Campers, Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders and others familiar with the nature of an open fire know that conditions have to be just right to start, maintain and extinguish it. Like starting, restarting and putting out a fire, adult faith also depends on the right conditions to be ignited and sustained. However, unlike a fire that depends solely on human or natural causes, faith is God's gift. Faith can take root with the assistance of and even in spite of our best-intentioned human catechetical efforts. Yet, while we depend on God for the gift of faith, we educate for faith, not in a laisse-faire manner, but as if another's faith depends on what we do. This divine-human collaboration more often than not produces the desired outcomes.
A Retrospective Look
There was a time when the developing faith of adults may have been assumed. A cohesive Catholic culture and identity nurtured by well-developed Catholic practices such as Catholic piety and faithful, regular attendance at Sunday Mass were sufficient to sustain adult faith. However, in the years since Vatican Council II we now recognize that the "thick" Catholic culture that once helped to ignite and sustain faith is no longer what it was.
Theorists like James Fowler helped educators to understand that faith can indeed develop and mature along the life continuum.
There is no guarantee that faith will mature, however. Theologians like Bernard Lonergan helped Catholics to acknowledge that one cannot assume an advancing and progressive development vis-à-vis faith. Cycles of progress and decline are part of the human condition. The church has been directing faith educators with an unrelenting chorus about the conditions that need to be in place for the possibility of ongoing adult faith development. Discipleship requires ongoing conversion that begs for a shift to the primacy of faith formation for adults. This is a constant refrain that can be traced to the first "General Catechetical Directory" (1971).
Assessing the Current Reality
One need look no further than the report from the bishops' recent document, "Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord," to recognize that lay Catholics in large numbers have taken faith formation in the service of the church seriously. Those who have accepted positions in the educational, catechetical and pastoral ministries of the church have made a concerted effort to prepare themselves well for their positions of responsibility. There is a continuing need to make those who are assuming and will assume these positions in the future aware of the ever-present need for sustained ongoing formation in faith. According to pastoral and academic standards, there is an even greater imperative to raise consciousness to the need for continually nurturing faith in every adult Catholic.
By virtue of baptism, Catholics evangelize from their stance in the marketplace more than from ministerial positions. Both the "General Directory for Catechesis" (GDC, 1997) and the "National Directory for Catechesis" (NDC, 2005) reiterate normative ways in which Catholic adults can engage in lifelong learning to sustain advancing, developing faith. These include participating in Sunday liturgy, studying the liturgy, studying sacred Scripture, studying Catholic social teachings, reflecting on important life events in relation to Christian faith, accessing opportunities for prayer and spiritual exercises, embracing sacrificial acts of charity, accessing formal theological and catechetical instruction and preparing for sacramental celebrations such as baptism, matrimony or reconciliation. …