I spent a few years as a DRE (Director of Religious Education) in two parishes. Just as in most jobs there were things that I liked and didn’t like about the job. I didn’t expect that working for a parish would be an utopian ideal. Heck I had been volunteering in parishes for far too long.
People are people. And where there are people there is politics involved. Meh.
What did take me by surprise was the extent that so many children rarely participated in the Sunday Mass. I knew that the kumbaya progressive catechesis for the past forty years, has led many Catholics astray. But I guess that I thought that people who bothered to send their children to religious education would at least be minimally practicing Catholics. That is they would, at least, be regular Sunday Mass participants.
My favorite Deacon determined that 1/3 of families participate in Mass once a week, one third participate occasionally, and 1/3 are CEO’s ( Christmas and Easter Only).
Oh and it isn’t any better for the Catholic School students.
This means that most of the children are not being educated in the faith by their parents. Yet the Church teaches that parents have the primary responsibility for the faith.
The main way that parents are to teach the faith is through their witness. In words and deeds they are to pass on the faith to their children.
But you cannot pass on what you do not possess.
There is very little that even the best Catechist can do to pass on the faith to children whose parents do not practice it. Most of them never pray with their parents or even say grace before meals. Well the family sit down dinner is all but dead.
So we try and evangelize the parents. We offer faith formation sessions and bible studies during the religious education time. Few come. Some would rather sit in their cars in sub zero weather! When they come for mandatory Sacrament meetings, we try and reach their hearts. But we are trying to plant seeds and we rarely know what kind of ground the seeds fall on.
Lisa Mladinich has, over at Patheos has an article up on the subject, Honor their Fathers and Mothers. She offers some good advice for Catechists.
Second, since many children and their parents are “un-churched,” recognize that you as the catechist are the face of the Church to them. Everything you do to either welcome or distance yourself from them affects their impression of what the Church is, what it stands for, and whether or not they are welcome to join in as members of the family of God.
A big problem? Yeah, you bet. But we don’t shy away from those. We’ve got all of heaven on our side! When we trust in the power of God, graces flood in. So try some of these methods for reaching out and leave the rest to Our Lord. He will be faithful to water the seeds you plant.
- Greet them warmly every time you see them.
- Pray for them and their families, making small sacrifices for their intentions.
- Ask for their help and advice where needed, to better serve their children.
- Praise their children when appropriate.
- Send home weekly notes that keep them up-to-date on what their children are learning, fostering lively discussions at home. Include (at various times): excerpts from the catechism to help them understand the concepts they may never have been taught themselves; the texts of any prayers the children are learning; reminders of approaching holy days of obligation; fun ways to celebrate Catholic culture in their homes; lists of great websites, children’s Bibles, books of saints’ lives, or other resources that might enrich their life of faith; your personal testimony of faith in small, appropriate doses. Encourage feedback by providing your contact information and do clear all communications with your program director.
- Get their email addresses at the beginning of the school year, so you can send them a copy of your weekly summary when they are unable to attend. Hint: they can easily hit “reply” and let you know what is going on at home. If the child is ill, the class can pray for that child and you can let the parents know this. If the family has experienced a tragedy, you can offer prayers or other support as appropriate. In fact, if you can possibly manage it, attend wakes or funerals. Seeing your face in the crowd can mean a great deal to the family.
- Send home thank-you notes for gifts and other kinds of help or involvement.
By honoring parents in small ways throughout the year, your caring outreach may provide a bridge back to the sacraments for those who have fallen away, and might just fan into flame a spark of faith that will draw the whole family into the heart of Christ.