dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

What's needed in catechesis?

Claire, one of the frequent participants in our dot-Commonweal conversations, teaches catechism in France to eighth-graders, 13 or 14 years old. The other day I sent her a link to a website that specializes in catechesis. She was unimpressed by it and its materials, and, with her permission, I pass on her remarks in the hope that they might prompt a general reflection.

I've read a few of the texts and their proposals do not at all match the needs of my kids.Those texts emphasize the spiritual, experiential and community aspects, but that's what the Mass (in particular) is for. I try to prepare them so they can get more out of the Mass, but I cannot substitute for it, and I don't want to.Those texts downplay knowledge, but my youth are plagued by ignorance.When last month they had confession (for the first time in several years for most of them), the preparation consisted in giving them a long list of possible actions and asking them to think about whether each was good or bad, sinful or not; and in giving them a print-out of the words to be said by them and said by the priest, like a script of the event. But the words were not really explained and the sacramental aspect not mentioned, so, although they went to confession, they had the experience but not the understanding of what they did. That's ignorance.When we studied the Creed, I asked them: 'When at Mass we read the words "and was made man", sometimes at that point the people in the assembly do something. What is it?', and the only ones who had an answer offered: "Yes, at that point, we beat our chest." That's ignorance, too.The last but one session, I asked them what mission Jesus had given to his disciples. The more knowledgeable kids answered: "To announce the Good News". I asked: "And what is the Good News?" - Nobody knew, nobody could suggest an answer, even a wrong answer! That's profound ignorance.So all those texts from that website, with their insistence that the catechist is not a teacher, that the dynamics are different, that there are no lessons to be memorized by the children, that catechism has completely changed and is no longer about teaching facts and doctrines, those texts do not convince me. I have many uncertainties about exactly what to teach and how best to teach it, but not about whether to teach.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Before we can teach it to our kids, it seems we need to figure it out for ourselves. I don't think we possess a straightforward, commonly shared understanding of the intellectual content of faith. Theres been an explosion of detailed information about faith, but little way to make the essentials comprehensible. For example, in one of those Pew surveys, something like half the Catholics surveyed thought the Eucharist was "symbolic." It was easier in the old days, when we just had to memorize the Baltimore Catechism. That clearly no longer works. The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, what do these things actually mean? How can we agree on their meaning and explain them to our children in a way that is intellectually coherent? Do we have the words? I dont think we do.

What about starting with the gospels?

I would second Gerelyn's comment, and add the Old Testament. Everyone has their own prescription (and slew of complaints) about religious education, not doubt. But as the father of a daughter who just made First Communion, my laments are about how "intellectual" and conceptual catechetics is, even for the youngest children. I understand that much of this is because we need to teach them about the Church and the Sacraments and theology and all these rather abstract notions, because that is what Catholicism is "about," for good or ill. But what about the Bible? What about the stories that undergird all of these concepts and sacraments and doctrines and teachings? Kids just can't grasp these things at a young age, and many of these ideas are tough for adults. Though of course they are worth pursuing. But kids to get the stories of the Bible. Perhaps I am betraying a secret loyalty to my evangelical youth, but whenever my daughter visits my brother and sister-in-law's big evangelical church -- I know, it's heresy for her to go there, but it's just a periodic family visit -- she comes out afterward with a big smile and a craft project and a Bible story embedded in her memory. That's a base to build on. Ecclesiology, not so much. I like the devotions she learns in religious ed, but those aren't the norm I think. Many Catholics complain about "dumbed down" catechetics, but perhaps that can work best for younger children. Enough of my rant. Bryan Cones actually has some similar thoughts here:http://www.uscatholic.org/vbs

