What would a church “on the move” look like?
Author Joe Paprocki says it would look like a church which has recovered a sense of what it means to be Catholic Christians living their faith with a sense of urgency, hope and joy.
I think there is a tendency these days to imagine that this means recovering or reconstructing many of the traditional Catholic practices and devotions which were once visible signs of what it meant to be Catholic.
The danger, of course, is that these practices and devotions become what sociologists call “identity markers” – things people do because (in this case) that’s what Catholics do. Detached from their roots they become attractive but too often superficial habits which neither reflect nor create real personal conversion.
What makes Catholics Catholic are not all of the historically, culturally and socially conditioned practices which our grandparents and great-grandparents performed so faithfully. While many of these practices continue to have spiritual and religious value today, they do so only when they express deeper, more essential and important characteristics of the Catholic faith.
Paprocki defines these deeper characteristics as an abiding reverence for life, a respect for human persons and creation, and an appreciation for the ability of time, space, human relationships, human community and human activity to reflect – actually, to embody — God’s presence and activity in the world.
This is the good news revealed to us in Scripture and experience. It evokes a sense of urgency, joy and gratitude. And it has profound implications for those of us who are responsible for the “domestic church.”
It seems to me, anyway, that our challenge is to “teach” children fundamental attitudes of Catholic faith which find expression first in their personal and social behavior and only then in particular religious or devotional habits or practices.
Maybe it works the other way around – you “train” children in particular religious habits and they eventually come to appreciate the deeper meaning behind those practices – but I’m not sure the evidence shows that it does.
I wouldn’t argue that we can’t or shouldn’t do both, but only that maybe there is a priority or an order here, and we have to start with what’s most important.
I am reminded of the advice attributed to St. Francis (“preach the Gospel—if necessary use words”) because I think children catch attitudes and values long before they can “learn” or express them.
I am also reminded of what a wise old monk once told me when we were talking about the danger that people who are “spiritual but not religious” may act like Christians but not know it. “If I had to choose,” he said, “I’d rather have anonymous Christians than artificial ones.”
What do you think?
Pray and Reflect
Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:
- On a scale of 1 (religious practices) to 5 (religious values) rate which you think is more important in children’s faith formation. How would you have rated these elements five years ago?
- How important are traditional Catholic devotions and practices in your personal life? In what way do they express or reflect your faith? What would you say are the fundamental values or attitudes of a Catholic Christian? How are these expressed or reflected in your personal life? … in your role as a parent, grandparent, godparent, catechist or teacher?
- I think it’s important that we help children….
Join the Conversation
Add your comments to this week’s discussion at Facebook.com/FaithLeadersCorner/.
Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsor-ed by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.