August 1, 2008


Our ‘lost generation’

Something happened to the teaching of Catholic doctrine after the Second Vatican Council.

Today there is general acknowledgement that faith formation from the middle 1960s until at least the mid-1980s didn’t do its job. Many Catholics who grew up in those years admit that they don’t know what the Church teaches as well as they should.

One of those Catholics is Mary DeTurris Poust, who wrote in the July 6 issue of the national Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor, “I always tell people that I received my religious education during the ‘age of the collage.’ My weekly CCD classes from the late 1960s through the ’70s focused an awful lot on gluing and pasting pictures of people expressing God’s love, but not much on the hard truths of our faith.”

There was a lot of experimentation after the council, with emphasis on God’s love for us and our responsibilities to serve others—certainly true—but with less stress on the specific doctrines of the Church. The result was what has come to be known as a “lost generation” of Catholics. Too often today, Catholics in their 30s or 40s are surprised when their children tell them something that the Church teaches.

The failed catechesis of two decades is largely responsible for the decline in the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass on weekends or who, according to surveys, hold views in opposition to the teachings of the Church. Many Catholics can honestly say that they were never taught that willfully missing Mass on a weekend or holy day of obligation is a mortal sin.

Catechesis has vastly improved, although it’s tough to compete with modern media, which promote values that contradict Catholic moral teachings, especially when children are exposed to those media far more than to religion classes.

The poor religious education that the “lost generation” received is not their fault. However, there’s no reason that those Catholics should remain ignorant about Catholic doctrines. It’s not too late for them to learn what the Church teaches.

Every home should have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at least for reference purposes. The Vatican prepared this catechism after the bishops, at a Synod of Bishops in 1985, realized that there was a great need for “a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals.”

The English translation of the catechism appeared in 1994, so it is now 14 years old. It has become the source book for catechists, publishers and writers. It’s used as a resource in Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) classes, and in religion books used in Catholic schools and religion classes. Our own Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein headed a bishops’ committee that made sure that publishers followed the catechism in their textbooks.

Unfortunately, though, not enough “lost generation” Catholics have studied this catechism, which, for some may be intimidating. So two years ago, the U.S. bishops published the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA). There should be no reason why this book isn’t in every American Catholic home.

(See related Criterion news stories: Adult catechism helps varied groups grow in faith and Archbishop of Indianapolis guides nation at crossroads)

It is what its title indicates: It’s specifically for United States adult Catholics—all adults, of course, not only the “lost generation.” It’s written in language that most can understand and, of course, it’s based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One thing that makes the USCCA more interesting is that the chapters (with only a few exceptions) begin with profiles of outstanding American Catholics. They include such people as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. John Neumann, St. Katharine Drexel, Isaac Hecker, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Pierre Toussaint, Thea Bowman, Cesar Chavez, Blessed Junipero Serra, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Father Patrick Peyton, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Dorothy Day and a Hoosier—Archbishop John F. Noll, the bishop of Fort Wayne from 1925 to 1956, when that diocese comprised all of northern Indiana.

We encourage our parishes to make sure that this catechism is used widely in their adult religious education programs. Priests and our new deacons could use it when preparing their homilies, too. Unfortunately, it’s only in those homilies that most adult Catholics are likely to learn what the Catholic Church teaches.

— John F. Fink

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