By Fran Lavelle
I was scrolling through my social media the other day when I saw an interesting meme. It said, “We are responsible for the effort, not the outcome.” I didn’t give it too much thought as I breezed by, continuing to scroll. Suddenly, something stopped me and I went back and re-read the meme. What at first glance seemed like an innocent remark; on further inspection gave me cause to reflect. Intentional or not statements like this legitimize our aversion as Christians to take responsibility for our faith.
I thought about the implications of this statement. It sounded a wee bit like a like a cop-out, as in “oh well, I made the effort!” Yes, effort is important. And, yes, there are situations where no matter how intense one’s effort may be the outcome does not depend on us. But, in most cases, the outcome can be measured by the level of commitment to the effort.
We are in the process of rolling out the bishop’s pastoral plan. It articulates three priorities that have been identified over the past year. The process began with listening sessions and included an Envisioning Team that took the comments from the listening sessions and framed a mission and priorities for the diocese. One of the priorities is facilitating life-long formation of intentional disciples. While that sounds like a lovely sentiment, what exactly does it mean? I see intentional discipleship as a concerted effort to engage individuals, families and communities in our Catholic faith.
For me this kind of catechesis must connect both the head (our intellect) with the heart. We must literally fall in love with the person of Christ in order to maintain a lifetime commitment to our faith. But, love of God must be accompanied with an intellectual understanding of what we believe as Catholics and why we believe it. Bringing this vision to fruition depends on all of us making an effort. It also depends on all of us working to ensure our efforts produce a positive outcome. Intentional discipleship is like a slow burning fire. Once a spark catches fire, properly tended it continues to burn if we feed the fire. As Catholics, the spark that becomes fire at Baptism must be attended to until the day we die. I was at a conference where I heard a speaker remark that we take infants, baptize them and then tell the families to come back for religious education once the child reaches kindergarten age. He implored us to think about providing a catechetical opportunity for that young family when, “the cement is still wet.”
If we are tired of folks showing up just for the sacraments in our religious education programs we have to ask ourselves why they are not coming the other years. We must be brave enough to ask the tough questions and be prepared to shift our thinking to achieve our goals.
I have said in the past that one of the greatest gifts I bring to my current position from my days in campus ministry are the memories of young people who showed up and sought to deepen their relationship with God as young adults. I must admit, some young people gravitate to campus ministry in college because they are socially awkward and the Church is a comfortable place to be. But, by far, most young people show up at campus ministry because they had one or more of the following: a great religious education program in their home parish, a great Catholic school, a great family and home environment or a great group of friends that encouraged them to get involved. The natural question is how do we emulate those environments to produce young adults who seek an adult relationship with God and the Catholic faith? Understanding the “how” for subsequent generations is an example of what intentional discipleship is all about.
I encourage all of you who are part of your parish’s faith formation team to take an active role in the promotion of the pastoral priorities, most specifically lifelong faith formation. Get involved! Most of all do not be afraid to shake things up a little bit. Lifelong faith formation includes religious education of our children, youth ministry, campus ministry, adult faith formation, family ministry, evangelization and RCIA.
Make sure leaders of your faith formation teams have input. Intentional disciples are nurtured. Intentional discipleship requires a continuity of care from the womb to the tomb. Most of all it requires a concerted and consistent effort. All of us, working together toward this priority, can transform and energize our formation programs. Remember, the outcome is a byproduct of the input. Good input; good outcome. Be assured of my commitment to help you in any way I can to ensure the successful implementation of the pastoral priorities in your parish.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the diocese. She can be contact at firstname.lastname@example.org)