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Education in the faith

In the course of conversations after one of my recent talks on Vatican II, the question came up about how knowledgeable about their faith U.S. Catholics are. At one point, it dawned on me that the overwhelming majority (over 90%) of them have never had an adult course in their faith. This estimate is based on these considerations:

  • the great majority of Catholics do not attend Catholic elementary or high schools;
  • of this number the great majority do not have any religious education after Confirmation;
  • as of the 1990's only 50% of white Catholics were attending college (are there later data?);
  • 90% of Catholic college students are at non-Catholic institutions;
  • many Catholic colleges do not require more than two courses in theology; at some of them, courses in religious studies can satisfy the requirement.

Given all this, it seems fair to say that it is the rare U.S. Catholic who has taken an adult course in his faith. It is possible, of course, that deficiencies in formal religious education or theology is made up for by diligent work on the part of individuals or even groups of adult Catholics; and I would love to have some data on this, too.All this makes me interested in whether sociological surveys include questions about levels of religious education or of religious literacy, these two not being identical, of course. I should think that the authors of surveys would want to take these levels of education and literacy into account in assessing the data they collect; but I dont recall seeing much made of the matter, certainly not as much as of religious practice.Another way of getting at pertinent data would be to ask about the reading-habits of Catholics. What percentage have read any books, or even articles, on their faith, on the history of the Church, the Bible, biographies, etc.? What percentage subscribe to Catholic periodicals? (A rough estimate would be that only one of every 4,000 U.S. Catholics subscribe to Commonweal [0.00025%].) What percentage have read any of the great classics of Catholic thought or literature? Where do Catholics get their information on the Church?The claim is often made that contemporary Catholic laity are the best educated in history, and this may be true when it comes to their general education; but this does not necessarily mean that they are well educated in their faith. The image comes to mind of Catholics limping: one leg is well developed, the other stunted in its growth.A few years ago, the Jesuit journal Conversations devoted an issue to the place of philosophy and theology at their colleges and universities. This article gives the core requirements.

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A quick follow-up all,An obvious indicator of how sensitive the nerve Fr. K has touched with me - My thinking is perhaps not so clear seeing as in the same post I claimed that no knowing where to go to for reliable answers rgardding the Roman Catholic faith is such a serious problem and claiming that perhaps it does not really matter! Maybe at least the rest of you can have a good laugh after seeing my posts?

Peter, you're obviously a true "both-and" Catholic!

My seventh grade daughter recently asked me why Jesus had to die to save us. She understands that He did die to save us, but wants to know why, being God, it was necessary; why he just didn't save us without the dying part.She knows about original sin but also doesn't understand how one can be sinful at birth and she doesn't understand how or why Mary was exempted from this. I think these are fair questions; I don't know the "whys" of any of this.Would adult education give me the answer to questions like this so I can explain it clearly to a 12 year old? And then I have questions, like Peter, where I wonder if the answer really matters. (The why did Jesus die definitely does). But we're supposed to believe in the Assumption. I can go along with that because I really don't care at all whether it's true or not. My believing/not believing doesn't make it any more or less true, and my believing/not believing does not impact in any way how I live my life.If I were a better educated Catholic, would I better understand the Assumption and care more deeply about it?

Anne:Well that gets us to the heart of controversy around faith and reason. Benedict actually discussed that in his (in)famous Regnesbugh address. He argued that God acts according to reason and intelligibility and went so far as to suggest that Hellenism was an aspect of revelation and that attempts to de-Hellenize scripture was problematic for this reason.I am not so sure that Scripture supports this. There is plenty of irrationality in the scriptures - Abraham hears voices that he should kill his son. St. Paul talks about how the gospel is folly (foolish, irrational) to the Greeks.I recall where Flannery O'Connor said that they way the Catholic church handled that was to lock up all these saints in monasteries where they could not hurt anyone whereas Proteatants without that tradition had all of them walking around. Russians had the tradition of holy fools. Native people have the tradition of the trickster. all religious traditions understand that faith is sometimes "other".I actually think the backlash against religion in society is actually a backlash against this otherness. if we capitulate to it too much, we frustrate the movement of the Holy Spirit.I totally agree that discernment is very important and the Church can provide a means to authenticate whether something is of God or not. But they do get that wrong as in the case of Joan of Arc.

Would adult education give me the answer to questions like this so I can explain it clearly to a 12 year old?No. If I were a better educated Catholic, would I better understand the Assumption and care more deeply about it?No.It all goes in fads. Remember the flannel banners of the 1970s? What about the silk, fringed banners of the 1870s? What is worth burning and disemboweling people for in one century is forgotten in the next. A pope (Nicholas V, I think it was,) said we may NOT pray for the souls of our departed pagan ancestors. If I defy that ruling and pray for them anyway, must I confess the sin? Will the confessor be aware of the proscription? Can he refuse to absolve me, if my purpose of amendment is not firm?Two thousand years of accretions to the simple gospel message means that most of them are nonsense. Theology? Knowledge about the Creator? Right. Let them prove the points made in any article in any theological journal. Let them replicate the results of any experiment conducted in any theological laboratory.

Peter V - my own views are that indulgences are doctrine and that EWTN is not a reliable source (although I don't doubt their authorities agree with my views on indulgences). Now, please don't leave :-). (I'm glad to see you back here commenting).

