CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG
Educator Thomas Groome says there is 'no better way to be religious than our Catholic faith.'
Catholic religious educator Thomas Groome called for a "new awareness of the centrality of Jesus to the Catholic faith."
In an era where people can choose their religion, a focus on Jesus Christ is "always persuasive and never coercive," said the professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, and author of numerous books.
The answer to the question "Will there be faith," cannot be assumed to be yes, he said. For example, in Dublin, in his native Ireland, in one generation church attendance has dropped to seven per cent from 80 per cent.
For Groome, the question also should be "What faith?"
"It's not the Bible, it's not the Church, it's not dogma," Groome said May 15 at the opening of the new Centre for Religious Education and Catechesis at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.
"Those are all constituent parts. At the heart we find a person, Jesus of Nazareth."
Passing on the faith means both the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, he said. "We can't forget that bond with Jesus. The ultimate purpose is to put people into intimacy with Jesus so they can walk in his footsteps."
When asked what word they associate most with their faith, Baptists say "the Bible" and evangelicals say "Jesus," he said. But Catholics are most likely to answer "Church."
Religious educators face new challenges in the secular age where faith is separated from life. That separation didn't exist when Groome was growing up on a farm in County Kildare, Ireland.
When he was a young boy he contracted pneumonia. His older sister had died of it. His father, who was a politician, was away at the legislature during the week.
No one in his household knew how to hitch up the pony and get young Thomas to a doctor – a trek of 16 to 20 km in cold, wintery conditions. So his mother pinned a relic of St. Theresa of the Little Flower to his pajamas and vowed not to get off her knees until the fever broke.
He and his mother both fell asleep and when they awoke the fever had broken, something that to her dying day she considered a miracle.
"Her granddaughter would never do that," he said. "She would put the kid in the SUV, go to the doctor and get a round of antibiotics and the kid would be running around the next day."
"In those days we prayed constantly about the weather," he said, noting now one merely needs to look up the forecast for the next several days. "These are not all bad reasons (faith) gets pushed aside."
"The modern world excludes any reference or dependence on the transcendent," he said. Faith has become marginalized.
"The New Evangelization is about bringing us out of the Church and into the world," he said. "The best way to bring people into the Church is through a joyful, living Gospel."
"The responsibility to be religious educators and to spread the Gospel comes with our Baptism," he said.
Our primary identity is as spiritual beings, he said, and there is "no better way to be religious than our Catholic faith."
"There is no better way to live than to follow Jesus," he said. Imagine how I would be if I lived the faith fully, how integrated, how loving, how truthful, how alive I would be for myself and for others.
Growing up in in an Irish village there was no way to escape the Catholic faith. It permeated everything. While there was a graciousness, a sense of humour and deeply lived faith of this pre-Vatican II generation, Groome said he is not hearkening for a return to this era.
"This is not possible today," he said. "Now is the time for us to choose, to have a real choice."
"There should be a tremendous freedom in our faith," he said. "Can we believe it and not live it?" Groome asked. "Yes, I do it regularly and I call it sin."
This gap between what we believe and how we live needs to be addressed, he said. Some start with the head first, or the heart, or the hands.
Jesus said "If you live according to my teaching, you will know the truth." Sometimes the hands come first, Groome said, because living the faith enables you to understand it.