Sunday, December 2, 2007

How did we get here? How do we move forward?

I really appreciate this discussion and the Wilkin article. What interests me first is how did we come to this particular historical moment? One thing I love about Fr. Giussani is that he knew that we must focus on youth and education, if we care about culture. How do we raise, educate, and form our children? Imagine someone from an alien culture coming here and doing an ethnography -- what occupies our children? What do they see? What do they experience? How do they make sense of it all? This last question is perhaps the most interesting one.

It seems to me that we adults spend very little time with those younger than we are. In other times and places, the teenage years were a time of apprenticeship to a trade, and even younger children worked and lived alongside adults in farms, artisanal, and cottage industries. Now we "farm out" their education, group them into large cohorts, and leave their peers the job of helping them to form their opinions and tastes. These practices are relatively new givens, and I believe that we have to take them into account when we begin to address the question of culture, particularly the formation or transformation of culture. A great deal of awareness is needed -- and careful attention paid to the way in which we educate one another and the young.

This past week I've been reading and rereading the fourth chapter ("The Christian Existence") of "Traces of the Christian Experience" in which Don Giuss writes about culture -- "the new culture" which is characterized by "unremitting activity, unavoidable responsibility, a true 'service' in every moment, every word...; service to the Kingdom, that is, to the plan of the universe by which Christ heads all of reality" (The Journey to Truth is an Experience, page 78). The Christian question par excellence is, "How can I give myself as I am, serve all things, the Kingdom, and Christ evermore?" How we answer this question, each in his or her own way, according to our vocation, in concert, will be the "method" through which a truly Christian culture will grow and thrive. I don't think there's any other way.

And then Father Giussani says, "Simple, lucid, comprehensive sincerity and resolute magnanimity as a Christian concept of our own existence can develop easily and surely only in early youth" (The Journey to Truth is an Experience, page 79).

I really felt I had to post about CGS before I could begin to explore these larger issues along with all of you. I am convinced that we face a crisis in catechesis and in Catholic education (at least in this country -- I don't have enough experience of what is happening in other countries), and that we need to turn our attention to how we raise children and youth in this Christian conception of life. The prevalent model -- Catholic schools and weekend religious education programs -- needs urgent attention. I see CGS and GS as two methods that offer real answers to the problem of culture -- Christian culture -- how to sustain it and how to recuperate it.


Freder1ck said...

With the increased leisure of the present day, parents have the opportunity to spend more time with kids, and to supplement whatever they get through official channels.

Suzanne said...

Yes, you're right. And how we use our free time means everything. I'm a little at a loss to make statements about this particular sociological reality, though, since my particular cultural context (at the moment) is atypical. But what I recall of the way family life is lived among Catholics in my past neighborhoods is that leisure time was not very "leisure" -- but instead crammed with commitments -- to children's sports activities, social lives, or other activities (I, too, live this type of life, so I am not pointing fingers). In every neighborhood where I've lived during the past decades of my adulthood, parents seem "atomized" and over-extended, whether they work long hours out of the home or are able to spend more hours "on" the kids (rather than "with" them). I've also noticed (I'm not describing any kind of systematic study -- all my experience is anecdotal in nature -- and therefore open to falsehood) that many church-going Catholic parents seem to be deeply ignorant of fundamental dimensions and details of Christianity, and feeling at a loss, they place all their hope for the religious formation of their children on parish programs. It seems to me that for many, many Catholic parents (and thus for their children), God is a very unreliable errand boy, whom they turn to when every other effort fails, with little trust that he will carry out their politely worded demands. Parents have the first responsibility to educate their children, but adults who know the Truth have a responsibility to the whole of reality. We have experienced more than one generation of ineffectual catechesis, now, and the results seem plain to me.

Freder1ck said...

It seems to me that the attempt to fill up free time with activities (or to use free time for resume building activities) is an attempt to squash desire. The opposite is my problem, tending toward a passive vegetative free time. Vacations are the ideal, with organized, orchestrated free time: with time for beauty, for play, for prayer, and even rest.
What I would give for two or three parents in the parish who recognize the problem of catechesis!

clairity said...

I think the problem with catechesis is the same one that the movement recognizes in particular for the diakonia, that you have to be living an experience for yourself before you can communicate anything.

Fr. Giussani has a talk about communicating faith in the family, it's around here somewhere. What he says in essence is that if faith never touches your family life aside from church activities, e.g. if it never comes into play in a political discussion at the dinner table, or in any of a hundred other ways, your children will not retain their faith. Even Fr. Giussani's then agnostic father communicated the faith when he told his children Jesus' parables to raise their sensitivity to the poor, because that was the part his father embraced himself.

Conversely, if faith is truly communicated, in the sense that it is actually very important to parents and seen as such day by day, then even teen/adult children who are away from the church will have to continue to wrestle with their heritage.

As for religious education classes, except in the case of confirmation which would be counterproductive
, I would require families to participate. It is rarely done but I have seen it is quite effective for parents and their children. I blogged on this a few months ago:

Marie said...

I'd be very interested, Sharon, in reading the talk you mentioned about communicating the faith in family.

Why would it be counter-productive to have parents involved in confirmation prep? In our diocese we just moved to confirmation along with FHC in 2nd grade. So we are moving away from the idea that Confirmation is about "adulthood" (if that's what you are meaning to say, that what Confirmation prep is about an adult choice for the Faith, and therefore should be done independent of parents? I know that is a common cultural understanding, but I don't see that that summarizes the heart of the Church on the matter...)

I do have some larger thoughts on the matter; perhaps I should make it a seperate post.

clairity said...

Hi Marie,

I would be very pleased to have Confirmation a lot earlier than we typically see it in this country. I would love to see the emphasis more on the grace than on the adult decision, which is more of a Protestant idea.

In our diocese, Confirmation takes place in junior year of high school. I don't think it's necessarily helpful to have parents sitting side by side with their older teens in the classroom, as I would suggest for the younger grades. Of course parents should be involved, but I was talking about the younger children and a radically different format from the current drop-off method with families neglecting even the minimum commitment of weekly Mass.


Freder1ck said...

I could complain, but I'll just say that as someone who's co-teaching 7th grade Confirmation this year, I want something more. I want a setting in which the faith is more than a merely religious concept or emotion, and where the students are willing to commit to verifying what is discussed. I think that the classes do some good, but by themselves are not really up to the task.