Great thread and a very important topic.Id say the most painful lack we experience today, among the faithful (and often the clergy), is a straightforward understanding of the intellectual content of faith. Theres been an explosion of detailed information about faith, but little way to make the essentials comprehensible. What does the Trinity mean? The Incarnation? The Eucharist? Ask ten different Catholics, you get ten different answers. According to Pew, four out of ten Catholics think the Eucharist is just a symbol. We desperately need a framework for the basics that make it all hang together rationally, liturgically, morally, and psychologically. And to follow up on what Peter said, where to we go to get it? Do we go to EWTN or Fr. Rohr? First Things or Commonweal? These days were all basically rolling our own; weve lost our shared memory. And we dont have a trusted authority to legitimize the coherent intellectual framework we lack, because we dont trust the bishops to get things right. Shared memory and the authority that validates it are inextricably linked in the creation of a coherent intellectual framework for faith.And I agree with Matt that it even goes beyond a good understanding of an intellectual framework for faith, to the questions that these days have to be answered first: is religion rational, what is religion, what is the sacred, how do we think about unprovable things, where do we draw the line between knowledge and mystery, etc. etc. etc. Aquinas is fabulous for all of this but lets face it, he is a little hard to decode. I think one way out of the muddle is to make the jewels in the tradition, like Aquinas, more understandable today, especially to young people. This is what my kids have learned about faith, along with me incessantly telling them what Aquinas would say about this or that:In grade school religious education, not too much, except that Jesus was nice. (The younger one at one point interpreted the fact that Jesus died for our sins essentially as a get-out-of-jail-free card.) In high school (Jesuit), they got a pretty good good grounding, with a theology course every year that included books such as Frankls Mans Search for Meaning, which implicitly conveyed the idea that faith was indeed connected to their lives and reality.Theyve also learned things about the Church that diminish the positives they may have absorbed, through the barrage of sexual abuse stories and through hearing about Church stands against contraception and gay civil marriage, and its refusal to allow married clergy and women priests.One of the most effective ways theyve learned is through liturgy, both positive and negative. They hate the kitschy chumminess they see (e.g., the priest chatting from the altar and bringing the little kids up to help say the Our Father or watch the Consecration). They seem to pay a lot more attention to liturgies that provide an experience of the sacred and a whiff of the transcendent. They also seem to appreciate big old churches and were fortunate enough in high school to worship in one, a truly immersive experience.The thing that frustrates me the most is that 85% of their generation dont even go to church regularly. The Church, as an institution, has failed to pass the faith along, and the bishops are still yakking about contraception. The entire tradition needs to be put in terms people can understand, especially the basics, and if it isn't likely coming from the bishops, it needs to come from the rest of us. Along with reform of the institution, so that trust in authority can be regained. Just some small matters! I'm sure it won't take us long at all!

Susan G - another voice I'm glad to see commenting here - Joseph always has seemed so erudite about words, I just assumed he had expertise on the words of the Bible. I guess I'm also assuming Joseph is your husband! And if he is - or even if he isn't - tell him to come back and start commenting again, too!

Fr. K - great question. Never really thought about the truism - *we are the most educated catholics in history*. Your points made me stop and think about that. On some levels (such as those mentioned by Ms. Ferrone) we are very educated compared to earlier generations. OTOH - most *educated* catholics stopped all catholic education in secondary school or college (2-4 courses). Does this really mean they are educated? And agree, only a very small percentage continue to do theology; read consistently; do scripture study; etc.And like Prof. Kaveny, connected your observation to today's voting season and also some bishops' pronouncements. Would say that more catholics have the ability to stand clear from partisan episcopal statments but whether that is based upon *good education or theology* or something else is an open question.Will pick up on Mr. Vandershraaf's comment - would love to see someone such as Grant Gallicho analyze and compare the EWTN pre-election show with Archbishop Naumann of KC,KS.In terms of Fr. K's observation, not sure that some *educated* catholics are worse than some *educated* bishops. From EWTN and Naumann:- he went on and on about VP Biden's response to the last VP debate question and ended by stating that Biden's response was *SCANDAL* for catholics. (w/o drilling down and realizing his response was at the end of a 90 minute debate and stipulating that Biden did not comprehensively explain catholic moral theology), the archbishop's statement was as much incorrect and scandalous as what he alleged about Biden.- he went on to compare non-negotiable issues (favorite EWTN phrase). Thus, he compared the death penalty and abortion. Some low points - he basically said that abortion is the highest in value (Arroyo had asked about a hierarchy of values) because:- death penalty in catholic history has been permitted and that is not true with abortion (he is wrong about this)- comparing the two issues....abortion is about killing when the victim is blameless vs. death penalty where the victim is guilty of serious crime (thus, validating the state's permission to execute). and somehow this reinforces pro-life? interesting moral theology from the archbishopHe finished by answering a question about catholic conscience - it has to be well-formed. He defined *well-formed* as meaning that the catholic has studied, meditated, prayed over, and sought out church advice before taking a position. But, if the catholic arrived at a conscience decision contrary to an episcopal announcement, then that catholic is not well-formed. That catholic has to ask himself - not what is wrong about the statement but what is wrong with his thinking process which arrived at this non-episcopal decision. Thus, this catholic is not well-formed. Have never heard anything so convulted about *conscience* in my life....it reminded me of reading George Orwell's Animal Farm.So, there are many sides to your initial question and observation.

my believing/not believing does not impact in any way how I live my life.I think that interest in the Assumption and in the Immaculate Conception goes hand in hand with a special devotion to Mary, so that does have an impact on how those Catholics live their life. It probably changes their outlook somehow, maybe on their understanding of parenting for example? But, not having myself a particular interest in Mary, I don't know what difference it makes for them.

