Category Archives: Catholic Living

Faith Formation Series: Getting in the Way

In my previous post in this series on faith formation, I discussed the role of parents and teachers in passing on the faith. I shared how it is the Holy Spirit who is the molder of our children’s minds and hearts, and that we parents and teachers have the privilege of being tools in our Lord’s hands. The Holy Spirit is at work in the children’s lives and hearts from the moment of baptism (CCC 1265-1266). Therefore, we are at the service of the Holy Spirit in this formation process; we want to cooperate with the Spirit in our work, and in no way do we want our methods of catechesis to interfere with the work that he is doing in the children’s hearts. 

Now, rarely do we intend to get in the way of the Holy Spirit in any aspect of our lives; but all of us can honestly say that we often do so nonetheless. We are disciples in progress, on a journey of holiness ourselves. That is why regular examination of conscience and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are such important means of restoring us to God and keeping our actions under his will and not driven by our own. The Holy Spirit reveals truth to our hearts when we regularly get quiet with him and ask for clear sight and understanding. 

Just so, we can follow a type of examination of conscience in reviewing our conduct as teachers of the faith. We need to regularly get quiet and check in with the Spirit, especially when faith formation is going poorly in the home or in the classroom, and ask him to show us if and how we are interfering with his methods. In light of the guiding principle that the Holy Spirit speaks directly to children since children are persons just like us adults, capable of digesting the living ideas of our faith and responding to the Holy Spirit in a life of prayer, I offer us some questions that might serve as “a catechist’s examination of conscience”:

  • Do I enter into this formational work with prayer, asking for God’s will and not my own to be accomplished?
  • Am I recognizing the child as a person made by God in his image, or am I trying to remake the child into an image of myself? 
  • Do I treat the children God has placed under my authority with respect?
  • Am I introducing children to the living ideas of church teaching and Scripture, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through the inspired words; or am I giving them second-hand religious knowledge?
  • Am I cultivating an atmosphere of discovery and wonder as we explore the mysteries of our faith and knowledge of God, or am I presenting the faith in a way that prevents children from engaging their minds and hearts?
  • Do I think of religious education as the deposit of information into children’s minds or as the formation of truth and the embodiment of the Church’s teaching in the daily life of the person?

There is a lot for us to meditate on in this list, and in upcoming posts in this series I will be unpacking each of these questions so that we can meditate more deeply on them. These questions help us to reflect on the atmosphere, ideas, and habits of our faith formation practices. In the last post, I introduced British education reformer Charlotte Mason, who has a great deal of insight to offer us in regard to considering the atmosphere, living ideas, and habits of religious education. As we work through these questions, I will introduce some of Mason’s principles, which are anchored in the primacy of the work of the Holy Spirit and the dignity of human persons. As we unpack these questions together, a few at a time, we will be opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit; and we will be able to listen to his voice and discern guiding principles by which we can approach faith formation with great joy.

Faith Formation Series: What’s Your Role?

When approaching the project of passing on the faith to our children, whether we be parents or catechists, we often wrongly conceptualize the teacher-student relationship. Our mindset has been influenced by decades of various educational systems that approach pedagogy from the perspective that teachers deposit information into the brains of children (a very modernist and anti-Catholic understanding of knowledge and the human person, by the way; but I won’t unpack that idea here). This perspective wrongly assumes, among many things, that the transmission of knowledge is moving in one direction—from teacher to student; and operating from that starting point, what other incorrect assumptions might we make? I can think of two problematic ones that we need to root out. 

#1: There is little that children will teach me. 

To be honest, I don’t expect that many adults would come out and say this; but I do see plenty of evidence from our teaching methods, our posture, and our tone that we interiorly hold this expectation. We don’t behave as if we expect children to teach us about God. But why not? We can’t have read much of the gospels if we believe that to be true. Jesus says:

 “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:16-17).

Jesus is saying that we have everything to learn from children. We have to actually become like them to be part of his kingdom. I would say that he intends us to gain much knowledge of himself and how we are to love him through our interactions with children. This ought to be a fundamental starting point for our posture as parents or catechists who want our children to know and love God. Moreover, it seems that it is in those interactions of passing on the faith to them that we learn with them and from them what loving God looks like. 

#2: I am forming the children.

Many adults have come to believe that the parents and teachers are the “molders” of children, taking them in their ignorant state and transforming them into enlightened human beings. But if this is our mindset, then we have forgotten who is the true Potter (Jeremiah 18:6). It is not our hands on the clay, but our Lord’s hands. It is not our spirit and mind being transferred or duplicated in them, but rather the Holy Spirit giving them the mind of Christ. Our role is important, but we are not the molders; we are simply faithful tools in the Potter’s hands. Children are born whole persons, created in the image of God, and as such they are able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and respond directly. It is He who is forming the children.

