Distributist principles and the redistribution of catechetical formation

Because Catholic culture has crumbled and catechesis has so often suffered in recent decades, there is now need to redistribute the “means of formation” to parents by taking some basic, even radical, steps.

Catechumens hold candles during the Easter Vigil March 31, 2018 at St. Hugh of Lincoln Church in Huntington Station, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

People who are serious about handing on the faith to the next generation, whether they are in Catholic parishes or schools, have been frustrated by the same problem: the widening gap between faith and the daily lives of their students.

To be sure, this is no novel issue. Back in the 1950s, Joseph Ratzinger diagnosed it as a new paganism lurking beneath the Catholicism of the time. He says, rather frankly, “she is no longer, as she once was, a Church composed of pagans who have become Christians, but a Church of pagans, who still call themselves Christians, but actually have become pagans.” At the time, Ratzinger conjectured that “the modern man today, when he meets someone else anywhere, can assume with some certainty that he has a baptismal certificate, but not that he has a Christian frame of mind.” The latter is certainly true, but the former is becoming less certain.

Discouraged parish ministry leaders or school personnel need not despair. They can, I believe, bridge the gap by drawing inspiration from 20th-century distributist economists Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton and their call for a redistribution of the “means of production.” In the case of catechesis, formators need to redistribute the “means of formation” to parents.

The redistribution process consists of four basic steps:

    1. Acknowledge the need for a redistribution
    2. Make the parents the “heroes” of their child’s formation and design programs accordingly
    3. Build relationships and follow-through
    4. Entrust the whole thing to the Holy Spirit (really, this is the first step and the last one and everything between)

Acknowledge the need for a redistribution

In the early 20th century, Catholic thinkers Chesterton and Belloc introduced an economic theory known as Distributism. John Médaille defines Distributism, saying,

its key tenet is that ownership of the means of production should be as widespread as possible rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few owners (Capitalism) or in the hands of state bureaucrats (Socialism).

Capitalism tends to limit the means of production to a few, while Socialism collectivizes. Socialist measures are often used as correctives for Capitalist trends. Chesterton and Belloc observed this phenomenon in England as the government introduced forms of socialism to stabilize capitalism (e.g., minimum wage laws, liability laws, and so forth). We have witnessed the same in the United States today. Chesterton and Belloc explained that such socialist efforts establish a servile state. Distributism, for both men, serves as an alternate response to the insecurities of capitalism and the ballooning bureaucracy of socialism.

As V.N. Lukas says in his 1934 article in The Distributist, “if Distributism stands for anything, it stands for decentralization of control and for the majority as independent owners of the means of production.” Distributism does not have to do so much with redistributing profits, but the means of production, and the redistribution of the means of production is as widely as possible.

What does Distributism have to do with the world of youth formation and catechesis?

Answering this question requires a cursory history lesson.

Generally speaking, Catholics in America established the enduring structures of catechesis to instill the faith in immigrant Catholic children living in a Protestant country. Robust Catholic school systems and religious education programs, staffed in large part by religious congregations, served as a primary means of preserving the faith and handing it on to the next generation throughout the 19th and into the 20th centuries.

For quite some time this sort of catechetical infrastructure succeeded. Parents would hand their children off to the brothers or sisters who would form them in the faith, and then they would pick the kids up again. Parents were involved in the direct formation of their children to greater or lesser degrees, though, anecdotally, I believe it tended toward lesser side of thing. Nevertheless, this level of parent involvement worked, because a strong Catholic subculture existed and the gap between the life of a child at home and the life of a child at school was relatively minimal. The general ethos was the same.

After the Council, however, things changed. Actually, according to Ratzinger (and many others), things were already changing in the 1950s—the post-WWII fallout bumping right into Vatican II. In the postconciliar years, the sleek structure built on a scrappiness, religious congregations, a rich sacramental life, and a solid subculture suddenly seemed unstable. By the early 1980s, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger commented that the Church was witnessing the crumbling of the two pillars upon which catechesis has stood historically: the family and the parish. The collapse of the family has been obvious: from birth control to no-fault divorce, the sexual revolution, the redefinition of marriage, and so forth. The wreckage lay all around, and after Vatican II the once camouflaged chasm between the faith and the ordinary lives of Catholics in modern America had been unmasked.