Ann,I have read John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and I'd like to think their way of knowing God isn't rare but that it's available to everyone. I think that was Ignatius of Loyola's belief - that God works directly with us. I guess Ignatius has been the biggest influence on my way of seeing religious life. God can be found in all things, like you (and Ignatius) say, including other people, nature, scripture, etc. I think I'm getting stuck on the distinction Todd makes between education and faith. And there's a further distinction within education - Fr. K seems to be talking about people learning about being Catholic rather than people learning about being Christian.

"Youre trivializing the question by your caricature."That may be a reasonable comment. I apologize for giving offense. It is not my intention to belittle theological training or the realm of the intellect. I just want to bring the question of what is most needed at this time, and what people are likely to accept. My theological degree is a quarter-century old, and I've worked in the trenches those intervening years. I grow tired of people lamenting the alleged lack of catechesis and what a crisis Catholicism is in because the laity are poor, dumb, ignorant saps at the mercy of the whims of a secular culture. This meme is more frustrating than the ignorance I frequently encounter among other believers.The issue of formation is larger than theological knowledge. It has to include the spiritual life. It has to include the moral life and the intersection of a believer's interior with the world. We have a vast treasury of knowledge. We have competent and capable theologians and catechists. We lack the connections. That's all I have to say.

So much for the valuable instructive nature of the 7 minute homily, poorly prepared, inadquately delivered and ignored by most of the pew potatoes ... unless, of course, it is about the Non Negotiables of abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage (may these topics go to their well-deserved graves).This church has ignored the fact that Christianity and Catholicism in particular are ADULT faiths, not children's faiths. Until and unless that is recognized and rectified, the large majority of Catholics will remain pious agnostics. But they sure do love the BVM!

Joseph,Point well-taken about there being many teachers needed. I couldn't agree with you more. The discipline of the classroom, let me also say for the record, is one I firmly believe to be valuable and worthy, too; I've been the beneficiary of fine teachers in academic institutions and only wish there were more of them and more students to take advantage of them. There is no better place to learn the skills of critical thinking, or to master the disciplines necessary to read religious texts with understanding and nuance, as well as a whole host of other fine and worthwhile attainments. It's especially incongruous to see those instances when people who otherwise are well educated think they know it all when it comes to religion. Or that religion is a form of feeling or emotion and that therefore they cannot be helped, and may be hindered, by "book learning." My point was, as you saw, that this is not enough for religious education. Even the success of schooling ventures relies upon an educational process that is broad, ongoing, multiform, and diverse -- especially if it is in the service of the life of the Church, which is what both you and Pope Benedict are rightly seeking.I'm delighted too that you brought up "the reconciliation between divine providence, human freedom, and creaturely contingency." Having just lived through Hurricane Sandy, closely followed by another winter storm, it seems to me that ordinary people are living those questions right now. In my neighborhood church, the storm was not even mentioned in the preaching, over many days. Here's a great example of an ecclesial failure to pursue the broad aims of religious education. For Peter Nixon, whose slighting reference to the 110% focus on the RCIA amused me, there is something to be said for working with a model that is actually broad enough. (Not that this can't be done poorly too.) Someone will be discussing Sandy in some church, somewhere; and, we hope, knows enough theology to help people think about providence, contingency and human freedom in ways that are helpful.

It would be interesting to compare how much the average Protestant (mainline or evangelical) knows about Christianity and their particular denomination VS the average Catholic. The difference COULD be attributed to the expository nature of the Protestant service VS the paucity of teaching in the Catholic mass. I speculate that the average mainline Protestant's knowlege is closer to that of Catholics than to that of Evangelicals, but that's pure speculation.

Crystal: the bazillion dollar question is: what would or should cause the average Catholic to be attracted to Christ enough to do more than show up and pay up?

My seventh grade daughter recently asked me why Jesus had to die to save us.Irene, someone (Jeanne Follman, maybe?) once posted a link to a text by Herbert McCabe, "Good Friday: the mystery of the cross", a short dozen pages from the book "God matters". It can be read on google books by searching for "herbert mccabe good friday". I now re-read it every year during Holy Week.

It wasn't me but it's a great read, thanks Claire, here's the link:http://books.google.com/books?id=DlxCRNCbcYMC&pg=PA90&source=gbs_toc_r&c...

Jim,I can only answer for myself. I was an atheist/agnostic before I made a Jesuit retreat. What turned me around was the possibility of love. Maybe if people find they can have some kind of personal relationship with Jesus/God, then that love they can experience will motivate them on all the other issues?I think this kind of talk makes many people very uncomfortable, though. It's easier to read about God - it gives us some emotional distance. But I find the belief that only saints are holy enough to interact with God, that only theologians are smart enough to understand Jesus' message, both depressing and incredible.

Some time ago here we talked about coming up with a book list of, say, ten books adults should read to fill in (as much as possible) for the background they should have received in Church teaching and Catholic thought. I think there was even some thought of having a web site where people could discuss them. Does anybody remember that? I thought it was a good idea. (Of course, as I recall, it was at least partly my idea, so I am biased.)

