Religious education is broken. It's time to fix our Sunday school culture.

Erika Gallegos, 9, is confirmed by Father Christopher Nowak during a Mass at St. John of God Church in Central Islip, N.Y., April 11. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A public school with a dropout rate of 50 percent and two-thirds of area parents opting out of it would be considered failing. If the school were unable to turn those numbers around in a few years, it would likely be shut down. And yet for decades, Catholic parishes in the United States have invested in religious education programs that have proven no more effective. Today, more than half of Catholic millennials report going to Mass a few times a year or less, and, according to a 2014 poll, 68 percent of Catholic parents decide not to enroll their child in any formal Catholic religious education.

To say that there is a crisis in religious education in this country is not to discount the profound generosity of many volunteers and teachers who sustain parish programs around the country. If their dedication were the only factor determining success, there would be no problem. Yet in many if not most settings, religious education is not accomplishing its purpose: to hand on the faith from generation to generation. Both surveys and our experience tell us the U.S. church is reaching a possible breaking point in that chain. Ineffective catechesis—whether in the parish setting or in Catholic schools—is not the sole cause of the rise of the so-called nones; but for the most part, religious education as presently conducted does not give these young people a compelling reason to believe.


The first step is admitting there is a problem—and any parent who has dragged a squirming fifth grader to an hour of Sunday school can say what it is: Most 10-year-olds do not want to spend their weekend in a classroom. More fundamentally, the assumptions built into the current system of religious education, developed at a different time and in a different cultural context, no longer hold. There was a time when religious belief and self-identification were default positions, supported by social norms. But today, when young people are surrounded by a culture in which choosing to believe is more and more a revolutionary act, religious education must do much more than hand on the basic tenets of the faith. Unless the option of belief is made real by family and community relationships that offer examples of true Christian discipleship, creedal affirmations are taking root in rocky soil.

The good news is that innovative models of catechesis that look beyond the classroom, like family-based religious education, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and programs that center on small group discussion and service, have shown great potential. What seems to be the key is that these models are not just about education but formation. They work to make discipleship tangible and imaginable first, rather than focusing on transmitting the content of the faith. Not coincidentally, they can also be resource-intensive, requiring greater involvement and investment on the part of families, parish staff and clergy. No program, however, can ever replace the central role of parents as “the principal and first educators of their children” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1653). We must also discern how to form parents for this mission.

