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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teaching the Parents

Tonight I had my first experience with the parents of the sacramental class this year. In this parish, while the children are enrolled in a weekly program of formation (or in religion class in the school), the sacraments themselves are taught at home, by the parents. So tonight was an orientation for the parents.

Father, the DRE, and I agree that this is a grand opportunity for formation for the parents, many of which are not really practicing Catholics; they belong to that demographic that sees Confession as being a hoop for their child to jump through just to get the great experience of the pomp and circumstance of First Communion.

Now, there are also a lot of parents who are dedicated Catholics and could teach circles around me...and so they should. But still, they attend, and my guess is that these parents likely help the others.

Tonight was the orientation for First Confession, which will happen during Advent. For weeks, I've been trying to figure out what to say. A couple weeks ago I walked down the hall, into the Adoration chapel with the red USCCB Catechism, thinking to write an outline as though for RCIA, hitting all the main points. And that's when Jesus spoke.

I learned last year that when preparing a lesson, it's very important to go to Jesus for input. What does HE want taught in that class? Who needs to hear certain words? I don't know that...but Jesus does. What if I don't understand a relevant scripture...no matter. Jesus can explain it.

So although I figured to use the book the bishops recommend, Jesus had other plans. My routine in these situations is to go into the chapel and just pray. If I don't have words, to just kneel in silence with the Lord, and offer him my lack of direction. He will answer when it is time. Well, I thought it had to be time because I was really STUCK! Nothing I wanted to do seemed right, it was uninspiring, too elementary...or too theological. (Being a grad student does that).

Well, Jesus answered that day. Although my catechism was next to me, suddenly a starting point came to me. What is sin? A rejection of God's love. Disordered Love (St. Thomas Aquinas), an abuse of freedom.

What did Adam and Eve do when they sinned? They hid from God. Great point! That's what I did, too. That's what we all do.

What was Jesus' mission? Forgiveness. Mercy. Definitive love. The gospel is full of Jesus forgiving sin, and each is a personal encounter. Bartimaeus, the paralytic (a few of them!), and the sinful woman who washed and annointed his feet. Jesus recognized and drew attention to the interior, recognizing faith, repentance, contrition, belief...all of that...

Jesus passed this ministry onto the Apostles. How? He breathed on them, just as God breathed life into Adam. He gave them the power to forgive sin.

The Bible is a love story, all about God reaching out to reconcile his people to him, his people who run and hide when they reject him. God does not reject us; we reject him. And so God continues to reach out, and he did this ultimately by sending his own Son to die, to overturn the sin in the Garden of Eden.

How do we respond to God's mercy? We have free will. Free to run and hide. Free to come to him in tears and repentance...and we do this in Confession. The priest is in persona Christi, so it is Christ who hears us, always.

As I was writing all of this, I knew as I had from the beginning that I had to tell my 12 year Confession story, my identity as "Bartimaeus". And so it was important to read that particular gospel.

And the connection...the parents must teach this to their children. They are called to holiness, to live that example, every day. They are the primary catechists. Not the school. Faith is learned and reinforced in the home, and in 20 years, the kids won't remember their catechists at faith formation, they won't remember the books...but they will remember the actions and living faith of their parents.

I explained how my Mom's faith affected my conversion, and told them that now is the time to act upon that...now is the time to toe the line, to be that example.

So, all this was written in the Adoration chapel. It was Jesus who wrote it...not me. I could not have done this. I didn't know what to say. Jesus did.

That day, I left the chapel and put the scribbles in my notebook into a coherent outline, and something told me to bring it to Father, for a few reasons: I am new. While he trusted me enough to hire me, he still needs to know what I'm teaching. While the DRE is indeed my boss, so is he, and when it comes to the sacraments, it's more important that he is involved than the DRE. So I found him in his office and we sat down with the outline. He liked it, felt that it covered what needed to be covered, and made some suggestions for things to add to the presentation...but he didn't suggest anything more for the content of my talk.

And that's the other reason I went to him; one was a trust issue, that he should know what is being taught. The other is a practical issue; I needed to know that this plan was what was expected, what he envisioned needed to be done, and I needed direction if there were missing elements. Which there were, and I took all of his offered suggestions. He said he would not be present for the orientation, which was also important for me to know. Fine.

So...tonight was the first of two orientations for the parents. And I've never spoken to such a hostile crowd.

Yup. You heard me correctly. Not everyone was hostile, but there were a few, and it was written all over them. They didn't want to be there. They were offended that it is their duty to teach their children the faith. Some were bored...simply not interested in engaging. Some looked angry about what I was saying. Some just had poker faces that gave nothing away, although by their body language I could see they were more hostile than interested.

