Wednesday, September 18, 2019 - Updated: 2:35 pm
QUESTION: It seems that Catholic children today do not know the elements of the Catholic faith that their parents and grandparents knew. Why is that and what can we do about it?
ANSWER: A lot of people contend that young Catholics don’t “know their religion” like previous generations. The question is why. Sometimes we seem to assume that the context of life for the generations is the same, so the fault must be in the teaching.
But do we really believe that young people walk through the doors of our Catholic schools and religious education programs exactly the way their parents and grandparents did? Of course, we don’t. We are very aware that the world has changed. The advent of computers, social media and instant 24-hour news is only a small part of that change.
Our grandparents would never have understood a child or young person saying, “I just don’t get along with my dad’s girlfriend,” or “I spend a few days a week at my mom’s house and a few at my dad’s house.” The generations are really in different worlds, and those worlds are forming them differently.
This is not to blame or demean anyone but to honestly describe the context of the lived experience of those who enter our Catholic schools or religious education programs.
Not only has the family structure changed, so also has the practice of religion in the home. How often do children see prayer of any kind in their homes (at meals, bedtime, etc.)? How often do young people see parents attend Mass with their children? How often do they see their parents go to confession inviting the children to come along?
Not only have our families changed dramatically, but our neighborhoods, too. In previous generations, young people’s religion was not only transmitted at school or religious instructions but modeled at home and reinforced in the extended family and the neighborhood.
Where is that “modeling” today? Where do young people find the committed Catholic adults upon whom they can model their lives? How often Catholic couples have difficulty finding even one suitable godparent who has received the sacraments of initiation and still goes to church. Models of religious people are just not often found in everyday life. Those portrayed as “religious” by the media are people of extremes or removed from daily life lived by most of us.
Knowing all this, why then would we blame the teachers of religion? Are we not all teachers of the Catholic faith by what we say and do? How would you feel if you were a teacher of religion trying to talk about the importance of the Sunday Mass, knowing only too well that 70% of the children listening to you come from families that don’t go to church except at Christmas and Easter?
Young people do not come to religious education from a vacuum but from families and neighborhoods. What can be conveyed in the relatively short space of a religion class is minimal compared to the many other influences that are forming the minds and hearts of young people outside of those classes.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.