Great idea, David. (Why don't you set up a web site for book recommendations? For Church history I'll suggest Peter Brown's The Cult of the Saints and Ute Eisen's Women Officeholders in Early Christianity.)(And, for pure entertainment, Grisham's newest, The Racketeer, and J. K. Rowling's newest, The Casual Vacancy.)

It is noteworthy that answers to Fr. K.'s excellent, important questions are not readily available today from the strategic planning area at USCCB or offices at CUA, ND, Georgetown, or CARA. If a teacher hopes to teach, the first requirement is to characterize the intended learners, specifically with respect to their channels of communication, language familiarity, relevant backgrounds, existing knowledge of the subject, purposes, and foreseeable benefits. Only then does one have a chance of connecting and conveying the intended message. A promising sign next week would be the sight of the USCCB assembly, "the teachers" in Cdl. Dolan's terms, spending as much attention on understanding the characteristics of the 70,000,000 Catholics they would like to have following them as on blaming failed catechists of old and surrounding secularists of today. A few copies of Fr. K.'s questions floating around the lobby wouldn't hurt.

George D. ==Yes, Thomas thought that God acts rationally, but he also thought His intellect and will are identical, and, therefore, every act of His intellect is a loving act. It is due to the limitations of our intellects that we cannot understand the nature of the unity of His being. Yes, there are are acts of God which seem to us to be irrational, including all the suffering of innocents and injustices that in some sense He causese. These are the mysteries, and so great are they that they prevent some people from believing that God is real. Thomas thought that some things are just beyond our limited intelligenges. That is not a total solution, of course. Sounds like a cop-out at times, I think. But it is also undeniably true that our intellects are limited, and we even have had experiences of discovering that what we thought was impossible in the natural world turns out to be possible and real -- e.g., flying machines.The Church promises us mystery, not answers to all our questions.

"I have read John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and Id like to think their way of knowing God isnt rare but that its available to everyone.'Crystal --When you say "their way" of knowing God isn't all that rare, I'd say that's true, but the degree to which they know Him is extremely rare. Even most other saints haven't had those sorts of experiences. If you read the letters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta you'll find that she had some extraordinary mystical experiences as a young woman, but that God didn't give her any more until she was old, and then only for a short while. The charming thing about it is that she was furious at Him for not giving her such experiences in between. But she never stopped loving Him or doing His work. She makes it very clear that such experiences are pure gifts from Him.Learning more about the mystics might help you to understand or at least to put up with what you need to understand and/or put up with. Try a Catholic book store. There's a lot these days about the great mystics.

The latest q&a catechism for teenagers can be seen at http://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_comp... I guess that "adult education" can now be taken to mean everything beyond what's there. One can measure the distance from the compendium to the kind of education discussed here!An accompanying quiz provides an entertaining break. The people who designed it had a sense of humor! http://www.youcat.org/fileadmin/ressources/downloads/YOUCAT_Quiz_1_en.pdf1. For what purpose are we on earth? To be good people To know & love God and do good according to his will To take care of the earth To have as much fun as we can2. How can we tell what belongs to the true faith? by checking Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church Personal Opinion Living a good life What your Mother tells you3. What is the right way to read the Bible? Fast because it has so many pages Like a history book Prayerfully By listening to it on audio CD4. How can we respond to God when he speaks to us? Consider what he says politely Believe him Ignore him Google his contact information to respond5. What is faith? Blind obedience Knowledge and trust Believing in something we dont know The name of your third cousin6. Why does God give himself a name? To make it possible to address him People asked him to To avoid confusion He felt left out7. What should you do once you have come to know God? Go on living like before Become a street preacher Put him in the first place in your life Write him a formal letter of thanks8. What is an angel? A spiritual creature of God An ethereal creature with wings and a white robe A nativity character for Christmas A cartoon floating above your right shoulder9. From where do people get their soul? Parents God Philosophy The nearest supermarket10. How does God draw us out of the whirlpool of evil? The Ten Commandments He sends us a prophet He sends us Jesus Christ He drains out the water

Claire and Jeanne - to the question about why Jesus had to die for us, have always been partial to the explanation by John Duns Scotus (whose death anniversary we celebrate today):(from Give Us this Day publication)Blessed John Duns Scotus Franciscan Theologian (12661308) John Duns, later known as the Subtle Doctor, was called Scotus on account of his birth in Scotland. He entered the Franciscans at the age of fifteen and was later ordained a priest. He studied at Oxford and Paris and later held teaching positions in Paris and Cologne. He was acclaimed as one of the greatest of the scholastic theologians. His mystically charged theology held particular charm for the Franciscans, rendering in philosophical terms the creation-centered spirituality of their holy founder. Duns Scotus defined God as infinite love. He taught that the Incarnation was not required as payment for sin; it was willed through eternity as an expression of Gods love, and hence Gods desire for consummated union with creation. Our redemption by the cross was likewise an expression of Gods love and compassion rather than an appeasement of Gods anger or a form of compensation for Gods injured majesty. He believed that knowledge of Gods love should evoke a loving response on the part of humanity. He wrote, I am of the opinion that God wished to redeem us in this fashion principally in order to draw us to his love. Through our own loving self-gift, he argued, we join with Christ in becoming co-lovers of the Holy Trinity. Duns Scotus died on November 8, 1308. He was beatified in 1993. In paying homage to Christ I would rather go too far than not far enough to give him the praise that is due him.