Yes, Jeanne, we need to figure faith out for ourselves first. Jesus used the common, ordinary experiences of the people of his time---to convey to them a deeper understanding of God and how God deals with us.Before sending the kids to Confession, they needed to understand why we say "I'm Sorry"first. Otherwise going to receive the Sacrament of Penance will be something that they will never WANT to do again.The Mass---is communal. But if people don't have any place to talk about what is going on and why----it will only be an empty ritual that they youngsters cannot connect to their daily lives. I am sure that much of the intellectual understanding of what the Mass really is---was lost on the first participants of the Last Supper. But it was so special and sacred to them, that they continued over and over again. Our 'intellectual' understanding of most of the Sacraments---only evolved over many centuries (in fact it was Peter Lombard 1095-1160 who first ennumerated that the Church has Seven Sacraments).Secondly, "intellectual coherence" is a pursuit of ADULTS. Yes, there needs to be some of that for young adolescents----but that is not as important for them as "What does this mean for ME here and now?" And that is why religion texts are written the way that they are for youngsters. Because for kids spirituality, community and experience are KEY to preparing them for the intellectual considerations that adulthood desires. That means that religious growth and development are an on-going process that must continue throughout our lives at every deeper and deeper levels.

Thanks for this thread. Finding people who can lead catechesis effectively is, I think, as important as the curriculum. However, I've had my rant time about catechism on many other threads, so will sit this discussion out and try to learn from what others might post.

I suspect that those who consider that they have a fair (or better) understanding of the Catholic meaning of concepts such as Jeanne lists would find it possible to read the Gospels in one sort of way. If they are gifted speakers, they may be able to express that reading of the Gospels to 13-14-year-olds in a way that makes clear the teacher's own understanding. But this is not at all the same thing as to teach a 13-14-year old how to read, understand, and develop a faith that is satisfying. Consider, for example the role that other knowledge, experience and opinion may have in formulating the teacher's discernment. Even something as obvious as knowledge of the writings of St. Paul.Non-Catholics also read the Gospels and the Pauline texts, and yet there are theological points on which we converge and others on which we diverge. This seems to me a significant point that young people legitimately expect us to be able to explicate as part of the catechism. Not only what should they believe, but why should they believe that when other good people believe otherwise. We ask then, especially at that age, to take personal responsibility for an increasing range of matters, and yet we realize that their capacity for knowledge, much less, wisdom, is limited: we do not consider them as fully developed adults (and modern neurology supports us in this). Yes, in algebra I, we expect them to learn the rules of association, distribution and so on, but we do not consider them yet to be mathematicians. Perhaps we need to clarify what it is that we wish (and also must, in some sense that probably needs to be defined) accomplish in the chatechesis, and how this may need to be graded as the process develops.Mark

The lack of an answer to the "What is the Good News" question is the one that worries me the most. That's the core of Christianity.

I don't know what to teach my children. My 9 year old came home from school very distressed not too long ago because she was told by an adult that there won't be any dogs and cats in heaven, because only people have souls.I don't think she cares that much about the Trinity, but she cares deeply about whether there are animals in heaven.

I think you should teach your children that no one knows what/who is in heaven. (Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard what God has prepared for those who love Him/Her.)(My dogs are in heaven. Heaven for them is like Yorkshire.)

Many Catholics are self-motivated to learn once they have been bitten by the bug of faith. That was my experience. If soneone has a heart afire with the Lord Jesus, especially his Word, then the internal motivation to learn will follow.One challenge of the catechetical "establishment" is that once the "carrot" of Penance, Eucharist, and Confirmation is removed, there is little motivation on the part of students, and too many parishes are content to maintain the rolls in their schools and RE programs.If we were to treat the faith as an apprenticeship for a Christian life rather than a companion of child education, I think we would do better. If parents were inspired and motivated to learn with their children, then family reinforcement would enhance the effort. As for teens and young adults, I think a revival of faith must come first. Of course, many bishops and dioceses have washed their hands of ministry there. As for liturgy, what about an end to politics and explicit morality in the preaching? How about breaking open the Word and showing (not telling) people how to reflect on and apply the Scriptures in their lives. How about just ditching the catechetical web sites and textbooks and using the Sunday Gospels?And speaking of show, not tell, what about applying that as a minimum requirement for any catechist. Those who can't show, maybe shouldn't teach.

