The Importance of Adult Formation in the Catholic Church

From Judy Foster
Director of Birth to Grade 8 Faith Formation & Children’s Sacraments

I read an article recently from Fr. Bryan Massingale, from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, relating a story of his sister’s decision to leave the Catholic Church and be re-baptized in the American Baptist Church. She was a not a “causal Catholic,” she was committed and active. She was heavily involved in her parish, youth ministry, retreat leadership and liturgy planning. She was active in a women’s spirituality group, pursuing her understanding of the faith.

As an authentic faith seeker, that journey led her to formally end her membership in the Catholic Church. When asked why she left, she said, “I wasn’t getting my spiritual needs met.”

This is not uncommon. Who is leaving our Church (as well as many Protestant churches) and why? The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is addressing that issue after three years of exploration and discussion. There was a workshop and presentation in the fall of 2015 which addressed this issue in detail. The book, “Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry A. Weddell, was the core of the presentation and discussion. The book seeks to analyze the statistics of religious participation and affiliation from The Pew Religious Landscape Survey to try to help parishes understand why people are leaving the Catholic Church for other denominations or just not participating in any organized religion.

We tend as Catholics to “educate children and youth” and then after Confirmation we “graduate” from religious education. Yet adults have many questions. Our parish has always been a front runner in adult formation. We have offered wonderful presentations including excellent speakers, adult retreats, scripture and Bible study, and many more opportunities.

But are we meeting the needs of those who are seeking a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? One of the most important concepts that is addressed in the book is about how we do Formation; Jesus cannot be just another subject that we teach about, rather Jesus is the whole spiritual good of the Church.

Our goal in Faith Formation is to provide not just education in the faith to our young adults, parents and seniors, but to help people to bridge the gap from “seeker of faith” to a committed relationship with Jesus; to be welcoming and invite them into a deeper faith. We must remember that “religion” and “faith” is not the same thing. We are not just a Church of rules and teachings; we are a Church of believers in Jesus willing to live out His teachings and have a personal relationship with Him through prayer and discernment on a daily basis, and to pass that faith on to others. After all, adult formation is the core of religious education and formation, as mandated by the Second Vatican Council, the Council of Bishops and our own archdiocese.

We invite you to go past the academics and turn inward to conversion. If you have need for a companion on the journey, seek out any of our ministry staff or our many parishioners who have personally encountered Jesus Christ in His Church.

Bryan Massingale is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Professor of Theology at Marquette University and author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010). His article appeared in the Feb. 2016 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 81, No. 2, p. 8).