But I wasn't speaking tonight to make myself look good; I was speaking because these people needed that message of mercy; that Jesus isn't just there for their children; he is there for them as well, and waiting for them, all the time.

And I'll admit; it was difficult at times to realize that my words were being rejected. But when I told my confession story, well, I could see heads nod. I could see some of them coming to life, but most...still hostile. They didn't like where I was going. I was not telling them what they wanted to hear. Thank God for that.

Those who were nodding and smiling, I'll tell you right now they gave me strength, identifying themselves immediately as allies, people of faith, people who understand the grace of the sacrament, people who have experienced God's mercy.

Overall, it went well, and didn't take the whole hour as planned, which is fine. There was time for questions (I didn't answer them all adequately or correctly, with regard to some of the process regarding the books), and I have things to follow up on. Only a few people were clearly unhappy, but the DRE was there and did assist with some of the questions, and for that I'll be eternally grateful. She won't be around for Thursday's group, though. And she added her own confession story, for she is a convert...I think the next group will be sadly deprived.

One of the things I did to prepare tonight was to ask my Guardian Angel to go around and speak with everyone present, to help smoothe the waters. I spent some time in Adoration a couple hours ahead of time, and afterward, I went back to the chapel to thank Jesus. After all, these are His people; they are his to convert, his to teach, his to calm. But this wasn't done without some adversity; the microphone did not work, and we tried a few of them. Nuthin'. I had to "project". (Thank God for my time in theatre!). But of course, I'm getting a cold, and wasn't sure my voice would last.

Can we say "spiritual battle"? God prevailed.


I may post my presentation in written form at some point, but not likely this week, In any case, please pray for this parish, the parents who are teaching, the children who will be receiving the sacraments, and for hearts to be open to the Holy Spirit and converted.

All I am is a voice in the wilderness, speaking from a wilderness of my own. I can boast of nothing but my weakness, and of nothing other than Jesus Christ. He is the words on my lips, the song in my heart, and the fire in my soul.

And even in my weakness, He has called me to speak for him...and I am humbled. The hostility of a few just makes me love him more.

Please pray for this class from tonight, and for the class on Thursday evening, and please pray for me. I can't do this without a lot of divine assistance.

12 comments:

mgibson said...

Well, now you've really made it - welcome to the world of faith formation. I know exactly what you're going through, and it's rough. So many parents just aren't there yet, and they don't want to be there yet, and by gosh they are not going to open up their arms at all to let in anything of God. Mostly because they don't want to change, I imagine. Why many of them even care to have their children receive the Sacraments is beyond me, though I am still grateful that they at least are that far along - when you look at the hard numbers of how many kids are being formed at a parish vs. the number of kids "existing" at the parish that have never set foot in a formation class... well, it's sad to say the least. Just remember that - no matter how hostile a parent may seem to you, the very fact that they are speaking to you tells you that they are actually well into the middle of the pack. There's still something there to reach, the flame hasn't totally died.

Keep it up, don't give it - I swear, parents are exactly the same as teenagers when it comes to being formed. Teenagers whine and complain too, but you know what, they get it and they do figure it out sooner or later - or at least, they remember it years down the road when the right time comes (I know that one from personal experience!). With parents it's the same way, they don't want to hear it but the repetition of what is important will sink in whether they want to admit it or not, and eventually there will be a slight crack in which the truth knocking at the door can finally come in.

For my Confirmation prep meetings this year, I talked forcefully on the absolute need for a family to make going to Mass EVERY Sunday a priority, hitting again and again on the fact that, apart from it being a necessary response on our part to our honoring of our Creator and what He did for us, it is also the foundational thing that will either keep their kids grounded in life, or cut them lose to drift away from family, morality, and ultimately God. Harsh words, but true - what we do is what kids listen to first, what we give priority or importance to is what they will at least respect as being something that we care deeply about (even if they won't admit the same thing yet). Nothing impacts a child forever (remember? That kid you have is going to live forever... in one of two places.)faster than parents who by their actions demonstrate what is important. Likewise, when it comes specifically to the Sacrament of Confirmation, if we treat it like something stupid and casual, our kids will also treat it that way. If the parents don't care about whether the kid is prepared, then they've just shot us in the foot and we won't be able to do much either to get them prepared. And I reminded them that Confirmation is not "Catholic coming-of-age", it is a Holy and sacred Sacrament that is one of the pearls of great price, not to be thrown to the swine. It is the right of every Baptized Catholic WHO HAS BEEN PROPERLY PREPARED to request to be Confirmed. It is up to the pastor and ultiimately the bishop whether that is the case, and since the bishop is not able to do this directly it is our responsibility as a parish to properly form our candidates so that we may truthfully affirm to the bishop that they are indeed prepared and able to request that he confirm them. Wow, you could hear a pin drop with that one, as it sank in with people that Johnny isn't just automatically Confirmed because he's a sophomore this year and they show up at Mass once in awhile. (By the way, in case you wondered, this summary is the to-the-point smackdown version for this comment... my actual talk was a lot more gentle, really :)

As you can imagine, I had a lot of clenched fists and crossed arms and rolling of eyes. I also had a share of nods and grins. Even a few who started out hostile and ended up at least looking perplexed and (hopefully) considering what I had said that they didn't expect to hear.