I believe that Catholic Christianity is a faith for adults. Kids can learn things, but Catholicism .. with all of its creeds, codes and cults .. is something that has to be caught even though it has been taught.I learned more about what I believed by spending about 15 years in a non-denominational church then I ever did in Catholic grade school, 3 years of minor seminary and a Jesuit university. Oh, I don't doubt for one minute that all of those years of indoctrination (grade school and minor seminary .... I'm old, you know) and courses in university planted many seeds. However, the value of memorizing (not understanding) the old St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism, had minimal effect on me.When I was faced with being told things that contradicted that with which I was raised, I was forced to confront what made sense to me and what didn't. Then I was forced to spend time studying the more adult-focused materials that taught me about Catholicism.Did all of this make me an "orthodox" Catholic? You know the answer to that! But it has led me to a lifetime of confrontation, study and reassessment.Only adults can do this. Children can be given information, but they cannot be converted until they are forced to deal with themselves and what they believe.

My concern with current trends in catechesis is that there seems to have been a swing towards intellectual knowledge at the expense of spirituality. Book knowledge at the expense of helping students develop a personal relationship with Christ.Many students find that very boring and it turns them off the faith. They need something that inspires. Others develop a rigid intellectual conservatism which causes more problems in the wider church.God Bless

I rather doubt that I have anything useful to say here, but here's an observation. Two Sundays ago I was with one of my grandsons and his family for his First Communion. His twelve year old cousin, mu only granddaughter and her mother were there as well. On the following Saturday, my granddaughter and her mother went to a Taylor Swift concert. From the conversation in the air, among both adults and kids, the frisson was all about the upcoming Taylor Swift gig. The attention and presents for the First Communicant were nice and pious (picture bible, medals etc.) but not much to hold anyone's attention Could it be that the ambient culture is such that unless we enlist the children's parents in their spiritual development there will be little chance of success? They know their children and how to get their attention. Am I mistaken or does much of the catechetical instruction of children look more like a civics course than an introduction to the person who is Jesus and His loving interest in all of us?

My daughter upon learning to make the Sign of the Cross in the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:"But Dad, what about Mary? Where's Mary? She's my favorite."Good question. It's uh, complicated...

It was easier in the old days, when we just had to memorize the Baltimore Catechism. That clearly no longer works.Jeanne,It may still work, I just dont think we do it anymore. I think Mark's comments are apropos here: we teach first graders addition and subtraction but we dont teach them algebra. In a similar way, teaching the Catholic faith needs to be age appropriate. But when I read Claire's description of her students, it seems clear to me that while they maybe 13-14, they stopped going to "religion class/school" a long time ago.Just last Sunday, my niece was confirmed and at dinner afterwards, both she and her older sister commented that some of her fellow confirmands did not seem familiar at all with Mass. Kids learn math by repetition and I think they learn about the Catholic faith in the same way.

As someone who went through RCIA as an adult and was pretty much untouched by it all, I think what would matter to kids (or to anyone learning the faith) would be a relationship with Jesus/God based on knowledge of the gospel stories and personal prayer experience.My cats are in heaven too :)

In part, I blame the modern emphasis on the sermon as a homily. And often enough, a speaker who is there to teach us priests how to preach, emphasizes that a good sermon should never be more than five minutes long. I refuse to follow this. Every once in a while, I give a sermon which explains the theology behind the deep truths of our faith.

