or the parish. There are a great many factors and not least among them:
- the availability of funding for books
- teachers with the knowledge needed
- willing support from a local Ordinary and the
- support from the parish priest (who may have multiple parishes and not be available for the class time)
- parents who want more than the minimum and seek excellence for their children
But there are willing parents, parents concerned for the spiritual welfare of their children. This lengthening of the catechetical programme is a real possibility and could extend to Adult Faith Formation. What we are ensuring is the continuity of the faith among future generations.This is a priority; the future of the Christian faith rests on the teaching of today.