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March 8, 2004
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Adult Faith Formation: Our Primary Focus
For over 30 years every major catechetical document has told us that adult catechesis should be our top priority. The General Directory says that adult catechesis must be considered the chief form of catechesis and that all other forms should be oriented to it (GDC, #59).
As catechetical leaders we know the documents are right. We talk about adult faith formation all the time at conferences and other professional meetings. Yet for many parish leaders, neither job descriptions nor budgets reflect this truth. In most parishes, the catechetical leader spends the vast majority of her time working with children. How do we remedy this?
First of all let's step back and consider what we are already doing in our parishes for adult faith formation. Remember to consider catechesis beyond the instructional model. I can think of at least a dozen catechetical opportunities:
• Prayer experiences and retreats
• Scripture study
• Sunday liturgy
• Ministry workshops
• Christian fellowship groups
• Service opportunities
• Small faith communities
• Intergenerational/family catechesis
• Print or video/DVD libraries
• Take-home catechesis (monthly inserts like Catholic Update, bulletins, family pages, etc.)
• Lecture series

I am sure you can add to the list. The point is we need to identify, publicize and celebrate what we are already doing in adult catechesis. And then we need to do more deliberate planning to use all available opportunities in the future. The U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation, Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, talks about five concrete approaches to adult catechesis: liturgy, large groups, small groups, family catechesis and individual activities.
For individual activities consider subscribing to St. Anthony Messenger magazine for your parish library or individual take-homes. You might even encourage households to subscribe through the parish (magazines are picked up after Sunday Mass). Obviously bulk orders are less expensive than individual subscriptions.
This Franciscan publication has been in print for over 100 years and includes articles of Catholic interest. The cover article for the March issue is about Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley (the new shepherd of the Archdiocese of Boston). There are also articles on the traveling Vatican art exhibit, the everyday wisdom of Proverbs and a very practical article, "Bringing Homespun Fun to a Nursing Home Resident." The magazine runs several regular columns, among them current entertainment reviews, faith questions with answers from a friar, the Church in the news and two pages for families with children.
The only three magazines I remember receiving at home when I was a child are The Saturday Evening Post, Maryknoll, and St. Anthony Messenger. Maybe that's another reason why the Messenger holds such a special place in my heart.
First-Century Life for Adults and Children
One of the five concrete approaches to adult faith formation mentioned in Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us is family catechesis. We've known for a long time that often parents will do for their children what they will not do for themselves. When they are given an opportunity to help prepare their youngster for First Reconciliation and Communion, they usually learn as much as their child does about both sacraments.
I know I learned more than I ever thought I'd know about the Emperor Penguin when I read the The Emperor's Egg (Martin Jenkins) to my two-year-old granddaughter. Maybe that's why I like the book People of the Bible: Life and Customs so much. Every time I open it up with my 10-year-old grandson, I learn more about the everyday life of Jesus, his relatives and ancestors. The book was written by Silvia Gastaldi and Claire Musatti. It was originally published in Italy but St. Anthony Messenger Press obtained the rights to publish it in English for use in the States.
People of the Bible is beautifully illustrated. There are at least a dozen pictures on a page with a cartoon at the top relevant to each topic. (Click here for sample page.) Topics cover "Everyday Life," "Faith and Religious Life" and, "Places, Facts and Ideas," with subjects such as "Time and Calendar" and "The Universe Seen by …."
It's a big book (11 1/2" by 9") with 111 pages and a great glossary. This book is fun for adults and children and would be a great addition to any parish library.
Video Updates on the Priority of Adult Faith Formation
When my husband and I moved into our home, one of its many problems was that it had really bad landscaping. Twelve years, a truckload of topsoil, a failed experiment with a perennial garden, too much mulch to measure and two aching backs later, we can say that our landscaping looks pretty good for amateurs. One mistake we made early on is failing to plant slow-growing, hardy trees alongside the fast-growing shade trees in our back yard. Had we planted better trees back then, we would now have 12 years of growth on trees that would be stronger and lasting. This would be especially welcome now that the fast-growing trees aren't looking so healthy.
What does this have to do with adult faith formation? Well, if we compare our faith lives to trees we will see some similarities. As Judith mentioned earlier, we tend to focus much of our time and resources on children. Neither Judith, nor I, nor the Church documents that encourage us to make adult faith formation the center of our catechetical ministry would deny the importance of offering our young people a solid grounding in the faith. But if our efforts stop there, we are planting fast-growing, lesser quality trees—trees that may not be able to hold up under the harsh conditions of life.
If we move toward a better balance of faith formation efforts for all Church members, we are planting hardier trees—trees that have a better likelihood of standing strong for decades. The U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation, Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, says it well: "Adult faith formation also benefits children and youth. An adult community whose faith is well-formed and lively will more effectively pass that faith on to the next generation. Moreover, the witness of adults actively continuing their own formation shows children and youth that growth in faith is lifelong…" (40).
Many of you will recognize Matt Hayes as one of the pioneers in the adult faith formation effort. He also uses the example of trees in the teaching segment of the video On Fire With Faith: Forming Adult Disciples. Click here to see a video clip from the teaching segment of On Fire With Faith: Forming Adult Disciples (RealMedia | Windows Media). This program was designed as a companion to Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, as a further resource to help parish leaders understand the importance of adult faith formation efforts in their communities. It can be used to train adult faith formation team members, to help get education commissions and pastoral councils on board, and to train catechists of adults. This one program has four segments: story, witness, teaching and music video. Click here to see a video clip from the music video segment of On Fire With Faith: Forming Adult Disciples (RealMedia | Windows Media).

