10 Tips on Evangelization and the Family for the Synod of Bishops
A tweet from New Advent caught my eye this morning. Pope Francis has announced an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to address “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”
Edited: Though some commentaries on this announcement center around the topic of divorce and Communion, it seems to me that it will be broader than that. Among the suggestions I list below, a number of them are practical responses to the state of the family in our times. Feel free to take them as they are. As I know few divorced Catholics, however, I will leave that commentary to the pastors of the Church.
As a young father of 3 and as a high school theology teacher, family evangelization and catechesis is something very important to me. I’ve learned a lot of lessons myself about how best to pass on the faith to children, as well as some of the unique challenges that task provides.
I’m sure my blog is read by all the bishops worldwide. Afterall, more than 90% of them should have read my post on their common apostolic lineage with great earnest. I’m sure they all subscribed to my future posts right that instant. Yep.Anyway, if I had the ear of the assembly, I’d tell them all sorts about the topics that need to be covered in family catechesis and the methods their catechists can employ – things they probably already know. What I might stress even more, however, is setting the right environment. Passing the faith without living the faith is like sowing the seed on infertile soil. For effective family catechesis, the soil needs to be fertilized and tilled. Families that want their kids to grow up Catholic need to embrace a Catholic lifestyle.
Here are a few suggestions I’d offer the bishops:
- Place a HUGE emphasis on adult catechesis. You want parents to evangelize their kids, but the parents don’t know the faith. It doesn’t matter that adult catechesis is the primary form of catechesis (see Catechesi Tradendae 43). Most parishes aren’t placing an emphasis on it. Parishes funnel many thousands of dollars into youth programs and don’t understand why the kids fall away. Here’s why: the kids see that their parents aren’t living the faith, and they figure they don’t have to either. Invest in adult catechesis. They will pass it on by word and example to their kids. The economy of grace is a trickle-down economy. Here’s 5 tips to get you started.
- Get families to slow down and embrace silence. Everywhere I look, families are busy. There’s school, which starts at an earlier and earlier age – I’ve not decided yet if that’s a blessing or a curse – and there’s extracurricular sports. Then there’s the internet with all its fast-paced social networking, a constant barrage of unfiltered messages, philosophies, advertisements. The busy-ness of the world tends to make us focus more on tasks than on people. The noise of the world drowns out the still, small voice of God. A lot of folks give lip service to a slow, steady, silent walk with God, but few practice it. Folks like me can write blog articles, but unless its being preached from the pulpit regularly, few will hear it.
- Make Sunday sacred again. I was encouraged by news I read two weeks ago that Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans has asked his Catholic schools to cancel Sunday activities. We Catholics have a way of putting in the least God requires of us – I myself am frequently guilty of it – and Sunday is a very serious example. If Catholics go to Mass – yes, if, unfortunately – they rarely do anything else on the Sabbath to set aside special time for God. I recall one period in college where I spent all my Sundays (after Mass), several weeks in a row, playing video games. My roommate went outside and played soccer. At the end of each Sunday, I remember feeling lethargic and restless. I was filled with anxiety about returning to classes the next day, feeling very deeply that I had wasted a chance for real rest. I stopped wasting my Sundays. Instead, I started spending them with friends, being active. Sabbath rest doesn’t mean laying about all day and being idle. We can have rest that is useful and constructive. We can take up a hobbies, play sports together, teach our kids how to cook Sunday dinner, call on friends. Families need to use their Sundays for real rest.
- Encourage Confession. Why on earth do I have to schedule Confession? Priests should be jumping at the chance to hear Confessions, but I’m convinced a lot of them must think their parishioners are sinless. If the parishioners aren’t coming, maybe they think they’re sinless, too. One can hardly blame them, when some 95% of Catholics have never heard a homily against the more serious and common sins of our time. Hear Confessions before Mass, between Masses, after Mass. Hear Confessions during PSR while the parents are waiting around with coffee and donuts. Encourage families to show up in the Confession line together. Hear Confessions during weeknight catechetical talks. Offer to hear Confessions from the St. Vincent de Paul group while they’re stacking sandwiches together. Did you know the Church encourages extra priests to hear Confessions during Mass? There are so many opportunities. Cast into the deep! Spread a wide net for Christ’s mercy!
- Teach families monastic rhythm: ora et labora – prayer and work. My kids are very young and they know their prayers. People ask how we did that and we tell them it’s really very simple: just pray with them. It can be 3 minutes before bed and a prayer in the car on the way to school or daycare. My young children help with the chores (they aren’t much help, but they try and they want to do it well). They are learning at an early age to take pride in their work as accomplishments. Prayer and work, if they are allowed to infuse one another, can build up an authentically Christian culture in every home.
- Pass on the story. Stories are amazing. They have the ability to captivate the imagination in a way no simple creed or list of facts can. Any time, without exception, that the faith can be passed on in narrative form, it should be. Catechists can always – should always – follow up with creeds and hard facts, explanations of their stories. Luckily for us, our faith is chock full of stories and legends and the best thing: stories know no age limit. You can just as easily spread the faith by means of story to a stranger on the street as to your 1st grader.
- Stop separating different ages into different Masses. One is called “Youth Mass,” another features “Children’s Liturgy” (honest question to readers: what percentage of the kids who go to Children’s Liturgy at your parish are under the age of 7, when they are morally bound to attend the actual Mass?). I understand that sorting them helps you reach different audiences, but it separates the family. Kids don’t need to attend Mass with their peers, whom they see a few hours a week. They need to go with their families, the faithful of their domestic churches. If that means priests need to learn to direct their homilies to whole families, then so be it. (Remember: teach the parents the faith and teach the parents to pass the faith. The economy of grace is trickle-down.)
- Bring families together. It’s not enough for individual families to live the faith, they need to be leaven for their parishes. Consider Sunday potlucks with Mass, sports, catechesis, and Confession.
- Make families apostolic. Extra points on #8 if you include a service and evangelization component for the outside community.
- In short, make families the living marks of the Church. In case it’s not clear, I’ve just laid out suggestions that can fit nicely into the Creed. If you do all these things, you will make families One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.