The ministry of forming conscience

The Thinker by Jim Coe

I'm still pondering John Kavanaugh's essay in America which I noted in the previous post.

I'm thinking back a few months to a Confirmation class in my parish. Each year I make myself available for a session of "Ask Fr. Fleming anything you want to ask a priest about the Church." The questions are rather predictable and they reveal a great deal about how these young people view the Church, its teachings and its life.

This year I tried to thread a theme through my responses to all of the confirmands' questions. I kept coming back to the importance of being a critical thinker, of being an informed thinker, of understanding why the Church teaches as it does. I tried to get them to look a bit at the philosophies that influence them and their thinking and their decisions, encouraging them to be critical of those philosophies and not to simply accept them whole cloth.

What realities are forming their consciences? How do we help our young people develop an informed conscience? How can our faith formation and youth ministry efforts lead in this direction? How do we encourage and help our young people to become critical thinkers.

Who and what are teaching our young people how to think and what to think?

And of course, there's the larger question: how do we help the majority of people in our parishes to develop informed consciences enabling them to be critical thinkers and doers in their lives.

How do we bring the demands of the gospel and the wisdom of the Church's teaching to bear on how priests and people (and their younger brothers and sisters) assess their cultural context and make a truly Christian contribution to it.

Our young folks are among the first to be assaulted by the pounding of attitudes and opinions flourishing in the media and cyberspace. What tools are we giving them to adequately distinguish what is true, just and beautiful from what is false, selfish and sham?

Again, I'm grateful to Kavanaugh for his keen insight. And I continue to wonder how to allow it to inform the ministries of my parish life.

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  1. Dear Father,

    I can tell you--as a school teacher for the past ten years--that one thing kids are absolutely NOT getting is silence. Our kids today live in a world that is filled with noise, stimulation, and voices. Perhaps some sort of mini vacation of television, email, IMs, Ipods, video games, laptops, cell phones, and whatever else I've missed will help kids to turn the world off long enough to hear God's still, small voice. Too much noise makes it hard to think.

  2. Like you, I have been pondering the issues assocaited with the article.I have posted something today and would welcome any comments.

  3. Do you think the high school age youth are critical thinkers? Do they approach their school work with a critical thinkers' approach? Do they approach what they are taught in faith formation classes with a critical thinkers' approach? Do you think they feel free to question? Do you think they feel free to express doubts?

    My own experience of Catholic education (many moons ago!) was not one of feeling free to question. You were told what was "the truth" and that was that. I would hope that we have moved along from that sort of teaching of the faith.


  4. P.S. Today I read an article that used the expression "Catholic intellectual vitality." I rather like it!


  5. Rosemary's comment raises the core question: Is there a discernible truth to be taught? My hope would be that faith formation would instill in our young people (and their elders!) a knowledge of, love for, taste for the truth with which they might critically engage the world around them.

  6. A Reader: But if we help them find the quiet time, have we given them the tools to help them discern what is God's voice - and what is not?

  7. You ask: who and what are teaching our children to think? I wish someone were! It seems that critical thinking is not something that the children in our parish know how to do it. This became quickly clear in this year's first-year confirmation class, which I teach. Many of the activities we do are based on critical thinking, and we almost always have to teach the teens first how to think in general and then lead them through the activities. I love it when we get one who can think, even if, as in the case of one kid this year, it is someone who is angry at God. That is, at least, a starting point.


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