As part of the continuing Lawn Chair Catechism series on "Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus" by Sherry Weddell over at CatholicMom.com, I am joining the discussion here on "The Backs of People's Heads and Baby Faces". Take a look over at CatholicMom.com to see what we're talking about this week and feel free to drop in with your thoughts here or at CatholicMom, or even on your own blog.
|The Tree of Life my soul hath seen|
Laden with fruit and always green.
The trees of Nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the Apple Tree.
"Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" - Author Unknown
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?Cradle Catholic or Intentional Catholic?
I said last week that I was a cradle Catholic. There are people out there who don't like that term because it infers that you inherited your Catholic Faith with the family silver. Most of us who still attend Mass and are active in our parishes are much more intentional than that with our choice of Faith communities. So, while I can see their point, the term still applies to many of us. If you are a "cradle Catholic" you were raised in a home where the faith was not only practiced, but lived. My parents tried their best, but were thwarted by the very people that were supposed to help them.
Frankly, the biggest challenge to my faith was the instruction and mentoring I received (or rather didn't receive) in my Catholic school career. There are great Catholic schools out there, of course, but I didn't attend them. I had so many different things and different points of view represented by the authority figures in my life. The pastor at my church openly embraced "women's reproductive rights" (read: artificial birth control should be allowed and abortion is a woman's right). He and the rest of the "ministry team" signed a New York Times ad in the early 80's to that effect. My mother, a poorly catechized convert and a my father, cradle Catholic were just trying to find their way through the fog of bad teaching and bad liturgy. With no solid footing and nothing they could grab on to in the flood they got lost in the mire, too.
Then there were the teachers in my school who taught us all kinds of amazing things. By the end of my sophomore year theology class, entitled "Social Morality and the Sacraments," I knew more about Jean Donovan and the war in El Salvador than I did about the Sacraments. I had a good background in Kuebler-Ross's Stages of Grief, though. Never fear.
I left the church at 18, as soon as I left my parents' home.
Did I think that World Harvest Church was more entertaining? No.
Did I like the music better? Not really.
What I did like was the clear-cut understanding of what they believed. There was no question. And if there was, I went to the Bible and got the answer. Actually, that's what led me back, in a way.
My friend (who would later become my husband) asked me what I was looking for. I answered him simply: The Truth. He then asked what questions I had. He had answers for everything. He had bible verses. He spoke with authority on Papal Authority and the Real Presence. When I finally went to Mass again, I realized that I had been missing the Eucharist all along. They may have been speaking in the Spirit at World Harvest, but Jesus was here (really here) at Mass. It was not just a symbol.
You Get What You Look For
Over the next 20 years I would learn so much more about my faith. I learned in dribs and drabs through really excellent homilies, through counsel in the Sacrament of Penance, through learning to pray the scriptures in the Liturgy of the Hours and at Mass, and through the music I sang at Mass. I asked questions. I got answers. I sought it out and I found it. The sacraments provided the key to my encounters with Jesus and Liturgy and scripture provided the answers I was seeking.
Things are so much easier now, in a sense, because you can find solid Catholic teaching online, in magazines and in excellent books. But, in a sense, the internet, with its instant information can still be a quagmire of half-truths and shading. Always verify facts with another tool we didn't have 25 years ago: The Catechism of The Catholic Church. You can even get applications for your phone and iPad that put it at your fingertips. There's just no excuse not to know, unless you simply don't want to know.
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?Two Words: "It's Hard."
My husband and I believed strongly, and still do, that the key to raising Catholic children who stay Catholic is good catechesis at home, school and church. Of my two children, one practices the Faith. My son is on a search. The difference is that he knows what he's missing and he aches to find it again. Only he wants it to be easy and he will tell you that himself.
It is not easy to be a Catholic. And that is the main reason I find that most Catholics leave their faith. It's not easy to conform to the will of God. As I said last week, Obedience is the dirtiest word in the American lexicon.
Two More Words: "Bad Catechesis"
Of my four brothers and sisters, two are Catholic. That's a pretty good track record, actually. 3 out of 5 stayed Catholic. When I asked my mother what she thought happened with the bottom two, these are the things she listed: bad catechism, we didn't take them to Mass as little kids and we didn't insist that they go as teenagers but let them explore other houses of worship.
When they became teens and adults they found reasons to take issue with the Church's teaching on birth control, homosexuality, marriage and re-marriage. And, if you ask them what the Church teaches, they will tell you what they think the Church teaches, but it doesn't match up with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To paraphrase Venerable Fulton Sheen: Many people leave the Catholic Church for what they think it is, but very few leave it for what it actually is.
Which points, again, to our biggest failing: the lack of catechesis. If parents are encouraged to bring their kids to Mass and use Mass as an opportunity for teaching them about what's happening, they will be more engaged. This, of course, assumes that the parents know what's going on. Many do not. So, catechesis is not just for the kids. Adults need it, too. If you don't have the knowledge (or at least where to find the answers), when the kids come with their questions, you won't know and they will search elsewhere.
By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them...
I have to, at this point, give props to both the parish I raised my children in (St. Patrick Church, Columbus) and the parish where I currently work (St. Stephen the Martyr Church, Columbus).
At St. Patrick, 19 children of the parish have answered the call to the priesthood or religious life. At St. Stephen the Martyr we have had 5 vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the last 6 years out of our Latino community. Though they attack the problems in different ways, by their fruits you shall know them: These are parishes doing it right.
The fruits of these parishes come from a commitment to evangelization and catechesis for both children and adults, and the excellent examples of priests and religious they see at these parishes. Beautiful liturgy, homilies filled with content, opportunities for continuing religious education and religious education programs that encompasses the High School levels are the manifestations of this commitment.