You just gotta keep praying! Fruit will come, but maybe not for years and years down the road...

Love ya dear! :)

Angela Messenger said...

Sounds like you had a lot of guilty consciences in the crowd.

I am praying for you!

gman59 said...

I was one of those hostile parents when my kids went through those periods of school. How I wish I would have been more attentive and open to god. I really ask for forgiveness for not bringing up my kids properly in the catholic faith. I guess it was a residual affect as I was never brought up properly either.
Due to health problems last year I started back to the church andit has been a hard journey at the best of times. Often confusing and calling on deep spiritual assesment on my part.
For those hostile parents my recommendation is open your eyes ears and hearts and do not deny this from your kids. Actively take part and if you have to learn with your kids. Just look around the world today and tell me you do not need this. Try to prove it to yourselves. Open up and allow god into your lives and hearts. You will not regret it!!!

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

you sound just fine to me...

Ray from MN said...

Wow! I know two parishes in our archdiocese where there are some very lucky children and parents who will be taught by Adoro and Mary.

I was blessed with 12 years of parochial school and religion classes in the "olden days." But when I was confirmed, I didn't feel any different. When I graduated from high school the only reason that I could have given for going to Mass on Sundays was that my folks wanted me to and it was some kind of "commandment."

Accordingly, as soon as I moved out of the house to go away to school, I stopped going to Mass (except when my folks were around).

I thank God that he did not stop calling me though and eventually I came back.

But I think those sixth graders that Adoro and Mary are teaching this year will have a better grasp of their faith in many respects than I do today.

I pray for you both, for your students and their parents and for your pastors and supervisors.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone, and I'll try to respond more later, but I have to make a correction.

Ray, I'm not teaching the kids. I'm in charge of getting volunteers to do the teaching. BUT with regard to sacramental prep, I am teaching the parents and serving as a resource to them.

But in speaking for my parish, the catechists are solid, the curriculum is solid, so we are very blessed.

Unfortunately, many parents don't want to engage in the faith; so I was hoping to inspire them in some way to do so. Some maybe will take something away...others will reject it all outright, which they did preemptively. Such is human nature.

~ Adoro

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Adoro: I always admire how you rely upon Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to guide you. I'm envious that you have such continual access to Him in your job!

uncle jim said...

Adoro,

I had a talk to give last eve [TU] in an adult formation program in our parish. I've been thinking on it for weeks and had nothing on paper - topic: INCARNATION

Sunday eve I took my notepad with me and went to Eucharistic Adoration and sat before the Lord. The outline was finished before I left.

100x Better that Cliff Notes.

Hidden One said...

I'll be praying.

Anonymous said...

Adoro, thanks for a great post again.

This is the state of Catholicism today. When I read all my favorite Catholic blogs, I think EVERYONE is like yall. (devoted, serious, grateful, thankful, etc) The reality is different.

It seems everyone wants the perks of being Catholic without the work. Some of the perks they desire: a pretty white dress, nice friends, the sense of community, the bazaar, a funeral when they need it. In other words, being Catholic is a social thing.

Only our Lord can change their hearts.

So, Adoro, keep on being you. Tell the truth in a gentle way. Offer help. Keep the meetings on time. Rejoice in the head nodders. There are a few of us out there. And keep on getting your strength from Jesus.

I pray daily for everyone who works in our churches. You need the graces our prayers bring!

Potamiaena

Adrienne said...

Adoro,
I envy anyone who has such ready access to the true solution - God and in particular the Holy Spirit.
My tendency is to go to God last. Need to work on that, for sure!

Ah, yes - I know how hostile and unhelpful parents can be since I teach the 7th - 12th graders. So, to keep from banging my head against a wall 'till my brains explode I concentrate on "the one".

It's too big to think about "the all" as in all the kids I deal with. Instead, I focus on the "one" who is "getting it". If, at the end of the year, I have "one" who "got it" I am very pleased.

uncle jim said...

Adrienne,
My wife, Aunt Rozann, teaches grades 6 - 8 Science. She's in a Catholic parochial school, and loves it. For the most part she has supportive parents. In addition to Science, she gets to teach a couple of sections of Religion each week. Again, pretty supportive, but not 100%, and the 'not' part of the population can wear her down at times.