Monday, January 24, 2011

Formation of the Faith of our flock

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.


  1. hi fr luke,

    allow me to comment..
    the reason why generally catholics are inqdequately formed is the DISinterest in the faith. Simple as that. I've observed that most do not have a personal relationship with God.. theerefore most of them are NOMINAL catholics.

    Nominal catholics are those attending sunday mass out of obligation and the fear of going to hell as the case maybe. "I'm done" as americans use to say once out of the sunday mass..

    2nd the society here is materialistically inclined and not so spiritually inclined.. cos God is intangible (cannot be seen) but yr cars, houses, bags, shopping and what have you can be seen and bought and best of all gives you that "oomph" sense of satisfaction. God is always put on the last of the agenda until something happens ..

    Oh.. on the young couple.. i've observed most are not adquately prepared spiritually except materially. the wedding days.. the dinners.. the make up.. etc.. they are more concerned that they are on their faith.. that's why they leave the teaching of catechism to the sunday catechist once they have children.. i suppose they just want to maitain that catholic identity... nothing more. .. that's why so little prayers are prayed everynite. that's why so few willing to join seminaries and religious.. cos the spiritually level is all time low.. secularization has taken over.
    But nevertheless.. all is not lost.. all of us have to pray a bit harder to grow in faith..

    God Bless!

    a catholic..

  2. Yes, as 'a catholic' said, "PRAY" because God hears and God acts. By the grace of God, this family of four (always @ loggerheads with each other), attended a family camp in 2002 and in the discernment process, we pledged that "we will place God as the head of the family: that everything we do, we do it for God and with Him. With God, we will be tolerant of each other's shortcoomings: we will love, respect, support and be positive with each other always." The SD then couldn't accept our pledge and we were asked to reconsider but we wouldn't budge so it stuck.

    Again by the grace of God, we were called to camp again and we our pledge & prayer was "we will continue to place God in the centre of our lives. In Him we will place our trust. For Him we will do our part. With Him we will share our love with our friends. AMEN!"

    He sees our desires and answered; and He is always the One who resolved our differences.


  3. Within each person there is a yearning for love, for community, a yearning for heaven, whether it is acknowledged or not.

    Many of our youths and even adults have indulged in the materialistic mentality because they seek to fill that void inside of them which is really the ultimate longing for communion in heaven. They are trying to find joy, and perhaps, if the truths about serial materialism are put forward, it may be the awakening of the realization that they are searching for something deeper. Essentially, pointing out the paradox of that way of living.

    Also, there are those in this generation who are seeking something deeper, searching for truth; however, many have been only giving them a watered down version of what people think the youth want to hear. I think it is imperative that the youth get a taste of authentic Catholicism, with all its richness of prayers, psalms, chants, history, philosophy, etc. and not only those things which came after 1970. There have been many youths who I know who have benefitted from such an experience and causes them to thirst for more.

    Many of our youths want answers and want God. We have to show that we can provide them the means for both. Also, we have to ensure that our churches are welcoming environments, as many youths will be coming from a secular mindset back to Christ and will have lots of questions and frustrations. However, in providing them the truth and being charitable, we mustn't compromise on the truth.

    I think ultimately it will all come down to evangelizing and reaching out to our lost brethren. We cannot wait for everyone to come us, but we must go to them. While it may be true that some may be bothered by this, but what is the loss? If we succeed, the person may return to the Church, and if we fail, well...they weren't coming to Church anyway, but at least we can say that we have tried and pray for them.

    My last suggestion, which is a bit different is First Friday Devotions to Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Church, which includes prayers for those who have lost their way and for the conversion of many. The efficacy of these prayers and devotions cannot be measured, and I believe it will have a positive result.

    These are just a few thoughts that I have.

  4. I do believe that people today as in days of old, do still hunger for God. This can be seen from the crowds flocking to Eastern-style gurus/ Transcendental meditation. - seeking and searching for interiority and meaning in life. However as one priest writer cum meditator said, " everyone is rushing to make time and money to be happy but seems to have lost the ability to just BE "

    As the laity becomes more educated and 'thinking', the hunger for God is not to be easily appeased by religious rituals, worship and even works of charity or theology for these cannot be ends in themselves nor are they just means. It is God himself who is the centre of reality and our knowledge of him is his love for us.So we need to know this Person of Christ ( ...'to have seen me is to have seen the Father.....' ) more fully, more personally.

    Perhaps there is now, a need for the Church to look to its rich treasury of the contemplative of which is John Main's/Cassian method of prayer ( Christian Meditation) - where through this silent journey to the heart, we can invite others to share the Presence with us.

  5. Hi Fr Luke

    I wonder how many priests appreciate the fact that they have a potentially captive audience, even if it is for 15 minutes. In these 15 minutes, much can be done if the preaching employs good techniques of communication.

    The media clearly uses these techniques very well. Just think of how many points can be made (and are made)in a 30-second TV or radio commercial that is well written and well produced. Don't get me wrong, I am not proposing that priest should use the pulpit to 'sell' doctrines with glitzy audio-visuals. What I am getting at is that preachers can fully utilise the 15 minutes to connect with the people and share the key points of what being a Christian and living a Christian life entails. This can communicated not only by the preachers'words, but also by the authentic passion and conviction with which they preach. If necessary, preachers can consider additional training on how to communicate the most in the least amount of time from the media professionals on these techniques.