On the parish front, religious communities so wrapped up in the lives of parishes and parochial schools suffered tremendous losses. In the world of catechetics, a new class of the catechetical elite rolled up, riding on Karl Rahner’s systematic theology and modern educational philosophy. As the religious congregations vacated catechetical posts in parishes and schools, new lay professionals, schooled in the methods of Gabriel Moran and Thomas Groome took charge and the future of catechetics in America hung in the balance. A small minority attempted to hand on the faith in its fullness, while mainstream catechetics followed along the same course as the mainstream in theology—horizontalizing the faith, worshiping the gods of self-transcendence and self-construction, and ultimately rendering man as God.

In the wild West of parish catechetics, some sort of regulations needed to be put into place. So, diocesan machinery in the form of religious education offices, commissions, committees, curriculum standards, graded courses of study, and certification processes were established to address issues and to police catechesis due to the depleted catechetical corps and the unrestrained creativity of the reinforcements. All of this had the effect of giving the Rahnerian project a stamp of approval, while bureaucratizing it.

As the Catholic subculture eroded and families fared badly—offering less and less in the Catholic culture of the home—parishes responded by offering more and more by way of youth programming with little parental involvement (other than receiving a scolding or two for poor Mass attendance). Or, in some cases, parishes simply continued offering what they were before, but parents faded out of the picture almost entirely. As parental involvement waned, religion class at Catholic school, Sunday school, and Mass (maybe) constituted the whole of faith formation.

Our programming has made it easy for parents to drop their kids off at Catholic schools or religious education programs and wash their hands of the whole thing. Catholic formation? Check! Keeping Grandma happy? Check! By and large, the Church—in her parishes and schools—has wittingly or unwittingly assumed the entire means of formation for herself, despite her own constant refrain about the role of the parents as the primary formators of their children (see, for example, CCC §2221, or the Order of Baptism for Infants).

A redistribution is necessary and urgent.

Make parents the “heroes” and design programs accordingly

I have been around ministry long enough to hear plenty of conversations bemoaning parents for their lack of care or involvement in the faith formation of their children. In some cases, they are even painted as the villains of our sad state of affairs. While the lack of involvement certainly contributes to the difficulties, vilifying the parents is unjust and unhelpful. Most of today’s parents received little from the Church by way of formation and have been educated by a confused culture. Parents are not the villains, and parish catechists and schoolteachers need to stop stepping into the role of hero.

The Church never tires of informing parents they are the primary educators of their children—they are the “heroes” of their child’s faith formation.1 Statistical data corroborates the importance of the parental role. But, most parents do not know how to form their children in the faith, and they are insecure about trying. This makes any redistribution effort difficult, but it also clarifies the role of the catechist. Parents need a guide, and the parish catechist or teacher can be that guide. In other words, a redistribution of the “means of formation” requires a reconfiguring of roles. Parents are not ignorant villains, but the heroes hampered by numerous difficulties, and catechists and teachers are not the heroes, but the guides—coaching the parents along, giving them a plan, and helping them see what fruitful formation looks like.

To be sure, there has been a family-focused movement within the field of catechetics over the last decade. These are noble efforts, though laden with challenges. Early in this shift, it seems, publishers and catechists went to work developing texts and curriculum plans that would be handed to parents to employ almost entirely on their own. This could be likened to handing your neighbor a series of power tools with minimal operating instruction. In a situation like that, you have all sorts of possible outcomes: insecurity, doubt, fear, attempts, failed attempts, injury, and some successful attempts. Using power tools with little to no training can be a clumsy and even dangerous thing.

The same is true with catechetical programs. Parents need more than an info meeting and a stack of expectations and foreign materials, and from what I heard from colleagues, the outcomes went about as you might suspect (apart from a few shining lights, of course). Another model gathered the family together with some frequency (e.g., once per month) for a social time with other families, before splitting everyone out by age group. Parents received a special formation session with other parents, while children were with catechists. Everyone received the same information, in an age-appropriate manner, and parents were sent home with resources to continue the formation the rest of the month. This model has proven to be more successful, because it gives the parents more. I will discuss a third model in the case study below.

