Forming Dynamic Catholics, The Anchor, August 1, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
The Anchor
August 1, 2014

Forming Dynamic Catholics

One of the weightiest, perennial pastoral challenges is the effective religious formation of young people. There are two main issues.

The first is the issue of teachers. Occasionally there will be superstar catechists, who know and believe all aspects of the faith and are geniuses in passing it on with contagious enthusiasm to children. The majority, however, are good and generous people without much formal study of the faith or pedagogical training who out of love for God and for young people are humbly willing to do the best they can in response to the desperate annual appeal for religious education instructors.

In many cases, parish catechists are like solid infielders in baseball who have been suddenly cast into the role of pitcher. They have some knowledge of what they need to do and some analogous skills to help them get the ball over the plate, but they pitch like second basemen instead of natural hurlers. Often their goal is just to get out of the inning without allowing too much damage. They know they’d be much more effective doing what is more natural for them — backing up a great pitcher on the diamond — but they nevertheless pitch because of the critical need.

The second issue is the students. Some students come from homes that have made them excited and hungry to learn the faith. But most show up to class disengaged and unenthusiastic, with the excitement of students arriving for detention. Many come from homes that don’t practice the faith regularly by active prayer and a sacramental life and many times they struggle to perceive the practical relevance of what they’re learning.

In short, many students in religious education have never really been evangelized — they’ve never really had the experience of a consciously personal encounter with Jesus loving them and calling them to follow and live with him — and trying to catechize someone who has not been evangelized can be like trying to plant a garden on asphalt. Adding to the difficulty, as the younger generation has become more and more dependent on visual media — television, computer screens, tablets and smart phones — studying the faith through the classic textbook model, as happens in most parishes, is becoming less efficacious each year.

I’ve been searching, waiting and frankly praying for years for religious formation materials that will adequately address these two issues: for video-based curricula that will have a superstar catechist evangelize and engage the students directly and then provide first-rate interactive resources for teachers in the classroom and parents at home to help the students to learn and live the lessons. As an inner-city pastor, I have also hoped that I wouldn’t have to institute a grand annual collection in order pay for these materials.

It seems the long Advent — and for some students and teachers, the long Lent! — is over with the May release of “Decision Point,” the new Confirmation Program developed by Matthew Kelly and his team at Dynamic Catholic.

This curriculum features 72 short videos, generally about six minutes in length, all taught by Matthew himself, accompanied by superb leaders guides and workbooks for the students. All the materials are available for free download on the internet (dynamiccatholic.com/confirmation), but if parishes want hard copies the entire DVD set will be shipped out for under $10, the workbooks for $4 a copy, and the leader’s guide for $6. Free review copies of all the materials will be sent out for the cost of shipping.

In refreshing contrast to various catechetical publishing companies not to mention most Catholic outfits that produce high quality video religious formation materials for adults, the main goal for the folks at Dynamic Catholic is not to make money but to make disciples. Dynamic Catholic has become famous among pastors in evangelizing parishes for its Parish Book Program that sells great Catholic books in bulk for $2 a copy so that pastors can give them out to all of their parishioners at Christmas, Easter and on other occasions to help them grow in faith.

The whole strategy of Dynamic Catholic flows out of Matthew Kelly’s zeal. He’s a 41 year-old Australian partner in a prestigious American business consulting firm who works a few days a month advising major corporations and the rest of his time uses his business school training to come up with best practices for passing on the faith.

For the last 20 years, this husband and father of three has spoken about the faith to three million people in 50 countries and his best-selling books — especially his Rediscover Catholicism and The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic — have been translated into 25 languages. He’s now translating his highly effective skills in passing on the beauty of the faith to teens in preparation for Confirmation and for faithful Catholic life after Confirmation.

The “Decision Point” Confirmation materials took four years to develop through study of the best materials presently available, focus groups of teachers and students, and much feedback. The results are impressive. I used some of the materials with my Confirmation students last spring during a Day of Recollection and both the students and catechists deemed the materials “outstanding.” We’re going to be using it for our Confirmation Program starting this upcoming year.

I’d encourage not only those involved in Confirmation Programs to give these superlative free materials a look but also anyone who wants to grow in faith and become more capable of passing the treasure of the faith on.