Thomas Groome rightfully asserts that “all statistics indicate a significant falling away from the practice of faith” (2011, 7). There are many reasons for this, yet Groome further explains that “all the disenchantment of our age will not obliterate the innate human disposition for the spiritual or religious” (10) and because of this “informing and forming people of their own particular tradition, while giving them a sense of belonging to a spiritual home” (11) is needed.
As a high school theology teacher, I experience this disenchantment in the classroom. Students love when we meditate, pray, and set goals in relation to our faith development, yet they become more critical when we discuss the ways in which the Church needs to be more open. That said, are we creating spaces in the classroom the make them feel as if they are belonging to a spiritual home? Are we deepening their understanding of their own Christian tradition in light of the challenges of our time? How do we make these necessities practical for theology teachers, in particular?
If young students associate with being Catholic primarily because of ancestry or culture rather than religion, then teachers are in need of specific tools not only to identify these children, but moreover, and perhaps more importantly, help develop a deeper understanding of how to approach their faith development. In other words, what questions should we be asking them? What practices in the classroom should teachers be utilizing in order to help them gain a deeper relationship with Christ—their tradition? If a connection to the poor and oppressed is significant in this transformation process, then how can we implement practices that adhere to this need? How, then, can we see students as children of God who need to be listened to? Perhaps, then, we can develop a transformative approach to theological education – thus, one that adhere to today’s society.
Particular works of Thomas Groome and Dorothy Day, when in dialogue, can contribute to this conversation. For Dorothy, creating spaces of spirituality for others was pivotal to her life work, reflected in her diary entries and other works. The diary entries lack, however, highlighting particulars from the Scriptures. Thomas Groome, on the other hand, writes primarily to theological educators emphasizing a deeper exegesis of the Scriptures in his work Will There Be Faith? A fundamental similarity, however, is that both of their writings highlight the significance of promoting compassion for all people, even of differing religions, in light of God’s love for humankind. A dialogue between their two works, then, can help bridge the gap for people to move from believing their actions to be “secular” to being actions of faith. This is important since “religion plays a major role in the well-being of civil society and the public realm” (2011, 11).
When religious educators approach their students in this way, students may have the capability to reflect on their own praxis and to alter it in a way that not only addresses the disconnect in their practices, but also, enable students to further a praxis that encourages love, openness, and respect for their tradition as well as their own thoughts. Because we may as well ask, are we really that different from these students? Are we encouraging a spiritual home among our students – ourselves – and are we prepared for the unexpected moments of life as educators? How are we meeting the needs of our students and correlating them with the mission of Christ?
Groome, Thomas. 2011. Will There Be Faith? A New Vision for Educating and Growing Disciples: New York, Harper One Publishing.