instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, August 06, 2012

Forming Intentional Disciples, pt. 2

Why are Catholic parishes today not forming Catholics? Riffing on Forming Intentional Disciples, let me propose an easy answer and a hard answer.

The easy answer is that Catholic parishes aren't trying to form Catholics. Too often, we settle for a passing grade in attendance at a sacramental preparation course:
...most leaders involved in sacramental prep and RCIA have had to wrestle with conflicts between individual and family expectations and whether or not someone is spiritually ready to receive both the sacrament and the sacramental grace in question. There are two common maxims that pastoral leaders often evoke as solutions in these situations. One is "The sacrament will take care of it," and the other is that "The Church will provide." [pp 105-106]
The possibility that one might receive a sacrament without receiving sacramental grace is not one we dwell on much. But sacraments are not magic. Chapter 4 contains valuable theological instruction in what the Church teaches about the "fruitfulness" of the sacraments, as well as the need for proper spiritual disposition for those who receive a Sacrament to also receive, in a fruitful way, the graces that the Sacrament provides.

In short, no, the sacrament will not "take care of" the lack of a proper disposition, and no, the Church will not provide that disposition if the receiver of the sacrament does not.

I call the above the easy answer to the question of why Catholic parishes aren't forming Catholics, because I think, by and large, most Catholics will agree with it as a generalization. At the very least, I think (okay, hope) they'd agree that a parish whose faith formation programs consisted of check-box style sacramental prep leaves much to be desired.

The hard answer, which I call hard based on the resistance to it I've seen, is that Catholic parishes don't know what fully formed Catholics are.

A fully formed Catholic is not just a Catholic who follows the precepts of the Church, can hold his own in doctrinal disputes, prays the Rosary, and is faithful to the Magisterium. A fully formed Catholic is a disciple of Jesus Christ. It was to convince Catholic leaders that all Catholics are to be disciples of Jesus, and to help Catholic leaders to make, form, and sustain disciples of Jesus, that Forming Intentional Disciples was written.

Why don't Catholics agree that fully formed Catholics are disciples of Jesus Christ? See the easy answer. As the title of Chapter 2 puts it, "We don't know what normal is." Catholic parishes don't try to form disciples, goes the line of thought, so how can being a disciple be an essential part of being a Catholic?

Part of the resistance is due to terminology. Talk of "discipleship" smacks of Evangelical Protestantism. Catholics might find it more natural to talk of "knowing, loving, and serving God in this world."

But much of the resistance is that many Catholics simply
do not know that an explicit, personal attachment to Christ -- personal discipleship -- is normative Catholicism as taught by the apostles and reiterated time and time again by the popes, councils, and saints of the Church. [p. 46]
Call it what you will, there's more to being Catholic than sacramental, liturgical, and devotional acts. If it ever was the case, it is not true today that sacramental, liturgical, and devotional acts imply the existence of an explicit, personal attachment to Christ. It is possible -- even common -- to consider oneself a "good Catholic," perhaps even "faithful to the Magisterium," without having an explicit, personal attachment to Christ.