Dear Fr. Joe: My parish expects parents to jump through a lot of ‘hoops’ in order to have our children participate in religious education – I think the time and money commitments are unreasonable – what can I do?
Before we dive fully into this, I want to establish a common foundation: I’m assuming that you, like me, aren’t bothered by the fact that they are asking for money for the program, but that they are asking for too much. Obviously, some amount of money will be asked of most people in this situation, just to cover costs associated with the program. Textbooks, paper and supplies cost money.
Regarding the “hoops,” first ask yourself honestly if these are really unreasonable. Is the catechist asking for more than what your child’s regular school teacher asks? If, upon genuine reflection, you believe that there are arbitrary requirements, it may be that this is their wounded response to the typical difficulties and challenges of being a catechist. Please allow me to explain what I mean and see if this might shed some light on how you can respond.
It starts with the best of things: a hunger to share what gives life.
Most people who teach and share the faith begin doing so simply because they have found such great joy in living the life of faith. They have an experience of God and are excited to share it. They volunteer to teach, complete their training, gather their materials and plan out how they can share the beautiful traditions and teachings of our Church in a way that will communicate it all effectively.
Often, one of the first things people in that position experience is a kind of shocked sadness: not everyone is “buying in.” No matter how well you plan, no matter how much of yourself you put into it, there will always be any number of people who take it for granted and do the absolute minimum to get by. There will always be parents who put sports above faith in raising their kids and who seem to have their children in the program in order to jump hoops.
As a teacher, it is utterly heartbreaking.
Beyond that, teachers also run into those who attack: people who are either self-appointed theological police or those who fancy themselves as experts and advocates for a specific cause and wonder why you’re not teaching what they think you should be teaching. They write emails, make calls and sometimes even engage in a sort of whisper campaign (gossip!) in order to reduce the credibility of those who teach.
That, too, can be utterly heartbreaking.
Beyond these, there are the usual heartbreaks and sorrows attached to any labor of love, and the pain and irritation can sometimes lead to an effort to control: a sort of “We’ll make you do this right,” and that, my friend, is where we get into trouble.
If you’re a parent reading this and you have children in a religious education program, I pray that you respond to the woundedness of teachers with great love and sensitivity. Thank them regularly for their hard work and volunteering of time. Pray for them more than you do for most others. As best you can, commit yourself and your kids to the program, not simply doing what is convenient, but what is necessary for your child to know the faith and grow in the faith.
If you are a catechist reading this, I invite you to remember that our job is not to “get results” from others, but to be faithful in what God requires of us. This will keep us from adding layers and layers of requirements onto our programs for no other reason than to abrogate the pain that we forget is part of the mission.
Yep. I typed that – Pain is a part of our mission. It’s too easy for us to see each instance of pain as a problem to be solved. Sometimes, pain is a part of the experience that we need to have. When we hurt because we are serving God’s People and they don’t seem to be responding, then we have been offered a special grace: a glimpse into the heart of God. Join your pain to his. Ask his forgiveness for the times you’ve responded half-heartedly or put him second, third or fourth in your life.
Beyond that, let this Gospel passage from Luke challenge you as it does me:
“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:5-8)
In this parable, Jesus is showing himself as a sower – a person who scattered seed. Sometimes He got results, sometimes He didn’t. What he doesn’t do is give up.
As teachers, as sharers of the faith, we have to abandon the pride that compels us to need results and take joy in simply doing what God has told us to do.
If you are a catechist reading this and you find yourself guilty of attempting to force results, don’t fret. Ask God’s forgiveness and get back on the horse. I would imagine that the vast majority of people who have taught the faith have done the exact same thing – I know I have.
Dr. Peter Kreeft puts it this way: “We try too much and trust too little. Count the times God’s Book tells us to ‘try.’ Now count the times it tells us to ‘trust.’”
I pray that God heal and strengthen all our wounded hearts and guide us toward deeper trust in him and in each other.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!
If you’d like to submit a question for Father Joe Krupp to consider in a future column, please send it to: email@example.com. Father Joe is unable to personally answer questions.