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Forming disciples in the family: catechesis grounded in 'the art of a Catholic life in the home'.

In recent years there has been an emphasis on home catechesis. For our children, the most significant community of the faithful is the family. As the Catholic family lives, so the disciple will be formed. Just as families differ, so the journey of faith varies according to the many forms of God's grace. NCR talked about it with Thomas Groome, one of the U.S. church's leading catechists.

Groome is director of the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College. He is the author of Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision and of Sharing Faith, a foundational work on ministry. He is also the principal author of the Coming to Faith series, the best-selling elementary-school-level religion curriculum in Catholic schools and parishes today. Groome currently works with RCL Benziger, which recently merged with Silver Burdett Ginn publishers, preparing new catechetical resources that follow the bishops' new framework curriculum.

NCR: We often hear that catechesis begins and continues in the home. What exactly does that mean?

Groome: There is a new consciousness about and a new level of commitment to family-based catechesis. The rhetoric about this has been around for years, ever since Vatican II declared that parents are the primary religious educators. We hand the parents the candle at the rite of baptism, symbolizing their new role as catechists.

Of course, it's a different kind of education we're talking about. It's not schooling; parents don't have to buy a school desk and chalkboard. Intentional instruction is probably still best done in the school setting, in a class or in some kind of outreach. Rather, what parents contribute is the lifestyle, the ambience, the atmosphere, whether or not they are participating in the faith community. It's prayers before meals, night prayers. It's the art of a Catholic life in the home. It's a picture of the Good Shepherd in the kids' room. The kid has Harry Potter but also Catholic art on the walls. Parents can be intentional about socializing and enculturating their kid into the Catholic identity Our parents did it by osmosis; it was built into the culture. But now postmodern parents have to be quite intentional about it. We have to re-create it, now that the overall Catholic culture is gone.

If Catholic identity is no longer passed on as much as it once was in the Catholic schools, how will it happen?

When parents think they can drop off their kid at a parish program for 30 days a year and think they will, at the end of it, take home a Christian Catholic, I can tell them it won't work. That's magical thinking. My new book is titled Will There Be Faith? The answer, I think, is yes, maybe. It all depends on whether parents and family kick in. And it's not the nuclear family anymore either, with two parents in place; it can be a single mom with three kids.

Children will be raised in households of faith; that's imperative if he or she will take on Catholic identity. Our Jewish brothers and sisters have known this for centuries. They are responsible for nurturing the Jewish identity of their child. Catholics have gotten into that sense that the Catholic school or outreach programs would do it for them. We have to replicate the old socialization that our parents did by instinct and by tradition. Young parents have to be helped and supported and given the resources--whatever it takes to get them to be intentional socializers of their children.

I have a 10-year-old now. The big questions come up all the time about life, love and death. The kids often catch you by surprise. Death happens. A sister-in-law died recently. We said that she went home to Holy God. What does that mean? Then you're off into catechizing. Life lends lots of opportunities to catechize and learn what our faith teaches us about these important life events and stages. We need to give parents the confidence they need to make these important teaching moments bear fruit.

The people who go through our program get a huge dose of the primacy of the family in catechesis. We urge that you can't put guilt trips on parents but rather must give them resources, suggestions, helps. It's not rocket science. If you have a positive attitude toward people of other faiths or races, kids will pick that up, and the reverse is true.

The sacraments are high points in the Catholic faith life. Are those good times for parental catechesis?

Sacramental formation in the journey of faith provides great teachable moments. The sacramental preparations are high points but on the other hand I wouldn't want to limit the participation of parents to just getting the kid ready for first Communion, confirmation.

Even when talking about the weather, we can catechize. I was working with my son Teddy talking about Psalm 147 that describes God spreading snow like wool. The hailstones come down. Who can stand such cold? The word of God comes down and warms everything.

The family table is ideal. We can begin with a meal with a simple prayer exercise like this one: "Let's all pick one thing to say thank you to Holy God for." Or, of course, you can say "Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts ..." Very simple rituals can be creative. Parents come up to me at workshops, saying, "I'm a single parent with three kids. All this stuff about rituals in the home--I don't have time."

I respond: How long would it take every night before your kids go to sleep to go to their bed and put your arms around each one saying "God loves you. I love you. Sleep well"? Do that every night for the next 10 years, and you'll have children knowing they are deeply loved by mother and by God. They'll be far down the road in faith formation.

Any parent can put in a good word into a kid's life at any moment. You can do it a dozen times a day. The key is that it is done intentionally and consistently.

[Rich Heffern is an NCR staff writer and coordinator of NCR's Eco Catholic blog at His e-mail address is]

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Title Annotation:catechist Thomas Groome; CATHOLIC EDUCATION
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Mar 4, 2011
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