ISTM that there are several different sorts of catechetical problems. First, there is the problem of introducing new ideas and language to express the new ideas. For the smallest children this would include, for instance, the word "God" (what does *that* mean?) and thinking of Him as "almighty", or thinking that "Jesus is a man and He is God as well". This immediately presents a second kind of problem: mystery! How can a man also be God? ISTM that here is where the child's natural interest in and love of mystery stories needs to be drawn on somehow. Kids are drawn to mystery stories as much as adults -- and adults buy more mystery novels than any other genre! They need to learn that, yes, some things are hard to understand, but we can make progress, if not understand everything we want to know. (Magic, which everybody loves, seems impossible too at first.) The big challenge is to show them how the mysteries relate to their own lives and self-interest. Yes, *show* them the particular ways, not just *tell* them in great abstractions. Then, the biggest hurdle, to get them to see that, besides loving our own selves, it is right and good for us to love God and other creatures as well. And for that we need to understand that the grace of God (which is actually something like magic) is there to help us.For the adolescents, however, there seems to be -- no, let's tell the truth -- there *are* some expressions of dogma that apparently contradict human experience. I think that this is when a lot of kids are lost -- when they cannot see that mysteries sometimes include apparent contradictions but that we need to keep trying to understand the religious mysteries more critically and deeply so that the positive values of the dogmas, their real meanings, can be appreciated even though we recognize that our understandings of them are imperfect.No, I've never taught catechism, but I have taught older kids philosophy, and I was once a little kid myself, I think my teachers did a good job with me by being patient and not underestimating me. They also knew a lot about the dogmas themselves. What they didn't teach enough of was Scripture and how to pray. That's where I think contemporary catechists have a great advantage -- they can relate the Bible stories to the kids own lives, and they can even introduce the older ones to contemplative prayer which is now encouraged among the laity.If all this requires some rote learning (as it did for me), then so be it. But rote learning is far from enough. Seeing the relevance of religion for a fully good life, that is what a kid needs to learn. This means that the child's worldview has to be expanded in catechism class. It needs to see that the world doesn't begin and end with its little experiences and problems and that all of our lives are inter-related, and we're all related to God -- we're His kids. We're each part of a greater story that hasn't ended yet. At least that's how I see it. Yes, this sounds a bit like the Avenues' curriculum, but its a view of the world that is wider, much wider by far.

Irene,I'm several multiples of nine past nine, but I think your daughter is on to something. If God made dogs and cats and spiders and daffodils, maybe it's because he likes them for themselves and not just to decorate the scaffolding for us for a while and then toss them on the scrap heap. Why must he be so self-centered or so blind to other beauty that he would only keep those creatures made in his own image and likeness? For that matter, what that exists is not in some measure his image?He is God the Father, the white-bearded Ancient of Days. But since we know him mostly through the names we have given him and never entirely as he really is, can he not also be God the Baby, playing in the ever new crib of the world and delighted in all that he sees?

Thanks to Ann for bringing up dogma as an obstacle for adolescents. But presented poorly, many Catholic ideas from my era (early 70s) offended my sense of fairness even as a child. Limbo as a concept was a real barrier to my acceptance of Catholic teaching, and I think that my 6-yr old's outrage and rejection of that whole concept is in some ways what keeps me Catholic, in the sense that it gave my mother many opportunities to trump what I heard in school with firm emphasis on church teachings about God's mercy, the salvation of non-Christians, judgement, etc. that were most definitely NOT being taught in school. The teaching on suicide struck me as another particularly cruel teaching when presented in a strictly black and white way.The Immaculate Conception was also problematical. My first thought, as a child, was that it was sort of unfair to the rest of us on God's part to make Mary uniquely without original sin. Then as a teenager, I felt that it was sort of unfair to Mary, almost like a set up. Mary's magnificat seems a lot less inspiring if you consider that God made her without sin, so what was she going to say to God after all?The Immaculate Conception is one of those teachings where I really have to wonder precisely how it matters in terms of informing my understanding of God, my prayer life or my life in the world. Perhaps for some it affects their reverence for Mary (though I think a conception of her on equal footing with us yet doing God's will so completely makes her more worthy of reverence, but that might just be me).The incident where the hierarchy rejected a mother's request that a rice host be given to her child with Celiac disease struck me as the perfect example of where Catholic teaching and ideas can go astray and alienate sincere seekers of Christ. Really, God is so limited that transubstantiation can only work if the species is capable of attaining the "confection of bread"? How can any reader of the gospels not see this for the Pharasiacal elevation of minutae to the exclusion of the fundamental that it is?

