September 15, 2011

Learning about God

On Tuesday afternoon I heard a bit of a rukus coming from the hallway a few steps down from the parish office. I went to investigate and found a child of about six years old arguing with his mother who was registering him for faith formation classes.  "I don't want to learn about God," said the little born stubbornly. At first I chuckled and empathized with the mom. It is common for kids cry to their parents on the first day of school begging them not to make them go.  I can remember spending a morning sitting outside a kindergarten classroom struggling to get my son to go into the room (and this was after two years of pre-K). But last night, after speaking at a catechist meeting in another parish, I began to think how sad it really was. Here is a child who doesn't want to know God and who probably doesn't even have a sense who God is. Anyone who had taught faith formation has come across children like this who have no understanding of God, do not know what it is to pray, and have never set foot in a church.    One of our catechists tells the story of a first grader in a class she taught who when taken on a tour of the church said, "So this is what a church looks like."

I can relate to that in a way.  I don't remember ever being in a church until the summer before I began first grade in the local Catholic school. But, even though my parents didn't go to Mass when I was a young child, I was taught to pray and we did not go to sleep at night until we prayed the Guardian Angel prayer and go through a litany of people who we wanted God to bless. We had crucifixes, statues of Mary, the Infant of Prague, and a family Bible. I learned the Hail Mary and knew what a rosary was. My mom even had a subscription to a  children's bible monthly and would read us stories from the Old and New Testaments. By the time I started school, I wanted to learn about God, and religion was one of my favorite subjects, and I loved going to Mass, which by the way at the time was in Latin.

I think the scenario on the young boy's objection to learn about God reveals a deeper problem.  How often is this child's argument expressed (often not in words) by Catholic adults? DREs and catechists often bemoan that the biggest problem they face as catechists is not the children, but parents who do not reinforce or even at times work against what is being taught in the classroom. Many think of faith formation classes, and even religion, as a commodity and one that, to borrow a phrase from Burger King, they "want it their way."  The practice of religion isn't a part of their life, so they send their kids to us, but don't want to accept their responsibility to be the first and primary teachers of the faith for their children. Many of them do not have a relationship with God (although they will admit the are spiritual), so how can we expect their children to develop a relationship with God?

But the problem is not only among parents. The problem of "not wanting to learn about God," stretches across all ages. Some don't see the purpose of it, some want nothing to do with God, and some think that the education they received in eight years of religious education taught them all they need to know.  Then there are the people that may want to learn more but are just too busy.  How do we reach them all?  How do we convince them to come to know God? That is the million dollar question.

We have a mission as Catholics to share in Christ's mission to bring souls to God.  I need to ask myself regularly how well am I sharing in that mission? What am I doing to help others to understand that the one of the most important things we can do in life is come to know God, to learn about God and His plan for our lives.  After over a half century of learning about God (and with the degrees to prove it) I am still painfully aware of how little I know about God, and how much more I need to learn.  Christian formation is a life long endeavor that I hope I will continue until I finally meet Him who I desire most.

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking today that people are afraid of being judged and having to hold responsibility for their actions.