Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bishop Finn - Make Adult Faith Formation a Priority

In his column for the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key, Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn introduces a new initiative by the diocese to assist parishes in making adult faith formation a priority:

Adult Faith Formation and the Love That Transforms Us

By Bishop Robert W. Finn

One of the primary reasons for calling the Second Vatican Council was in the words of Pope John XXIII “to renew [the Church’s] faith, to reflect on her unity, to promote the sanctification of her members, the diffusion of divine truth and the consolidation of her structures.” He said, “the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is . . . that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.” In the wake of the Council much has been done to implement its concerns but much remains to be done.

Since the Second Vatican Council the Church has been calling for the laity to evangelize and transform society. Pope John Paul II in his 1998 apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici, envisioned a laity who are living witnesses to Christ, that is, well-formed in faith, enthusiastic, capable of leadership in the Church and in society. The USCCB asked for a new focus upon adult faith formation with the publication of Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States (OHWB) in 1999. They spoke of John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization and a new apologetics, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is apologetics, properly understood, as the practice of elucidating the articles of faith and explaining their authentic history, loving design and profound meaning. Pope Benedict XVI recently urged Christians to be able to give reasons for their faith in Christ after the example of Clement of Alexandria, an Early Church Father. For Clement, “the knowledge of Christ is not just a thought, but a love that opens the eyes, transforms the person and creates communion with the ‘Logos,’ the divine Word that is truth and life.”

Thus, for over a generation it has been recognized in the Church that adult faith formation must be a priority going forward if we are to evangelize the culture and promote truly Christian values from the protection of life to social justice across the spectrum. The problem of poorly catechized Catholics has been a concern to the bishops of the United States as well. In their publication OHWB they freely acknowledge, “some of our catechetical efforts have fallen short. It is time to build on our strengths so as to forge a more balanced and mature catechetical ministry.” They insist, quite logically, that “every Church ministry will be energized through a dynamic ministry of adult catechesis.”

In May 2007 I formed a diocesan Faith Formation Commission to address the area of spiritual formation of adults and to meet the challenges set forth in OHWB. This Commission produced a pastoral plan for implementing the vision and this has recently been sent out to all our parishes and missions. These call for parishes that have not already done so, to appoint a Faith Formation Leader and Team to facilitate this formation and to prepare a parish pastoral plan. The goal is to encourage parishes to put adult catechesis at the center of the parish’s stated mission and goals and to promote adult faith formation at every occasion. This is a broad brush which includes six dimensions, namely, knowledge of the faith, liturgical life, moral formation, prayer, communal life and missionary spirit. OHWB listed three major goals of this effort:

(1) Invite and enable ongoing conversion to Jesus and holiness of life.

(2) Promote and support active membership in the Christian community. This will allow adults to be more active in the parish and better stewards of their time, talent and treasure.

(3) Call and prepare adults to act as disciples in mission to the world. They note, “Their dual calling to evangelization and justice is integral to the identity of the lay faithful . . .”

Some might be concerned that this places another burden on an already full plate of pastors, but if designed properly it should have the opposite effect. The Commission surveyed our parishes and found that eighteen listed the pastor as the adult faith formation leader and twelve said there was none. By appointing a Faith Formation team consisting of between three and ten members, depending upon the size of the parish, the pastor will be aided in moving the parish in the direction of lifelong living of our faith in closer communion with Christ. This will allow more parishioners to become involved in a vibrant parish life and make them better stewards of their gifts, lights of Christ in the darkness of our culture and ultimately make the pastor’s role more fruitful in Christ’s service.

Pope Paul VI wrote that “the Church exists to evangelize.” This evangelization can only begin with adult faith formation that produces conversions of hearts. I invite all to join me in this worthy task. Together we can form adults who respond to their Baptismal call and utilize to the fullest extent their Baptismal graces and Eucharistic communion to become apostles, sent by Christ into the world. Nourished by the Word, the sacraments and communal life, they will be ready to share the Gospel in their homes, neighborhoods, places of work and centers of culture.