It's amazing how little I retained from my parochial school experience. I remember random things like the name of my half-blind bus driver, the toddler-friendly height of urinals, the aura of power of the crossing guard’s bright orange sash, and the nun who taught me how painful sarcasm could be.
When it came to actual knowledge regarding the faith, however, I had the retentive capacity of concrete. Ask me to name the Brady kids, no problem; ask me to name the twelve apostles, we’re in trouble.
Ask me where we kept the candles in the sacristy, I’m your (altar) boy; ask me why we held candles next to the priest as he read the Gospel and you’re out of luck.
I knew when I was supposed to go to confession but not why. I knew why I was supposed to read the Bible but not how. I knew how I was supposed to follow God—obey the rules—but not where.
My quest for truth, limited as it was, ended in confusion. I was a student in need of counsel, wearing plaid in a world of gray. I had a lot to learn, and I still do.
I ask myself, which is more difficult: aging or maturing? Time is the only irreplaceable commodity in life. Money can be replaced. Jobs can be replaced. Material possessions can be replaced. Time is slippery, uncontrollable, a treasure not to be wasted.
When you’re young, you live for Saturday; it means all play and no work. When you’re older, Saturday is mostly work and little play as you run errands and clean the house. When you’re young, you can’t wait to get out of school.
When you’re older, you wish you could get out of work and go back to school. When you’re young, you’ll do anything to stay up and avoid going to bed. When you’re older, you can’t stay up and you long for bed.
When you’re young, you do what you’re told. When you’re older, you do the telling but not so much the listening. This can lead some folks to think they know more than they do, an especially dangerous attitude when what they think they know isn’t actual knowledge at all.
For example, when you ask a cradle Catholic with this mindset a question about the faith, you might get a shaky reply backed up with the vague statement, “I’ve been Catholic all my life.”
End of conversation.
But what do we really know as Catholics? Not enough. Assuredly, parochial schools, religious education programs, and youth ministry are not entirely to blame for our ignorance. These are supposed to support catechesis, the handing on of the faith that should take place first and foremost at home.
Unfortunately, most of us did not receive our primary catechesis at home. Sure, we may have had pious parents or grandparents with personal devotions to the rosary or prayer.
Yes, many of our relatives made it to Mass with disciplined regularity and served in various ministries with consistent dependability.
When it came to passing on the faith at home—teaching truths and not just saying grace before meal or bedtime prayers—most Catholic families fell short. And not enough of us are inclined to fill in the gaps by attending religious education classes or reading books about the faith as adults.
Where has this widespread ignorance of the faith left us? Ask a range of Catholics about the meaning of Advent, the Church’s teaching regarding the Blessed Mother, why contraception is sinful, what the Church’s pastoral response to homosexuality is, why the Church regards the sacrament of penance as a communal celebration and so on.
Too often you’ll be met with a blank stare or a hesitant answer.
Young people, especially, lacking any systematic understanding of Catholic faith and doctrine easily fall prey to an “enlightened” worldview that emphasizes personal fulfillment or stresses the equality of all religions or urges them to search out their inner “gods.”
True theology plays second fiddle to personal philosophy. We try to make sense of our adolescent “formation” and end up being merely culturally Catholic.
In effect, we grow old in our faith but we don’t grow up.
We mature physically and socially, but not spiritually. In our teens, 20s, even our forties and fifties we might retain the instinct to pray right before bed or before meals but we can neglect to come before the Lord in any meaningful way in the course of the day.
Rather than remaining childlike, as Christ commands us in telling us to receive the kingdom of God “...like a child” (Mk 10:15), we grow up childish.
We pray before bed, often half asleep, but fail to set ourselves before God in prayer when we wake up, get ready for the day, head off to school or work, sit in traffic, take a break, shop, stand in line, and all the other realities of daily life.
Jesus calls us to “...turn and become like children” (Mt 18:3) so that we will stay close to him—open, dependent, willing, humble and wide-eyed—not so that we fail to mature.
Why don’t we invite Christ into our day more often? If you simply don’t think of it, then Jesus is still distant, not yet a friend or brother. Yet he identifies himself as brother and friend in the gospels.
Ask yourself if you have a friendship with Christ or an acquaintanceship.