Catholics and religious formation

I honestly don’t mean this to be critical. I love my family, and I grew up in a community full of really warm, loving people. However, I’m coming to realize that I was very, very poorly catechized. I made my first communion and was confirmed, and I attended Mass nearly every week until I was 17 or so, but I honestly cannot say I could have told you the first thing about the Catholic faith. Like, I don’t even know that I could have told you that Catholics believed that Jesus died for our sins; I thought that was something only “born-agains” believed. I probably could have told you that God loved everybody (which is a true and good thing to know if you do only know one thing!) and I had memorized some prayers but beyond that I didn’t know a thing.

I am looking into the church again now, and I’m just surprised again and again how there is a really good, solid answer to every question I have. I’m not sure how I didn’t know this. And while I’m really excited by a lot of what I’m finding, I’m kind of troubled by the enormous gap between what I’m learning the church actually teaches and what I learned (or, I guess, didn’t learn) in my own Catholic religious ed.

This is one of the reasons I’m looking into the church again, because we currently attended a conservative Presbyterian church, and while Calvinism is a very consistent theological system for the most part, it’s also–I’m not sure how to put this–a closed system. Like, it cannot integrate things like what if the earth is billions of years old or what if human life did indeed arise through evolution, at least not very successfully. But Catholicism can, and especially for my kids, who are really smart, inquisitive people who don’t settle for easy answers, I want to make sure they have a faith that will not ever bump up against other real truths then encounter. I am very impressed so far with how, while Catholicism certainly often doesn’t take the stance most popular in the modern world, it seems to never take a position that is actually contrary to science or reason.

But I’m also wondering how I didn’t know any of this. And, if we did return to the Catholic church, would our kids be well catechized? Would they have a solid grounding in their faith, the way they are getting a very solid grounding in their faith in our current church community (where they are doing things like memorizing catechisms and learning church history and memorizing Bible verses and things like that)?

Of course I realize that most of a child’s spiritual formation is the responsibility of the parents, and one of the reasons my own formation was poor is that–as wonderful and loving as my parents were and still are–the adults in my life really left my spiritual formation to the church. I honestly can’t say that I can ever remember, the whole time I was growing up, hearing anybody talk about God outside of church or CCD. As a parent I’m very committed to giving my children a firm grounding in their faith and making it an everyday part of their life.

I really feel, though, like I have a lot of support in doing that at our current church. Other parents are committed to the same, the church leadership really gives us a lot of support and resources, and it doesn’t feel so much like trying to swim upstream. I’m wondering how hard it is to find similar support in a Catholic church.

I think there’s been a growing movement among Catholics to improve catechesis, to provide better resources and tools for learning the faith and reading the Bible. Some of this will make its way into Sunday school.

But if we’re going to have a serious shot, parents need to take a much stronger role in educating their children in the faith, both catechesis and Bible study. It’s not sufficient to just go to Church on Sunday and put your kids through Sunday school and hope they’ll be engaged. We need to sit down and read with them, talk about it, pray with them, take responsibility. And also, volunteer our own time at Sunday school or what have you to assist.

I’d love it if all parishes had superb Bible studies and schooling programs, but we can’t sit on our hands.


This is a great thought-provoking post. Thanks.

The basic problem is how does a Catholic learn more about the faith. One answer is to become involved with CAF.

I presume opportunities vary from place to place. The parish is the basic unit of our Catholic community. Do you find help in your parish.? Would a neighboring parish suit you better? There are courses available in many places, varying in price. Would they help?

I hope others here will come up with helpful suggestions for you and all of us.

Hi detles.

You are definitely not alone in that experience. Probably ninety percent of Catholics, and that include Catholic families, do not talk about God at home. We go to mass on Sundays because it is our obligation and after that having brunches and that’s it until the next Sunday.

Obviously children who grow up in this environment would be poorly catechized.

I think Sunday schools do help but sometimes the teachers can be the problem. I mean, in my parish, not many people volunteer to do this so we have to make do with those few who are graceful enough wanting to teach our kids. Thus the quality of Sunday school could always be improved.

The Catechism is a great book nevertheless though it is not so much for the children.

I am glad you are coming back. You’d be fine with the Catechism.

God bless.


Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. The teaching of young people leaves a lot to be desired in many if not most parishes. And some of the fault lies with the young people themselves. At the teen age years, concern by most teens is directed to social situations and not a rabid interest in theology. For many of us that comes with maturity as your are discovering.

I recently went to a 25 year high school reunion of a Catholic High School on the east coast from which I graduated. Initially I was amazed at the number of my Catholic classmates who had fallen away from the faith. When I looked back on the education in our religion we received, it was immediately clear as to why. We got a lot of “what” and very little “why”.

