There is an oft-quoted thought about the Gospels and the Church: “Jesus taught adults and blessed children, but in the Church today, we teach children and bless adults.” While this is without a doubt true, it sets up a false dichotomy: It is not an either/or question, but really a both/and one! Learning is necessary at every stage of our development.
At one point in the Gospels, Jesus emphatically made this point. He said: “As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers… Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah (Matt. 23:8,10).” This fits nicely with the great tradition of Judaism regarding the study of the Torah and the accumulated wisdom that eventually became the Talmud. Jews, it is often said, are taught to question, for in questioning one becomes a true learner; for it is in questioning that we make our own the need to learn more and hence to grow.
Unfortunately, this license to question has not always been part of our Catholic tradition. This is mainly grounded in an important distinction: there is a questioning born of respect and reverence of tradition, and then there is the philosophical questioning which is born of skepticism or even the need to disprove the truths of tradition. To be a learner in the ways of faith, one must always approach religious questions with the respect of the Rabbis, not with a deconstructuralist desire of the philosophers to take apart reality and, even more, that of the skeptics who are merely interested in trying to prove religion to be wrong, useless and even dangerous!
I distinctly remember a question I raised in my fifth grade class: if God wanted to have us be happy with Him forever in heaven, why did He not just put us there in heaven? Why all this struggle here on earth? To this day, I think it was a good question. But my teacher took me to task for even asking the question. She gave me no answer, only a feeling of shame at having asked it. It was only in the seminary that I had that question answered: God wanted us to learn here on earth how to be good and to freely choose to love Him in return. The question was good and I am glad that I had the adult learning of the seminary to teach me.
But many Catholics think that once they have received Confirmation, their learning about the faith has ended. Learning is lifelong! An adult Catholic that does not seek to learn more about their faith has ceased to engage one-on-one with God, which is His preeminent desire for each of us. To love God must mean to learn more about God. If it does not lead to more learning, it is not really love. While classrooms and Adult Education courses are clearly not the only way God continues to teach us, they are important paths that God can use to feed what must be a hunger for learning. If we don’t want to learn more about God, are we really expressing our love for Him in the best way we can?
We have tried here in our parish to provide a multitude of opportunities for a person to grow as an adult Christian: the lecture series (8 so far), film festivals (18), Pastoral Institute Courses, parish retreats (8), Bible studies, Arise discussion groups, Opera workshops (5), Pilgrimages (4), RCIA courses; not to mention scores of Baptism, Marriage and first-sacrament Parent courses. I challenge anyone to find another parish that has done more to educate the adult Catholic! But while our attendance at Sunday Masses averages between 1500 and 2000 individuals (including children), attendance at our Adult Education offering is just a fraction of this. Now, a person’s work schedule and parenting responsibilities does prevent a lot of adults from making use of these opportunities. But I cannot help believing that there are some adult Catholics who just don’t see the need to keep learning about their faith.
This lack of hunger for learning is not a good sign in an adult Christian.
But the Lord, over and over, urges us against discouragement. So we continue to provide opportunities for growth that make adults better Catholics. There are many in our parish that do hunger to learn more and who do take advantage of the feast offered each year for growth in an adult-Catholic faith. The cheer on their faces as well as the words of thanks at these events sustains my hope that, more and more, adults in our parish may choose to continue to learn about their faith and to deepen it!