Adult Faith Formation


§ 38 §    The challenge of responding to these many needs and opportunities creates a vast pastoral agenda for the Catholic Church. Disciples young and old are called by name to go into the vineyard. In responding to this call, adults "have the greatest responsibilities and the capacity to live the Christian message in its fully developed form."13 Their formation in faith is essential for the Church to carry out its mandate to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the world. Effective adult formation is necessary to "equip the holy ones for the work of ministry" (Eph 4:12).

§ 39 §    We are convinced that the energy and resources we devote to adult faith formation will strengthen and invigorate all the charisms that adults receive and the activities they undertake, in the Church and in society, to serve the Gospel of Christ and the people of today. Every Church ministry will be energized through a dynamic ministry of adult catechesis.

§ 40 §    Adult faith formation also benefits children and youth. An adult community whose faith is well-formed and lively will more effectively pass that faith on to the next generation. Moreover, the witness of adults actively continuing their own formation shows children and youth that growth in faith is lifelong and does not end upon reaching adulthood.14

§ 41 §    In addition, adult faith formation should serve as the point of reference for catechesis for other age groups. It ought to be "the organizing principle, which gives coherence to the various catechetical programs offered by a particular Church."15Maturity of faith is the intent of all catechesis from the earliest years. Thus, all catechesis is geared to a lifelong deepening of faith in Christ. How necessary, then, that the catechetical ministry with adults set an example of the highest quality and vitality.

§ 42 §    For such reasons as these, the Church wisely and repeatedly insists that adult faith formation is "essential to who we are and what we do as Church"16 and must be "situated not at the periphery of the Church's educational mission but at its center."17

§ 43 §    Yet despite the consistency and clarity of this message, the Catholic community has not yet fully heard and embraced it. While most Catholic parishes place a high priority on the faith formation of children and youth, far fewer treat adult faith formation as a priority. This choice is made in parish staffing decisions, job descriptions, budgets, and parishioner expectations.

§ 44 §    Once again, we praise the outstanding efforts that have been made for so many years to provide quality faith formation for children. This task is a sacred trust and a serious responsibility that we must always fulfill with utmost care and dedication. We do not wish to weaken our commitment to this essential ministry in any way. But to teach as Jesus did means calling and equipping all Christians of every age and stage of life to fulfill their baptismal call to holiness in family, Church, and society—their mission to evangelize and transform the world into a more caring and just society. Ongoing faith formation is essential to accomplish this mission; it does not end at confirmation or graduation but continues until one's death. Accordingly, we strongly reaffirm that, "without neglecting its commitment to children, catechesis needs to give more attention to adults than it has been accustomed to do."18 Catholic schools and religious education programs will play a vital role in this plan through the quality faith formation they provide to the parents and families of the children they teach.


Part II: Qualities of Mature Adult Faith and Discipleship

"By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples." (Jn 15:8)

§ 45 §    At the heart of all we are and do as the Church is a revelation of great Good News: God, who is love, has made us to enjoy divine life in abundance,19 to share in the very life of God, a communion with the Holy Trinity together with all the saints in the new creation of God's reign.20 Faith, which is a gift from God, is our human response to this divine calling: It is a personal adherence to God and assent to his truth.21 Through searching and growth, conversion of mind and heart, repentance and reform of life, we are led by God to turn from the blindness of sin and to accept God's saving grace, liberating truth, and sustaining love for our lives and for all of creation.

§ 46 §    Christian faith is lived in discipleship to Jesus Christ. As disciples, through the power of the Holy Spririt, our lives become increasingly centered on Jesus and the kingdom he proclaims. By opening ourselves to him we find community with all his faith-filled disciples and by their example come to know Jesus more intimately. By following the example of his self-giving love we learn to be Christian disciples in our own time, place, and circumstances.

§ 47 §    God's call to conversion and discipleship unfolds in our lives with immeasurable potential for maturing and bearing fruit. The calls to holiness, to community, and to service of God and neighbor are "facets of Christian life that come to full expression only by means of development and growth toward Christian maturity."22

§ 48 §    This maturity of Christian faith can blossom at any age. We see it in children like Samuel who hear and respond to God's word (cf. 1 Sm 3:1-18). We see it in young people like Mary who ponder and say "yes" to God's call (cf. Lk 1:26-38). We see it in adults and marvel especially at the beauty of faith in those who have persevered in following the Lord over the full course of a lifetime: "They shall bear fruit even in old age, always vigorous and sturdy" (Ps 92:15).