Maybe that is just natural. The early years of one’s life might be the rocky ground or the poor soil the seed is sown upon. Thank heaven for a merciful and patient Heavenly Father. Wouldn’t you agree?


Ideally your parish is a solid support for catechism, but it is a huge mistake to rely on it. The reason is that since most catechist are volunteers they can range from extraordinary to “are you even Catholic”. Wait, that’s unfair… one of the best catechist at our parish wasn’t Catholic until a few years after she started teaching… it was the life long Catholics you had to watch out for. :smiley:

Having come from a Presbyterian family I can tell you that protestants are immune from poor job of passing on the faith. I had left religion as a whole for 15 years and it was only when I looked to come back that I learned about things like Calvinist ideas about predestination and reprobation. In short, one of the major themes of Calvinism was never uttered in or out of church for the 18 years I was a member. On the other hand I found many holes in calvinist theology that Catholicism was able to answer.

How likely are you to find solid support? That really depends. You might have numerous people in your local parish that can offer that support, but they might also be drowned out by others with more… errr… loose understanding of Catholic teaching. Sometimes you can find better support in smaller groups that might not be official parts of the parish. For instance our local Catholic Homeschooling group takes a very active and very orthodox part in forming students, but that is because they are invested in what happens. Parents in the larger parish population have much greater breadth of level of involvement with the formation of their children. Unfortunately some do not see forming their children as something that is needed.

While I think it is admirable that you recognize that having support is helpful you ultimately have to ask yourself if you think the Catholic Church teaches the truth and if the Presbyterian church will provide your children that same truth? Ultimately for me it comes down if my kids are well supported in being taught something that isn’t true then who cares how good that support is. A great education is worthless if it is not teaching the truth. I’d rather have a mediocre education without distortion that I can build on and fill in the gaps rather than unlearn what I was so well taught.

The difficulty (but also the beauty) with catechizing children is that their primary teachers are their parents. Ideally, children learn the faith “on their mother’s knee” so to speak. It is a grace that God gives to Christian parents, and one that I think is especially available to those in a sacramental marriage. So you have within you the ability to give your children the solid grounding in their faith that was lacking in your own education.

Easier said than done, I know. I think it’ll be helpful for you to keep learning about the faith, to read books with them, to make prayers and conversation about the Church a regular part of your lives. One of the ways that I have found to be helpful is to celebrate the liturgical calendar. Like, we celebrate our children’s feast days and other major feast days. On the feast of St. Paul we talk about his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, how you can be doing terrible things but come to know God and love him. We talk about how Paul wrote parts of the Bible as letters of encouragement to others. Then we eat cake! During Advent we turn off the lights and light candles and sing special Advent songs and talk about waiting for the Christ child and how the world was in darkness until he arrived. Then we open the Advent calendars and eat chocolate! There’s lots of feasting in our house, and I think it makes it more fun and child-accessible, and gives lots of built-in opportunities to do faith activities.

As a Catechist for over twenty years I know first hand that the same kids I taught in second grade simply “forget” what they once knew because it is not enforced at home. It is like learning the parts of a flower. We all knew what all the parts were in elementary school, but we forget about them later because it isn’t reviewed. I suspect you did learn about the Gospels, Holy Days, Saints, Sacraments, etc in religious formation classes but that it wasn’t reviewed at home and you simply “forgot” what you once knew.

That being said, if you want to have faithful children and adults, it really is the parent’s job. The Catechist will provide the “nuts and bolts” of our faith, but the children have to see and hear their parents live the faith as a family everyday. Not just Sundays. And it has to continue throughout their entire lives…not just until they are Confirmed. Some of our best discussions with our children on our faith are the ones we have when are “children” are now adults.

Now that you are an adult, you will start to question our faith. There are tons of great people and programs out there for you to seek out to grow in knowledge. Just start asking around and join groups. One of the best ways to learn the faith is to teach it. Start with a lower elementary grade, read the teacher’s manual and take any classes your diocese offered for Catechists.

Like I said, I have been teaching forever but I still have questions and I still take classes. The more I study our faith, the more I realize how much I do not know!

Thank you for all of the responses!

I do agree that it’s very likely that it wasn’t the education I received via my formal religious ed (mainly CCD) that was lacking, but more that it just wasn’t reinforced at home/school/etc., and that I was not particularly interested in theology as a preteen and teen.

We homeschool our children, so that’s certainly a benefit in terms of our ability to do and reinforce religious instruction at home.