Changing “Sunday school” culture and Catholic schools’ religion classes into a relational process of faith formation is no simple task. It will require church leaders to admit that the path we have been on for decades is not sufficient to respond to today’s needs and cannot be fixed merely with different books, better curricula or more training. And it will require parents to demand and to help build parish communities that not only teach the faith but live it out joyfully. “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them.” Now is the time for the church to reflect on these words and move urgently to develop religious formation programs that introduce children to the person at the heart of our faith, who desires not only well-informed students but lifelong disciples.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tom Poelker
9 months 1 week ago
The basic problem is in two parts; one of which you have identified -- the assumptions about default positions. The other is that handing on Christianity is about education at all. This is another place where the institutional concept of church is in conflict with the idea of following the teachings of Jesus. Theology gets in the way of belief and practice. So long as youth beyond the age of just learning the rituals can see that nothing important is discussed in church, that there is attendance but no community of belief and action, that the adults compartmentalize their faith away from their consumerism, capitalism, received prejudices, triumphalism, and exceptionalism, that long will the perceptive children continue to do only what they are compelled and wander away toward things that engage them with others in a belief system outside of formal Christianity. We need Sunday Liturgies of the Word which involve people in discussions of civil, social, economic, political issues in terms of what the teachings of Jesus can say about them. We need less preaching of doctrines and mysteries and maintenance and more questioning of whether the patterns of our behavior are based on what Jesus taught of our job to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth instead of just surviving the culture we are born into. Passing on faith is not an education issue. It is closer to a life-style issue. Do we have any pastors who are willing to risk losing attendance by promoting active involvement in small faith communities of all adults and adolescents in studying and practicing the counter-cultural nature of Christianity with conviction and confidence in the support of each other? The entire diocesan, parochial, professional clergy system is against this, yet it is closer to the original pattern of agape meals and Eucharists and sharing the ideas of Jesus we find in Paul and Acts.
Richard Booth
9 months 1 week ago
When we were young, many went to Mass and attended religion classes because we were told we were obliged to do so. We feared the anger and condemnation of nuns and priests who, outside of Mass and school, seemed to have nothing to do with parish members. Sermons often thundered "mortal sin" and threats of hell, as did the nuns who taught us. In short, many complied because they were frightened - sometimes severely so. And, some I know today in my generation still carry that fear. Others have tried to separate themselves from the past by leaving the Church and its clerical class in the distance. I do not claim to know all the reasons today's Catholics are avoiding the sacraments in great numbers, but I do see much more flexibility in self-definition and identity construction in people today. People today are making decisions most of us would have been too frightened to make, given the overall punitive nature of the Church which, of course, goes back to the early centuries A.D. Even though the early church was not agreed about many theological issues, the Orthodox thought it had the only truth. The Orthodox Church was, I believe, going through an identity crisis and, in that vein, all who disagreed were heretics. All one has to do is to look at Irenaeus's writings to witness his harsh condemnation of the Gnostic Christians (some of whose sentiments one can sense creeping into orthodoxy in some places today). My central point here is that the Orthodox Church wanted a power structure to run the Church, so it created and defended designations of priest, bishop, and deacon strenuously, with threats of dire consequences for dissenters. The laity was set to the side. Today, many of the laity no longer fear priests, bishops, and deacons and, indeed, listen to them indifferently. Which is better - to have a laity so frightened that they obey only out of fear or a laity that does not elevate the hierarchy and has no fear of it? The former may put more people in pews, but the latter says we are attempting to think for ourselves.
Mike Evans
9 months 1 week ago
My pastor is a good priest and a good man. But he is only one priest/pastor managing a parish of over 750 families. On weekends he celebrates 3 masses in English and one mass in Spanish. Since we are also an aging community, he spends countless hours with sick calls and hospital anointings as well as the inevitable funerals. He is 65 years old and in declining health and will retire in a few months. Who will we replace him with? The parish school has closed, faith formation classes are nearly empty, the youth group is small and shrinking. And with the shortage of priests, we are likely to receive a recently arrived Filipino as his replacement who comes from a completely different cultural and formation background. It is not likely our parish will experience a renewed energy or appeal to the young and their parents. We are simply dying out.
Leonard Villa
9 months 1 week ago
