My first vocation centered on adult education; I obtained an MA in adult education from the University of Chicago years before I entered the monastery in 1980 and then began my ordination studies.
Still today, people who are dying call for the Sacrament of the Sick; still some people name this “the Last Rites”; how many times I have had the call from a hospital that someone’s family wants the “Last Rites” administered to their dying family member. This is not the time for the Sacrament of the Sick; it is the time for that least known rite of Viaticum whereby the Eucharist is given if at all possible even a very small section. In the introduction to the Celebration of Viaticum states: “Eucharist as Viaticum…is the sacrament proper to the dying Christian.”
Also, No. 36 of “Pastoral Care of the Sick,” states clearly: “It is important that all the faithful, and above all the sick, be aided by suitable catechesis in preparing for and participating in the Sacraments of Anointing and Viaticum” — a clear mandate for adult education!
I recall an unfortunate incident in my pastoral ministry when I received a call from a woman whose husband was dying; he was at home. I decided to administer Viaticum. I told the wife that now her husband was dying and so at this moment I would give them both the Eucharist; at this precious moment she needed out of love to let him go to the Father. She looked at me a bit perplexed. Very shortly later, I received an angry call from the daughter to administer the “Last Rites” (the Sacrament of the Sick). No explanation or catechesis would do at that moment, no matter how I tried to tell her, so I administered the Sacrament of the Sick.
Baptisms are a fundamental source for adult education. At the baptismal anointing on the chest of the child (if you can get through the baptismal garment!) I ask the surrounding the parents and godparents, “Do you believe in evil?” I get a strange look. Then I start mentioning what has been happening in our community with abused children, killings, war, murder. I wonder what they think it means when they “reject” the devil. Yes, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One…the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ.”
Catholic adult education is basic to our faith and, I propose, is extremely important to the people of God on their journey. But these people of God need help to understand the life of the Church in its very fundamental sense, and this for me centers on the Sacraments — especially baptism, but also the end of our journey to a new birth.
I have experienced and witnessed many types of Catholic adult education, especially a plethora of scripture studies and classes on the tenets of the Church. My experience has taught me that you can only expect a very few to gather. Perhaps my experience is narrow because I have only ministered in smaller congregations with older people. So, how do we reach our folks in the pews?
I offer the following possibilities in terms of Sunday homilies. Although homilies are more to inspire than to educate, moments that I call “show and tell” do occur when some of the elements above can be shared: if the Sunday Gospel contains Jesus healing the sick, why not bring out the holy oils as a continuation of Christ’s healing; if Jesus raises someone from the dead, talk about Viaticum (on the way). Definitely, if you have anointing of the sick during or outside of Mass, share with the people the difference between the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum.
Remember that your audience includes friends helping the sick ones to be there who can learn also. To connect Gospel readings to understanding the sacramental life can become a powerful tool for Catholic religious education. Every time you have a baptism on Sunday, especially if the baptism takes place during the Mass, why not show some of the elements or share some of the liturgy? These occasions are fertile ground for adult religious education.
We definitely have arrived at a new era of evangelization, but first comes the basic need of our people to become more familiar with their own faith, their sacramental journey in Christ, the fundamental path (ground) for their journey as they remember that “The Kingdom Is Now.”
FATHER BEAVER, O.S.B., a frequent contributor to The Priest magazine, died this past Jan. 15 at age 85. He was a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He was ordained in 1985 and served in several parishes before he retired in 2011.