Lisa Freese, a parishioner with an extensive background in government AND faith formation programs, will take over the Pilgrims Children's Faith Formation program this fall. Learn about Lisa and don't forget to register your child for First Communion and Confirmation!
1. What about your background helped prepare you for taking on this opportunity?
That's a good question. I grew up in the Archdiocese of Chicago, which as some of you may know is pretty liberal. Cardinal Bernardin was hugely important in really implementing the teaching of Vatican II throughout the Archdiocese, so lay people and especially women were very active in my parish. My mother was one of the first pastoral associates in the Archdiocese, certainly the first in our parish, and she built the RCIA program from nothing. I was about 12 or 13 when she took that job. I started lectoring around that time too, and then when I was a little older I became a catechist. So I've been active in the church for many decades. In my career I've spent a lot of time overseas, and inevitably when I would arrive at post, the local English-speaking Catholic community would have just lost their director of sacramental preparation. The expat community is pretty transient. So I would volunteer, because I have three kids of my own, so I knew the importance of making sure kids could make their First Communions and Confirmations, even if they were in a foreign country. My oldest made his First Communion overseas, and my daughter and youngest son were both confirmed overseas. I think that experience helped me understand firsthand the meaning of catholic, little "c," in the sense of the universal church, and the importance of honoring and respecting the fantastic variety and richness of Catholic culture.
2. Why is children's faith formation so important?
In talking with people who were born Catholic but who have stopped going to Mass or fallen away from the faith, I hear the same kinds of stories. And most of them, not all of them, but most of them have to do with bad catechesis or bad theology. I know one woman who told me that when she was a child, the priest came into their CCD class and told them that they were all going to hell because they didn't go to Catholic school. I think she was 9 or 10. She's in her late 30's now, and that is the only thing she remembers about CCD. And I've heard other stories, where people feel like there is no way they can follow all the rules or be a certain way, and that they feel so unwelcome. And that's a real feeling. And it's a result of terrible theology and terrible catechesis, which is just a fancy name for how we pass down our faith. As Father Greg says, God is only and always loving. That's it. And it's so important to give that knowledge to our children to counteract any other nonsense they might hear along the way. God loves us. And deep inside we want to respond to that call of love. How can we do that in the unique situations of our lives? That's what children's faith formation is meant to help kids discover.
3. How can parents help prepare their kids for CFF?
Parents are the primary teachers of their children in the faith. What we do here at St. Ignatius is all intended to support the families, the domestic church, in that sacred responsibility. So really, we are helping the parents rather than the parents helping us. And each family is so unique and it's so important to honor that. So I would say that whatever the families are already doing in living their faith every day, just to keep doing that. But if I wanted to pick just one thing, then I'd say going to Mass together as a family (in person or via livestream) is probably the single most important way families can prepare their children for their life in our faith. Hearing their parents, grandparents, older brothers and sisters, really anybody, talk about their faith is also so important for kids. Oftentimes we confine conversations about faith to Sunday mornings and then the rest of the week we don't mention it. But faith is meant to sustain us all the time, not just on Sundays.
4. What can they do to during the process to enrich their kids experience?
Asking their kids what they did in class or what they learned about themselves or their relationship with Jesus, and then really listening. Along with going to Mass, if there is time in the schedule to sit down for a meal together as a family even once a week just to talk, that really helps. It doesn't have to be a fancy dinner. It can be a chat over the Cheerios. I like to try to do the Examen every day before bed as well. For what am I grateful? Where did I see God today? Where could I have used God's help? And then a prayer to ask God to be with me tomorrow. Again, when kids see their parents actively leaning on our faith and the tools of our faith to live their everyday lives, I think that gives an example far more powerful than anything we can teach them out of a book.
5. You are currently pursuing a degree in creative writing at USF. How will that inform your work in children's faith formation programs?
Our faith started with story. Long before anything was written down, Jesus told parables, or stories, to the people He met every day. And He listened to what people told him. That's important. Faith formation is not about what rules we need to follow in order to earn our way to heaven. It's about getting to know the main character in all of our stories: Jesus Christ, and seeing how our story is interwoven with His. Ultimately, our story is God's story. And as Father Greg likes to say, no matter how scary the story seems sometimes, we know the ending will be good!