Go for the Burn

By McGrath, Tom | U.S. Catholic, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Go for the Burn


McGrath, Tom, U.S. Catholic


Who will pass the torch of faith to the next generation? Could it be ... you?

IF SPACE ALIENS LANDED IN YOUR BACKYARD OR LOCAL cornfield and asked you to explain Catholicism, what would you tell them? I'd be hard-pressed to know how to begin. Oh sure, I could recite creeds and the outlines of the gospel story. I could explain about the pope, the bishops, and the seven sacraments. But to really get at the essence of the faith, I would have to borrow Jesus' line and tell them, "Come and see."

Now, forget about the space aliens and think about Catholic youth. I recently heard a youth minister say that the church is always just one generation away from extinction. Catholicism may rank as one of the world's largest religions, but if one generation fails to pass the faith on to the next, that will quickly change. And where else will those young people go to find the words of eternal life?

How do we best pass on a living faith in the 21st century? Old methods aren't working anymore. That's why the U.S. bishops in their recent pastoral letter Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us? suggest a radically new approach. The title comes from the words of the disciples on the way to Emmaus, who moved from knowledge of the events of Jesus' life to a true encounter with and transformation by Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). Once enlightenment hit them, their spirits caught fire. That is the goal of all religious formation and education.

To achieve this, the bishops propose focusing our main religious formation efforts on adults rather than kids. During an earlier heyday of Catholic schools, concentrating primarily on kids may have provided the best bang for our religious ed buck. But life and times change, and the effectiveness of institutions passing on the faith has dropped precipitously. Some statistics show that Seven out of 10 young people confirmed in the Catholic Church fail to continue official connection with the church in subsequent years.

This has led church leaders to rediscover an approach that harkens back to the early church: that religious education is best provided by adults who have a mature, vibrant faith. The church should focus on preparing and equipping adult believers to be the bearers of faith to new generations.

Not that religious education for youth would be eliminated, but the hope is that it will be fed by and flow from the interaction between adults and their children and grandchildren, their young neighbors and fellow parishioners. …

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