Friday, January 20, 2012

More than Teaching for the Head

Rarely does a pastor in Korea stay over six years in a parish, and the assistant, if the parish is large, usually remains  for only a  year or two. Consequently,  parishioners get to see many different priests because of the frequent turn over. A priest writing in the pastoral  bulletin tells us  about a priest with a doctorate in spirituality who was assigned as pastor of a parish that awaited him with great expectations.

However, though the hopes of the parishioners for the new pastor were high, it was not long before disappointment set in.  The sermons were lullabies that put the people to sleep, little could be used in their daily life. Instead, they heard about difficult theological points and abstract generalities that were hard to follow. Even his life appeared to be no different than that of his predecessors. He had human faults like everybody else, his studies seemingly having had little influence on his life. Spirituality was studied like any other subject matter; it was all in the head with little effect on how he lived. 

This is also true of the theology taught in the seminary. Instead of learning how to make theology practical and opening up parishioners to a fuller faith life, seminarians are more often exposed, the priest says, to a theology and catechetics that is detached from life. Many see this as the reason for little change in Christ-like living.  More than teaching for the head, we need those who are witnessing to the Christian life. These days we are hearing a lot about the need for a mentor and mentee relationship as something that should become part of our catechetical programs.

Teaching or coaching is a one-on-many relationship, while mentoring is one-on-one. In the field of art, we have usually had individual relationships between the artist and  the student artist. In medicine, there are interns and residents. And craft artists in many parts of the world still have the master-apprentice relationship, recognizing the importance of the learning environment by living in close touch with those who have succeeded in achieving prominence in their field of study. More than today, this was the way the wise of the past passed along their skills to their students. 

It is seldom that we find this approach being used in the Church. In the education of seminarians, in place of exposing the new priest to the pastoral life he will be living, examples are taken from foreign studies and from the pastoral work overseas. It is rare to have the handing down of experiential knowledge from pastor to assistant. The writer would like to see a closer relationship between priests to encourage the passing on of knowledge gained from experience.  We  forget that most of our teaching comes from theoretical knowledge, from books we have studied or lectures we have attended. But the knowledge that sticks is the kind we can directly experience. 

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