The bottom line: a redistribution of the means of formation requires catechists to become guides and parents to act as the hero of their children’s faith formation. And, parish programs need to be radically recalibrated in order to make such a shift—giving parents a plan and the support they need.

Build relationships

Our programs exist to serve our people, and not the other way around.

Sometimes we can get so fixated on programming, we forget there are real people on the other side of it—real people served by it. And, needless to say, all those people are different. They have unique needs, unique situations, unique pasts, and unique questions. Getting at the uniqueness, and guiding the parents well, requires engaging in the messiness of relationship. Catechists have to engage with parents frequently. This is time-consuming, but necessary to set the parents up for success.

It will also make your programs better, because you will have a better sense of those you serve. (If it is helpful, I did write about this topic in a previous CWR article.)

Entrust it all to the Holy Spirit

Anyone who knows me, knows this goes without saying: Only the Holy Spirit can inspire a parish or school to make strides (however big or small) toward a redistribution of the “means of formation.” And, only the Holy Spirit can guide it through to its completion.

As the culture becomes more post-Christian and as families crumble under its weight, it seems to me that the saying “God has no grandchildren” becomes truer. As our structures for announcing the Gospel rust, Church leaders have to respond with radical openness to the Holy Spirit and boldness in carrying out His inspirations. We know what failure looks like at this point because it is all around us.

Part of the solution, and it is only part of it, lies in a redistribution of the “means of formation” to the primary formators of the children in a way that gives them a plan and support.

In conclusion: A case study

By way of a case study, I have witnessed a redistribution of sorts at our home parish (St. Gertrude in Cincinnati, Ohio), and I have been part of the redistribution in a number of ways.2 At St. Gertrude, the pandemic expedited a process that had been underway for years, shifting our faith formation model to be child-centered and family-focused. For us, this meant investing in Sofia Cavalletti’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) and adjusting all sacramental formation for First Reconciliation and First Communion. Instead of parents attending a brief informational meeting for each of the Sacraments, parents now engage in the CGS atrium (prepared environment) with their children for multiple sessions focused on sacramental formation. In this format, children and parents hear the same teaching, have meaningful conversations, pray, and work together in the atrium. In just two years, I have heard countless stories from parents about their child’s experience and their own. Parents and their children are encountering Christ together.

For older children, St. Gertrude Church implemented a program called Family Faith. Designed for fourth to sixth graders, Family Faith incorporates elements from Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and Catholic youth ministry, with a Bible-based curriculum cycle that incorporates each of the pillars of the Catechism. Unlike similar programs mentioned above (in step #3 of the plan), Family Faith keeps parents with their children, so they engage in the formation experience together. Throughout the sessions, catechists provide teachings before turning things over to the parents to lead conversations, Bible studies, and activities with their children. I would always tell people that we were just trying to set the parents up to succeed in forming their children—“we’re just throwing them a lob ball.” In the two years the program has existed, I watched parents pray with their children, introduce meaningful conversation topics, and gain confidence in understanding and navigating the Bible.

In both cases, CGS and Family Faith, our catechists have implemented an intentional relationship-building effort. This begins with welcoming each family as they arrive, engaging with them during sessions and during the social time built into each session, and follow-up calls, emails, and texts during the year.

I have come to believe that the time is right for a redistribution of this kind of magnitude, one that radically shifts some structures of proclamation, because these parents are ready. The pandemic sped up a process that was already in motion. The parents engaging with us today are not the same parents I saw in religious education ten years ago—many were disengaged, skeptical, and frustrating to work with. These parents are far more cooperative, eager, enthusiastic, and engaged. There are also fewer of them. Nearly of our programs had been shrinking over the last decade along the same trend lines as many of the parishes in the archdiocese.

The time was right for a redistribution and large structures once fruitful needed to be renewed by being pruned, so they can grow again. It all reminds me of Ratzinger’s now famous observation:

[The Church] will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members . . . And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun . . . But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

With a smaller, more concentrated, and more serious cadre of parents, now is the time for a redistribution of the means of formation—and hopefully, by God’s grace,  it can contribute to that fresh blossoming of the faith.

