Saturday, January 28, 2012

Take Nothing With You

In 1980 the chaplain in a tightly secured refugee camp in Florida, where the conditions were awful, was asked to perform a Mass. The refugees were caught between two worlds, having left everything behind them for the land of opportunity. The pastor was very nervous and unsure of what to tell them, and as he sat on a hill overlooking the camp a young Cuban man came up and sat beside him. After a few moments of silence the man said, "We’ll never be as free as we are today, will we? We think freedom awaits us on the other side of this camp where there’s the promise of buying a house and putting our kids in college and having a credit card; but it’ll be a new kind of slavery. Right now we’re free, and although it doesn’t seem like it, we’ll never be as free as we are right now." At Mass the next day, the Pastor shared the words that God had spoken through that young man: "Though you have nothing, though you might think that freedom is what comes next, you will never be as free as you are right now."

Remember your story; you are children of the Exodus. God told the Hebrew slaves, "I am sending you to worship me, take nothing with you and I’ll make a free people out of you." They were impoverished, enslaved, and without hope, but now look, God is your liberator. Remember your story; you are children of the Wilderness. The people were wandering the desert and God told them, "I am sending you to a land, take nothing with you, and I will feed you." They were on the verge of mutiny, bickering and hungry, and every morning food showed up outside their tents, but now look, God is your provider. Remember your story; you are children of Abraham and Sarah. God told them, "I am sending you to a place that I’ll show you, take nothing with you and I’ll make nations out of you." They were childless, and old, but now look, you are a child of Abraham and Sarah.

All these events are now a part of your history and your story. And you have all these memories to call upon when God calls upon you and says, "I am sending you, take nothing with you because I will provide." This is how the people came to know God as their God. This is how Jesus sends his followers into the world, and this is how the Spirit calls you and I to know God as the undeniable source of all life, our protection and provision, our healing and forgiveness: Do you see what God is doing with you here?

Wilderness journey, stepping into places of utter trust in God, is an essential part of our story too. It’s what happens when you live in-between two realities; no longer in Egypt but not yet settled in the Promised Land, no longer in the past but not yet in the future. The only place you can live and be free is right here and right now. And no doubt, that’s where you are right now. Some of you aren’t sure when or where work is going to come. Some of you aren’t sure how to make your mortgage this month. Some of you aren’t sure what in the world you will do with your life, or how to make sense out of anything. None of these things look like freedom, they look like crisis, they look like danger.

Yet in all of these situations God’s Spirit says, you will never be as free as you are right now. You are free to follow me because I am sending you, so, take nothing with you on your journey because you have a God who will provide for you on every step of the way. Take nothing with you on your journey because you have a Christ who comes to you in bread and wine, so that you can live free of shame and guilt, live free of the fear of what other people think or do, and even live free from the fear of death. So take nothing with you on your journey because the Spirit is sending you in the mission of this community. Right now, you are freer than you’ve ever been; God will provide. Does this sound trite to you?

Jesus sent out his disciples telling them, “Take nothing with you on your journey.” (Okay. You can take a staff, but other than that take nothing with you”). In a similar way, when Jesus sends us into the world he says ”I want you to travel light. "Take nothing with you on your journey, no bread, no bag, no money, because God will provide." Most of us would say, "Well, that sounds nice but it’s a little naive, because here in the real world things don’t work that way". We all have stuff, and even if you clean out your garage four times a year it is probably still full of stuff! If we only trust what we ourselves have experienced, then we would probably call this promise trite. And yet, in our baptism Jesus connects us to a much longer story. We live our lives in reference not solely to our individual stories but also to God’s story in the world; and in this longer story God's message is, "Listen, trusting me for everything in life isn’t trite! It’s about the most real, grittiest thing you can say about life".

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Moral Theology - Class 3

Our instructor began the lecture on Conscience in Catholic Tradition by asking the question, “Is conscience an inner voice that tells me what to do”? Then he went on to describe images of conscience using Biblical images of the heart, such as “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51) and “Do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95). The traditional image of sanctuary is where we are alone with God, where we encounter God, and where this relationship with God has meaning for us. In the theological sense of conscience it is our sanctuary, where we are alone and safe. Conscience awakens us to notice the law of God written on our hearts and it summons us to love others as God has loved us.

