Breaking the Silence: Forming Intentional Disciples and the Catholic Family


In my last post, I related some insights from a one-day workshop I attended that was given by Sherry Weddell.

Again, her book Forming Intentional Disciples is really creating quite a stir in the catechetical world.

It’s getting diocesan staffs and parish leadership councils all over the country thinking about discipleship and considering parish evangelization in new ways.

Sherry presented some alarming statistics at her workshop about Catholic belief. The situation’s not good.

But one problem she highlighted particularly struck me, and I wanted to consider it in different terms, beyond the parish. I wanted to think of it in terms of the family.

The Silence

monkey-speak-smallAccording to Weddell, only 48% of Catholics think it’s possible to have a personal relationship with God. Just 60% believe in a personal God, and among 20-something Catholics, that number is 40%.

Even if they did believe, perhaps it wouldn’t matter because 62% of Catholics have indicated they seldom or never share their faith.

There’s a culture in Catholic parishes of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Weddell shared. You don’t ask about faith. That’s private. And you certainly don’t tell others about yours. That wouldn’t be humble.

Sherry calls it the “Spiral of Silence.” Catholics quickly pick up that it’s unacceptable to talk openly about faith, so no one does. That keeps everyone in the parish comfortable, but it puts a huge wet blanket on evangelization.

If everyone’s silent, how’s it going to change?

Why did that hit me in particular? The fact that God is personal is at the heart of our Christian faith.

In fact, he’s a Father and we’re made to be like him. We’re persons because he’s a person. To come to our rescue, he sent his Son to die for us so we could share his life in a loving relationship, an intimate communion.

This is essential to Christian faith and I want the kids of my parish to know it. I want your kids to know it! But where are they going to get it if no one’s talking about it or teaching it?

Breaking the Silence

At the workshop, Weddell called for changing this culture of Catholic silence and outlined three tasks for “breaking the silence.” I was thinking these tasks are very well suited to the family. The family is the battleground for the future of faith in the Church.

So, if you’re a Catholic parent, this will be extremely important work for you. In all likelihood, your children won’t get this in the parish. It will probably have to come from you. As I look at this list, I realize how little I’ve done with my own kids on this. I’m going to start focusing on these with my kids as well.

If you’re a catechist, think about incorporating these ideas into your classroom when you make applications in your lessons. Also, when you communicate with your student’s parents, consider how to encourage them to incorporate these ideas into their family faith lives.

Here are the three tasks Sherry offered for “breaking the silence.”

1. Teach your children to have a personal relationship with God

A large number of Catholics don’t even believe in a personal God. In young adults it’s the majority. That’s a huge part of the problem. How can there even be a possibility of relationship when God’s not a person?

It’s on us to educate our children in this fundamental truth.

And really, you’ll have to do this with them. You can’t just tell them about it. You have to show them. It’s something borne out in your nighttime prayers, reading the Gospels together, family devotions, family adoration, and a number of other ways.

2. Drop the Name…of Jesus!

I’ve noticed this one myself. In homilies and teaching, Catholics tend to talk about the Church, the Sacraments, Saints, popes, Church documents and councils, but rarely speak directly about Jesus. I do it too. It’s almost like we’re embarrassed by the name of Jesus!

Sherry says Jesus Christ is not just another topic that Catholics should believe in. He’s not simply one more doctrine in the host of doctrines we’re supposed to know about. He’s the center.

Weddel says, if all we do is talk about the Church and it’s trappings without acknowledging Jesus as the wellspring of it all “we communicate an institutional, rather than personal, faith.” Institutional faith is what most Catholics have now and it won’t sustain the trails of Christian life. A personal faith is the key to relationship and spiritual growth.

3. Ask about their relationship with God

Talk to your children about their experience of God and Jesus. Then really listen. Perhaps, like so many others, they’ve never considered the possibility of talking and relating with him.

However, you may be surprised. Children have a large capacity for God. They need to be taught to love God, but it comes very easily to them. My younger son has a very sophisticated prayer life that I’ve only recently learned about. He picked up the basics from the family, but he’s developed it beyond that on his own.

Try sharing your own faith history with your children at the appropriate time. Tell them why you’re Christian, what you believe, and why you believe it. If you didn’t believe at some point tell them about that too and why you switched.

I heard from a father recently did that with his kids. They are grown now and have strong faith lives. He credited this openness about his own faith as an essential factor.

Do you have it to give?

The last thing is probably where this all begins for you. Do you have a personal relationship with God? You can’t give it to your children if you don’t have it yourself.

This concept was pretty foreign to me growing up Catholic. Also, during my reconversion, I was told to pray the rosary and Divine Mercy, go to Mass, go to confession, and go to adoration, but no one ever advised me to develop a personal relationship with God. That’s what Protestants do.

I never considered it until later when I went to Franciscan where it was a large part of the culture. And, as I came to find out, it’s traditionally a large part of Catholic spirituality as well. A personal, loving union with Jesus through prayer is everything in Carmelite spirituality. They don’t call it a personal relationship, but essentially that’s what it is.

So, maybe this calls for a bit of reflection and development in your own spiritual life, but I think it’s well worth it. Catholics need to break this culture of silence about Jesus and a personal relationship with him. I believe a great place to start is within the family.

What is your lived relationship with Jesus? Do you believe in a personal God? Have you ever considered the possibility? What would this look like for your family? 


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  1. Great post, Marc! I agree 100%. A great way to talk to our kids about God is through sharing Bible stories. It’s amazing how many everyday problems have answers in the parables or the events of Jesus’ life. Especially for young kids, they love the concreteness of it.

    • Totally agree Karee. One thing though is the stories can still be taken as abstract or kind of third person. You have to make a leap from the story to the application to make it personal. Otherwise it’s just something that happened a long time ago to Jesus who lived a long time ago. That’s the difficult part. Getting kids to see that Jesus can do this stuff for you now. He’s alive and the same person as he was back then and you can relate to him in the same ways through prayer.

      • Yes. I’m careful to teach stories such as the Healing of the Paralytic, the Loaves and Fishes, and the Prodigal Son from a Catholic, sacramental, and personal perspective. Kids love stories and ideas, but they also want to know that they matter and that they have some practical value.

        • I think we need more of that…showing kids how it matters and what the practical value is. There probably hasn’t been enough of that in recent years. Not just the doctrine but what the doctrine means to you. I was just talking to some Confirmation students about what Confirmation actually does for you. The biblical perspective really helps with this. That’s the hard part but I want to try and do more of that. I want to present the doctrine. I don’t want to shy away from that. However, I want to make it relevant and something that sounds intriguing. Something they would see the benefit of and want to have.

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