Endnotes:

1 Someone will surely jump in at this point and argue that Jesus or the Holy Spirit is the real hero. I agree. But, it is also true that the proclamation of the Gospel is mediated—the Evangelists’ “great commissions” make this clear—and the most proximate mediation for most of us is the family.

2 After nearly 14 years of ministry, I recently stepped down from my role to “redistribute” the time I was spending doing ministry on nights and weekends back to my family.


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About Brad Bursa, Ph.D. 3 Articles
Brad Bursa, Ph.D., was the Managing Director of Parish Leadership Formation for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for many years and is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. He received his doctorate in Theology from The University of Notre Dame Australia and lives in Cincinnati with his wife and five children.

21 Comments

  1. According to G.K. Chesterton in his final debate with G.B. Shaw, the whole point of distributism is not decentralization per se nor any kind of redistribution except for power. Both Chesterton and Belloc recognized that (as Daniel Webster pointed out) “Power naturally and necessarily follows property.” Power — and thus private property in capital — is essential because without power, people cannot exercise their natural rights to life and liberty. Unless they have their dignity respected and can exercise their rights, they cannot become more fully human, that is, virtuous. The decay observed in catechetical formation has gone in lockstep with the decay in direct capital ownership on the part of the great mass of people. The increasing dependency of most people on the wage and welfare system excoriated by Dorothy Day has created an environment within which people are forced to echo the opinions of the economic and political elites if they want to survive.

    This situation will not be corrected by increasing the dependency of people on the State or the economic elite, attempting to separate from the presumably godless surrounding culture to found a City Upon the Hill, or adopting New Age “small is beautiful”, socialist, or capitalist expedients to go along to get along. Only through “acts of social justice” — properly understood as reforming institutions to enable individual virtue once again to function — will people be empowered with control over their own lives and be able to grow in virtue. An explanation of the current crisis, its roots and its possible remedy is described in a new book from TAN, “The Greater Reset”:

    https://tanbooks.com/contemporary-issues/social-issues/the-greater-reset-reclaiming-human-sovereignty-under-natural-law/

  2. I spent nearly 25 years in the catechetical ministry at e few different parishes. The problem from my standpoint is not simply a matter of philosophy or choice of program focus. In most parishes the bulk of catechetical ministry is delegated to one person, who is expected to administer an insanely demanding workload with most of his/her assistance coming from volunteers. While there is training available for those volunteers, many are working parents with little time to devote to formation. In small, financially struggling parishes the formation “staff” might be only one part time person.
    The picture may be a bit better in wealthier parishes, but by and large catechetical programs don’t bring in a revenue that covers their costs. Therefore parishes are unable to allocate funding for more effective outreach.

  3. Brad, this looks very good, and I hope many bishops and priests are taking it to heart. Someday maybe they will do it after innumerable conferences, workshops and etc.. The roll-out should not take more than twenty years.

    If only we could recover our evenings! Not so long ago Catholic and Christian families would read together in the evenings or gather round the piano and sing. Cathoic families such as the parents of St. Therese would read good literature, the lives of the saints and the catechism. The family of Blessed Solanus Casey did the same. It ain’t complicated and it’s an easy sell. Get the bad stuff out and get the good stuff in. Terrified of the “culture”? Keep it out of your home, period. Create your own culture in your own home. Half an hour of some good literature such as The Chronicles of Narnia, half an hour of some book length life of a saint, twenty minutes of catechism and off to bed you go. This is difficult?

    This requires a programmatic solution, a publisher, brochures and small group meetings? For this we need to persuade bishops and religious education directors? No! Parents are more than ready to do exactly this, if only someone will make the case for it.

  4. Instead of thinking about catechetical challenges in political or ideological terms, it might be better to consider the cultural side of things. Americans of all sorts like to outsource aspects of daily routines: oil changes, housekeeping, retail buying and delivery of goods, etc.. Instead of turning kids loose in parks, they sign them up for sports and invest in coaches, equipment, and travel schedules.

    True, there’s nothing “bad” about shopping on Amazon or having a mechanic do basic car maintenance or getting the kids to play soccer with a real coach. But Catholic parents have been outsourcing religious education to “professionals” for generations. That is an element Vatican II failed to reform, even if catechetical materials from the 70s onward have been much improved over pre-conciliar days.