The reason for religion is that it is where we set the course of our lives directly toward God. We will be judged by our conscience. The knowledge of conscience is knowledge with heart; an understanding rooted in a heart felt sense of value that includes a self defining sense of significance. A well formed conscience is a gift. Morals, however, can be applied from the top down, “what are the rules and how should they be applied”, or they can be applied from the bottom up, “what are the rules and how do they apply in this situation”.

We discussed the idea of cooperation with evil. This is the inability to suppress an evil and the attempt to minimize the harm that is done. One example is the use of a condom when one person in a relationship has aids and wishes to protect the other person in the relationship. Another example is the distribution of needles to drug users in an attempt to reduce the spread of aids. Conscience, is often said to frequently err from invincible ignorance. Conscience can be sincere or insincere, certain or doubtful, and true or erroneous. It can be (1) sincere and true, or (2) insincere and true, or (3) sincere and erroneous, or (4) insincere and erroneous.

Our goal, of course, is to for our conscience to be a sincere and true. People should inform a doubtful conscience, in that we should assist the formation of sincere and true conscience in others. However, when people sincerely strive to form their conscience, their conscience retains it's dignity even if it errs. Nevetheless, God will hold people accountable for their conscience. Conscience can be misled by scrupulosity, which is an obsessive concern with one's own sins and compulsive performance of religious devotion.

You may have the freedom to choose, but you live with others, so choose well. Other people have to live with us too. God calls us to make the world just, because our character is also part of holiness. We do this by starting with the heart. It is a deliberate process of formation and a continuous cultivation of character by avoiding the occasions of sin and the seeking of occasions for grace.

We experience conscience in various ways; by the ablility of conscience, we can commit ourselves freely to relationships and engagements that influence who we become, by the process of conscience, we can consider how we choose to commit ourselves, and by the decision of conscience, we experience a conviction to establish and sustain our commitments. There is, of course, the age old question of “What are the boundaries of right and wrong?” Examples of the two extremes might be the freedom and exercise of religion (right), and something that might harm others (wrong).

Informed consciences arrive at very different conclusions, which explains why what we teach in our schools can be so divisive. There was a short discussion about collective conscience archetypes that float around communities and influence decisions, sometimes referred to as moral systems. A students question prompted another short discussion that as infants we experienced dark rooms, delayed feedings, wet diapers, and feelings of loneliness, etc. We needed to forget these things in order to survive as adults. Among all of the things that we have forgotten as infants is that in the moment of our creation we met our creator.

Church teaching and conscience includes an interpretation of the gospel and instruction in discipleship, which is directed toward our hearts. We are asked to approach it with a willingness to be taught, not to view it as extraneous to our conscience but as a willingness to see it within, and to give it more authority than the strength of the argument used to present it. We are to give God our heart; neither the church nor our own wishes ought to serve as God for us. Our Bishops are not oracles, so how much weight does church teaching have on conscience? The Church’s position is that we should be enlightened by Christian wisdom and give close attention to the teaching of the church.

The accepted position is that, “In the formation of their conscience the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the church”. This does not mean however, that we are to surrender our heart and mind to a text. Church teaching is only one voice among others, and we should not be closed to other weighty considerations. If a teaching does not lead us to love and inspire us to virtue, it has not swayed us.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

One Hundred Years

I've recently experienced a deep dissapointment that has caused me to reflect on something I say often, which is, "It won't matter a hundred years from now". The details of my dissapointment aren't important but how I deal with it is. In light of the person I'm trying to be, I'm struck by the importance of what this situation means to me. What I'm dealing with revolves around expectations, family, and finances; or the lack of them. I'm reminded about the prayers of committal spoken at a gravesite, "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust", because we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. Reading from The New American Bible Genesis 3:19 says, "By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return." I'll admit I feel like dirt right now.

Jesus summoned the Twelve and said to them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic" (Luke 9:3). This wasn't about keeping them poor but was intended to help them begin the process of detaching themselves from the things that might hold them down. This experience is reminding me that I need to detach myself from a few more things that are holding me down. This dissapointment is so difficult for me right now because suddently I'm having to re-evaluate my undertanding and expectations of family and finances. It's a tough thing for me to deal with, but if I view it as a test of my personal witness and convictions, it might be a bit easier. After all, Jesus said that I am "much more valuable" than this thing and "worrying about it won't add a single hour to my life".

