Part I: Understanding the Christian Journey
The following three tables show us the different stages of becoming fully Christian until a “holy death” is achieved. The first table shows us what primarily falls under the responsibility, the grace and the means of the Parish, namely, the Priestly Function of the Church. The following two tables reveal what usually primarily falls under the expertise, spirit and service of the Prophetic side of the Church, that is, the Desert (see St Antony the Great’s call to follow Jesus and search for God in the solitude of the Desert). In these tables, then, we have a full description of the journey of growth of the individual, as he receives the entire gift that Jesus came to give him.
Furthermore, in this journey two important turning points can be identified:
1- The First Conversion. After a journey of preparation that can sometimes last either many years or just a few months, this is characterised by four steps leading up to becoming a Christian (see Sherry Weddell, “Intentional Discipleship”) or to renewing faith (with an Alpha Course for instance),
2- The Second Conversion.This involves a more direct and personal intervention of the Holy Spirit, that generates a personal relationship with Christ characterised by a long journey wherein abundant graces are offered. It is called the “second conversion” to distinguish it from the first.
The journey between the two conversions is of the utmost importance because it lays the foundations of a Christian Life. It is generally called “Catechesis” and is characterised by the traditional preparation for Baptism and the period that follows it. The actual Catechism of theCatholic Churchis the main tool for this formation. Normally the person who is well formed, who has received adult catechesis, understands the true meaning of his life – a Christian life – and becomes a committed person in the Parish, serving, helping others or even offering catechesis for the young members of the Parish.
In turn the quality of the Catechesis given and the way it is received, together with the quality of the commitment that results from them, determines the growth of the person and instinctively and in most cases gets the person closer and closer to the “Second Conversion”. If St Teresa of Avila’s second conversion is closely examined we will see the different elements that contribute to the approach of this second momentous event and how, indeed, they facilitate it. It is vital that we examine this process in the Saint.
Once the person has undergone the Second Conversion, then, a powerful spiritual life starts and grows unceasingly. Of course, here too the individual has to learn many new things and the most important of these being to learn how to ensure a steady growth. The result, significantly, is that this person will start to search for experts in this field in order to draw formation and guidance (the Prophetic side of the Church).
Those individuals who undergo the second conversion are often fewer in number. Their experience of Jesus, of His Love, however, comes like a new “torment”. How come? Because once one discovers by experience something really amazing, namely, the Love of Jesus, he or she feels the urge to proclaim this amazing experience out loud to the entire world. The more the person grows, follows all the stages described in the two above-mentioned tables, the more the Fire of the Love of God grows stronger as does also the urge to tell others, which now becomes like a mysterious pain.
These people who are now in the Prophetic area of growth in the Church, often try to invite the normal parishioner into this spiritually rewarding new world they are discovering. However, too often they meet up with those who are incapable of understanding their words or even of understanding their basic ideas. This, in turn, results in their inability to take in the reason for such incomprehension, and more so to understand why they are being met by an impermeable blank wall. In fact, their main concern now becomes: how to trigger the Second Conversion amongst Parishioners.
Two issues are now at stake here: 1- a long-term preparation under definite conditions and 2- short term ones.
1- Adult Catechesis
What people often underestimate today is the importance of a solid and complete Adult Catechesis given to all parishioners. They are not aware that if this stage is not fulfilled, the individual will not possess all the tools needed in order to grow in the Christian faith and life, to be prepared for it and finally to get close to the momentous event in their life awaiting them: the second conversion.
2- Short-Term Elements
There are, nevertheless, short-term elements that help “trigger” the Grace of the Second Conversion, and a careful study of the Conversion of St Teresa of Avila sheds an amazing light on these. This study, by significant contrast, reveals how her heart and emotions were not given to Jesus.
Part II: Adult Catechesis
From Random Parish Activities to Systematic Adult Catechesis
I do not know if you have heard of the initiative of Rosary Coast to Coast, or Rosary on the Coast, organized to pray for important causes in the Church and in society. Fantastic. True. But this initiative gives me an even greater hunger: can’t we have the Rosary in the Parishes, not only on the coasts? And also: can’t we have some greater: Adult Catechesisin the Parishes – and not just the random Bible Study Groups?
Adult Catechesisis the job of Parish Priests, no?The Curé of Ars actually offered it every day at 11am, for an hour.
Consequences of the Absence of Adult Catechesis?
