Welcome to Session 2 of Lawn Chair Catechism! Today, we’re talking about Chapter 1 of Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples. Don’t worry if you don’t have the book; CatholicMom.com has a study guide here with a summary of the chapter, which is what I’m using today, since I was late in ordering my book. (You’ve got until June 7 to order it for only $10 with free shipping, and then after that, you’ll be able to get it at regular price with free shipping. I have a friend who is reading it on her Kindle, so there’s another option that can get it into your hands faster, though I’m not sure of the price that way.)
So, let’s dive into Chapter 1: God Has No Grandchildren.
In her ﬁrst chapter of Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell describes with detailed statistics the crisis of Catholics leaving the Church. She shares the evidence that most departures happen in young adulthood, and that most who leave never come back. She concludes:
If this trend does not change, in ten years it will cease to matter that we have a priest shortage. The Builders will be largely gone, the Boomers retiring, and our institutions – parishes and schools – will be emptying at an incredible rate.
Sherry goes on to say that this is not a trend isolated in one area of the Church; everyone is affected by this trend. The root of the problem is that few Catholics have an understanding that a personal relationship with God is even possible.
Questions for Discussion:
In your own faith:
- Have you always been Catholic? How did the instruction and mentoring you received help you – or prevent you – from having a personal relationship with God?
- If you were raised in a Catholic home, are your family members all still Catholic? What events among your friends and family seem to explain why some are Catholic, and others are not?
In your parish:
- How’s your “retention rate”? What percentage of 8th graders in your parish are still practicing their faith at age 18? At age 24? Do young adults in your parish stay in touch with their childhood faith community, or do they drift away to an unknown faith?
I did grow up Catholic, but the idea of a personal relationship with God was never something discussed. I don’t think anything really prevented me from having a relationship with Him except for the fact that terminology like that wasn’t used. I always loved God very much, and I always loved being Catholic. My CCD was rather bland for the most part – better than some people my age, but not particularly rigorous – but I gained a love for Holy Eucharist that has stayed with me all my life. (In fact, I received my First Communion on my 8th birthday and cried for joy.) But my catechism classes ended after my Confirmation in the 6th grade (which was not the parish’s choice, but the choice of most parents), and so a deeper level of understanding of my faith was left untouched until my adult years. I think this prevented me from developing a deeper love for the Church and a better understanding of Her teachings.
Consequently, for my family the Catholic Church has not always been the most important thing in our lives. My father was raised Catholic, and he would never, ever leave the Church (which has always been my own attitude), but my mother was a convert whose RCIA class probably left a lot to be desired. My own delving into the Church and her history and teachings has led to me educating my parents on some issues! (Again, my life seems to have been leading up to my involvement in the Dominican Laity!) But grace before meals was only on special days like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, and I didn’t know about Holy Days of Obligation aside from Sundays until I was an adult.
I sometimes wonder if more challenging homilies on Sundays would help Catholics see the Church as more than the cultural association it seems to be, especially for cradle Catholics. Stronger preaching can lead to a desire to learn more about the faith, which leads us to a desire to be more pleasing to God in order to be closer to Him.
I think this leads to the parish questions, which I think I’ll touch on a little bit. I don’t see a good retention rate among older students who have been Confirmed (which our diocese does in the 10th grade). Many of the high school students become “too busy” for Mass and other parish activities, and it could be that they don’t feel like they could be involved sooner than Confirmation. A good friend of mine, a fellow Lay Dominican, encouraged her high school students to be involved at the parish so they didn’t feel “bored” at Mass. One 10th grade boy started to sing with the choir and discovered she was right: when he was involved in that part of Mass, he saw the Mass as more interesting. He had to pay attention and think about it; it was no longer something to sit through in his pew each Sunday.
But involvement doesn’t always lead to this kind of revelation, and can even become “boring” on its own. I think that helping people see that at Mass they are encountering a Person – Someone real who loves them perfectly – can do a lot towards keeping people in the pews. And further developing this idea by leading parishioners towards this reality while helping them get to know God through His Church will lead them towards a relationship. This relationship is the one that will never fail us, never diminish – it can only grow stronger the more we lean into it! – can lead to better satisfaction in every area of life. Perhaps we’d stop searching for fulfillment through our jobs, spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends, and our experiences if we realize that our fulfillment can only come when we accept God’s love and love Him back.