    Thanks for inviting input from us, here are some other random thoughts:
    - preachers can lay greater emphasis and teaching on the fact that being a Christian means having a relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit (who has been sent to inspire and teach us);
    - you may want to take a poll on what topics your congregation would like to have a 'refresher mini-course';
    - then plan a series of these inputs/mini-course and have these included either as part of the homily or after the prayer after communion (if this is allowed liturgically);
    - schedule such that we do not have one Sunday mass within 2 hours or lesser of the other. This will allow for more time to break the word, preach and also to mingle as a community;
    - re-look at the car park situation so that parishioners won't have to be rushing off to clear the car from the car-park;
    - all this means more work for the priests, who will have to be available for longer periods on Sunday, prepare preachings that are succinct yet complete.

    Much can be done with prayer. We often don't call upon the powerful prayers of our community of homebound parishioners to support the parish through their intercession.

    Thanks for spotting the gaps in our Christian education and living, and wanting to do something about it.

    God bless you,

  6. I think the best way for us to make people hunger for God is by living lives that show our love for him and by acknowledging him as the source of all that is good in our lives. That is the seed; we can only plant that seed. God will help that seed to grow.

  7. We all recognize the issues of lack of Faith in many Catholics; This is despite a strong yearning for Peace and for God's presence, still present deep within the hearts of many of such "Sunday Catholics".

    What created this:
    a) Materialism, especially with the drive for Globalization the last 10 to 20 years.

    b) Internet proliferation and with that easy access to all kinds of information and perhaps too much information, that the message of the Bible gets "lost".

    c) Complacency

    d) Prosperity Christianity

    The list goes on ...

    So, instead of lamenting about it again and again with no end, the question we should then ask is this: With all of this, how do we reach out and touch the hearts of people, and to help them "find God" again and to allow for Faith Formation.

    We need to take a cue from the Bible, where we are told to "be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16) to do God's work.

    We need to draw people back to Church again, by addressing the practical issues in their lives. When we do that, people tend to get drawn to their Church for activities of their daily lives.

    It does not matter if they are there because of practical issues or because of interest in a particular activity or because of the need to deepen their Faith. The thing is that it gives us a fantastic opportunity to touch their lives and this becomes the starting block in rebuilding the Faith, if it is luke-warm or even cold.

    What are some of the possible activities:

    1. Good tuition program, with GOOD tuition teachers, charging normal market rates, and the tutors being PAID market rates. So, instead of going for tuition to the tuition centers, they go to Church. The classes can start and end with a prayer.

    Needy children can be given a discount of perhaps 30% or even 50%.

    2. Regular Qigong / Christian Meditation classes (need to be publicized).

    3. Free Legal clinic

    4. Website community for Parents & would be parents to share, get involved in discussion forums and recycle kids' stuff, when their children outgrow it (prams, clothes, toys), etc.

    Can also develop support group from here for 1st time parents, struggling to adapt to a life with the responsibility of a baby.

    5. Business Networking within the Parish and with other parishes. This can be held in pubs, restaurants and sometimes in the Churches.

    6. Talks in areas of practical interest -
    "Parenting Workshop - Motivating Your Child"
    "Health Talk - Collectoral and Throat
    "Youth Talk - Tips To Study Smart"

    7. Making some rooms in the parish available for children to study in.

    8. Free Health Screening through tie-up with Health Promotions Board.

    9. Forming teams to participate in events organized by the local CC (that is to also leverage on the CC activities, as a Catholic Community).

    10. Reaching out to Young Working Adults by going out to their turfs, which include night-spots and clubs ... and getting them to have some of these sessions in the Church Hall.

    Etc, etc ...

    Basically, it is to make the Church a "community center" of sorts for the Catholic Community.

    To achieve this you need a full time staff to just handle matters on Community matters, Pastoral Care and formation and driving of support groups. That will be his / her KPI.

    With a full time staff, he /she will also be responsible to convince "targeted individuals" to help in the programs, while this full time staff drives the overall "building up" plans and processes.

    The world has changed drastically and we need to change the way we reach out to the Catholic Community and in our attempts to build and strengthen the level of Faith on the community.

  8. Itisfaith allalongFebruary 1, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    I read the many comments with interest. Many are saying that the secular world is squeezing out the little spirituality space that we have remained in our souls. Some are saying that we should stay relevant to today’s modern society by bringing the “marketplace into the church” (a common phrase used by our separated brethren to draw people into Christianity). Let us have another activity to do in church so that we can crowd out our time doing godly and churchy things. To fight fire with fire, one would say.

    However, I think Fr’s question remains unanswered - How do we make our people hunger for God? Our Holy Father is also very concerned with the onslaught of secularism. Pope Benedict seems (I use “seems” as it is not easy to understand “Vaticanglish”) to suggest to fight secularism, we need to put faith back into the hearts of people. Faith is the spirit in us knowing that there is an ineffable being who gives order and meaning to life. And to us Christians, the faith to know that this ineffable being is God who loves each and every one of us dearly.

    What is happening today is that we are our own fireman. We are so in love with our ego and our rights. One simple illustration – just look at how we dress to meet God who sacrifices for us at Calvary.

    Coming back to your blog… To have better formed Catholics, we need to put our faith in God back into our living. How do you put this faith back into our obligation-fulfilling flock? Father, I don’t have the answer. How do you immerse one in faith – when faith is intangible? How do you still one’s spirit so that one knows – without the need to understand - one is in presence of Love? Perhaps all that you can do is to just be that signpost of faith. A signpost fashioned in St Francis of Assisi’s “preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words”. This is because for some of us, our faith is formed when we experience great loss or great suffering. When this day comes, we need to know we have a priest to help fight our fire and to direct our gaze onto our awesome God who is love.