Your first assumption that children are receiving the "basic tenets of the Faith" in religious ed is questionable in that illiteracy regarding the faith is rampant despite years of Catholic schools and religious ed, illiteracy about the basics! It's not just an issue of the "when" of the program which can be a problem for a child/parent but whole generations of religious illiteracy with in many cases a veritable practical atheism. How many of these generations got "deformed" because of dissent against Church teachings or presenting the teachings without conviction by those charged with passing it on. The Faith became social action, being nice, buonismo/buenismo! For many parents the sports program is more important than any religious program at the parish! The Church has been in crisis for over half a century and this has affected every aspect of the Church's life not just religious ed. The crisis touches on the basics: the Mass, the priesthood, marriage, morality and so forth. Many of the Church' own institutions have worked against the Church's mission doctrinally and morally because they have surrendered to the world and its culture, dare I say political correctness? Until that is really addressed this crisis will continue. Would that folks were receiving basic Catholic doctrine and this doctrine was being lived!
John McGlynn
9 months 1 week ago
Thank you, editors of America magazine, for give voice to this all to prevalent problem. Having been involved in catechesis for more than 30 years, I've seen a dramatic change in the level of engagement on the part of parents. At the same time, I can't put all the blame for this on parents themselves. They have a difficult job, and while the CCC rightly considers parents to be "the principal and first educators," the fact remains that it takes a community to raise a child, and very often, it was that community that assisted with catechesis. Prior to World War II, communities were much more close-knit. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors all banding together to make sure kids went to Mass and learned the faith while parents spent time working and maintaining the household. Further, the economic model for Catholic schools was such that it was not nearly the burden for parents that it is today. After World War II, however, many of these close-knit communities fell apart and the "nuclear family" moved to the suburbs. Grandparents and extended family were left behind and more likely than not the new neighbors were not Catholic. The social catechetical safety-net broke down, and parents themselves, who became even more busy over time with maintaining the household had no backup. With far fewer resources for effective home catechesis, catechesis itself was effectively outsourced to parish CCD programs. This, combined with reduced financial access to Catholic education has contributed to successive generations of poorly catechized families and accelerating the diminishment of an effective Catholic home life. If we are going to change this paradigm, we must find ways to rebuild the catechetical social safety-net and engage parents with their children in their journey of faith. We must re-build community and engage everyone in the process, and engage them at a level where they can be spiritually and intellectually challenged. Religious Education has been a baby-sitting service for far too long.
Nancy Walton-House
9 months 1 week ago
I am glad to see this article. I agree with the need for a “relational process of faith formation” for children, teens and adults at all lifestages. I hear and greatly benefit from homilies at Seattle University, a 125 year old Jesuit university, and St. Joseph Catholic Church, Seattle’s only Jesuit parish. I hear that some diocesan priests give homilies that focus on Jesus, fully human and fully divine, and the issues and challenges we face as 21stc Catholics. Unfortunately at my parish, we rarely hear homilies that are compelling and directly related to our lived experience. I am very disappointed and frustrated by that. Many of our parish adults are involved in charitable works but we rarely discuss the impact of that service on our faith lives. I lead an Ignatian Spirituality small faith-sharing community for adults that reads books and discusses how the principles and practices affect our lived experience each month. We need more small faith-sharing communities in the parish to encourage people to continue practicing their faith. Too many are leaving the Church because their needs are not met or because of unresolved scandals and ineffective leadership. Children, of course, will learn from their parents’ example of staying or leaving the Church. We create our own future.
Paul Canavese
9 months 1 week ago
The Catholic faith will not be passed down to future generations unless parents are placed in the center of the faith formation process, and we need our catechetical resources and approaches to support that. We need to *coach* parents to pass on their faith to their children. This is exactly what we are focusing on at the online Pastoral Center with our Growing Up Catholic ministry ( One of the approaches we have seen work the best is to have parents attend with their children, give them a resource that empowers them to teach their own children right there, and support them in a community environment. Another is to help parents gather in community and talk about practical parenting issues (such as the ones that Pope Francis raises in The Joy of Love). There is so much opportunity to do more, but we as leaders have to be willing to be creative and change.
Dan Mulhall
9 months 1 week ago
Religious educators have an important role in the Church but that role is limited. To lay the blame on RE (or Catechesis, if you prefer) for the drop in participants is simply wrong and a dangerous notion. I don't disagree that how Catechesis is done should change. I've argued that same point for many years. The General Directory for Catechesis presents a way for doing that effectively. But the vision of the GDC is more expansive than what takes place for one hour of the week in a classroom designed for instruction. Faith must be formed in the home and in the parish community before instruction can work. So, definitely, let us change our understanding of how we create faith communities and quit blaming the hundreds of thousands of dedicated men and women who give countless hours in preparation and dedicated effort for the failure of the entire church community.
Leisa Anslinger
9 months ago

