The final installment from Boston College theologian Thomas Groome’s interview with U.S. Catholic magazine:
What do you think will attract people to the message of Christ today?
Nothing is ever true simply because the church says so. It’s always true for a better reason, which of course is why the church says so.
The threat of hell, the promise of heaven, even if that worked at one time, I don’t think it’ll work anymore. Young people today are not interested in going to heaven. They’re interested in going to college next year.
We’ve also come to believe in the unconditional love of God. You can reject that love, of course. But we’ve moved out of an era when the church proclaimed that 90 percent of people were going to hell. That kind of threat has lost its sting.
I was fascinated by the approach that Pope Benedict XVI used when he met with young people while on his 2008 trip to the United States, which was one of persuasion. He asked the young people, in essence, “Do you want to be truly free? Do you want to live a wonderful life? Do you want to be a marvelous human being?” And they all shouted, “Yes!”
And then he’d say, “Well, follow Jesus Christ!” In other words, this is a wonderful way to live your life. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he wasn’t kidding. This is a great way to live your life. It is its own reward. We are capable of a tremendously positive kind of persuasive rhetoric that actually is not new at all. It’s as old as the church itself.
When you look at the old apologists at the beginning of the church, it was all by persuasion. Look at Jesus. It’s all by persuasion: “If you follow me, you will have life abundantly.” “Abide in me, and I will abide in you, and God will abide with us, and you’ll have life eternal.”
As a parent yourself, what advice would you give to parents about handing on their faith?
I was talking to a colleague not long ago, a theologian. He was complaining about how ineffective his parish catechetical program is, and how his kids are learning nothing about their faith.
After a bit of this I turned to him and said, “Why don’t you catechize them yourself?” It was as if I’d hit him in the stomach. But why would he presume that some poor volunteer catechists in the parish could do a better job than he? I mean, he has the responsibility himself.
So the responsibility that we have as parents has really come home to me all the more vividly through my son.
See the entire interview with Thomas Groome here.
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