Barbara Nicolosi wrote about the sorry state of our catechetical programs in America’s Catholic parishes recently, and I think a lot of what she said about fixing the religious education programs in our parishes can be applied to helping people become true disciples of Christ:
“Who can name the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?” It was Pentecost, and our pastor was walking up and down the middle aisle with a goofy grin and tone that said, “Bear with me, here.” There were a few embarrassed chuckles from the congregants who hadn’t already tuned out. Father pressed on, “Come on, anybody?” Again, the people dutifully and lightly snickered. This was supposed to be the funny set up of some point, right? I didn’t think it was funny at all. I raised my hand.
I think our pastor was a little put out because he really hadn’t intended for anyone to speak up. He made a comical face and then said, “Really?” The people laughed. Still grinning but with his hands on his hips, Father nodded at me, “Okay, let’s hear it.” So, I answered using the WUCKPuFF formula I had learned back in the third grade from Sr. Mary Randall, RSM. “Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord.” (Probably because I am a child of the Sixties, I prefer the word “Reverence” to “Fear of the Lord,” but WUCKPuFR just doesn’t work as well as a mnemonic.)
People gasped. Father approached our pew actually shocked. He was intrigued and, I guess, figured maybe I had gotten lucky. “Stand up and say them again. Slower.” So, I did. And then our priest looked around and pointed at me and people applauded. Like I had done something extraordinary. Like I had said something brilliant. Like I was some kind of theological nerd, instead of just a fellow disciple in the pew, delineating something so catechetically pedestrian that seven-year-olds should know it before we ever think of placing the Eucharist in their little mouths. I would have been much more impressive explaining the meaning of all the gifts but Father clearly didn’t want to go that far with his little trivia moment.
At the Sign of Peace, an older woman behind me shook my hand and leaned in conspiratorially. She said with a touch of bravado, “I knew Piety.” I had to force myself not to grimace in dismay. “Peace be with you,” I rejoined.
If I was pastor of this parish, and only one person in the pews could name the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, I would reorient my entire preaching calendar for the next seven months. And every month for the next seven would be on one of the Gifts. I would drill it in at every Sunday Mass until the whole parish would know in depth and forever, what God’s life in us means, that is, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Looking around the church as Father moved on to whatever his point was—it certainly wasn’t the scandal of religious ignorance—I thought to myself, “Was the Baltimore Catechism really so bad? Really?”
As silly as some people think it is, learning things from the Baltimore Catechism gives a foundation to build on. Learning prayers like the Act of Faith help us to build a relationship with God. Who can feel down for long when they think back to why God made him?
God made me to know, love, and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next.
God made me out of His love and goodness.
And rote prayer has such a great depth that many people overlook, too. When nothing else comes to mind, those old, memorized prayers are a way to talk to God, to be with Him in prayer, and can be springboards into deeper contemplation and prayer.
O my God, I firmly believe that You are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became Man and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them You can neither deceive nor be deceived.
The prayers I say at Mass before I receive Holy Communion are ones that, if I read them carefully, I can contemplate on a deeper level:
Act of Love
Jesus, my God, I love you with my whole heart and above all things, because You are the one supreme Good and infinitely perfect Being. You have given Your life for me, a poor sinner, and in Your mercy You have even offered Yourself as food for my soul. My God, I love you. Inflame my heart so that I may love You more.
And these kinds of things, in the end, are what I think can help lead us to a deeper relationship with God. These kinds of things can help keep our children (and us!) Catholic. Instead of trying to simplify the faith by keeping it on a low-level, we should be reaching and stretching. Instead of still going over basic information in middle and high school, we should be delving deep into the why’s of our Faith, plumbing the deep, learning to defend the Church through apologetics. These are the kinds of things that ultimately led me to where I am now, though I still have a long way to go. Fortunately, the Catholic Church has almost 2000 years of material to study, so I don’t think I’ll run out of material or opportunities to grow closer to God.