Sunday, June 9, 2013

Two Resurrections: Paschal Mystery in Loss and Recovery

In today's Gospel we heard about resurrection from the dead:  
Jesus journeyed to a city called Nain,
and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.
As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her,
he was moved with pity for her and said to her,
“Do not weep.”
He stepped forward and touched the coffin;
at this the bearers halted,
and he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”
The dead man sat up and began to speak,
and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming,
“A great prophet has arisen in our midst, ”
and “God has visited his people.”
This report about him spread through the whole of Judea
and in all the surrounding region.  (Luke 7:11-17)
Of course, Jesus raised man who had died. What is not as clear is that he metaphorically raised his mother from a kind of death as well.

In a time and culture when a woman only had status if she had a husband or a son, to be a widow and to have one's only son die was a kind of death. Had Jesus not reversed this, her future would have been bleak.  Most likely, she would have been totally without resources. Her old life would have been gone, her new one a kind of living hell. Her future was hopeless, so when Jesus had pity on her, it was not just because of her grief, but because he knew what would become of her. The resurrection of her son meant she could live again and once more have an identity and dignity in her community. She, too, was "resurrected".

Do we have the courage not to lose hope in our times of dire loss and transition, knowing that Jesus can reverse the most negative of situations, as he did with the widow - as he did with his own death on the cross? Do we believe in Paschal Mystery - in the undying hope that Christ brought us?  Pray for the virtue of Christian hope. It does not come easy in a world sometimes so full of loss and pain.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Call for Adult Catechesis on the Real Presence: Statistics Show Half of Catholics Do Not Know!

Now I am truly convinced we need better and more sacramental catechesis for Catholics of all ages.

Over on the Nineteen Sixty-Four CARA blog, Mark M. Gray presents evidence of the failure of religious education - literally half of adult Catholics in the American Catholics in Transition survey are unaware that that Church teaches Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Just look at the graphic:

Gray makes the point that actual "Knowlegeable Doubters" are very few, but that half of adults don't even know the Church teaches about Real Presence.... yet this is quite simply the most important of all Church teachings about the Eucharist! He points out what the statistics mean: "Now we know that lack of belief in the Real Presence is more a problem of religious education than of doubt."

What's the problem? Why has catechesis failed with literally half our people? What are we doing wrong? Well, let's think about it.

When do we normally catechize people about the Real Presence? When they are seven years old, preparing for First Eucharist.  Yet, at that age, are people even ready for the concept that Jesus Christ, body and blood, is really fully present in that bread and wine?  We can tell them, but it may or may not make sense. Real Presence is not only an advanced concept, it is simply MYSTERY... and something demanding of lifelong reflection.

Most catechetical texts have a chapter on the Eucharist in succeeding years - if children go through continuous age-appropriate catechesis - which is becoming less and less the norm for families. At any rate, there is a brief review of the concept in the upper grades, during the time teens are preparing for Confirmation.  Yet, does a 12-year-old have the ability to "get" the concept/mystery of Real Presence?  Apparently only about half the time.

After that, most adult Catholics do not receive any sacramental catechesis at all - except for the occasional parent meetings for sacrament preparation for their children. (OK, pastors and directors of religious education - now do you see why good catechesis at those meetings is crucial?)  In rare cases, adults may hear a little sacramental catechesis about the Real Presence in the homilies at Mass... but I suspect these moments are the exception rather than the rule.

So, what can parishes do to change this?

  • We can stop taking for granted that people "get" this just because they are Catholic.
  • Priests can preach about Real Presence - without assuming everyone already knows what is meant.
  • The catechesis provided to adults on the Eucharist must be part of all "captive moments" - it should be part of marriage and baptism preparation and parent meetings for child sacrament preparation.  Why? Because all other sacraments flow from and are in relationship to the Eucharist.
  • Religious educators can provide more opportunities for adult catechesis on the Eucharist - either through offerings for adults only or intergenerational gatherings.
  • Parishes can start Eucharist study and prayer groups. We have Bible study groups for the Word - but so do other Christians who do not regard the Eucharist as a sacrament or the "source and summit". There are good books/videos out there for such groups. (More on that in a later post) 
  • And yes - Adoration. Parishes that do not do it at all should start.
The information from this survey is a call to action. If we want to help people know Catholic faith in a way that engages them deeply and keeps them from looking elsewhere, we have to start helping them to develop a Eucharistic understanding and a Eucharistic spirituality - now!