‘Groome has a unique ability to make the complicated seem simple; the abstract seem concrete; and the difficult seem easy. His terrific new book is provocative, inviting, challenging, inspiring and, above all, real.’
– James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
‘Groome offers a remarkably balanced and hopeful account of the lifelong process of handing on the Faith in parishes, intentional Christian communities, schools and Christian households. He is one of the American Catholic church’s greatest treasures.’
– Richard R. Gaillardetz, McCarthy Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology, Boston College
‘A plain-spoken, story-saturated, practical guide ... This book will be valuable to teachers, parents and learners who seek to be faithful disciples in a world filled with distractions.’
– Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean, Boston University School of Theology, and author of Teaching as a Sacramental Act
‘All the essentials and all the excitement are here! Anybody who can stay in there as long – and as positively – as Groome has is sure to have much wisdom to share. Read and be invited anew!’
– Richard Rohr, OFM, Centre for Action and Contemplation
This scholarly yet eminently readable book addresses Jesus’ enigmatic question ‘when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’(Luke 18:8) The ensuing enquiry begins by acknowledging the current situation in the Western World where there is a well documented substantial decline in church going among almost all Christian groups. This is accompanied by a further acknowledgement of the prevailing secularisation that actively discourages faith. Western society is now by and large one which advocates an ‘exclusive humanism’ which does not see any need for God or religion. For many selfsufficiency and ‘expressive individualism’ provide the required fulfilment of human potential and striving.
Despite the fact that Groome accepts these realities his book is shot through with optimism. It makes for encouraging reading. He sees the situation as a challenge, one which calls for a determined effort by those who share a faith in the Christian vision to hand it on. His starting point is conviction in the belief that Jesus is the living revelation and accomplishment of God’s universal love for the human family. The early chapters discuss Jesus as teacher and his compassionate proclamation of the presence of God’s reign among us. ‘From the perspective of Christian faith, Jesus is the catalyst of God’s reign within human history. The paschal mystery is the powerhouse of grace that works through us to realise God’s reign now and to ensure its completion at the end of time. Jesus is both ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’ by which we are to live for God’s reign and the Saviour who makes it possible for us to do so.’(23). The whole book is based on the premise that even in the post-modern age Jesus’ revelation of the Trinity as a relationship of love extending to the whole human family and inviting us equally to live in love and respect for each and every other is an appealing message that can touch and change hearts. The remainder of the book answers the questions who is to promote this Christian vision and how. This mission and responsibility is shared by all the baptised as Church and parish, as family – the domestic church, and as schools. They do this not as separate groups but in a dynamic partnership. These chapters are full of rich analysis with many strategies for catechesis and education.
Underlying Groome’s whole analysis is his foundational educational theory summed up in a phrase which occurs repeatedly throughout the book. This is the concept of ‘Life to Faith to Life’ or a ‘shared Christian praxis approach’. This approach begins with respect for the life experience of any person old or young. The process of education begins by eliciting their experience, and encouraging them according to their capacity to reflect on their experience especially in the light of what he calls the ‘Christian Story and Vision’. The whole process moves to an application of the ‘Christian Story and Vision’ to life which in turn hopefully results in commitment in life to the Christian Vision.
Two other fundamental convictions pervade the whole work. The first theological, namely that Jesus is the living expression of God’s love and that he came to bring life to the world. ‘He is the Good Shepherd who came so that we ‘might have life and have it abundantly.’ For fullness of life for all, here and hereafter will always be a powerful metaphor for talking about the fruits of Jesus’ paschal mystery.’ The second is that the whole educational process is a learning partnership, between the educator and those being educated, between family, parish and school who must all be involved in the process of handing on a living faith. There are other themes which re-occur from time to time. One is the concept of learning ‘from’ in religious studies. This implies that anyone can benefit from the study of a particular faith even if it is not their own. The whole book thus develops from discussing what is the faith to be shared and passed on, then to whom, and finally how. The last two chapters being an exposition of the nature and method of the Christian Praxis approach.
In explaining the ‘Life to Faith to Life’ or ‘Christian Praxis’ Groome observes this is in opposition to what Dewey called ‘abundant lecturing’ and indeed ‘learning by rote’. He describes it thus: ‘anyone aspiring to take this approach must commit to creating a community of conversation among participants; to actively engage them as agents of their own and one another’s learning; to invite them to express and reflect critically on their lives in dialogue with each other; to lend them ready, persuasive and meaningful access to the Christian Story and Vision; to encourage them to appropriate its teachings and spiritual wisdom as their own; and to invite them to make decisions for lived Christian faith.’(262) In the final chapter he breaks down this process into five ‘movements’. These are introduced by a Focusing Act which engages people with a real life or faith theme. The movements then are 1) a response to the theme by the participants as it pertains to their own lives; 2) in conversation with each other they are encouraged to reflect critically on this theme as they perceive it to affect them; 3) they are then offered a presentation and sharing of the ‘Story and Vision’ of the Christian Tradition which is pertinent to both the theme and the participants; 4) the participants are then encouraged to reflect on and discuss how this theme might be integrated into or deepen their perception of Christian faith; 5) the final movement is about personal and individual decisions either cognitive, affective or behavioural flowing from this ‘learning conversation’. Groome’s style is often anecdotal and these last chapters are replete with illustrations and examples of the process as it can be used with all types of groups and ages.
- Dr Perry Gildea, CM, Le Chéile 17 May 2012