    While Dr Bursa cites none of the numerous post-conciliar documents calling for adult formation and discipleship, he does diagnose the main problem: a lack of religious self-esteem in Catholic adults. This is why adult faith formation and giving parents encouragement and resources is vital. It has nothing to do with capitalism, socialism, or other economic/political ideologies. It has everything to do with recognizing baptism as a sacrament of vocation, and giving adults the tools to live it out.

    In the immigrant era of the US, culture in ethnic neighborhoods masked many problems. After Catholics moved to the suburbs and to new opportunities in the South and West, old reinforcements were lost. It’s time to follow the example of many parishes and attend to Church teaching to regain what is needed.

  5. Good suggestions in this article. But, no mention of the chief teacher of the diocese – the bishop. He is ultimately responsible for what is taught (or not taught) in the diocese. Also the parish priest. In my elementary school days in the 1950’s, we had good nuns teaching the faith, but also, the pastor came to each classroom once a month to teach religion. I don’t think there is a lot of that right now.
    As to one of the commenters saying that the “the catechetical materials from the 1970’s onward have been much improved over the pre-conciliar days” I will only say, What have been the results?

  6. Local “wealthy” parish having the veneer of orthodoxy had a confirmation class, my daughter included. 25-30 kids.

    The leader of confirmation classes that year was a truly orthodox deacon. He asked the students to self-identify as pro-life (stand together to one side) or pro-choice (stand together on the opposite side).

    My daughter and 1-2 other kids stood on the pro-life side.

    The other 90-95% walked over to the pro-choice side.

    That’s the size of things.

    Two stu

  7. “Actually, according to Ratzinger (and many others), things were already changing in the 1950s—the post-WWII fallout bumping right into Vatican II.”

    Assumes facts not in evidence. My understanding was that the Catholic Church was strong (If probably not as good as it ought to have been.) in the 1950s. I have personally observed that many good Catholic books were written during the period into the latter 1950s. One can’t find much from before the 1950s.

    The key turning point was the “election” of Giuseppe Roncalli as “pope” in 1958. The clue should have been the world’s love of him. He was denoted as “good.” And, of course, it was he who initiated the “council.”

    Vatican II was apostate, so there isn’t any surprise as to its consequences.

    • This article omits major portions of deeply Catholic methodology and training that shape the CGS program; I have to admit, of the more intricate influences of Dr. M. Montessori herself, I am not aware; however, hers was not the dominant formative influence in the details of the program, rather, Gianna Gobi and Sofia Cavaletti (an Italian Scripture Scholar) were the ones to take up her concrete approach to education generally, and tweak and develop the Catholic Faith Formation program they piloted over 20 years. So many of the criticisms here misrepresent the care given to sound doctrinal points and catechist formation, such that the catechist knows what Truth undergirds each component of the program and is adequately prepared, spiritually and intellectually, to guide and reveal essential elements of the Faith to the child during session. The anthropological concerns here regarding the nature of the human person, spirit, soul, knowledge, etc are also misstated. So many of Montessori’s insights into child development regard the psyche and human development – not specifically spiritual development, thought it is interrelated and should all be considered – such that at the YOUNGEST ages, the 3-6 year old – WONDER, a feeling of respect/independence, and observation/imitation speak to and motivate the young child, much more than the filing of facts and information – a stage that will come so soon at 6-9 and then further at 9-12 years of age. This then flows into the understanding of how the indwelling of the Spirit from Baptism and the natural impulse toward religiosity (which is indeed part of what our Creator has “written on our hearts”) may influence the joyful and sincere responses of the child at that young age (3-6) when presented with the essential components of the Faith. Many components of the Faith are indeed presented, including the Gestures of the Mass, the Infancy Narratives, Parables, Baptism, Pentecost, and Eucharist. These are not intuited by the child but directly taught and shown; the child is invited to listen and respond freely to what they hear. The unique individual expressions of the child in response are of course respected, but the child is not making anything up out of his or her own psyche. Catechists can gently “wonder with” the small child to point them toward greater understanding. It’s amazing what they can then perceive and receive.