To all who mention the gospels: I, too, start there, but scrutinizing the texts leads right away to the kind of questions raised by Jeanne. For example: there are many references to the "kingdom of God", but what exactly is that? Or: If Jesus is God himself, then why does he pray to God? It happens all the time when you try to understand what you're reading in detail. It's not that I want to talk about doctrine, but I am led there by the gospels themselves. To Little Bear: I think you're right that the important questions at that age are more about What does this mean for ME here and now? than about intellectual coherence. I have intentionally, and maybe mistakenly, shied away from primarily aiming to apply the gospels to their lives, because I was afraid of doing pseudo-homilies. To Jean, Chris and David: yes, boring is bad, and how to teach effectively is a big question. If there is one thing I wish I knew, it would be how to design and direct a skit: play-acting the gospels after analyzing them is incredibly effective to make them sink in. Our discussion of the doubting Thomas gospel came alive once a girl appeared from under the classroom tables, took a deep breath, breathed out slowly onto the other students and said solemnly: "Receive the Holy Spirit!"To Bernard: maybe I should occasionally try to insert tidbits of trivia that the youth might take back home to their parents, in the hope of arousing their interestTo David: I have roughly followed the liturgical calendar, so ecclesiology waited until after Easter. For example last time they asked me how Protestantism started. I told them that in those days there was a lot of corruption in the church, for example, a priest might say: "I will forgive your sins, but only if you give me some money." When I said that the kids gasped, truly shocked!

I'm with you John, Gerelyn and Crystal. (and with my daughter). I was taught that God notices the fall of every sparrow; I'm sure he loves all of his creatures.

Believe it or not the ardiocese of New York has an excellent model of catechetics. http://www.christjesustheway.com/program/cjtw/index.htmlOne might argue here and there. But on the whole it is quite inspiring and uplifting. 100 times better than the Baltimore Catechism. Because it breathes the faith. Not rotes it.

" ---- a good sermon should never be more than five minutes long ---"A 20 minute sermon, if good, is like a foretaste of glory divine. **A 5 minute sermon, if bad, is like 400 years of purgatory.It isn't the time, it's the contents. If Catholics cannot stand a good explication of the faith, even if it takes more than 5 minutes, then this church is in much worse shape than some of us have thought.** Anyone who has benefitted from good Protestant expository teaching knows what I mean.

For example: there are many references to the kingdom of God, but what exactly is that?Jesus spent a lot of time explaining what it is. And his explanations, aka parables, will be easily understood by your students. This one, the wedding feast to which the invited guests did not come, is straight out of Social Q's or Miss Manners. http://bible.cc/matthew/22-2.htm

I think that catechetics is complicated but at least part of it should occur through participation in the liturgy. I recall that when my daughter went to mass and I thought that she was not paying attention, she was paying a lot of attention. For example, the hymn "Ashes" particularly irked her as she felt that the Church was implying that we are nothing, dirt and need to rise from that. Granted, she was young and was filtering it through a particular lens. Still, the interpretation was one that required some discussion and explanation.

We rise again from ashes,from the good weve failed to do.We rise again from ashes,to create ourselves anew.If all our world is ashes,then must our lives be true,an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

You have no idea how long we spent discussing that stanza!!A better explanation of what is occurring at the mass is important and this really does belong to the parents. But how many parents just go to mass by rote as well?The Catholic tradition is rich in symbolism and in some ways we have not done a good job of explaining that symbolism or else the symbolism and mystery has been diminished in the liturgy.Christianity has to be a way of life and we should follow the liturgical rhythms of the Church in our own personal lives as both a means of communal connection and a way of deepening our lives in the mystery of Christ. I am not sure how to do that exactly and we could do a better job in our home. We have the advent wreath and candles and follow prayers at that time. And of course abstain during lent. But, perhaps, we could learn from other traditions like the Jewish one and dedicate one day to family togetherness and prayer by shutting off the internet and tv.

Claire, here's a skit idea. Jump to 1:30 for the exciting part. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1d-NZaMPZbw&feature=youtu.beSeriously, though: You want a skit when you have the Play of Daniel? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXyK7yVwBVA)Or St. Hildegard's Ordo Virtutum (where I see children participating and in the audience)?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBGgRSPyUFQCatholics have a holy tradition of art, saints (start with St. Christina the Astonishing), music, community, and a wealth of devotions--benedictions, novenas, rosaries, chaplets, etc. etc. The faith is already infused with a good deal of the best Western culture has to offer. Yet I see so much of that ignored and unknown by people who teach catechism to children.

