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Creating A Faith That Happens In Us, Not Just Around Us

Susan Rutkowski, MDiv
Pastoral Minister of Family Religious Education and Social Justice
September 8, 2023

Where is the best place to get an ice cream cone? Sunday school! Next Sunday is Family Religious Education Kick-off! As the Pastoral Minister of Family Religious Education, parents ask me if they should make their children participate in religious education (even if the children are feeling a bit reluctant). While I always take a particular family’s situation/needs into consideration, I virtually always advise them to participate. Why? Here are my top three reasons!

Reason #1: If you want to raise your child Catholic, it is critical for them to learn basic Catholic Doctrine, Sacred Scripture, and prayer. It’s also important to assist children in creating community by bonding with other children and staying connected to people they know and care about. Religious education is a good way to practice “bringing their lives to their faith and their faith to their lives, as students strive to realize the value of God’s reign in the ordinary and everyday” (Groome).  If we want to be responsible, fully-formed Catholics, we have to practice!

Reason #2: As we grow, we need forums in which to grapple with our faith. The classroom is a place to bring critical thinking and reflection to our experience of God. We learn, practice what we learn, reflect back upon it, and repeat the process again and again. We create a faith that happens in us, not just around us. We want our children to develop the ability to describe and defend who they are as Catholic Christians. This takes self trust and confidence in their own experience of God.

Confidence is not just feeling good. Confidence is feeling certain about the truth of our internal lives. When we feel certain knowing what’s happening inside us and can locate what we are thinking, feeling, or worrying about, we’re confident. Therefore, sometimes confidence can include feeling insecure or scared. Sometimes it can involve a lack of conviction. Doubt has gotten a bad rap when it comes to theology. But doubt can be viewed “as the mother of conviction. Once we have pursued our doubts to the dust, we forge a stronger, not a weaker, belief system.  These truths are true, we know, because they are now true for us rather than simply for someone else” (Chittister).  This is the process of an authentic faith.

Even though women like the Marys and Martha were a core part of Jesus’ original community, it took women nearly 2,000 years to express their authentic experience of God in the form of feminist theology. Its origins can be traced to a 1960s article by Valerie Saiving, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View.” Saiving challenged theologies written by men for men to dismantle the patriarchal systems they created. Saiving had a self-confident moment that validated the experience of many other women and, subsequently, other minority groups in our Church.  How much breadth, depth, and richness have feminist, liberation, queer, and black theologies added to our religious tradition?

A 3rd reason, particular to the Paulist Center: We have incredible teachers! Our volunteer teachers are the same people who make this community the extraordinary place it is. They are professional educators, immigration lawyers, assistant district attorneys, former religious, medical professionals, PhDs, etc. Their lived faith and ministry educates children in discipleship, in apprenticeship to Jesus. They’re great at forming disciples!

Our “intentional community” moniker comes from not being a geographical parish. It takes time and energy to be here – driving, parking, public transit, etc. We invest here because we feel an affinity with a community that strives to be fully formed Catholics together. Part of that is offering safe and creative space for our children to learn the extraordinary richness of our Catholic faith to make it their own as they grow for a lifetime of connection, meaning, and purpose.  If you or your children want to be a part of this, I’d love to hear from you! ( And all community members are invited to attend our intergenerational FREP events to be teachers and leaders and share your spiritual and lived experience with our children. Here’s to a mind and heart-expanding and enhancing year of religious education for our whole community!