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they (Matthew 6:25-33)? He also said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be (Matthew 6:19-21). "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself (Matthew 6:33-34)". God's message to me is, each day has enough trouble of its own and I should not worry. Like the Twelve who began to walk, to preach, to cure, and to live life fully, I need to kneel, listen, and focus on a life that is lived in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Moral Theology - Class 2

Thomas Aquinas said that it is better to let a person live outside the church in agreement with their conscience, than to live inside the church in disagreement with their conscience. All church teaching on morality is intended to inform our conscience, but although we are called to live our lives in primacy with our conscience it's important to realize that our conscience sometimes makes mistakes. Christian optimism includes the belief that God became man and lived among us, and in light of the fact that we believe He will come again we believe that human history is capable of doing it again.

Essentially, there are four sources for moral theology; the Bible, natural law, experience, and tradition. Christians in general have relied on the Bible and experience, while Catholics have traditionally relied on all four. Catholics specifically are the faith tradition that uses the "AND" statement, such as scripture AND tradition. It's a bit tricky however; on the one side we would say that a narrow consultation on any subject is a bad idea, while at the same time recognizing that the newest latest document by the bishops may not be the one that holds sway. All four of the sources on moral theology interact. The Bible and tradition are closely related just as natural law and experience are closely related. In fact it's important to realize that the Bible we have today is a product of tradition and that the tradition we have today is a product of scripture. Experience contributes to our understanding of natural law while natural law is a reflection of our experience.

How do we use narratives to tell stories? People tell stories to entertain, build relationships, recall the history of persons or communities, and to highlight the characters and their choices. Narratives tell us how things have come to be, give meaning to symbols and rituals, and communicate values. Repeating stories such as at annual family events helps re-create the family, which in turn helps family members sustain their relationships with each other. Likewise stories have symbols that help us share and sustain moral identity within the family. Stories always have a setting which is built using three essential pieces; characters, choices, and consequences.

Morality is also about characters, choices, and consequences. We listen to a story to understand the characters, so that we can understand their choices, which helps us understand the consequences. It's interesting to note that older stories generally focused on a small number of characters, and weren't necessarily about community. Newer stories generally focus on the nuclear family, but include a larger community component. Stories with evolving promises grow in time, such as the story of God's promise to Abraham and Sarah, which evolved into one that included Hagar and Ishmael. All stories include interesting characters that make interesting choices that result in interesting consequences.

There are basically four varieties of discourse in the Bible. Prophetic discourse is the denunciation and annunciation of events, which are either really good or really bad. Narrative discourse is an appeal to persons and communities, which are symbolic assessments and interpreted experiences specific to a faith community. Ethical discourse is an appeal to a common language, which crosses traditions. Policy discourse is an appeal that seeks a shared way of life within society. These stories teach us what to see, and they have taught us how to make sense of our experiences.

Naturally there are some challenges in understanding these stories. The Bible is not a rule book and asking what the Bible says about ______ (fill in the blank) does not always work. For one thing the Bible is multi vocal and not always harmonious. For another, the world the Bible emerged from had different moral standards from our own. As a result the Bible is not a unique moral source for Christian ethics. It does not always trump and should not be relied on "in all things"; although it does have primacy. An example is the story of slavery which was accepted and permitted when the Bible was written, but is no longer considered moral behavior.

So how do we proceed in our attempt to understand the moral implications found in the Bible? Exegetical analysis is applied to examine and understand the text to help us interpret the Bible. Hermeneutical analysis is applied to understand what the text means for us. Methodological analysis is applied to understand how the text serves as a guide for our lives. Theological analysis is applied to balance the interpretation of specific text with broader theological themes. Obviously, we must be guided by exegesis which is drawing meaning out of the text, rather than by isegesis, which is reading meaning into the text.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

Born January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister and social activist who led the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968. His leadership was fundamental to that movement's success, which promoted nonviolent tactics to achieve civil rights. Here are some quotes to commemorate a man who lived his life in service to others.

"Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick-sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

"Cowardice asks the question ‘Is it safe’? Expediency asks the question ‘Is it politic’? Vanity asks the question ‘Is it popular’? But, conscience asks the question ‘Is it right’? There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right."

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Martin Luther King Jr's birthday is celebrated each year on the third Monday in January. To honor him and to commemorative the events of his life Congress has transformed the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday into a national day of community service. No matter what your age or background, your education or interests, your experience or abilities, there is a community service program that's right for you. Making a difference in your community is one of the tangible benefits of volunteering; but the intangible benefits such as the pride and satisfaction of incorporating service into your life, can make each of us a part of Martin Luther King's dream.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Moral Theology - Class 1

The instructor began by introducing himself and then saying that for him the most important learning experience has been with ministry. He asked each of us to consider the following questions: “How shall I follow Jesus? Who is my neighbor, and How shall we live in community? What is conscience and how should it be formed? How do I know the right thing to do in complex situations?”

He then asked what moral concerns have emerged (or do we anticipate) in our ministry? As an example he told a story about a woman named Jill, who is the Dean of Students at a High School, who asked her high school age daughter and friends to list some questions for discussion. Their list included: “When I think of God I think of __________. When I think of Jesus I think of __________. I respond to God and Jesus by __________. We know what is right or wrong because __________. Christians should hate __________. Christians should love __________. Christians should evangelize __________.

Sometimes our understanding of God can push us towards one or another idea of morality. The Jesus of Mark is somewhat hurried, the Jesus of Luke seems somewhat tired, and the Jesus of Matthew is a good teacher. Orthodox Christians appreciate Mark’s Jesus, for instance, while Baptist Christians appreciate John’s Jesus.

Morality fits into three different models; Deontology pays attention to rules and commands, Teleology is more in tune with spirituality, virtues, and goals, and Relationality / Responsibility is responsive to others in and through relationships

Each model offers a way of thinking about right action and implies both an image of God and an image of discipleship. Which one we prefer depends on our relationship with God and Jesus and as you might expect, some people fit into one model only, some people have strong opinions about the other models, and some people move around between the various models. The instructor felt that while it may be ok to have a favorite, it's probably best to work between them all.

Those who support human rights, tend to identify more closely with the Deontology model. Those who are more attracted to personal spirituality identify themselves more closely with Teleology. Those who are working to encounter God in the people around them are identified most closely with Ralationality/Responsibility.

General catholic teaching has moved from one to the other over the years. Deontology was used as the model for education before Vatican II, Relationality was used after Vatican II, and in the mid 80’s Teleology became popular. Today all three are used.

In Deontology, right action is doing one’s duty, moral wisdom is transmitted as rules, and moral judgment asks the question “What rule applies here and how shall I follow it”? Images of God include king, sovereign lord, and law giver, while images of discipleship include fidelity, obedience, and faithfulness.

The advantages are that it’s clear, easy to teach, and it helps people to pay attention to the outer limits of morality. The disadvantages are a tendency towards rigidity, it’s easy to play with the rules, and modified rules can lead to wrong action. These people might say, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness then to ask for permission”.

In Teleology, right action is pursing the right goal the right way, moral wisdom is transmitted as virtues, and moral judgment asks the questions, “what kind of people are we, What kind of people do we want to be, and How will be get there”? Images of God include the ultimate end (Heaven) and friendship with God, while images of discipleship include hopefulness, striving, and responding to the call to holiness.

The advantages are commitment, humility, and that it can be applied at any time and in any place. The disadvantages are a tendency towards Narcissism (it’s about me), an unending focus on human behavior, and a narrow vision of what salvation looks like (the eye of the needle). These people say, "Prayer is a moral action. If you are loved and you don't love in return, there is a problem".

In Relationship / Responsibility, right action is being responsive to the relationships in your life, moral wisdom is an understanding of right relationships, and moral judgment asks the questions, “How can I respond to the love of god? How shall I be a steward of creation? And How shall I care for myself?” Images of God include the Trinity of Love, while images of discipleship include love and responsibility.