      I can tell you that this program awakens a capacity for prayer, wonder, joy, reverence, and attentiveness to detail that is not possible in another setting. I can tell you that nowhere will you find the Mass, its actions, meaning, and articles, treated so reverently and sincerely by catechist and child alike, and I can tell you that calling each child by name at this young and uninhibited age, and inviting them to meet the Good Shepherd and see that the Sacraments are a source of grace and life for THEM with a real life-giving and accessible symbolic meaning (liturgical color and gesture, for example) is something unparalleled anywhere else in Catholic formation. To add that the whole body, soul and spirit are engaged in a session rather than just dialogue/the mind, is an additional layer of Catholicity and engagement that deepens Sacramental preparation.

      Are there areas that could be exploited/misrepresented by someone with poor formation or flawed influences? I suppose. But the way catechists are trained, the fidelity to the words of the Mass and Scripture is expected and elevated. It is good to be cautious and look for faulty influences. Unfortunately, this article never truly gave CGS a chance, and instead went cherry-picking for anything with a potentially negative association, even if that association does not have any place in the actual program.

      Those of us who have been through formation will acknowledge, and perhaps chuckle at the reference – that in almost all the presentations of the program, a direct or indirect aim is abbreviated “GPL” – “Greater Participation in the Liturgy.” Everything done in an Atrium is meant to flow from and back to the Eucharist. Can you get more authentically Catholic than that??

      I highly recommend anyone questioning or doubting to find a local trainer or catechist and visit an Atrium, ask questions, and find out what this program is all about. It is truly a richness that can spur incredible understanding of riches too often cast aside by other formation efforts.

      • Lauren – Thank you very much for your detailed and thoughtful response. Much to think about with the Lord’s help. God Bless!

      • I appreciate this stern defense of CGS. The problem with the 1P5 editorial is that is offers no alternative. The author doesn’t even say “CGS is bad, but ABC and XYZ are better; check out their sites here.” Gossip and detraction tear down other people, leave nothing but doubt and anger in their wake. Always be cautious of people who criticize, but give no alternative for improvement. Look for fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) in such commentaries and we won’t likely be misled.

  8. As an economic system, Distributism is a complete failure because there is still too much say/dictatorship by the government in who gets what property, etc. In essence, this deal with the devil (government) is kinda like the quip that “you can’t get a little bit pregnant.” Give the government the power to distribute property and you are on your way to full-blown Communism. As such, even with all of its warts, capitalism is still the best economic system overall as also recognized by the late great Pope St. John Paul II, and a prudent capitalism does indeed provide for some safety nets and limited regulations to provide for things that a pure capitalism does not provide.

    But for the love of God, never grant such property distribution rights to the government no matter how many safeguards you may think you can apply to prevent abuse that will surely follow as night follows day.

    With respect to taking a “distributist” approach to catechesis, this smacks of a kind of Protestantism that grew out of the claim that Church leadership had failed, and so the people themselves need to take over.

    Instead, a more active role in catechesis by parents is indeed a good thing provided they learn what the Church actually teaches, but the primary teaching office of the Church as constituted by Our Lord is the province of the Pope and his fellow Bishops (and by extension their Priests), so instead of virtually usurping their roles via a distributist approach, the laity should encourage, cajole, browbeat, and otherwise work toward getting their pastoral leaders to live up to their teaching obligations instead of basically giving up on them. To be clear, this does not mean letting the clergy get away with nonsense, and it does not mean that they are the only ones to be allowed to teach, but to fulfill God’s plan, they must be at the forefront of the teaching instead of having at best a secondary role. Pray for the clergy to live up to their teaching vocations, and also help them in other ways to do just that.

    • There is no “usurping” of roles here, especially when the essay is critical of a catechetical class (my term) that for decades has consisted mostly of lay people (often in a bureaucratic form that sometimes alienated or pushed away parents). Furthermore, “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues” (CCC, 2223). Yes, indeed, let’s have bishops and priests involved in catechesis as they are indeed teachers by baptism and ordination, but let’s also recognize that the laity, by virtue of their baptism, share in the offices of prophet, priest, and king (CCC, 1241, 1267-68, 1591, etc), and thus play a key role, again, in educating and teaching their children.

