Dear Parent, Grandparent, and Catechist,
Consider this shocking fact: a young adult Catholic who remains faithful to the Church is now the exception rather than the rule! That’s right. According to Pew Research, only three out of 10 people who were raised Catholic are still practicing their faith. Even some kids with 12 years of Catholic education are dropping their faith within 72 hours of being dropped off at college!
This is an unmitigated disaster. What we Catholics have been doing to try to pass on the Faith to our children isn’t working. It’s that simple.
You’ve probably heard that “the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.” That’s true. If Catholic parents and parishes keep on doing what we’ve done, we’ll keep on seeing children fall away from the Church. We have to do something different!
The sea change I propose might put some people’s noses out of joint
I’m going to take a big risk because what I say might step on some toes and put some people’s noses out of joint. That’s not my intention. Please hear me out because I’ve thought deeply about this problem, and I’m going to propose what does work. This involves not just a minor tweak but a sea change.
How do I know my proposal works? Three reasons: (1) I’ve personally seen it work even in the most difficult, hopeless circumstances. (2) It squares with what St. Paul says about grace. (3) Don’t underestimate the power of grace to transform the human heart.
As you may know, after 14 years on Catholic radio as EWTN’s longest-running live radio host, I took a one-year sabbatical, which I recently finished. During that sabbatical the cultural storm against Christian values has gotten even worse.
Here’s what’s so scary about raising children today: People of my generation grew up in an America that took Christian values as a given. Abortion and homosexual acts were illegal. Our society back then was fundamentally good.
But children today are growing up in an America where abortion mills are grinding up babies in every major city, where you can buy an abortion-causing drug off the shelf at Walgreen’s for $50, where militant homosexuals are marching in our streets with fists clenched against God, and where many states allow a man to “marry” another man.
In other words, children today can easily take for granted that people of the same sex can “marry” each other and that abortion is
okay because it’s legal. This is the only America they know. Therefore, these unspeakable acts seem normal to them.
Today’s America is like the “Poseidon Adventure” disaster movie in which everything has been flipped upside down. The floor has become the ceiling, and the ceiling has become the floor. And that upside-down situation seems normal to those who’ve experienced nothing else. The fundamentally good America has passed into history. The only hope for America, then, is to keep the Faith alive within our families and to pass it on to our children as we seek to re-evangelize the culture around us.
Here’s the fatal flaw that’s causing children to fall away from the Church
Some of the finest, most solidly Catholic parishes in America are making a fundamental mistake in trying to educate children in the Faith. Alarmed by the lack of commitment and the high dropout rate of Catholic children, they’ve doubled up on the “law” instead of tapping into the miraculous power of grace (the only other alternative).
What do I mean by doubling up on the “law”? In the requirements for the sacrament of confirmation, even at some of the most solidly Catholic parishes, attendance in confirmation classes is “MANDATORY”— which is emphasized in all caps. Children must attend confirmation classes or else they won’t get the sacrament. The strategy behind the “MANDATORY” approach is to teach Catholicism in a classroom by imparting information about the Faith.
How well has the “MANDATORY” classroom strategy been working? Not too well.
For example, at one of America’s best Catholic parishes, nine out of 10 young Catholics in the parish confirmation class don’t regularly attend Sunday Mass. These kids have already checked out of the Church; they’re already gone! Their hearts have been captured by the secular winds that swirl around us.
Let me put it this way: all it takes to choke grace in a child’s heart—or an adult’s heart, for that matter—is coercion in religion with reliance on the law, rules, regulations and obligations for motivation.
The fatal flaw of the classroom confirmation strategy is that it focuses only on information about the Faith—head knowledge— while ignoring the heart. True faith—a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—lives in the mind and heart, not just in the head. Pope Benedict XVI said, “Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians.”
To whom does the child’s heart belong? If the child’s heart belongs to Jesus through a personal relationship with Him, parents can drop the child off at college with peace of mind. Otherwise, the child may likely drop out like so many others.
Here’s the key thing: neither a confirmation teacher nor a parent can pass on to a child what he doesn’t have. A child may learn
all of the basic facts about the Catholic faith from a teacher who has head knowledge about Catholicism, but it’s even more important that the child form a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is a matter of the heart. The child’s heart must be transformed by the love of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, no matter how much Catholic home schooling or catechizing the child gets, it’s more likely than not that the child will fall away from the Church.
It’s necessary to get out of the classroom!
Here’s another key point: the classroom setting is an ineffective environment for passing on the Faith that really sticks. It may shock you to hear me say that, but it’s the truth.
In a classroom setting, I never would’ve succeeded in teaching anything to the group of juvenile delinquents in my cabin at a summer camp in the mountains several decades ago. These kids were out of control. Their language was foul; their attitudes stunk; they weren’t cooperative, and most were patients of psychologists and psychiatrists. It was hopeless. It would’ve done no good whatsoever to make good behavior “MANDATORY.” These boys were stuck in a rut of bad behavior!
To get a little cooperation, I bribed these delinquent kids with the promise of an unlimited chocolate treat at the end of the week. And then we all rolled up our sleeves and built a rope bridge over a ravine in the wilderness. Relying on the grace of Jesus Christ, I prayed for God’s love to reach the hearts of these troubled boys. God answered that prayer. At the end of the week you should’ve seen the tears of joy running down those boys’ faces as they realized at the core of their being that God really did love them! That’s grace at work.
The kids were so overwhelmed by God’s grace that they forgot all about the chocolate I’d promised! They were ready to go to bed after they regained their composure, but I reminded them that they had an unlimited chocolate treat coming. It bears repeating that I could have done nothing with these boys in a classroom setting. It’s necessary to get out of the classroom in order to build a relationship bridge on which a strong faith can cross over! And there has to be an enlightenment of the heart.
If grace can work a transformative miracle for a group of out-of-control boys on meds, could grace transform the hearts of normal children so that they’ll stick with the Faith? Yes. Most definitely!
Whether you’re a parent, grandparent or a confirmation teacher, you probably have many questions about my proposal to tap into God’s grace to transform the hearts of young people for Jesus Christ. This is the only real solution, and I explain everything in my new radio shows about “Transforming Grace” in an age of apostasy.
"This is a great resource and instruction on how to keep our children Catholic in this pagan world. I recommend it to any serious Catholic who sees the danger to our children in today's secular culture. It has practical methods that I am already using in helping convert my child's heart to Christ." -- Ken, OH
"As a parent in this toxic culture, I feel more encouraged than discouraged because of Steve’s ministry. Transforming Grace gives us solutions, direction and hope." Sue, NY
"I would love to have these programs (Transforming Grace) on CDs to listen to again and even get a set for my pastor and principal at my children’s Catholic school. -- Sam