Probably a dumb question, but is catecchism meant to teach Christianity or Catholicism?

You want a skit when you have the Play of Daniel?Yes. I have about 23 hours of instruction for the entire year, so time is at a premium. We have to stick to priorities: what is really needed in catechesis?Another way of asking the question "what's needed in catechesis", instead of listing what they should know, starts with listing misconceptions that I think must be addressed because they might lead the children away from the faith. For example:Misconception #1- Doubt is sinful and asking questions is bad other than on points of detail. The unspoken reason seems to be that some fear that if one starts probing then the whole edifice of faith will fall apart. Religion is like comfort food: some are attached to it because it feels good, it's a nice story, but they secretly are afraid that it's just that, a story that can only be believed if it remains unquestioned - they're trying to hang on to it, but eventually will dismiss is as a childish notion.Misconception #2- The only thing that matters is love of God and of one another. As long as one leads a good, ethical life, the rest doesn't matter. Thus we don't need to know anything else, all varieties of Christianity are basically the same, and in fact all major world religions are basically the same in the essentials. Religion is such a fog of vague good feelings that they see no reason to go to Mass if they don't feel like it, and, really, no reason to do anything distinctly Christian; they will slowly drift away in increasing vagueness and eventually realize that they don't believe in anything any more beyond ethics.Misconception #3- Everything is black and white, every question has a straightforward true answer, the Catholic church has an answer to everything, it is holy and perfect, and the answers have always been the same: there is no history, no mystery, no mistake and no contradictions. They're interested and open to learning, but I'm afraid that (as Ann says) when one day they encounter a contradiction that cannot be resolved, a teaching that they cannot accept, or evil within the church, they will have a crisis and reject it all.Another challenge is that a number of the children only rarely go to Mass and never pray by themselves. Then I am teaching in a vacuum. What's needed in catechesis then?Another risk arises from the controversial issues of the times, gay marriage etc. So far I have sidestepped them entirely, but doesn't that omission make my teaching appear disconnected from the world and largely irrelevant?

When I was young we were taught that it was a sin to doubt the Faith. If I'm not mistaken that was the opinion of Aquinas, though I don't remember just where he said it. I must say that in spite of Benedict's conservatism he clearly departs from that teaching, and he even says that doubt is part of the journey towards God. I think that that needs to be made part of catechetical instruction. But admitting problems alone won't solve them. So how do you teach people to handle those contradictions?In my experience young people as well as old ones suffer crises of faith. Until the institutional Church faces that fact and until it admits that there are indeed solid reasons for those crises, the young will either blind themselves to the problematic aspects of what they are being taught and turn themselves into fundamentalists, or, more likely, they will drift away from the Church.How to handle contradictions (both of dogma and practice by other Catholics), that is the question. I suspect there are many reasons for the contradictions, e.g., linguistic ones and historical ones and psychological ones, etc.. All those possibilities have to be addressed honestly and openly.

Claire wrote "Another challenge is that a number of the children only rarely go to Mass"But they come to your course. Why do they come?

John: Because their parents make them. Why do they make them? I'm not sure. Maybe they think it's good for their kids: it's free, it's educational, and it's that much time that the kids won't spend on the internet.

What isn't needed in catechesis? My wish list is a mile long.-Solid liberal arts education as an undergirding-Childhood exposure to all kinds of art, particularly music and especially Gregorian chant, which is very easy for children to learn and sing-Tons of memorization in those golden years of 6-10, when everything is retained, including not only catechism answers but Psalms and other Scriptures, especially the Gospel. Everyone should learn the Beatitudes, for example.-Rigorous study of Scripture in jr high-Training in prayer in high school, including lots of retreats and peer talks-Ongoing catechesis with Q and A for young adults. The "Theology on Tap" format does this well and in a social setting-Thoroughgoing adult education in parishes and dioceses. The Institute for Catholic Culture is a good model.-Wider use of liturgical aids such as Magnificat, which combines liturgical texts with art and brief but intellectually/ spiritually challenging teachings-Various kinds of Christian training and mentorship in parishes-Teaching specifically designed for the elderly during the day in parishes

