The Contemporary Challenge for American Catholics


For the next couple weeks, I am on vacation; but still processing the events in Detroit on Pentecost week end. For me the events of the American Catholic Council were clear signs of the times for a great number of American Catholics. We are not a bunch of obedient children following papa’s every command.

Some years ago, the American educator, Malcolm Knowles, stressed that anyone who would like to work effectively with adults should understand the six characteristics of adulthood.

I would stress that anyone who would be an adult believer or who would work with adult believers must understand and pay attention to these characteristics.

(1) Adults are autonomous and self-directed.
When making decisions about faith and action, adults draw from their formation and their lived experience and then decide how to live and act. (I suspect many bishops do this as well but often do not want “the faithful” to behave in a similar self-directed way.)

(2) Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge.
This deserves deep respect and thoughtful consideration. It is what the Council fathers at Vatican III meant by reading the signs of the times.

(3) Adults are goal oriented.
Adult believers are concerned with what it’s all about…..coming to a fuller and more satisfying appreciation of the Divine presence in our lives and world…..developing a sense of mission within and to the world around us.

(4) Adults are relevancy-oriented.
We are concerned about human life TODAY not yesterday.

(5) Adults are practical.
The great tradition of the church says that ortho-praxis comes before ortho-doxis: the LIVED FAITH lays the foundation for theological and doctrinal formulations. Many contemporary church leaders try to work the other way around……this results in using yesterday’s formulations to solve today’s problems. Often a very unhappy solution. The “new” liturgy that will be imposed on us in November is a good example.

(6) Adults need to be shown respect.
This of course goes both ways. Church leaders must show respect to and for church members. Church members must respect as well church leaders. BUT respect is earned!

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