The advantages are that it’s closely related to Bible scripture; we ask not what we need to do but what Jesus wants us to do, it’s positive, receives popular notice, it’s about others, it’s tangible, and it’s holistic (all encompassing). The disadvantages are that it’s vague, cultural habits or conventions can be misunderstood, and limited understanding leads to wrong action. These people would say that, “Planting a tree is an act of optimism and hope, because you don't know for whom the tree is planted”.

To end the class the instructor introduced case study # 1, which is the first option for our paper. In this imaginary study young students are meeting for an impromptu discussion about dating and sexuality. Their dicussion tended to focus on the rules or the limits of the rules, which is an example of Deontology. The question for our paper might be how the other models would round out this discussion.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Adult Faith Formation

At the heart of catechesis we find a person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, who is our guide for adult faith formation.  We must know your audience, getting to know as much as possible with those we are leading and guiding. There was a short discussion of our current involvement in catechesis. I’m involved in two areas; adult spirituality and prayer groups. I’m also involved in a small Bible group, but that’s probably more of a faith sharing group than something involving catechesis.

Then we took a few minutes to recall the best learning experience that we had as an adult. My Navel training was certainly memorable. I was competing for grades with two others guys more qualified than I was. After the Navy I joined a company that offered a six month class in medical electronics. This was very interesting because, like the Navy, the systems were very complex. After 20 years as a medical service repair technician I took a two year night course to learn computer network administration. I was very excited about the technology, and because of my US Navy and medical experience I was able to see the big picture. Today, of course I’m in the ILM program, learning as much as I can about my chosen religion and personal faith. I’m beginning to think about working less and volunteering more.

During the discussion with class mates it was pointed out that each of my best learning experiences related to career changes, or job transitions. Each of them included three basic areas that make education memorable; emotional commitment, patterns for living, and life transitions. The reason each of these stood out for me was that the training was always very organized and high quality. It made a difference in my life because I’ve always enjoyed what I do for a living. In affect its included formation as well as information.

The Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops says, “Bishops should be especially concerned about catechetical instruction. It should be carefully imparted not only to children and adolescents, but also to young people and even to adults.”  The reason that adult formation is so important is that it enables us to share with others, keep up with change, keep the on-going conversion alive, understand our surroundings, apply our experiences, and to evangelize others. We cannot give what we don't have. We should not be ashamed of our faith, and as adults we have the greatest responsibly and capacity to live out the goal of faith formation. It requires a mature understanding, a willingness to live our faith, an explicit relationship with Christ, and the commitment to be fruitful.

During the discussion on who I know that is a model of a mature adult faith, I thought of a previous Priest and friend, Father George. This was followed by the question, “Are you a model of mature adult faith for others”, which I hope that I am. There are six dimensions of a mature faith; knowledge, education, formation, prayer, communal, and mission. The two areas that contribute to a mature faith are life experiences and scripture tradition. These two can help us grow spiritually if we apply our experience to scripture and tradition to our own lives. The ability to relate one's experience to scripture and tradition may be the single most important skill in adult faith formation.

The principles for guiding adult faith formation begin by orienting Christian learning toward adult Christian living. It’s important to make the information practical, while giving adult formation the best of our pastoral resources and energies. As we grow up physically, we grow up mentally, and we grow up spirituality. The bishops have made this a priority but it is up to us to make it happen. Jesus is our model as the master teacher;  he met others where they were,  comforted them in community, guided, lead, shepherded, and listened to their concerns, engaged them, discussed their needs, enlightened their experiences, and connected to their lives by breaking bread with them.

Adult faith formation should pay attention to what is going on in the lives of adults and listen carefully to what adults are talking about. What do adults say they need, and what are the surrounding events in their lives? What are the surrounding events in our own lives? We must listen to the concerns, heartaches, and joys of others and understand their passions. Adult faith formation targets the transitions and milestones in the lives of adults and families. Conversation starters may be about college, engagements, aging parents, lost time, travel, and marriage. Facebook, blogs, email, and forums can be used to find out who’s talking about what. Informal sources include newspapers and civic programs, twitter, movies, TV, and literature, while formal sources might include surveys and statistics.