My thoughts echo yours, Dan. I, too, believe that parish leaders have much to consider in the way catechesis is shaped, especially in the ways we do, or more often, do not, offer significant processes for adult evangelization and faith formation. Catechesis is only one aspect of the life of the parish, however, and focusing on it to the exclusion of all other elements fails to serve Christ and the Church. As I talk with diocesan and parish leaders throughout the United States and Canada about this, I sense a new energy and desire to truly evangelize -- to lead people to an encounter with Christ and to live as disciples in the world. Our people are seeking such engaging parish life. It is up to us to continue to ask hard questions of ourselves and to risk new approaches in order to live as people of faith in this new and demanding time.

Rhett Segall
9 months 1 week ago
Speaking as a retired high school teacher of theology in a Catholic School, I think it is critical to keep in mind the following points regarding passing on The Faith. First, the theology classroom is part of one institution, the Catholic High School, which has a modest but important contribution to the overall apostolic mission of the Church. This contribution is itself a modest one: helping the teen to understand and articulate why other dimensions of the Catholic Church function as they do. To that end the School, and the theology classroom as part of the school, must maintain its pedagogical mode of action. The pedagogical mode is to be distinguished from the pastoral mode, as is the proper function of the parish and the Diocese, and the therapeutic mode which is the proper mode for Catholic hospitals and counseling centers.. Each of these institutions in turn will be vitally dependent on the Christian atmosphere and example that hopefully will be found within the Catholic family. In this context it is important to remember that by and large the teen does not choose to go to a Catholic high school and all the more so to the religion class within the school. He or she certainly may affirm the choice of their parents, but not necessarily so. It is of the utmost importance then that within the high school theology class the emerging adult feels free to ascent or dissent from Church doctrine or to hold them in scrutiny. He or she can, indeed must, be held accountable for understanding what the Church teaches regarding Christ, but must not be put into situations where they are made to publicly confess a faith that they may be grappling with. In this regard it is the responsibility of the Diocese and the school principal to make sure that the teachers of religion are themselves people of faith and professionally trained as teachers. Again, the classroom is a pedagogical dimension of the overall pastoral work of the Church.
Sandi Sinor
9 months 1 week ago
Did the survey go beyond discovering that the majority of self-identified Catholic parents don't enroll their kids in religious education? Did they ask why not? Are there reasons beyond the traditional challenges of getting squirming kids to go to an extra class once/week? Did anyone ask why so many self-identified Catholic parents are not regulars at mass? There is more going on it would seem than simply finding another new RE program. Kids have not changed that much, but, as noted, parents have. Far more parents self-identify as Catholic than participate actively in their parish. Few professional church people want to look at the hard reality. Most self-identified Catholics (especially the once/month or less at mass group) disagree with some church teachings, especially the news-making hot-button issues. They may be able to form and follow their own consciences but resist indoctrination from the pulpit at mass (which may make them less likely to go) and it's possible they don't want their kids to be taught things that the parents do not agree with - such as that modern birth control is evil, that women are not equal to men and may not be ordained, that gays may not marry, or an understanding of "complementarity" of the sexes that essentially relegates women to passive roles in the church and in marriage. In most families, it is the mother who sets the pace as far as church-going is concerned, for getting kids to religious education, etc,Young adult women are leaving the Catholic church in droves, not returning to marry or baptize their kids. Those who still self-identify may be doing so with reservations, and may see religious education as going beyond essential christian doctrine and inlcuding an unwelcome indoctrination in these "hot-button" issues. My parish now gives young teens kids a version of "theology of the body" and many parents would not want their children in such a class. For those kids who are in religious ed, or Catholic schools, it is worth nothing what Mr. Segall wrote: It is of the utmost importance then that within the high school theology class the emerging adult feels free to ascent or dissent from Church doctrine or to hold them in scrutiny. He or she can, indeed must, be held accountable for understanding what the Church teaches regarding Christ, but must not be put into situations where they are made to publicly confess a faith that they may be grappling with.
Lynne Gonzales
9 months 1 week ago
While catechesis is goody, growth in spiritual life is much more necessary...information and book learning does not necessarily (if ever) lead to a deeply spiritual relationship with God .. only experience in living as Jesus taught, including much prayer (not rote, but heartfelt and a real conversation with God) will lead to a good and growing and effective spiritual life. One can memorize the catechism and canon law and have zero spiritual life. We need to integrate ways of living spiritually (children AND adults) or all the catechesis is for naught.
Adrienne Keller
9 months 1 week ago
The headline says "fix"; the article implies "discard." I teach a well-attended third grade Sunday School class, but I largely ignore the provided curriculum, which is simplistic, trivial and beneath the intelligence, education and curiosity level of my very average third graders. The suggested activities might be appropriate for kindergarten students. We talk a lot in my class, play word games, think about vignettes that pose relational and moral challenges - and I tell a lot of stories about my own Catholic childhood. (My students always clamor for more). It is easy to be creative, enthusiastic and honest for one hour a week. It is not enough, but it can be an important, if small, part of helping children form a personal faith. However, we badly need modern innovative curricula and better training and support for teachers. We don't needed more recognition for our work - teaching is an active and special blessing.
