Dr Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, spent two days with us at Holy Faith Convent, Couva. His three presentations were: Will There Be Faith? What Makes and Keeps Us Catholic, and Nurturing the Catholic Faith of Our Children: Family as Primary Religious Educator.
When Sr Juliet Rajah CHF, Directress of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, informed us of Dr Groome’s coming, she remarked, “He is very down-to-earth, extremely knowledgeable and possesses a great sense of humour.” How apt was her assessment of him!
Before expounding on his first topic, Dr Tom – as he’s popularly known – convinced us that nothing was more important than handing on our faith to others. Faith is the foundation of who we are as Catholic Christians and a gracious gift from God.
Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013) so we could use this time to renew our personal relationship with Jesus and to recommit ourselves to the Church. He said, “May this Year of Faith make our relationship with Christ the Lord increasingly firm, since only in Him is there a certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love.” During this time, we are invited to open wide the door of faith, not only to personally experience its transformative power by being bold followers and joyful witnesses, but also to open the “door of faith” to others.
Dr Tom brought the topic of faith to life when he stated that God is faithful. Grace is totally free and God’s grace comes to us as a responsibility. Believing is possible only by grace and help of the Holy Spirit. Trusting in God and believing is an authentically human act. He continued, “Faith makes sense; it is reasonable.” He urged us to hand on our faith to others, invite people to share their stories and their own life of faith. Be welcoming and inclusive, be respectful and affirming. His invitation was strong and clear despite the challenging times we face in our secular age, where self-sufficiency seems to be a “value” and where scandals even in the Church reflect betrayal of the Gospel and our Catholic faith.
Dr Tom reinforced that at its best, there was no better way than our Catholic faith. We are to have a positive outlook on life and live in partnership with God, by way of Jesus, enabled by the Spirit, our best efforts ever sustained by God’s grace and love always at “high tide”.
Dr Tom invited us through reflection and conversation questions to make new friends and find new ways of thinking as he prepared us for the topic, What Makes and Keeps Us Catholic. He encouraged us to go back to the well as Jesus promised “fresh gushing waters” (Jn 4) and told us when challenged to “plumb the memories to sustain our hopes”. He invited us to apply imagination to the person, community, justice, life, spirituality, Catholic and the re-imaging of Mary. We were then asked to imagine the next steps of our journey into the Catholic faith – the decisions to make, graces to pray for and how to “keep” them. “Practice, Practice, Practice” was his exhortation to us.
Finally, in Nurturing the Catholic Faith of Our Children, he emphasised the family as Primary Religious Educator. The family was the most formative and enduring in shaping identity, the most influential with its ethos, values, relationships, language, everything. He urged us “to create a family atmosphere animated with love and reverence for God and people”. What was also needed was a coalition of family, parish and school but family was primary. Vatican II, he said, invited the family to become “the domestic church” (LG#11). The whole family lifestyle should reflect Christian values. Teachable moments, like the family taking every opportunity to “share faith” together; making the home a place of lived love, compassion and justice; “bringing home” the liturgy; and paying attention to the practice of the faith were all highly encouraged.
Indeed, Dr Tom was seen as a gift to us as he shared parts of his life story, his knowledge, wisdom, as well as challenges; he really gave away himself to us for that is what gift is all about. We saw him as a blessing as he introduced us to new ways of thinking, and also as a friend. With gratefulness of heart, some of the participants sang the words of “Thank You Lord”, while everyone else hummed the song to the tune of “Edelweiss”.
We were all filled with gratitude to Sr Juliet who, having been taught by Dr Tom, shared him with us. We left all “fired up”, prepared and willing to “run” to God’s people to whom we will joyfully “hand on” our Catholic Christian faith.
– Archdiocesan Catechetical Office