Crystal: You wrote: "Fr. K seems to be talking about people learning about being Catholic rather than people learning about being Christian." I'm not sure why you say this except for the fact that this is the blog of a Catholic magazine and I raised the question of the religious education of Catholics. But the examples of doctrines I've given are ones common to all (mainline) Christians. They also are the ones that stand at the center of traditional Christianity, without which it becomes a different religion.

Claire, thanks for the laugh of the day!I love the final answer to "How does God draw us out of the whirlpool of evil"; but getting our soul from the nearest supermarket is almost as good! Did it seem to you that there always is an answer that could get "partial credit" even when it's not the best answer? After all, there are angels in the Nativity story, etc. But maybe I just want to be more merciful than the authors of the quiz...

Ok, I know this is completely meaningless but I cant help myself: 1 in 4000 is not 0.00025%, its 0.025%.I wonder how many of the people in here who consider themselves both Catholic and well-educated in their faith, and who dissent from Humanae Vitae in thought and practice, have read it? I mean, even once. So how well educated in your faith can you be?

Perhaps the first real intellectual in the church before Augustine was Origin. Origin complained that the people were not interested in all his intellectual meanderings but were only interested in "Christ Crucified." I grew up in the "Church of Dogma" and spent much time in proving that the Protestants were wrong rather than appreciating them as my sister Christians. I spent much time in defending "dogmas" of the church because Rome seemed to think they were so important. Like Consubstantial. There were so many things I was taught by Rome that were so unbelievable that I had to do a lot of study to unravel it all. Thanks to people like Congar Schillebexx, Kung, Rahner and others I was able to keep my faith in Jesus which was all I was interested in anyway. One of the most disturbing teachings (believe it or not) was that one could not criticize a priest and that one could not distinguish between the office and the person and that it was surely a venial sin if not a more grievous one. This is how the church of dogma was able to have a stranglehold on people throughout the centuries. Whether it made sense or not you must "hold" to these utterances from the magisterium as they must not only be externally but internally held.Now I am not a enemy of Aquinas nor philosophy. Both have helped my thinking process though I have many differences with Aquinas and Augustine. (With John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila also, tho who cannot fail to admire her).So I will stay with Paul and Jesus Crucified, thank you. The other stuff helps me stand toe to toe with those who prefer building empires but the Jesus of the Beatitudes continues to wow me.

Fr. K,I think you're right. Reflecting on what I've been writing here, I think I've gone off on a tangent that isn't making much sense even to me anymore ;) Sorry.

I notice that several Catholics here are talking about the parents' responsibility to transmit the faith. It sounds cozy and familial, everyone gathered around the Advent candles, Mom and Dad teaching baby to lisp her first Hail Mary.But if Catholics often leave the Church after confirmation and don't come back until the kids start coming along, doesn't that mean there are an awful lot of gaps in the parents' faith formation? Hasn't that time away given these parents a chance to pick and choose what teachings they want to come back to? I don't think scolding the comeback Catholics is a real good idea. Neither would I suggest that someone meet them at the door with a stack of encyclicals to read as "make-up work" they missed in the 10 or 15 years they were gone.It strikes me that Catholics who come back "for the kids" need some gentle nudges to bring them up to speed in a friendly but serious way. Are there programs like this in any parish? I don't see it in my area, but perhaps elderly rural parishes like mine aren't the best place to look for them.

why, being God, it was necessary; why he just didnt save us without the dying partWhy death, why all the suffering of the Passion?For one thing, Irene, because you cannot defeat suffering and death by avoiding it, by running away from it, like the Apostles did. If you seek to run away, suffering and death will come running after you. The only way to defeat suffering and death is to grab hold of them and transform them. That's what Jesus does -- He doesn't avoid death, He enters fully into the depths of death and, by the transformative power of Love, which "makes all things new," He turns death into new life, suffering into joy.Secondly, the suffering and death were necessary because God is not only Love, God is Truth. And the truth is that sin exists. Sin exists and it has evil effects, sin causes horrific suffering. The effect of sin is made manifest in Christs flesh. God takes that horror, caused by man, upon Himself. Had God instead simply waved His divine hand or snapped His fingers and made sin "disappear," had He simply said "you're forgiven" and left it at that, that would have been a lie. To simply pretend that the sin did not happen, that sin does not have horrific consequences, would have been wholly contrary to truth. And it would have been contrary to that aspect of truth which is justice. And God cannot do that which is a lie because He is Truth.The sin happened, the window was broken. You can forgive throwing the ball through the window, but you cannot simply act as if there is not a gaping hole in the glass. To pretend like the window is not still broken, even after forgiveness, is to allow the rain and snow to come in. The truth is that the window is broken, the scales of justice must be balanced, justice requires a return to the status quo, to the way things were meant to be an unbroken window. Thus, truth is, and justice demands, that someone needs to suffer all the trouble to pay for the window and fix it even after the exchange of "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you."Jesus volunteered for the job. Jesus takes the reality of sin, the truth of evil and the horrific consequences of sin, upon Himself so that we do not have to take it upon ourselves.As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said immediately before he was elected Pope, in Jesus on the Cross, love and truth coincide. "Christ's mercy is not a grace that comes cheap, nor does it imply the trivialization of evil. Christ carries the full weight of evil and all its destructive force in His Body and in His Soul. He burns and transforms evil in suffering, in the fire of His suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favour converge in the Paschal Mystery, in the dead and Risen Christ. This is the vengeance of God: He Himself suffers for us, in the person of His Son."The truth is that suffering caused by sin exists. If Jesus doesnt take this terrible suffering upon Himself for us, then we have to, as a matter of truth and justice, take it upon ourselves.Death and suffering are unavoidable. They cannot be run away from, they cannot be wished away, one cannot pretend as if they do not exist. One cannot pretend that the sin which caused suffering does not exist. That would be a lie. The only way to deal with and eliminate sin and suffering and death is to take hold of them and transform them, which is what Jesus did.