Jay Cuasay
9 months 1 week ago
The article does not focus on or mention sacramental preparation, which is perhaps the one main draw for RE in the first place. I agree that building relationships and drawing young believers into that dynamic,particularly by having family and parish model those nuturing relationships is the way to go. In general, that is the model of faith formation proposed by the RCIA. But a) how many parishes, individuals, families see themselves as the catechizing example of these people who want to become Catholic b) how much do members of the parish continue to foster faith formation in the period of "mystagogy" that we all share? To the extent that we do not, chances are the Religious Education and faith formation of that parish would have similar assumptions and outcomes.
Helga Peterson
9 months 1 week ago
I am the mother of a kindergartener and a three-year-old. My kindergartener leaves the house at 6:30 a.m. to catch the bus to her all-day kindergarten. After school she is in daycare until I can pick her up after work, which is around 6:00 p.m. The parishes in my area all have religious ed. on Wednesday evenings. There is no way I can enroll her in a class that meets for another hour on top of her already very long day. I barely have time to feed her, bathe her, and get her to bed. Our schedule is typical for working families in our urban neighborhood. The one Sunday class I found, a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd class, just abruptly ended. Apparently this parish has decided to only have religious ed. from September until Christmas, which seems very inadequate. There were a lot of kids in the class. I guess we are going to call it quits for religious ed. this year. I wish parishes would try to meet parents half way with Sunday School.
Ernie Sherretta
9 months 1 week ago
Having served the Church as a Director of Religious Education for 40 + years in four parishes, I have concluded that the catechetical/"faith" problem facing the Church is not curriculum, teaching skills, activities, service opportunities, family life, etc. but relevance. I worked with and trained hundreds of exemplary catechists and served as a book consultant for Silver Burdett Ginn now RCL, gave workshops and much more. We utilized the latest technology. The decline started in the 90's when the abuse scandals were exposed at a time when college students and young adults were abandoning many of society's norms and traditions as the internet and media exposed them to an independence in job opportunities and lifestyles. Religion was one of the victims of this independence, as loyalty to tradition was no longer important especially if it was authoritarian and patriarchal. My own adult children were raised in an "traditional Catholic" household, if I may say so, and yet they abandoned the Church, each marrying in another denomination and each holding the values/virtues they were taught. They married faith filled spouses and now worship and serve in ministries of their new denominations. As adults, I respect their choices but asked why, having a suspicion as to the answer. My suspicions were confirmed when they stated that the Catholic Church is behind the times- not so much due to doctrine- which never was a problem due to its irrelevance to their lives but due to a structure that is patriarchal, authoritarian, and not very inclusive. Having participated in their weddings, one at a Presbyterian and the other at a Methodist church, I do understand their preference for another Church community. Another insight that comes from my own 68 years of being a Catholic, is the Church's refusal to incorporate Vatican II, incorporate all the baptized in leadership roles, not just as liturgical ministers or council/staff members but as pastors, bishops etc.and rid itself of a clerical mindset still attached to the garb and nomenclature of the middle ages. Today's adults are no longer the "pay, pray and obey" people our parents and grandparents were and refuse to acquiesce to titles and procedures no longer relevant to the modern world. Catechesis, no matter how new, no matter what venue will not compensate for example, and the experience of inclusion which Jesus exemplified and which affirms their baptismal anointing of priest, prophet and king. In other denominations, they see lay leaders, modern worship, and members living in the real world not in convents, monasteries,rectories, or the Vatican. Sorry, but Roman Catholicism is on the path to extinction while the followers of Jesus continue to light the way through personal witness and ministry. Pope Francis is trying to update the Church as John xxiii tried, aggiornamento, - update, yet he encounters much resistance from clergy and conservative members of his Church. It's time for new wineskins as Jesus instructed.
9 months 1 week ago
We can hand on to the next generation what we experience,as meaningful, centering, motivating and the core of our identity. Our faith rests on, is rooted in and grows out of our heartfelt knowing of Jesus Christ, God become human for us. We are first baptized into his life, death and resurrection and then called to a heartfelt knowing, loving and serving of Jesus and to living Jesus, following him on the way, in the course of our lives. The only way we can pass this on is by placing learning to pray at the center of all catechesis at all levels and from the very beginning. We need to teach children, adolescents, young adults, adult RCIA candidates how to pray, i.e., what it means and how to go about having a personal relationship with God. We need to teach them not how to say prayers but how to be in prayer. The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius can be adapted for any age level and by giving the Exercises we are helping to dispose those we teach to becoming aware, understanding and responding to the the movements of the God's grace and to seeing and finding God present in their daily lives. Teaching the Examen and prayer with scripture need to be a part of every catechetical session. Our teachers and homlists need to become deeply formed in prayer and then teach out of their heartfelt knowing of and relationship with God, Father, Son and Spirit. Formed in this way the Eucharistic celebration becomes a real remembering, reliving and reenacting of Jesus life, death and resurrection. Sacrament and ritual come alive! I believe this may be what Rahner meant when he wrote “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”
Mike Evans
9 months 1 week ago