Discussing what or who had helped me in a time of transition to regain stability I recalled the faith that God loved me. The presence of God acting in my life is how my faith helped me find meaning during my times of transition. Obviously, God is not done with me yet. Being open to possibility will continue to bring fullness in my personal life. We discussed examples of transitions that people experience. Geographic changes might include moves, and family changes include births, deaths, college, and marriages. Career changes include job loss, career changes, promotions, and retirement. Health changes might include difficult treatments, cancer, and adult care needs.

While it’s true that people are unstable during times of transition, mentors can assist those in need by telling their stories and encouraging others to tell their stories. While in times of transition faith formation can help adults acquire new meaning and perspectives that help them regain order and stability in their lives. Everyone experiences milestone cycles in their lives, such as birthdays, marriages, and deaths. How can the church recognize the people that are going through these life cycles? We should celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, marriages, and baptisms, etc by organizing small group ministries, offering blessings, and making use of symbols.

Adult faith formation should connect with the motivations and interests of adults. Which motivator is particularly important for your parish and why? How can your parish more effectively connect and build upon the motivations of adults in adult faith formation planning? Our challenge as adult leaders is not to organize but to offer options. Adult faith formation should be centered on the spiritual growth processes in the lives of adults. Adults want to see and feel God actively in their lives. They will respond better to faith formation that nurtures their spiritual live and increases their understanding of their faith. Adults seem to want to look through tradition as a lens to put their own life in perspective.

Adult faith formation utilizes as variety of program models to address the diversity of adult backgrounds, faith maturity, interests, and learning needs. Not all adult learning involves programs, both formal and informal learning opportunities should be considered. Every aspect and event in parish life can be intentionally fashioned as an occasion for adult faith formation. Adult faith formation should be designed using a variety of learning methods that respect the diversity of learning styles of adults. It should build on adults experiences and prior knowledge and challenge thinking with real life scenarios. One size does not fit all.

Adult faith formation programs should create hospitable learning environments that build relationships among adults.  Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that it’s the people, not the room that is the most important aspect of environment. There should be trust, freedom of expression, and acceptance of differences. Actually it’s more acceptance, it should include respect and encouragement. Focus on conversation about things that matter and develop a sense of belonging and a welcoming spirit. Keep the physical environment comfortable and hospitable. The old adage still works, “If you feed them and they will come”.

Adult faith formation requires effective leadership in a variety of roles: pastors, leadership teams, and catechists. The Pastor should be committed and familiar with adult formation theory and practice? The leadership should include a paid staff person and various team members. The catechist must be of mature faith and able to facilitate learning. Start small and use your allies. Adult faith formation programs are should be guided by learning goals and they should measure the outcomes of programs.  Set goals that identify and assess the current reality, concerns, and needs of parishioners.  What do we want people to learn or understand? How do we want people to feel? What do we want people to do? Remember that the longest 18" in the world is the distance between the head and the heart. Engage their head, heart, and hands.

An example of a learning goal might aim to develop a support group for unemployed members of the community. The goals might be to help them learn how Christ can be their strength. How do you help them feel accepted and hopeful in this time of transition? Let them share the stories of their faith and their resources with one another. To ensure that adult faith formation programs are guided by learning goals, it’s important to connect the evaluation questions to the goals. If the goal is to learn how Christ can be their strength in times of difficulty, then the question might be what did you learn tonight that will help you get in touch with the strength that only Jesus can bring? Written questions and answers provide a more permanent reference.

I don’t think we discussed how to adjust faith formation to cultural differences in learning, although this might be less of a problem than I think. People tend to group together with others who are similar and the differences may not appear. I’m not sure who is doing all this work? I understand that we need to be a church that responds to the needs of the adults in our midst.

It’s also important to recognize that there will be some resistance from clergy.  Laity and clergy do not learn the same stuff at the same time or at the same rate. Don't surprise the pastor with some grand plan to revolutionize faith formation in your parish. Begin small and take the time to bring the pastor up to speed. It's about the relationship - not the program. It’s also important to recognize that there will be some resistance from laity. How do you deal with those who are not happy with what is being done? Remind them that the word catholic means universal. Within the Catholic Church we are like a large family, and not everyone agrees all the time. Do it with love and respect.