      • Agreed with Carl on this. Even in parish schools, the so-called catechetical class literally yearns for parent involvement. Various forms of whole-parish formation take it many steps further, as a parish near me (https://churchofsaintpaul.com/family-formation) has done. Vatican II inspired a reconnection with the parental responsibility in the domestic Church. It may be that parents often cling to the American value of outsourcing of their duties as catechists, coaches, teachers, mentors, and such, but for any parent that truly wants to embrace responsibility, the resources for it have never been better.

      • Hi, Carl:

        Question: Among laity and clergy, who has the primary role and authority to educate all in the Faith? Since the correct answer is obviously the clergy (Pope, Bishops, and their assistant Priests…), then the primary role of parents in the general education of their children is to make sure the children are aware of that fact that in terms of the Faith, all are obligated to submit to the Church, and that the parents have a Secondary role in faithfully communicating the truths of the Faith to their children since they can only properly teach what is set forth accurately by faithful clergy. Also, parents must never improperly challenge what the Church teaches, and they must not place themselves in a position so that their children wrongly believe that their parents have the final say in Church teaching, thereby usurping the divinely constituted role of the clergy in this regard.

        You write: “Yes, indeed, let’s have bishops and priests involved in catechesis as they are indeed teachers by baptism and ordination, but let’s also recognize that the laity, by virtue of their baptism, share in the offices of prophet, priest, and king (CCC, 1241, 1267-68, 1591, etc), and thus play a key role, again, in educating and teaching their children.”

        Your statement illustrates my concern about possible usurpation. Note how you only state “they are indeed teachers by baptism and ordination,” but the correct understanding is that they are the Primary teachers of the Faith; not just teachers like others may be. Add to this your statement about the laity sharing in the offices of prophet, priest, and king from the Catechism once again suggests an equivalence in the roles of the laity in teaching instead of the Secondary roles the laity properly possess, so they do not and can not share an equal role in such things.

        With respect to the laity playing a key role in the education of their children, that’s what I wrote as well, but, again, with the further understanding that this key role is a Secondary role to that of the clergy in terms of Church teaching.

        By the bye, Carl: Do you favor economic distributism or do you line up more on my side in this regard?

        God Bless

        • DV: Good points. I’ve defended the Magisterium and the proper authority of popes, bishops, priests for my entire 25 years as a Catholic. My emphasis here, not well expressed in previous response, was that parents play a key role in educating their children (“the primary and principal educators..”, GE 3), over against what I often see as a catechetical bureaucracy that too often doesn’t adhere to what the Magisterium actually says (and then there are folks such as Cardinal Marx, but that’s another story). My previous remarks sound dismissive; they should have been worded differently so as to not mislead. Essential here, as you note, are “faithful clergy”–and, really, hasn’t this been a serious problem for quite a while? Still, it’s beside the point, which is one we are in agreement upon: the Pope, bishops, and priests have a unique role as teachers of the Faith. Absolutely.

          That said, parents need to recognize that their rightful place, which is not to usurp proper and faithful authority, but to uphold it and to cooperate with it as educators of their children. I would only add that parents, in their education, are going to teach about many things that do not fall under “faith and morals”, but surely and absolutely must be in line with Church doctrine and dogma. Further, I think we would agree that all bishops (including popes) and priests have to answer to the one Teacher, Jesus Christ. And that, I suppose, is part of the crisis we face today: too many clergy spouting off in ways that are contrary to what the Church in fact teaches. In such cases, the laity have a right and responsibility to address said problems.

          I am not a distributist nor do I endorse it or reject it, per se. I am all for a free market, in line with John Paul II taught. Economics are not my strong suit or of particular interest to me (which I’m sure is a weakness on my part). I think that this essay may have been better served by appealing to subsidiarity, but I think the author makes a worthwhile case for discussion, even if the connection/parallel is imperfect.

          • DV and Carl:

            I appreciate the dialogue in which you’re engaged.

            I would simply add that the economic analogy should not be taken too far. Obviously, the article was not economic in nature, and I am no economist! In all honesty, I was simply reading about distributism one morning at the parish and realized that we truly were trying to “redistribute” formation so to speak. The parish had “owned” formation for so long. It was that all-too-common attitude and approach where parents drop off, outsource, and let the parish experts handle all of it.