I like what Todd said about faith (and presumably catechesis) being an apprenticeship for a Christian life rather than a companion of child education.I was raised on the Baltimore catechism, with its Q and As. And while I cant imagine that format working today, I admire its depth. Its questions and their answers shaped the map of reality that ended up in my young head, such that when I thought about the world, it was in spiritual and philosophical terms as well as practical terms. Religion wasnt just another thing to learn, like geography. It was about the very fabric of reality: the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of good and evil, the meaning of suffering, the nature of humans, and the ultimate destiny of our immortal souls.By the time I was halfway through grade school, I understood the following: I was made for a purpose; the sacred was a part of the fabric of the universe; God was actually present in church; life will always be filled with mystery; evil was real and treacherous; there were persons, places, and things to avoid; pain and injustice were a part of life; courage was required; riches, fame, pleasure, and power did not bring happiness; there was something infinitely bigger than each of us. I understood that I was a child of God, and therefore of infinite worth. I knew the virtues and the sins and the difference between them. I knew that I would do wrong but could be forgiven. I knew that I was responsible for my actions and that my conscience was my guide. When I hit adulthood, the basic nature of reality was not much of a surprise. How can we teach such things today, with the seriousness and scope they deserve?

Heres a related article on a good way to begin with older kids: Preambles for Faith, over at America:http://americamagazine.org/issue/preambles-faith

Jeanne --You're the first one to note that knowledge of the nature of good and evil was a big part of the old catechesis, and there was a big emphasis on "forming a right conscience" and "examining one's conscience". I suspect that these days the evil part has been downplayed in many religion classes. The wider culture, with its view of sins as "mistakes", has influenced religion classes mightily, to such an extent that many kids these days are offended by the dogma of Original Sin. What??? Me a sinner??? Don't be medieval! The big new sin is being "judgmental". Yes, there was too much emphasis on sin in many cases when we were young -- but there's too little these days.

"But they come to your course. Why do they come?"Child care that is free or very economical.I like a lot of Kathy's list, especially the attention to Scripture. The danger in it is that catechesis can develop into a quasi-Gnosticism: a knowledge which is possessed by a catechetical class imparted to others. Missing from that list, but essential, is the cultivation of curiosity and the tools for learning in young people. Also a family-centered approach. Much has been published in the past generation that brings families together (a counter cultural thing, if we ever had one in 21st century America) in order to share learning experiences. At minimum, community nights: whole parish catechesis, missions, days of recollection. Large group experiences can fire the imagination and galvanize a whole parish community.Also missing from her list is spiritual direction, starting as early as high school for those inclined to pursue discernment as a lifelong tool for tuning in to God's guidance in our lives.

Interesting discussion - thanks. Is anyone familiar with the Montesorri inspired "Catechesis of the Good Shepherd"? If so, what do you think of it? http://www.cgsusa.org/

To compound the problem of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of the accident: Bishop Mc Manus said that he had 1 Manhattan and 1 glass of wine with dinner, yet according to the arrest report the Worcester bishop failed 3 sobriety exams. http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/05/07/bishop-mcmanus-arraigned-dru... is a post by Fr. Komonchak Whats needed in catechesis? Now it is a well established fact, one that many bishops make sure that the catechists in their diocese know, that the bishop is the primary catechist in his diocese. I would say that Bishop McManus has a long way to go to establish his credibility in that area.

Sorry: I meant to post this on the previous post on Bishop McManus. Maybe it isn't such a bad mistake.Every catechist has to be a credible witness and role model.

I think Jeanne's first comment really nails it, though. The rest of us need to have a shared understanding of our religion before we can communicate it to our children. My frustration is that Catholicism has these incredibly complex rules that seem almost intentionally beyond the grasp of most people. Do many other religions have specially trained lawyers to understand their rules and regulations?My 13 year old daughter has been working on a Catholic Girl Scout award that used to be called the Marian Medal. Even though I'm a fully initiated, church-going woman, I needed to find a more qualified mentor for her. The takeaway for me being I'm not informed enough in a religion I've practiced my entire life to be able to tutor a 13 year old. And you see it at Mass. Half the people in the pews could probably give a perfectly lovely and instructive homily; so why do we insist only highly-trained men deliver it?I think effective catechesis is undermined by a continually reinforced message that our religion is too complex for most of us to understand. So why bother trying to learn it?

