I was having a discussion with my Parish Priest just last week about some of the challenges that we face as priests in a parish of about 6000 parishioners. What brought that on was my sharing of how some couples seem to take levity with so many aspects of marriage and married life, ending up in a lot of problematic knots that need untying later on in life. And the lament that I made was that if couples were adequately prepared for married life as God looks at marriage, these things would not be happening. It made me wonder whether as church, we have been lacking in our formation of the faith of our flock, resulting in a generation of Catholics who are sorely lacking in the fundamentals of the faith, and the fundamentals of life itself.
It is a problem that seems to be circular, and I am left wondering if there is a solution in sight.
1. The general populations of Catholics seem to be inadequately formed in their faith, and there are large numbers who come to simply fulfill Mass obligations.
2. When we priests see a lack of depth in their faith, we try to offer formation sessions, talks, discussions, organize forums, write articles, blogs (like this one), to do what we can to address the problem.
3. The people who need to be formed or re-formed, which are our target audience, are not responding to this offer. Instead, it is often the formed Catholics, those who are not ‘obligation-fulfilling’ Catholics, who are attending the sessions and talks, and we do see quite often, the same faces at various talks and workshops. (This is not a complaint, though).
4. This leads us back to square one, where the ill-formed Catholics are seen at Mass attendance, where announcements are made ad nauseam for them to go to prayer meets, formation sessions, but with little take up.
Some of us do realize that the problem may go a bit further back, to the Catechism classes of our youth. The problem is that the fundamentals may be taught there, but it is the follow up of home formation from the parents that are lacking. Few parents are willing to spend time with their children to pray with them, share the faith with them, explain church teachings to them, and discuss struggles with the faith with them. But the irony is that parents will do all that they can to hire tutors for academic subjects, enrichment classes, and music and ballet classes.
Again, it is not that these are not good. But is there adequate proportion given to the spiritual as compared to the secular and academic? Many, I suspect, are leaving God-talk to the church catechists who do this for 90 minutes (at best) a week and feel that they have done their job as Catholic parents. This would be a travesty of Catholic upbringing.
Perhaps it is these very parents who need to be re-formed in their faith and the richness that it gives them. But when these sessions are offered to them, they are the ones who don’t turn up. And we end up in the circle again.
At one of our recent monthly Priests’ Recollections, it was bemoaned how society has changed so much. In the past, God (which includes things pertaining to Church and the spiritual life) was placed at the centre of one’s world, and everything else like work, family, leisure, recreation, and education revolved around it. They were like spokes radiating out from a properly balanced wheel. Now, God is simply one of the spokes (if at all), and it is not even clear what the centre of the wheel is. It is thus understandable why some people can even question the moral authority of the Church to recommend guiding rules for all to follow and to order our lives.
How do we make our people hunger for God? Mass preaching is only limited to at best 15 minutes a week, and we can only cover about 3 points with little depth. Besides, I lament with so many preachers that our flock often listens with glazed eyes and distanced visages during those 15 minutes, so that is another stumbling block.
Too many Catholics see God as a fireman – one whom we need to call when there is fire raging in our lives. How do we get them to see that God is on fire for love of them? Perhaps I may get some ideas and comments this week that will help.