            As we shifted our programming to more of a family-focused format, we invited parents into the catechetical sessions. We provided the teaching and then set the stage for parents and children to discuss, and for parents to do a bit of teaching themselves (and we always worked hard to set them up to be confident in this endeavor). So, concretely, it really was a bit of a redistribution, at least in terms of how programming had typically been run.

            This said, the subsidiarity point can and should be made. While its omission could be seen as a deficiency in the article, parents do have “primary responsibility” (CCC 2223) for the education of their children. The point about distributism and ownership, then, is quite striking, and pokes at the fact that parents have a real responsibility and need to take more “ownership” of it, so to speak. This, however, should never been seen as a “usurping” of the role of the bishop (who has primary responsibility for teaching the faith), priests (catechist of catechists), and those recognized by rightful authority to teach the faith. An attempt at usurpation was not the aim of the article. All must work in concert!

            My article was truly coming from a boots-on-the-ground perspective and dealing with the reality in front of us in parishes at this point in time. My hope is simply that it might spark some conversation about structural change and how the parish can help get parents more involved in the formation of their children.

          • We and the Church documents on catechesis can say whatever they want. The simple truth is that parents have the lion’s share of influence over the fruitfulness of the faith formation of their sons and daughters. An NCEA study shocked some of their membership around the turn of the century: teens were compared on one difference, whether or not they went to Catholic schools as children. For youth whose parents rarely or never took them to Mass, a Catholic school education, even nine years of it, made no discernible difference in their practice of the faith or their ability to articulate it compared to Catholic youth who attended secular schools and didn’t go to Mass.

            A fine pastor at my daughter’s grade school, at a back-to-school night reinforced the message one year. The priests, staff, teachers, and catechists had the best materials, high motivation, love of children, and faith in God. Just bring your kids to Sunday Mass with you, he urged. That’s the missing piece.

            It’s a 2 Cor 5:20 moment for parents. It’s not about distributism. Parents are ambassadors for Christ to their children. Many of my colleagues in catechetical ministry muse about blowing up child formation and focusing their energies on parents. In some places, it might not be worse.

  9. Dr. Bursma shared, “the gap between the life of a child at home and the life of a child at school was relatively minimal (in the 1950’s). The general ethos was the same.” I find that the evidence points to parents not being more catechized in the 1950’s but the culture supported an environment of faith. Many parents were no better than today explaining aspects of faith to their children but they had the blessing of a society that supported their values more fully. Also, in many places Catholics were their own subculture, more or less and that allowed for a type of “Catholic Bubble” that families lived in.

    Dr. Burgma, you have written a good article. I do not know how large your parish is, however the challenge of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is that you have to keep the #’s fairly small for it to be impactful and at larger parishes it’s more of a challenge to have everyone go through CGS.

    Also, I think we generalize too much by alluding to the reality that we need to completely get rid of any format that has parents dropping their childen off to formation. I have been in parish ministry for over 20 years and I do see value in weekly programs. We offer a mix and various options but we are always seeking to equip arents to make faith normative in their homes.

    • Hi Dr. O’Leary,

      It’s great to hear from you. I appreciate these thoughts.

      I believe you are reiterating the point about the 1950s that I made in the article. Thank you for further clarifying it.

      Regarding CGS…that is a challenge and one we were constantly working through in various ways. Our parish is on the larger side, relatively speaking.

      Finally, I am not arguing that we need to completely get rid of programming directed only to youth. In fact, we have maintained this at our parish. Instead, I am arguing for a realistic and concerted effort at bringing parents into the faith formation process while equipping them to take ownership of their primary responsibility (which also doesn’t mean they have to be the only ones who form their children).

  10. Maybe we need our Catholic schools and Ccd programs to be more Catholic 😀 There shouldn’t be degrees of Catholicism – Right? Catholic teaching is what it us. It really isnot confusing.
    Treasure the doctrines of Christ. Remember Him.
    Follow Him don’t try yo change Him..
    How Catholic is your Catholic school? Fo they promote Harry Potter at their fundraiser book fsir? Trying to fit in surrounding culture?
    Mixed messages make us weak

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