Thursday, September 15, 2016

"He Borrowed Money From Us"

I have been very interested in the discussions and articles online that have inspired and been inspired by the movie Poverty, inc. They have really transformed the way I see charity and missionary work. Today I came across this article by a man named Nik Ripken. It is very eye opening and worth a discussion in itself, however, as I was reading, I began to think of something other than foreign missions. 
This long quote made me think of your typical parish catechesis: 
"Though our motives are not always suspect, we generally come and tell other people to “sit down and listen” while we stand and speak. We are aggressive, and we expect local people to remain passive. We bring the gospel, Bibles, and hymnbooks. We provide baptisms, discipleship, and places to meet. We choose the leaders. We care for orphans, build orphanages, rescue the broken, and care for the crippled. 
And those are all wonderful things. 
But here’s the challenge: What’s left for local people to do? What’s left for the Holy Spirit to provide? Where do we model how to trust God and his provision through the local body of believers? Where do local believers find their worth, their sanctified sense of signficance? What gifts and sacrifice can they bring to this enterprise of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth? 
Rarely did the apostle Paul create dependency upon himself. Often in his letters, Paul expressed how desperately he needed his brothers and sisters in Christ. He called those friends by name years later. He never forgot them. When possible, he returned to be with them. When he could not go, he sent them someone else. And he faithfully wrote to them, expressing his love, encouragement, and correction. In a word, he needed them."

In case you are not getting the connection yet, let me paraphrase Mr. Ripken's article a little: 

Though our motives are sincere, we generally tell parents "it is your job, but you aren't doing it, so hand over your kids". We expect that they will fail, so we plan for it. Here is a class for every age, a great textbook, a volunteer catechist ("Would you like to be one too?") and a couple of important meetings for you to attend. Here is a sacrament, and a certificate. 
Look how many kids we catechize each year!  
What is left for parents to do? Where do we model families passing on the faith? Where do parents find their vocation, the sacramental graces designed for passing on the Faith, their own relationship with God?  
And the clincher: 

Rarely did the Apostle Paul create dependency. 

And yet that is what we do! We have been creating dependent parents for at least three generations. Our wonderful parish programs are sometimes such an embarrassment of riches that the local economy (catechesis in the home) is rendered unnecessary and collapses. Or, at the very least, the local population (families) feel ineffectual and unable to meet their own needs. 

What is the solution? Certainly not replacing great programs with boring ones, or even stopping all parish catechesis of children. What then? 

Well I looked at Ripkin's article for what he found as a working solution for the world of foreign missions. The folks he spoke to in these persecuted communities all said that they didn't know what a good missionary should do, but they knew "who they loved", and all of them (in the particular area where he began this quest) named one man. When questioned further about why this particular missionary was so great, they reluctantly said "He borrows money from us."

In other words, he needs them as much as they need him. They felt he was a partner with them, not a giver, giving to the takers. 

So, the questions we should be asking about how to better catechize children in a parish setting are not the ones centered on books, crafts, activities, or even teacher training, but how do we allow parents to be TRUE partners in this venture. How do we, as catechists, become dependent on the parents in such a way that they feel empowered? 

I can't say that I know exactly how to do this, but I know at the core of it is relationship. If priests and catechists in a parish setting can be in relationship with each and every family that has children and needs help with catechizing their children, then we might have a chance if impacting that little family economy in a positive way. 

Crazy? Completely unrealistic? Try changing the world with a pack of 12 sinful, faulty, not extraordinary men. 


  1. I wonder if those small communities are something that would provide opportunity for that kind of relationship? Parishes already ask for money! But it's not the borrowing of the money, is it? It's the vulnerability he showed toward them and, probably more importantly, his attitude that they are all equal. A belief of one's superiority is seldom the best start for evangelizing!!

  2. Yes! In the case of the missionary they all loved he was there, with his family, struggling to make ends meet, roasting the hit, freezing in the cold, whatever. How can we do that in a parish setting to reach out to families. That is what they need. What we do is the equivalent of "Here is a catechism, keep free from sin and get close to God. Bye."