Program #0045 for Wednesday, May 11, 2011: Adult Faith Formation and Why Catholic?

May 11, 2011

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Chip Hines, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Wrentham

Today’s guest(s): Sister Terry Rickard, President of Renew International, Janet Benestad, Secretary for Faith Formation and Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Boston, and Mary Ann McLaughlin, Co-Director of the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life and Director of Why Catholic?

Today’s topics: Adult faith formation and the new program called Why Catholic?

A summary of today’s show: Scot and Fr. Chip talk with Sr. Terry Rickard, Janet Benestad, and Mary Ann McLaughlin about adult faith formation and the new program in the Archdiocese of Boston called “Why Catholic?” that will take parishioners through the Catechism.

1st segment: Scot welcomes Fr. Chip as a substitute co-host for Fr. Matt Williams who is traveling. He has been pastor at St. Mary’s for three years as of May 1. He’s working hard to try some new things, bringing people closer together and bring people back to God. He also co-hosts the movie review show Spotlight with Fr. Bill Kelly on CatholicTV. He’s been a big fan of movies as long as he can remember. They’ve completed their second season of the show.

Scot said they’ll be speaking today about the centrality of adult faith formation in the Archdiocese of Boston and specifically about the new program following on Arise and Catholics Come Home called Why Catholic? Fr. Chip said he’s excited to hear about these programs coming from the archdiocese because not every parish has the resources to do it all on their own and re-inventing the wheel.

2nd segment: Scot welcomes Sr. Terry and Janet to the show. Scot said most of what Renew does is helping dioceses and parishes with adult faith formation. Renew came out of the renewal of the Second Vatican Council and focuses on the methodology of small groups. They have worked in 24 countries and 160 dioceses in the US over the past 30 years. Currently they are working in 51 dioceses. Scot said there are about 176 dioceses in the US.

Scot said to Janet that the US bishops wrote in a document about 10 years ago that adult faith formation is central to the mission of the Church. Janet said Bl. John Paul wrote in Catechesi Tradendae about this centrality for the first time. Our parishes do a good job educating and forming children, but we haven’t done as well at ongoing formation for adults.

Scot said he was surprised to read in the US bishops’ document:

The Church wisely and repeatedly insists that adult faith formation is “essential to who we are and what we do as Church” and must be “situated not at the periphery of the Church’s educational mission but at its center.” While most Catholic parishes place a high priority on the faith formation of children and youth, far fewer [Catholic parishes] treat adult faith formation as a priority.

Fr. Chip said it’s important that we do it, but we’re not doing it. We’re so focused with our limited resources on forming children that we let parents and other adults slip through the cracks. He did a formation series last fall on Church history and it was sporadically attended. But that can’t be discouraging because people do tell him they want such formation. We just have to find what works for them.

The US bishops said well-formed adults are our next generation of catechists and other volunteers within the parish. Sr. Terry said such programs are not just informational transferral, but information for transformation of the person. At Renew they start where people are at and as people gather in the small groups, they start with prayer, then read the Word of God, and then apply it to their lives.

Fr. Chip asked Sr. Terry how do you involve young parents, with everything that they have going on in their lives? She said you can’t do adult faith formation without evangelization and you need evangelization strategies. The strategies of inviting are important. Part of Renew’s success is that the groups can meet at any time, any day. You can have many groups with a variety of times.

Scot said the US bishops’ document talks about the characteristics of a spiritually mature faith: frequent reading of the word of God, sacred writings of our tradition, and the official documents of the Church; involvement in the community life and mission of the Church; personal prayer; participation in the works of justice and service to the poor; and the fulfillment of our human obligations in family and society through the active practice of love for God and neighbor. It goes on:

A living faith is a searching faith-—it “seeks understanding.” Adults need to question, probe, and critically reflect on the meaning of God’s revelation in their unique lives in order to grow closer to God. A searching faith leads to deepening conversion.

Janet said so much of the confusion about the faith is that when people hear what the Church says about a controversial issue, they just shut down rather than to study and learn and understand. Taking seriously the practice of faith within the community and taking seriously the formation of conscience are fundamental to faith. Adult faith formation takes seriously the obligation to give answers or help people seek answers.

The Church wants you to question what she says, but not to just stop there. Find the truth and be open to the truth wherever it is found. Doing this in a group is a way to help each other find their way.Sr. Terry said the methodology of the small groups is to see, judge (based on the truth of Scripture and Tradition, applying it to our lives), and then turn it into action.

Scot said research tells us that those who are most engaged in the parish are those who have one of their best friends in the parish and so faith-sharing groups can nurture acquaintances into friendships and deepen friendships even more.

3rd segment: Scot said the Bishops’ document talked about six dimensions that good adult faith formations programs would include: knowledge of the faith, liturgical life, moral formation, prayer, communal life, and missionary spirit. The idea is to pick one or two at a time and grow a little bit in the different seasons of our lives.

Fr. Chip said missionary spirit and communal life often get left behind. People pretty much know how to pray and people come to Mass, but when he talks about going out and proclaiming faith in what they say and what they do, they balk at that. People like to keep their faith in a box on a shelf and take it out for a time on Sundays. The Church tells us you can’t do that. He talks about community all the time to stress that Church is a place to come any time.

