Lifelong faith formation addresses the reality that acquiring a thorough knowledge and ever-increasing depth of understanding of the riches of the faith, a deepening spirituality, and a living of the faith through our actions and our worship. requires us to make formation opportunities available to all Catholics. The Church has a responsibility to transmit the faith, the Word of God and the Tradition of the Church, in ways that speak to the minds and hearts of its entire people throughout their lives.
Will a few weeks or months of preparing for the sacraments produce lifelong, enthusiastic Catholics? Will a few years of religious education classes, in or out of the Catholic school setting, be enough? Speak Up participants said no, there is an urgent need to make faith formation available at every stage of life and in ways that speak to the minds and hearts of all people today, young and old. The people said they were concerned that faith formation too often comes to an abrupt halt after graduation from Catholic school, religious education programs or the reception of the sacraments. And yet, ongoing faith formation is important, as teen years are times of great challenge for young people and their parents.
Meanwhile, as young adults accept the vocations of marriage, Orders, religious life, or single life, a new dimension of faith formation is needed, but is seen as lacking. Each vocation carries with it the responsibility to cultivate baptismal grace which flowers into vocation for the sake of the Christian community. Seminaries, deaconate training, and religious institutes have established formation curriculums needed for their members. However, the greatest number of people are called to partner with another person through marriage and family or to live a single life. The most common vocation, the life of the lay person involving the entire human cycle, from birth to death, has been given little consistent attention as a process of spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth is not so much about gathering spiritual information or doing spiritual exercises as it is reflecting on God’s loving presence acting in the context of daily life and responding accordingly. Thus the spiritual formation needs of mid-lifers and seniors include the opportunity to pass on their learned wisdom as well as to be open to gain new knowledge. The Church has an important formational responsibility in preparing persons and families for dying well and for assisting passing from life in this world to life in the next.
Our religious and spiritual formation in the Church is a serious and comprehensive challenge. The Church helps us to celebrate important transitions and events through the sacraments. But spiritual growth is not automatic; it needs our initiative, community, refreshment, exercise, new insights, and openness to the work of the Spirit in order to come to fullness of life. Thus, the Church of South Jersey has identified Life Long Faith Formation a pastoral priority for this time.