A couple of additional questions:

What is a parish? Is a parish a specific church? Do you become, as a Catholic, a member of a specific church that you then always attend, or are you just a member of the church in general? For example, is it common for people to attend Sunday mass at one church, a weekday mass at another, and maybe send their children to CCD at another, or would you want to find one church that has all of those things?

And, do you have any advice for making connections with other families within a parish? (I’d be particularly interested in meeting other homeschooling families.)

If you’ve got enough time, and important activities don’t clash, and provided you don’t mix the sacraments up, can you get the best of both?

I must admit that, on the whole, you have to be strong minded to withstand package dealers who are out to prove you in the wrong because you hold your own views on say sacraments, rather than theirs, and (horror) sit out communion!

(As I look purely after myself and don’t have children in tow, and am well on in middle age, I am finding this increasingly easy!)

Holy Scriptures are bullet points or visual aids for the meanings attached.

A parish can mean one particular church or in the case of “collaboratives” it can be a group of two or three churches. You have a home parish by default based on where you live, but you can register wherever you like for the purposes of getting parish emails, facilitate access to sacraments, keeping track of financial contributions, etc. You can attend Mass wherever you like. We try to attend our home parish on Sundays but will go to a different church if the time works better on a particular Sunday or if we’re traveling. Most parish activities are open to anyone; I used to attend a moms group at a church that wasn’t my own. I’m not sure if this is also true of CCD

A parish is the local church. In general parishes are defined by geographic boundaries. As such, every Catholic belongs to the parish where they physically reside inside its boundaries. Parishes themselves then belong to a Diocese or Archdiocese (again defined by geography). Depending on the area, there might be multiple churches (physical buildings) that belong to a single parish.

In the US many people do not attend Mass at the parish the technically belong too. Because we are so mobile people often attend in a parish they like. Because of that people will talk about membership being tied to the parish where you are registered.

As a general principle you should do faith formation, receive the sacraments, and attend the geographic parish where you live. There might be reasons you don’t (e.g no faith formation classes, daily mass near work is in another parish or diocese, et cetera), but I would always say to start at the parish where you reside. If you do register at another parish you should try to be part of the community and have that as your primary focus. Attending 4 different parishes makes it difficult to form community bonds.

So you are correct that all Catholic belong to the universal Church, but as it also has a hierarchical structure you also belong to your diocese and geographic parish.

And, do you have any advice for making connections with other families within a parish? (I’d be particularly interested in meeting other homeschooling families.)

I’d start at your local parish and ask if they have or know of a homeschool group in your area. You can also check your local diocese. My diocese and parish both list homeschool contacts on their websites. Your luck here will really depend on how active homeschooling is in your area.

You can also just try searching for “catholic homeschool CityXYZ or StateABC”. Even if you don’t find a group close by you can often contact other’s in the general area to see if they know of any contacts. Also search for “Catholic Home Educators StateABC” and you can often find contacts.

I know that the group my wife has run often has a couple non-Catholics, so even if you aren’t 100% sure most wouldn’t look at you sideways. In fact my wife and I came to the Church via her interacting with a Catholic support group.

Believe me, you are not at all alone. I grew up a cradle Catholic in a nominally Catholic home. I attended Catholic schools through the 6th grade. I drifted away due to apathy and a family where religion wasn’t really all that important. And while it is true that parents are supposed to be the primary teachers of religion in the home, the religious instruction we as Catholics got in parochial schools and Sunday school was pretty lousy. This wasn’t always the case. Two generations ago Catholics knew a lot more about Catholicism. Somewhere along the way the ball was dropped on a very large scale and today the vast majority of Catholics know very little about their faith.

Somewhere along the way catechesis got really watered down. Don’t really know why this happened. I theorize that during the 60’s and 70’s the hipsters cared more about social justice than learning the faith. Now those same people are the heads of faith formation in parishes all over the country.

One of the biggest problems is that catechesis is left up to the individual parishes which are staffed by volunteers who are often poorly catechized themselves and are just filling in when nobody else will step up. So the kids get no formation at home and poor formation in the parish programs. Adds up to apathetic, uneducated adult Catholics. Add to this the fact there is very little emphasis on adult education in parishes. There is really no expectation that adults go to Sunday school like their Protestant brothers and sisters are expected to do all of their lives till the day they die.

I believe what is needed is a world-wide syllabus put out by Rome that is organized by age groups. We are ***one ***church after all with one set of doctrines and teachings. Also adult catechesis needs to be a cultural expectation rather than just 10 people out of a parish of 3000 getting together once a week. We have a generational lack of knowledge about our faith. Turning it around has to start with our adults. Remember it’s hard to love what you don’t know.