she doesnt understand how or why Mary was exempted from this. WHY should Mary have been immaculately conceived?When he appears to Mary, the angel calls her "Full of Grace," as if that were her name. "Full of grace" describes not only who she is, but what she is. It was the fullness of grace that gave Mary the total freedom, unimpaired by the errors of sin, to say yes to God, in the fullness of her being, at the Annunciation and throughout her life. In this way, Mary could be a proper and pure living temple for the Son of God in her womb. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man, says Pope Benedict XVI.Moreover, in Jesus, God literally merged into mankind, becoming small, defenseless, and vulnerable while dwelling within the Virgin Marys womb, in the most intimate of relationships. Just as the first Eve was formed out of the first Adam, so Jesus, Son of God and the new Adam, was formed out of the new Eve, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone. So, Jesus being the Lord, like us in all ways except sin, it was necessary that His flesh be pure and without the stain of sin.HOW was Mary preserved from Original Sin in the Immaculate Conception?She was saved the same way that everyone else is saved, by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.But how could Mary be saved by Jesus if He wasn't even born yet when she was conceived and the Crucifixion and Resurrection did not happen until about 45-50 years after that?Although it would be impossible to gain the benefit of something before it existed in time from a human perspective, we must remember that God is eternal.For us humans, time is linear, with a before, present, and future. But time is not linear for Jesus Christ, rather, He is eternal, all moments in time exist simultaneously, and each moment endures in perpetuity. Thus, at Mass, the sacrifice of Jesus that we celebrate is not something that happened 2000 years ago, but is happening right now, in the present. He is forever on the Cross, forever rising from the dead.And, just as that saving event extends "forward in time" for us, so too does it extend "backward in time" for Mary. Jesus is eternal, so when Mary was conceived, the Crucifixion and Resurrection were already happening for Him. She was saved from sin from the moment of her conception by the Cross and Resurrection.

She knows about original sin but also doesnt understand how one can be sinful at birthWhen the man and the woman ate the fruit, wanting to be gods themselves, they effectively said they do not need God, they do not want to be creatures under God. Thus, they broke the relationship that had existed; they severed their relationship to God. And since God is Love, God is Truth, God is Life itself, they necessarily separated themselves from love and truth and life.This desire and act of theirs, being contrary to love and truth and life, that is, being "sin," drastically impacted them in the entirety of their being. It not only stained their souls, but their intellects, their judgment, their will. But since humans are not pure spirit, but are both body and spirit, to affect their soul was to have an effect on their bodies as well, including ushering in physical suffering and death. That first sin of the man and the woman, that Original Sin, infected all of humanity (since they were the all of humanity at the time), it caused a disease in the entire race.Anyone who has ever been born knows pain and suffering and death by personal experience and/or observation. They also know that human beings are flawed and imperfect in their intellects, wills, judgments, etc. All of these illnesses and corruptions and defects necessarily are present at birth -- they have been passed down throughout human history. This much is undeniable whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe in Original Sin or not. We are flawed and imperfect.Baptism takes away some of these defects from Original Sin, it takes away the most serious of the flaws, namely the rupture of the relationship between God and the person at the transcedent spiritual level, but some of the effects remain, such as the physical and intellectual ones.Moreover, we are effectively placed back before the Tree of Knowledge. And the choice is put to us again. And every individual sin is in some way reflective of that first original sin, they are all contrary to the Truth and Love which is God, they are all a desire on our part to be gods ourselves, to be able to decree ourselves what is good and what is bad.And even though Baptism might restore us to a state of grace, removing the stain of Original Sin from our souls, still we remain in society, we remain surrounded by others, and that virus of sin is still active and virulent in the population. Thus, it is all too easy to get reinfected, to fall pray to temptation, to repeat that first sin and eat the fruit once again.That we are prone to sin, that we already have the infection of sin within us at birth, that is the infection of flawed imperfection and of not always wanting to do the good, not always wanting to avoid the evil is again undeniable whether one attributes these things to Original Sin or something else. Even babies get sick, even babies suffer physical death. And when they grow up, they all end up doing wrong at some point. This is the human condition.But thankfully, we are not stuck in that condition if we do not want to be. We can be restored to grace if only we will accept it.

Another view of the meaning of Jesus' death (and life), at American Catholic .... The Incarnation: God's Gift of Love by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J.