Video Series for Adult Faith Formation (click on the video title link for more information):

• Catholic Update Video (32 four-segment videos, all available individually)    Search our online catalog for the words: Catholic Update Video.
• DeSales Catholic Video Library (eight series of eight videos each).
• InnerAction (three sets of videos; each set includes five or six videos): Gospel Attitudes, Life Crossroads, Cultural Blessings.
• Scripture From Scratch (two eight-video sets, volume one and volume two, individual tapes also available).
• The Vision of the Gospels with Rev. Michael Himes (four videos, individual tapes also available).
• Called to Be Church with Father Art Baranowski.
• The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to Catholicism with Rev. Michael Himes (10 tape set, individual tapes also available).
• Spiritual Growth in Tough Times with Joyce Rupp (three 25-minute videos).
• Peaceful Journeys featuring Robert Wicks (three 25-minute videos).
• Pastoral Care with Gaynell Bordes Cronin (six 25-minute videos, individual tapes also available).
• The Vision of Vatican II for Today with Rev. Michael Himes (five videos, 20-27 minutes each).
• An Introduction to the History of Christianity with Dr. Thomas Shelley and Dr. Mary Martin (12 presentations on six videos, individual tapes also available).
• Foundations of Christianity: Mystery, Conversion, Faith, Hope and Love with Rev. Michael Himes (five videos, 23-25 minutes each).
Opening the Door
Mention adult faith formation to most parishioners and you'll likely get the response, "It would be nice, but who has the time to devote to a course in Bible, sacraments, or Catholic faith and practice?" True, not everybody is ready to conquer a series of 12-week studies on various books of the Bible, or semester-long classes on Catholic doctrine. But that doesn't mean that less ambitious formation opportunities can't be encouraged. Sometimes all you need to do is just "open the door," and you'll be surprised at what growth can occur. Here are a few suggestions involving short books from the shelves of St. Anthony Messenger Press.
How about a small book from Eugene Kennedy entitled Would You Like to Be a Catholic? In five short chapters—fewer than 100 pages—Kennedy leads the reader through an investigation of the richness of Catholicism that is helpful for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His take on the Catholic Church as one big family gives a much more human face to what is, for most of us, an imposing institution.
Looking for a short introduction to the basic tenets of Catholicism? Why not try Father Michael Himes' new 10-chapter introduction to Catholicism, complete with reflection questions at the end of each chapter, entitled The Mystery of Faith. Each chapter contains enough material for a healthy discussion, opening the door to deeper exploration of your faith. It is also liberally sprinkled with Scriptural references illustrating each chapter.
Another helpful little book on Scripture comes from Father Timothy Schehr, Scripture professor at the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati. Finding Your Bible: A Catholic's Guide will help you find the Bible that is right for you. Schehr discusses the various translations available, giving you information to help you in the decision-making process. He also gives brief introductions to major themes in the Bible to help you begin to find your way through "the greatest book ever written." A useful little book to help "open the door" to further Bible study.
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