Here is the worst part. Often times the people who do volunteer to head up parish-level catechesis have their own personal agenda against the teachings of the church and they are the ones teaching RCIA or our kids. I have witnessed this more than once and called them out on it. They would teach things that are directly in conflict with Catholic teaching and belief. Not good. Those people are the 60’s and 70’s hipsters I mentioned before. I’ll be glad when their generation is out of those positions because they have done a lot of harm. We have all heard horror stories about lousy RCIA programs around the country. The good news is that with the advent of internet-based catechesis like, EWTN, and other great sources that actually teach all of Catholicism (imagine that), I think the generation coming up now could be starting to turn things around a bit.

I, like you, was disappointed that I wasn’t taught all of the wonderful things I have learned in more recent years by visiting websites like this one and also reading a lot of books by great authors like Scott Hahn. Keep reading and learning and you will find the beauty that you were not taught as a child.

thanks for your sound post. Perhaps Vat II weakened the commitment of lay people to the Church.


I feel people should attend the parish they feel most at home in.

As a non-Catholic I want to thank you for being so honest and transparent. I do believe a lot of non-Catholic churches are having similar experiences as well.

That is up to you. The religious education teacher has them for about 1 hour a week in parish formation programs. The parish program is NOT the primary way your children learn their faith-- you are. The Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith. The parish program is merely a supplement to that. A complement to that. NOT the primary transmission of the faith.

I can tell you, after teaching religious education both as a protestant and a Catholic over 30 years, it has more to do with what goes on at home than what goes on in the parish religion program.

I have taught all levels of kids. I can tell you that retention and attention in kids these days is much less than it was 30 years ago. I mean, kids in general will reply “nothing” when you ask “what did you learn today?” whether it’s regular school or religious education. Example: I taught a group of kids during their 8th and 9th grade years. My husband taught them as 10th graders for confirmation. As he went over “basic” things they couldn’t answer the questions. He asked them things like did you learn about “X” or “Y” last year. Their answer: NO. Uh-- liar liar pants on fire. I was their teacher and I know what I taught them. We spent lots of time on X and Y. We did activities, read the bible, did reinforcement, memorization-- you name it. Yet, little blank stares met my husband only 6 months later. WHY? Because they don’t get cr*p at home. Their families don’t pray together, don’t go to mass half the time or more, don’t talk about religion in their families, don’t practice charity as a family. How do I know this? All you have to do is ask them, the kids will tell you that they don’t go to church, don’t pray, have never seen their parents pray.

The kids that know stuff. The kids that live their faith-- those kids see their parents involved. Those kids go to mass every week. Those kids’ families pray at home together. Those kids and their families practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and read the bible as a family.

– Rant off—

oh edited to add:
I grew up protestant. I attended Sunday School from kindergarten through 12th grade. Then I taught it after I graduated college until I converted at age 25.

It was the SAME in the protestant church (high church Episcopal). Kids getting 1 hour of religious education on Sundays and absolutely nothing in their family life. Those kids didn’t know anything either.

I think you will find it if you look for it.

My old parish was a large one in the city and it has SO many groups and supports-- bible studies, choir, children’s choir, married couple group, young mother’s group, men’s group, women’s group, youth group, and so many service opportunities.

My current parish is small and rural. Not so many groups and activities-- really none at all. But since I’ve been here, I’ve built a library FULL of books for parents, DVDs for parents and kids, offered bible studies, offered things to expand the faith at home, sent home worksheets and activities I created to extend lessons at home.

And not one parent has EVER check out any of the books I bought (some with my own money), the DVDs, the parent supplements for the books we use in class, the worksheets, all the cool activities I made up. None of it. Without the virtue of fortitude, I would weep frequently over all I’ve tried to do for the parents in our parish only to be met with complete indifference.

And our diocese, God love them, has TONS of resources too. They have lots of resources coming out of the family life office. They have tons of resources coming out of the Catechesis office. They have courses you can take as an adult. They have retreats and conferences and I am sure some people take them up on it, but I can’t imagine it is anywhere near a majority of the parents out there.

Who was it that taught you ?

And what is it that got you re-interested in learning about Catholicism

Faith and reason shouldn’t conflict.

Yes, I’m curious also. The information to investigate any subject, has never in all of history, been so easy to access …

Always go to the source. #40
Jesus established only ONE Church. The one He established on Peter and the apostles united to Peter

Everyone else is NOT His Church.

Here’s a wonderful reference book and it is online for you to read FREE!

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