If I were a better educated Catholic, would I better understand the Assumption and care more deeply about it?Irene -- for a long time I didn't really understand the big deal about the Assumption, but as I learned more and understood, I saw how important it really is.What reason could there be for the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven?One reason for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is that, her being "full of grace," just as it was not fitting that the womb who carried the Lord should be stained with Original Sin (hence the Immaculate Conception), so too was it not fitting that that womb, that holy tabernacle, dwelling place of the Lord, should experience the corruption of the grave.Another reason has to do with the nature of Jesus Christ. As Lord, He is eternal. That is, He transcends temporality and is outside of time, such that, not only do all moments in human history exist simultaneously for Him, but each individual moment exists in perpetuity. Jesus being eternal, from His perspective, just as He is forever on the Cross, so too is He forever in the womb of Mary, Mother of God. (cf. Rev. 12:1-2) Similarly, Jesus, the New Adam, is bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh. His Body is made up entirely of her body. And being "full of grace," Immaculate Mary is forever joined to Christ. Thus, if He is in heaven in the entirety of His being, soul and body, so too must Mary be in heaven in the entirety of her being, soul and body. As Pope John Paul II relates, "St Germanus I of Constantinople (730) puts these words on Jesus lips as he prepares to take his Mother to heaven: 'You must be where I am, Mother inseparable from your Son...' (Hom. 3 in Dormitionem, PG 98, 360)."Moreover, although, like the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption was a unique privilege for Mary, the bodily assumption of Mary points the way to all the faithful in the resurrection of the body.The entire life of Mary is not only a model, but the model for all of us. Her entire life, not merely her earthly life, but her eternal life is a model as well. This same sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and His subsequent Resurrection, which, being eternal, that is, beyond human time, "worked backward" to the very conception of Mary in the womb of her holy mother Anne, so as to preserve her from Original Sin, also "worked forward" to the end of her earthly journey, such that she might immediately know the resurrection of the body, rather than her body having to wait to the end of human time for the resurrection. Just as she was our model in her earthly life, so too is the glorified body of Mary, now in the New Jerusalem, our model for eternal life. She, the Queen of Heaven who is "with child" and "clothed with the sun," is the eschatological destiny for all the faithful. (Rev. 12:1-2) We will not be bodily assumed into heaven, but we do profess a belief in the resurrection of the body. We who "die" in Christ Jesus will rise with Him in His Resurrection. On the last day, the old world will pass away, and those who remain faithful to Him, who are privileged to make themselves clean and pure in the Blood of the Lamb, will be raised up and given glorified bodies, fit to inhabit the New Jerusalem.That is why the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is so very important for us. It is more, much more, than some curious honor and privilege granted to the mother of Jesus. Just as at Cana, and now, Mary always points us toward her Son, and so too does her Assumption point us to the Resurrected One and, thus, to our own resurrection.

Bender --You're a good preacher. Wrong sometimes, of course :-) But good.

Jean Raber offers searingly inciteful comments on the state of Catholic education that left me laughing because they were so true. And thank you to Fr. Komanchek for bringing this all to light. How do we educate the Catholic public? What a daunting task. Our church offered classes that sounded interesting. They offered them during CCD time in hopes of attracting parents that drop their kids off. We did have a series on the saints (impersonations) which I attended and thought was fascinating. However, one was cancelled and no one seemed to get the word out so I did not attend the rest. I really think the only way to reach some adult catholics is to HIRE someone to agressively do this outreach at a parish. This person would have a couple of programs spinning at once in hopes of attracting some parishioners. In the end, the core of faith inside a parent is what is passed on to their child. The thing is, we have to aggressively try to nurture that as a church because the secular voices are so strong out there. God will lead us to carry on the church....Please....we hope so because we are bungling it.

Thank you everyone, for your thoughts and links and responses to my daughter's question. Maybe this website is the place to get education in the faith.To answer my daughter's question, I gave her a copy of an essay on America Magazine's blog "Christology of the Hunger Games." It follows Bender's thinking: you have to enter the arena to end its evil.

St. Thomas Church in New York, an Episcopal parish, presents a wide variety of theological offerings. Here's their theology page and their objective:http://www.saintthomaschurch.org/theology/-------------"Saint Thomas Church takes theology seriously. Theology properly begins as 'faith seeking understanding' . . . The Adult Education program at Saint Thomas Church offers sound Christian teaching presented with intellectual vigor, teaching that is grounded in Holy Scripture, mediated by the catholic tradition that is the inheritance of Anglicanism and set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. "--------------I've attended classes and discussion groups there that discuss Herbert McCabe and other Catholic authors. Readings from Thomas Aquinas have been the basis of several classes. Jeremy Waldron, the famous philosopher, is a parishioner and he participates in some of their offerings. They have a theologian in residence, Fr. Victor Austin, who has a Fordham Ph.D. (under Avery Dulles), so it's obviously a special case, and probably more "orthodox" than many theology courses at Catholic iniversities. But the website is certainly worth exploring as a possible model for at least some Catholic parishes.