If adult faith is not strong and meaningful it is hardly likely that their children are going to care much either. Instead kids form community today with soccer leagues, athletic teams, and just hanging out with other kids. Your teenager gets his/her morality from the group of teens around them. And it is not strongly church-going, either in the kids' peer group or in the parents' either. Church going has become completely optional and then only for some major celebration. With one priest in parishes with up to 2,000 families, there is little that can be done.
9 months ago
I fully concur our Religious Education program is broken. We have generations who have accepted Confirmation as the end of the education required to live their life as a Catholic. A great place to start a reexamination of our current Religious Education program is the November 1972 USCCB Pastoral Message on Catholic Education: “To Teach as Jesus Did.” In this message, they identify three essential elements Jesus used: Message (15-20), Community (21-26), and Service (27-30). One hour on Sunday for approximately 24 weeks during a calendar year cannot provide the foundation for committing one’s life to following Jesus and meeting the statement so often repeated in the Our Father: Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven. We also need to re-examine the desired outcome of Religious Education. Informing about the facts of our faith is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for transmitting our faith. Religious Education must encompass every aspect of what we do as individuals, as family (defined as the people with whom we are living), and as Church. It is a life-long process to grow in our faith and to live our faith. We must clearly demonstrate the benefits of living our faith here and now. We will never be able to compete with sports, band, cheerleading, etc. until we adults demonstrate the benefit of following Jesus during our life on earth. The Gospel provides a firm foundation on where to start.
Michael Barberi
9 months ago
This is a timely subject given the preparations for the Synod on the Young later this year. In my experience, the problem with our Sunday School Culture is not the curriculum or the fact that many parents are not involved in practicing their faith as examples to their children. The answer we are told is often this: if only families would attend weekly Mass together, the problems we have would be significantly eliminated. Well, I sent my children to Catholic elementary and high schools and they accompanied me and my wife to Church every Sunday until they went away to college. However today my children are what many call, "spiritual but not religious". Let's face it, my experience is quite the norm as poll after poll demonstrate that a significant percent of young Catholics of all cohorts disagree with most of the moral teachings of the magisterium, even those who attend weekly Mass. Clearly, what the Church has been doing for the past 30+ years is not the answer because we have a crisis in the Church and Pope Francis has recognized this and called for a Synod on the Young this year. I wish I had the answer. However, the answer we hear from the pulpit is often sounds like a cliche namely, all we need to do is resist the ills of our secular culture of individualism, relativism, consumerism and liberalism, full stop. I often wonder why priests do not spend more time providing examples and practical suggestions that would make this resistance idea understandable and practical without exaggeration or excessiveness? Another problem, in my opinion, is that young people are told they can question moral teachings but, in the end, they are expected to accept the Church's answer/rationale, full stop. Even if the answers to their questions do not make sense to them or are not adequately addressed, they must accept every moral teaching by faith and not worry about the reasons. For religious education to be effective, many things would help: the reforms of Vatican II should be fully implemented, and the CC must put forth a convincing moral theory for its many moral teachings. When confronted with this issue, the frequent answer is that the Church has to speak the moral truth even if the rationale for the moral truth is not convincing or reflective of collective human experience. When young and adult Catholics hear this, they become highly skeptical and often reject the Church's argument about the definition of moral truth especially the many issues facing families today.
Ernie Sherretta
9 months ago
Organized religion is losing its grip on the western world while spirituality, mysticism, and ministry are gaining strength. Traditions, rituals, and community are the core of any religion, indeed the core of the human tribe.These elements are the "catechesis" of our faith in Jesus. Please note, Jesus never intended to start another religion or a Church or organization. His was a religion of the heart. When the early Church succumbed to the Roman Empire it became an institution with all the trappings, titles and procedures that Jesus rebuked. We must rekindle His message and teachings as simple and direct as they are and stop using philosophy, theology and psychology, educational theory to interpret what he meant. Read Gary Wills' What Jesus Meant and The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire by Alan Kreider .
Michael Barberi
9 months ago
Ernie, I enjoyed your first comment and would like to nuance this new one. In my opinion, using philosophy, theology, and psychology can be a problem if one is not open to new ideas and viewpoints supported by expert scholarship. Unfortunately, the problem is that new scholarship and new perspectives that challenge any moral teaching and/or what Jesus meant is often rejected by the Vatican and apologists. Clearly not every new scholarly viewpoint of what Jesus meant should be accepted. However, when theological and Biblical argument cry out for adequate reflection and a serous rethinking, it is met with rigid resistance. In most cases the reason is because of an exaggerated fear that if one teaching is changed or reformed, the foundation of our faith will be destroyed. Tradition, Scripture, Collective Human Experience and Reason (e.g., science, et al) are the fundamental sources of morality that the Church uses. They form the basis for our understanding of truth. However, while the truth never changes our understanding of it does as we grow wiser over time while remaining faithful to Christ. This is why many teachings that were taught as truth for centuries were eventually changed. Unfortunately, even this fact is ignored or not accepted. As you pointed out, we need more emphasis on living the Spirit of the Gospels, instead of an excessive and over-reliance on following rules and norms. This, in part, is what Pope Francis is calling for.
Kevin Kavanah
9 months ago