By being responsive to the Holy Spirit ourselves, we can correct these wrong assumptions and see our role as parents and teachers with fresh eyes. If we have a great deal to learn from and with children, and if we see ourselves at the service of the Holy Spirit, then how should we describe our role in the formation process? 

British education reformer, Charlotte Mason (1842-1923), offers us her teacher’s motto of “guide, philosopher, and friend,” which I find to be just as applicable to religious education as it is in any classroom (Mason, A Philosophy of Education, p. 32). In passing down our faith we can be guides, because we have navigated the road of faith before them. We have valuable experiences to share. We are philosophers because we should be introducing to them the fundamental questions, directing them to the fundamental truths that are discoverable about God. (This question and answer model is, after all, the format that the child’s Catechism takes.) Finally, we are friends with the children. And the use of the word “friend” should not mistakenly convey any lack of authority on the teacher’s part; quite the contrary, we have been deputized with authority by Christ to follow his example of friendship with children (Mason, Parents and Children, p. 14). 

Let us prayerfully consider what a difference can be made in our re-imagining of our role in passing on the faith to the children in our midst. It is a privileged position indeed; and I am convinced that it is one that will return the greatest blessings to ourselves. For through this relationship with children we will better know our Father.  


Mason, Charlotte M. 2017. A philosophy of education.

Mason, Charlotte M. 2017. Parents and children.

Patterns of the Spiritual Life

Knitting is a hobby of mine. I’m currently working on a shawl that is probably the most complicated thing I’ve made so far. It’s not terribly difficult, but it involves some stitches that were new to me. I’ve had to follow the pattern very carefully. Even with that, I wasn’t paying attention one day and knit half of a row backwards. It took me awhile to figure out where I went wrong. I ripped out three or four rows before I finally discovered where I had made my mistake, which was honestly due to lack of attention at the moment. Once I got back on track, I was careful to double-check my work at regular intervals.

Photo by Sarah Claeys on Unsplash

However, after some time of paying close attention to the pattern, the sequence of stitches began to become intuitively apparent to me. The complexity of the pattern started to make sense, and I found myself being able to guess what was coming next more quickly. I’m still checking the pattern carefully as I go along each row (as anyone who has made a mistake knitting or sewing knows how discouraging it is to rip out your work and start over). But the pattern’s intricate design is starting to become much more apparent and predictable to me as I see the stitches take shape together to make a beautiful whole.

As I was reflecting on all of this with knitting in hand this morning, I began to draw parallels within the spiritual life, specifically regarding the patterns of habits, behaviors, and spiritual disciplines.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten pretty good at predicting how my day is going to go with a lack of sleep. I also know just how I will end up feeling and the kind of thoughts I will find swirling in my head when I haven’t gotten up early enough to spend time with God in silent prayer and Scripture reading. When I miss my regular time for the rosary a few days in a row, I don’t get to Adoration one week, or I wait too late to examine my conscience at night and just can’t keep my eyes open, I can tell that my spiritual intuition and sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit is not in sync.

The truth is that healthy behaviors and a properly ordered rule of prayer and devotions operate similarly in my life to that knitting pattern. If I drop a stitch every once in a while, it won’t be as noticeable; and small mistakes are easier to correct if you catch them quickly. However, if your entire pattern gets off track, it doesn’t take long for the whole design of the creation to become blurry and lose its unique and intricate beauty. And then…it’s time to rip out stitches and start again.

By “rip out stitches” in the spiritual life I mean that bad habits and harmful impulses have to become unlearned, and the spiritual rule of life reinstated. When you knit, each row builds a foundation for the next. In fact, the design being creating in one row is dependent on whether you followed the pattern correctly in the previous row. And just so with the spiritual life. The spiritual tools and gifts we invest multiply and grow. If we leave off the spiritual rhythms of life, then over time the tapestry of our lives will take a very different shape; we may end up in a long time of spiritual repair to undo the damage that we did since going off track.

If we stop putting God first, it gets easier to put Him second. If we stop praying, we are less able to hear His voice. If we veer off the path of the contemplative life, engaged in regular wonder and love of God and His benevolence, then we become easily immersed in the surrounding culture of consumption and despair. Just as each stitch is the foundation for another, each spiritual act strengthens our will for the good, restores our mind in truth, and anchors our souls in the hope of God’s promises.

Copyright 2020 Jessica Ptomey