Denise makes a good point; when you offer faith formation, a lot of people won't come. Many are mentally exhausted with work, family care, and are living "on call, 24/7." My students send me e-mails at 2 a.m. and gripe when I haven't responded within a couple of hours. I put it in my syllabus that I am available to them M-F, from 9-5 p.m. They do not read the syllabus because they say they don't have time. In my view, this is one of the most insidious aspects of our secular culture: the endless busy-ness that stifles the restorative power of regular reflection and contemplation, not to mention an hour for lunch away from the office. I remember in the "olden days" when the Catholic church across the street from my house was open all the time. When our dog was sick, my Catholic friends dragged us over there to sit in the semi-darkness after lighting a candle hoping he would get better (he did!). There are many days I'd like to grab an odd hour during my afternoon break or after work just to sit with Christ just to see what He might tell me.Yeah, I know God is everywhere, but I need the physical Church, the icons, the candles, the whiff of incense, the creak of the pews, the crucifixes, the silence, the holy water.Perhaps making these kinds of oases of time for people would be one simple thing Catholic churches could do. But the Church Ladies in the local parish tell me the Church has to be locked up against vandals, thieves, and those who would steal the host for Satanic purposes. And those of us who need it must be locked out.

How do we educate the Catholic public?In my sister's parish catechism is done by the parents, with a rotation from parent to parent. They use a two-tier system. Before each session (or group of sessions), there is a meeting for parents only, during which the parish priest walks them through the session or sessions. One pastor teaches a group of 10 parents, and then each parent repeats what he or she heard to a group of 10 children.It's an answer to the lack of volunteer teachers: since no one wants to volunteer for the whole year, spread the work evenly among parents. It's an answer to the ignorance of my generation, since even parents who know nothing can learn some minimum amount of information by attending that session. It's reassuring for the parents, many of whom are scared of teaching catechism.But an added benefit, which I only realized after my sister started participating, is that it provides a modicum of remedial religious education for the parents. It appears to be a very effective way to reach those very busy and only marginally involved Catholic parents.

Jean, I like your idea of the "gentle nudges." I wanted to mention that a lot of people speak well of "whole community catechesis" http://www.wholecommunitycatechesis.com/ Typically they don't get the numbers that traditional 1-hr kid programs do, but they do get the parents and family for a big chunk of time once a month, and it adds up to far more adult catechesis than they ever have gotten otherwise. I think it does nudge forward those who come, from anywhere on the spectrum. I'm not saying this is the only answer, or that it will work everyplace, but it's one example.

Claire and Jeanne:You cited Herbert McCabe. Just in case you didnt see it, Eugene McCarraher had a piece about him in Commonweal two years ago: Radical, O.P.: Herbert McCabes Revolutionary Faith. http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/radical-op

I think my youngest at school in Pittsburgh is drawn to Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral for two reasons. First, because of the experience she's had at a monastery we go to across the city, in an old South Side parish acquired by some Benedictine monks. It's Novus Ordo, in English, priest faces the people, Communion in the hand. But it's solemn in tone, the entire Mass is chanted, lots of bells and smells, an almost hypnotic escape from the ordinary. Second, because St. Paul's is a big, beautiful, old honker of a church. And because it's close to Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, they have some sense of how to make students welcome. (And it's open during the day for those who want to pop in.)I think a great underutilized tool is the exercise of the Catholic sacramental imagination: sacred space, sacred time and sacred action. It teaches through immersive experience, as Jean says, via "the physical Church, the icons, the candles, the whiff of incense, the creak of the pews, the crucifixes, the silence, the holy water." It is naturally complex. It embodies mystery. It is not didactic. It moves well beyond text to engage all the senses. It incorporates rich images, objects, and gestures. If young adults, or any of us for that matter, had more access to this kind of experience, I think it would be a great draw.

To put it bluntly Catholic education in the parishes will never happen of a wide basis as long as priests and bishops are in charge. After Vatican II there were countless programs in parishes with great enthusiasm and participation. Especially for parish councils and lay input. The bishops found it threatening. While maintaining the same programs the bishops quickly turned them into apologetic courses which shrunk attendance and enthusiasm prodigiously. Simply put if you want Catholic education in the parishes the laity must run it. Cowardly bishops and priests are too threatened by it.

On the Atonement, Commonweal published an essay in which I argued against understanding the Atonement in terms of penal substitution; you can find it here: http://images.th151.multiply.multiplycontent.com/attachment/0/Trsb3AooCy... Lent I offered a text of Augustine to show how different was his view of the Atonement, which tried to think through all the biblical data on the matter: http://jakomonchak.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/no-other-way/ This is one of the doctrines that has led some people away from the Christian faith, not helped by people who think the classic doctrine is one of "celestial child abuse."

I think a great underutilized tool is the exercise of the Catholic sacramental imagination: sacred space, sacred time and sacred action. It teaches through immersive experience, as Jean says, via the physical Church, the icons, the candles, the whiff of incense, the creak of the pews, the crucifixes, the silence, the holy water. It is naturally complex. It embodies mystery. It is not didactic. It moves well beyond text to engage all the senses. It incorporates rich images, objects, and gestures. If young adults, or any of us for that matter, had more access to this kind of experience, I think it would be a great draw.

Absolutely, Jeanne. Sadly, the aggressive progressives, who, I think, are almost Puritan at heart, seem both blind and tone deaf to all this. As a direct result of that, evidently, we have an ugly architecture and a bland liturgy. But theologically liberated.Didn't Benedict write somewhere that the only things the Church has to recommend it are its saints and its great art?

Claire,I love the quiz! A great way to teach the Catholic both-and, giving a quiz where "all of the above" is the correct response. It doesn't always work, but alawys close; I don't have a third cousin named faith, but I do have Peguy's image of Faith and Charity pulling little sister Hope between them and hurrying after her when she runs ahead of them. So there is some truth to Faith as someone's name.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.