This editorial almost made me cry. My wife and I made the faith central in raising our four children. We went beyond obligations and joyfully observed feast days and and received the sacraments. We also did what we were told to do regarding religious education: we dragged our children to Sunday school for almost three decades, clawing our way to Confirmation, which was held like the carrot on a stick until 11th grade. I wrote to three different Bishops begging for a change. I spoke once with a nun who was the director of religious education for our Springfield, MA, diocese. She admitted to me that "we do lose a few along the way," as if we were speaking of something expendable, like tomatoes. One bishop insisted to me that programs that he visited throughout the diocese were vital and producing life-long Catholics, even as I observed first Communion classes of 20 produce 3 or 4 Confirmations. What child who spends all week in school wants to spend an hour and a half in a cold parish center room on a Sunday morning? I'm convinced that religious education is the major factor in why my adult children have rejected the faith. My frustration is boundless. I hope that things can change for young parents and children today.

Jack Rakosky
8 months 4 weeks ago

What is the purpose of religious education? to make us Catholics? to make us believers? to make us disciples? Those sound as dry and boring as the Catechism classes of my pre-Vatican II youth.

Religious education should be about becoming a saint, the unique saint that God has destined each of us to be. As Merton put it in a letter to Mark Van Doren “ own individual destiny is a meeting, an encounter with God that He has destined for me alone. His glory in me will be to receive from me something He can never receive from anyone else –because it is a gift of His to me which He has never given to anyone else & never will.”

Fortunately a lay high school math teacher in my public school gave me a copy of Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation setting me on the right path. I also had saints for parents. Mom had a great love of beauty and cared for many people. Dad found his identity in mechanical work and great respect for others including those who were far less skilled than he. Neither had much formal knowledge of the faith beyond their Sunday Missals.

We certainly need the help of other people in becoming saints. Books sometimes help. I don’t know if we need a whole lot of programs.

Daniel Shazzar
8 months 3 weeks ago

Jack, you are on to something but it's not what you think. Lean not on your own understanding (or Merton's) but trust in God alone & he will direct your path (Proverbs 3:5-6). All genuine believers are already saints - just read how Paul addresses the churches of Ephesus, Philippi, & Colossae! People can't help people become saints & you're right - programs don't either. One book can help however - the Bible , the very inspired Word of God!

Lexie Kings
8 months ago

yeah..probably hundreds of years ago religion was about something bigger than ourselves but now it looks like majorly it is about ourselves and how to feel good about yourself and such people are teaching us..unfortunately..rarely there are those who simply believe in God without any questions asked..they are ready to give and not receive nothing in return..but like I said that's a rarity..and sometime i feel like church in certain places is becoming more about the money than God
humble thoughts of a research paper writer xo-xo


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Pope Francis issues public correction to Cardinal Robert Sarah on who has final say over liturgical translations.
Gerard O'ConnellOctober 22, 2017
It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017