It’s long past time for the Church in the United States to address the fact that, in most parishes, classroom-based catechesis has been an abject failure. Of course, there are some parishes that are handing on the faith well and forming solid disciples.
But they are the great exception, and we can’t let the fact of their existence derail the urgent discussion of what to do about "the 99 others."
First: Recommit to Rigor
I started teaching RCIA because I knew two converts who were graduate students in engineering.
I sat in on RCIA classes at three different local parishes before I despaired of finding a smart, rigorous program — and so I decided to teach them myself.
The reason our parish programs are boring to people is not because the classes are too smart, but because they are too dumb. We need to ask a lot more of our candidates, catechumens and students. And they will respond to this demand because the truth they find will be worth it.
Second: Teach the Faith
Most parish directors of religious education find their religious-education teachers from the rolls of the parents who have kids in the programs. These lovely folks are rarely real teachers, and few are theologically trained.
Let’s drop the Sunday-school model and instead pay the Catholic school teachers to stay an extra two hours one day a week to teach religion. They will know how to teach, and they will know much better what to teach.
Third: Recruit Tutors
Let’s pretend that each child is failing religion the way some kids fail math. What do we do for the kids who are failing? Well, good parents find a tutor.
There is a wonderful resource sitting right there in the pews every Sunday: Lots and lots of people have studied theology and Scripture.
Let’s invite these people to take on one or two students for faith instruction in their homes. The parish can vet the tutors and set the standards for what the students need to know.
This method will allow the students and tutors to cover a lot more material in a much more powerful way and will create lasting bonds of friendship and discipleship. Those who are taught will feel gratitude and will become tutors themselves. It would be a great thing in a parish.
If the Year of Faith is anything, it is a moment of grace for all of us in the Church to personally embrace our mandate from Christ: "Go into the whole world and tell the Good News." We have to take serious steps to roll back the religious ignorance that cripples our people from being a bridge to bring others into the Church.
Our first pastoral concern must be to bring the knowledge and wisdom of God into the hearts of the disciples in the pews.
Then, once it takes hold in them, they will overflow with it to the people in their offices, social clubs and neighborhoods.
Barbara Nicolosi blogs about faith and media at Patheos.com.