Scot said there are 5 different places for learning: in families, large groups, individual and self-study, and individual activities. Scot would add programs of the various Catholic media. Scot asked Sr. Terry why small group faith formation has proven to be so successful.

Sr. Terry said when Renew was founded in New Jersey, the two priests who began it had been active in the Catholic family movement and the RCIA and both of those had been successful with small groups. If we’re bringing in people through RCIA, then we want the parishes to have that same experience of small group faith-sharing. Scot said that in his professional experience as a manager, he’s found that people have different learning styles and he’s had to adapt to other learning styles.

Sr. Terry said small-group learning is so good because our faith is communal and is essentially lived together.

Renew is also exploring new media, just starting podcasts and webinars and creating a Facebook page.

Scot asked Janet about her hopes for Why Catholic? This will be the opportunity to get the Catechism into the hands of thousands of Catholics in the Archdiocese and the small faith-sharing groups will help people overcome their discomfort at approaching a new document. Why Catholic? begins with the last section of the Catechism on Prayer because they’ve found it to be most effective.

Fr. Chip said the new YouCat youth catechism would be effective for adults as well as youth. Janet agreed because it gives a beautiful treatment of the topics covered by the universal Catechism. She said the new US Catechism for Adults would be suitable as well. YouCat is in a question and answer format that works well for some people. Janet said Pope Benedict wrote the introduction for YouCat and it’s an explicit invitation to those who may have been away from the Church.

4th segment: Scot welcomes Mary Ann McLaughlin to the show. Mary Ann led ARise and now leads the Why Catholic? program. Why is it a good followup to Arise. She said small groups has proven to be an essential experience to the life of the Church. She said Cardinal Sean confirms that one needs to be immersed in the community when learning the language of faith, just like immersion helps one learn a foreign language. The small community in faith-sharing gives us a place to learn that language of faith. Of course, the Church has always had small groups: Cursillo, prayer groups, Bible studies. Gathering in community is the nature of the Church.

Scot asked Sr. Terry for an overview of Why Catholic? They are starting this week with informational sessions on the program for pastors and parish leaders. Similar to Arise, parishes will have teams of 8-12 people to prepare and get the word out. In October, there will be a training on implementing Why Catholic? In January, there will be a small community leader training on the first book, Prayer, which is actually the fourth pillar of the Catechism. They’ve found that people are open to learning about prayer and an deepening the relationship with God opens them to more. They will do six weeks in the spring and then another six weeks in the fall. In the second year, they will study the Creed. The third year, the sacramental life of the Church. The fourth year, the moral life of the Church.

Scot said each of the semesters is structured as six lessons. Mary Ann said the lessons start with an opening prayer, then a reflection of a human experience, then a Scripture, then questions to jumpstart faith-sharing, then an invitation to act. The invitation to act has worked to cause people to think about what has just been prayed and taught and to ask how it works in their life. What starts individually often ends up becoming the groups asking what they can do together.

Sr. Terry said each small group has about 8-12 people meeting in someone’s home. There is a one trained leader. The sessions are 90 minutes. Some people do a lectionary-based prayer in between the six-week sessions.

5th segment: Welcome back. It’s time to announce the winner of the weekly WQOM Benefactor Raffle. Our prize this week is a copy of the book “Synergy: Science Reasons with Atheists,” from Historian and theologian Steven Kellmeyer has assembled over 50 of the most common questions about science and faith in order to lay out the clear, concise answers you have been looking for. This week’s winner is Ann Bouchard of Nashua, New Hampshire. Congratulations Ann! If you would like to be eligible to win in an upcoming week, please visit For a one-time $30 donation, you’ll receive the Station of the Cross benefactor card and key tag, making you eligible for our weekly raffle of books, DVDs, CDs and religious items. We’ll be announcing the winner each Wednesday during “The Good Catholic Life” program.

6th segment: Scot said Cardinal Sean has sent a letter to all pastors about Why Catholic? and encouraging them to take part. Scot said that Renew working with an archdiocese is able to take a good program and make it available to every parish and in many different languages for many different cultures. In Boston, for the first time they’ll make the materials available in Chinese for Why Catholic?

Scot asked her what the group leaders do and how they can let their pastors know they’re interested. The pastor works with the pastoral council to come up with the names of people who would be willing to be leaders. The parish leader then goes to training sessions where they receive tools and support from the archdiocesan office and Renew directly. The small group leaders also go to regional training sessions.

Fr. Chip asked if it’s beneficial for a parish to have a professional staff be the local leader? Sr. Terry said most of the time the leaders are volunteers, but if a parish has a staff member like that, then they should be at least on the team. They don’t want to overburden religious ed directors.

Mary Ann said people can learn about Why Catholic by calling 617-779-3640 or by going to the website of BostonCatholic or Renew International (see above).

That will conclude today’s presentation of The Good Catholic Life. For recordings and photos of today’s show and all previous shows, please visit our website: You can also download the app for your iPhone or Android device at to listen to the show wherever you may be. We thank our guests, Sister Terry Rickard, Mary Ann McLaughlin, and Janet Benestad. For our co-host, Father Chip Hines, our Production team of Rick Heil, Anna Johnson, Justin Bell, Dom Bettinelli, and George Martell, this is Scot Landry saying thank YOU for listening, God bless you and have a wonderful evening!

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