In my humble view, not imparting AC is the big missing link that massively weakens the Church everywhere. It could be fatal for the future of the Church in many regions. Local churches do not hold the key to eternity as some might think! Just cast your minds back to the many areas of today’s Turkey that were evangelised by St. Paul himself and which flourished for centuries. Today they are just in ruins! No Christianity at all. The same applies to many other regions! I am thinking of the shrinking Catholicism in the Western world, and I also have in mind my own country, France, where occasional attendance at Mass went from 10% of the Catholic population in the 1960s, to 3% in the early 1990s, to 1.75% now, at best.
The rare more spiritual Catholic parishioners today expect and hope other parishioners to be or to become “spiritual” and have a deeper experience of God. But “being spiritual” comes after (and because) of a long journey of formation, i.e. Adult Catechesis in the Parishes. To short cut this stage is a very dangerous decision. This is especially evident when one considers that Catechesis connects Adults to God in four essential and different ways: how to think, how to receive Life, how to act, how to elevate the mind and the heart and pray. If this initial connection is not established a vital step is being overlooked, and people will not continue for long to come to church for Mass on Sunday. If the branches are not connected to the vine, they stop receiving Divine Life, Christ’s Life, and eventually they die and are taken off. (see John 15)
Who Imparts Adult Catechesis?
The 1992 Catechism, which is intended for Adults and not for Children, is the chief tool in catechesis. The Cure of Ars is a prime example of the efficacious use of the catechism for adult formation (he used the Catechism of Trent which is quite similar to the 1992 one).
The popular belief that the Curé of Ars was rather “ignorant” or limited intellectually is not supported by the facts dealing with the practical reality of his efforts and beliefs. The fact that he had over 400 books in his personal room contradicts this accusation. He took great care to prepare his teaching. Thus it should come as no surprise that he decided to comment on the Catechism for adults on daily basis at 11 o’clock in the morning. The children, of course, also had theirs given by members of the parish.
The Church invited Parish Priests to make use of the Catechism of Trent, and comment on it throughout the year. The suggestion was that this should take place on Sundays and the entire topics were distributed for Sundays. The said Cure of Ars, who allegedly was limited intellectually, undertook his task on a daily basis!
Today adults are left without solid food. If we look at the four main divisions of the 1992 Catechism we note that today adults: do not know what to think of Faith and life and how to think (1. the Creed); they do not know the richness of the Gift of God and how to receive God’s graces (2. the Sacraments); they do not have a clear idea of how to act in daily life (3. The Commandments), and surprisingly their prayer – if it is still there – is often reduced to the bare minimum (4. Prayer and the Our Father). Solid, profound, insightful and practical Adult Catechesis provides the four above-mentioned vital needs.
Who is supposed to teach them? The Curé of Ars gives us a clear answer, teaching by example. He taught relentlessly on a daily basis, at 11 am, for an hour; to adults! We can conclude then that his answer is: it is up to the Parish Priest – who is trained for this – to do it.
It constitutes the “job description” of a Priest. Actually, when you look at the Documents of the Church it can be quickly deduced that this is the priest’s primary job, before even providing the Sacraments!
Why do Priests still Hesitate?
There are many reasons as to why a priest feels he cannot do this:
1- Adults will not come, they are busy
2- Adults are not interested in this
3- Catechism is already being taught (at a younger age, so: they know)
4- I wouldn’t know where to start
5- I am not sure I am capable of doing this, which harks back to the lack of training adapted to catechesis in Theology-Pastoral Theology)
6- I think adults know more about life than we do (intellectually and life experience wise)
7- I don’t see the point of offering Catechesis for adults
8- Adults don’t like to be told what to think and what to do…
I think it would be wise, here, to consider the advisability of running a normal Christian life in our Parishes based on the catechesis adult parishioners received when they were young. To do so is to consider that catechesis for the young is similar to catechesis for the adult, and also that the 1992 Catechism is for young people. In the final analysis it is to consider that it has no relevance for an adult today.
Adults, who have great responsibilities, are thirsty for solid food, clear concrete guidance, as adults. The “Priest is the source of this knowledge” (see Malachi 2:7), this practical knowledge! Otherwise, what is the use of Theology and Theological studies? If Theology is no longer a source of spiritual sustenance, then the problem has to be faced at a higher level: reforming Theology itself, by making it more “Integral”, so that it becomes spiritual food for the individual, and not some nice abstract historical notion with little relevance and implication for people who live in the “real world” of today.