Listening Opens Our Hearts to God

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Little Rock Connections: The Good News for Today
March 2017

Listening Opens Our Hearts to God

Solid Formation Leads to Transformation

Susan McCarthy, RDC

An emphasis on adult faith formation (AFF) has been growing and developing in Catholic parishes for more than forty years. After years of reading and reflecting on church documents, more and more parishes are coming to appreciate the value of faith formation of adults. See the General Catechetic Directory (1971) and Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States (1999).

We are blessed in the Catholic community to have several talented leaders in this field. Jane Regan, John Roberto, Janet Schaeffler, OP, Tom Zanzig, and Bill Huebsch (see contact information below) are among those providing challenging models and written material on the subject. Let me share with you some of the principles of AFF that I have culled from their work.

Adult learning is different from the learning of children. For those of us used to religious education being provided to large groups by the parish priest, women religious, or lay professionals, current models of adult learning are different. It is not a schooling model with a teacher providing all the information, though in many cases facilitators are trained to assist small groups in their conversations. Small groups are an important part of adult learning (though certainly not the only way). It is in such groups that adults share their personal experiences and have conversations about what most matters to them concerning their faith.

One size does not fit all. Current models of adult faith formation are usually developed by a member of the parish staff, often an adult faith formation coordinator, along with parishioners and with the support of the parish staff. The coordinator might use as a guideline this statement from Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us:

#118 The Parish Is the Curriculum
While this pastoral plan is concerned primarily with intentional adult faith formation programs, the success of such efforts rests very much on the quality and total fabric of parish life. This includes, for example, "the quality of the liturgies, the extent of shared decision making, the priorities in the parish budget, the degree of commitment to social justice, the quality of the other catechetical programs."

It is the responsibility of the AFF coordinator to provide a wide range of opportunities (Bible study, prayer opportunities, service projects, etc.) that will suit the interests of a large number of adults. Of course, all of this does not happen all at once but may develop over a three-to-five-year plan.

Transformation is the goal. All of the efforts mentioned above are meant to help parish members strengthen and deepen their relationship with Jesus. They are intended to assist parishioners in their own personal growth and in their efforts in becoming part of a learning community which will spread its learning and the message of the Gospel to the community beyond parish borders. Unlike an earlier time when adults participated in order to gather more information, current faith formation efforts are intended to change and transform us!

Adult faith formation has been a great blessing for parishes where it is strong and vibrant. Adults in these parishes have grown committed and active in their faith. They witness such faith to their children and to others in their local communities. These adults have come to see that the words of Scripture are meant to be lived in our everyday lives.

In addition to using Little Rock Scripture Study and other materials that employ respected faith formation principles for adults, do your best to learn more. Consult the materials of some of these leaders in adult faith formation: John Roberto (; Janet Schaeffler, OP (; Tom Zanzig (; Jane Regan (; or Bill Huebsch (

(Susan McCarthy, a former member of the staff of Little Rock Scripture Study, recently retired. She serves on boards assisting the homeless north of New York City and works with religious NGOs.)

Next month, April, will see the publication of two new volumes of Alive in the Word.

Hospitality, Welcoming the Stranger, explores three biblical scenes that encourage us to be people of welcome. Hospitality was a hallmark of the ancient Mediterranean world and, according to St. Paul, is among the characteristics to be found in the Body of Christ, the church. True hospitality begins with the recognition of human dignity and the desire to respond effectively to human need. Written by Catherine Upchurch, director of Little Rock Scripture Study, this is part of the Virtues for Disciples series.

Empty Nest, Time for Letting Go, is a good companion for parents who find themselves alone after their children or loved ones move out of the house. These prayerful reflections on the Joseph story, the incarnation, and the last discourse of Jesus offer comfort and challenge to anyone with an empty nest. Written by Thomas D. Sauline, DMin, who serves as a diocesan consultant for religious education in the Diocese of Youngstown, this is part of the Seasons of Our Lives series.

We’d love to hear from you about your experiences using Little Rock Scripture Study or Alive in the Word. Visit our Facebook page to post your comments or contact us directly by email at

For more information about workshops, Little Rock Connections, or to offer suggestions, or submit items, please contact:
Little Rock Scripture Study
PO Box 7565
Little Rock, AR 72217

Little Rock Scripture Study

Little Rock Scripture Study, PO Box 7565, Little Rock, AR 72217-7565
Liturgical Press, 2950 Saint John's Road, PO Box 7500, Collegeville, MN 56321
Phone: 1.800.858.5434 or 320.363.2213
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