§ 49 §    To provide effective adult faith formation requires first of all "the accurate identification of the typical characteristics of Christian adults."23 What are these characteristics? What does mature adult faith look like in those who respond generously to God's call? The General Directory for Catechesis says that it is "a living, explicit, and fruitful confession of faith."24 By this, a human being makes a total and free self-commitment to God (DV, no. 7). A full and rich development of these three characteristics is what we aim for in adult catechesis and Christian living.

Living Faith

§ 50 §    Faith is both a gift of God and an authentically human response25—a recognition of God's call in one's life and a free decision to follow this call by accepting and living the truth of the Gospel. As such, faith is living and active, sharing many of the qualities of living things: it grows and develops over time; it learns from experience; it adapts to changing conditions while maintaining its essential identity; it goes through seasons, some apparently dormant, others fruitful, though wherever faith is present the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of the disciple.

§ 51 §    Like all living things, a living faith needs nourishment, which the mature adult disciple finds above all in union with Christ—"the way and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6).  "This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful, chiefly by active participation in the liturgy."26 It is also maintained by

  • frequent reading of the word of God, sacred writings of our tradition, and the official documents of the Church 
  • involvement in the community life and mission of the Church
  • personal prayer
  • participation in the works of justice and service to the poor
  • the fulfillment of our human obligations in family and society through the active practice of love for God and neighbor

§ 52 §    A living faith is a searching faith—it "seeks understanding."27 Adults need to question, probe, and critically reflect on the meaning of God's revelation in their unique lives in order to grow closer to God. A searching faith leads to deepening conversion.28Along the way, it may even experience doubt. Yet the essence of this quality of adult faith is not doubt, but search—a trusting, hopeful, persistent "seeking" or "hunger" for a deeper appropriation of the Gospel and its power to guide, transform, and fulfill our lives.

§ 53 §    A living faith is keenly conscious and aware of the power and hold of sin in human life (cf. Heb 12:1, Rom 7:14-25). Like the Church, the person of mature faith is "at once holy and always in need of purification."29 Repentance and renewal, constantly dying to sin and rising by grace to new life—this pattern of the paschal mystery, especially through the sacraments, shapes the whole existence of the mature disciple (cf. Mk 8:34-38, Jn 12:24-26, Rom 6).

§ 54 §    Throughout this mortal life, a living faith longs for the fulfillment of eternal life. Even though we are now on a pilgrimage, with mature faith we "taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below."30 This in turn stirs up a greater commitment "to put into action in this world the energies and means received from the Creator to serve justice and peace"31—a central mandate of God's reign.

Explicit Faith

§ 55 §    Adult faith is clearly and explicitly rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus lived in the Christian community. "The Christian faith is, above all, conversion to Jesus Christ, full and sincere adherence to his person and the decision to walk in his footsteps."32 Our understanding of the person and the way of Jesus continues to grow by our meditation on the word of God, by prayer and sacrament, by our efforts to follow Jesus' example, and by the sure guidance of the Church's teaching.33

§ 56 §    Through intimacy with Jesus, a maturing adult faith opens people to a deepening relationship with and an "explicit confession of the Trinity."34 Authentic Christian faith is "radically Trinitarian,"35 and "the whole Christian life is a communion with each of the divine persons."36

§ 57 §    Adult faith is explicitly connected to the life, teaching, and mission of the Church. As adults mature, a searching faith leads them to examine their lives, their world, and their faith more profoundly. In this quest, they enter into dialogue with the gospel message as professed by the teaching of the Church and lived by the people of God. Through this dialogical process they come not only to know, but to make the faith their own. They acquire that "ecclesial consciousness, which is ever mindful of what it means to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ, participants in her mystery of communion and in her dynamism in mission and the apostolate."37 

§ 58 §    Adult faith is confident because it is founded on the word of God38 and confirmed by the whole Church's supernatural sense of the faith.39 The adult disciple seeks the clarity and knowledge of faith, so as to find and accept it "with all joy and peace in believing" (Rom 15:13). Out of this conviction come the willingness and ability to witness to the Christian faith whenever possible, to explain it whenever necessary, and to be confidently guided by it always.

§ 59 §    "The most valuable gift that the Church can offer to the bewildered and restless world of our time is to form within it Christians who are confirmed in what is essential and who are humbly joyful in their faith."40 The more this happens, the more it helps us create a climate of "mutual esteem, reverence, and harmony" in the Church and learn to "acknowledge all legitimate diversity. . . . For the ties which unite the faithful together are stronger than those which separate them: let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is doubtful, and charity in everything."41

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