I taught for ten years about a dozen years ago, just as the major publishers began switching out Scripture verses in favor of citations from the Catechism in their parish-based religion class textbooks. This coming academic year, my four children will all be in religious education for the same 75 minutes a week, and I've been tapped to rejoin the volunteer teaching staff.My priority will be to instill the skills, habits and character essential to union with Christ. That involves sacraments, prayer, good works, Bible reading. Ultimately, I want these kids to go to heaven, where their saved pets will be awaiting them!

Looking back on my own catechesis, I can see at least two problematic approaches. The first comes from some who were raised on the memorize the Baltimore catechism approach. I remember at least one class where we were berated for not knowing the standard set of Catholic trivia that they had to memorize growing up. This method suffers from being far more concerned about whether someone can list the works of mercy than whether someone actually does any of them. The second approach is more concerned about the students' well-being and character, but it tends to be so afraid of being the first approach that it is largely unanchored from the broader Catholic faith.Perhaps a renewed focus on the lives of the saints would be a better way. On one hand, the focus on how people have lived the faith will provide concreteness that the first approach lacks as well as showing that there isn't a single or an enumerable list of ways to live a Christian life. On the other hand, focusing on the saints would give the second approach connections to the history of the Church and the devotions beloved by the saints.

I remember at least one class where we were berated for not knowing the standard set of Catholic trivia that they had to memorize growing up. Dismissing the material in the Baltimore Catechisms as trivia is strange. I wonder if you've ever read them. Here's what was actually in #4. I wonder which parts you regard as trivia. ----BASIC CATHOLIC PRAYERS The Lord's Prayer The Angelic Salutation (The Hail Mary) The Apostles Creed Other PrayersLESSON FIRST: ON THE END OF MANLESSON SECOND: ON GOD AND HIS PERFECTIONSLESSON THIRD: ON THE UNITY AND TRINITY OF GODLESSON FOURTH: ON CREATIONLESSON FIFTH: ON OUR FIRST PARENTS AND THE FALLLESSON SIXTH: ON SIN AND ITS KINDSLESSON SEVENTH: ON THE INCARNATION AND REDEMPTIONLESSON EIGHTH: ON OUR LORD'S PASSION, DEATH, RESURRECTION, AND ASCENSIONLESSON NINTH: ON THE HOLY GHOST AND HIS DESCENT UPON THE APOSTLESLESSON TENTH: ON THE EFFECTS OF THE REDEMPTIONLESSON ELEVENTH: ON THE CHURCHLESSON TWELFTH: ON THE ATTRIBUTES AND MARKS OF THE CHURCHLESSON THIRTEENTH: ON THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERALLESSON FOURTEENTH: ON BAPTISMLESSON FIFTEENTH: ON CONFIRMATIONLESSON SIXTEENTH: ON THE GIFTS AND FRUITS OF THE HOLY GHOSTLESSON SEVENTEENTH: ON THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCELESSON EIGHTEENTH: ON CONTRITIONLESSON NINETEENTH: ON CONFESSIONLESSON TWENTIETH: ON THE MANNER OF MAKING A GOOD CONFESSIONLESSON TWENTY-FIRST: ON INDULGENCESLESSON TWENTY-SECOND: ON THE HOLY EUCHARISTLESSON TWENTY-THIRD: ON THE ENDS FOR WHICH THE HOLY EUCHARIST WAS INSTITUTEDLESSON TWENTY-FOURTH: ON THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASSLESSON TWENTY-FIFTH: ON EXTREME UNCTION AND HOLY ORDERSLESSON TWENTY-SIXTH: ON MATRIMONYLESSON TWENTY-SEVENTH: ON THE SACRAMENTALSLESSON TWENTY-EIGHTH: ON PRAYERLESSON TWENTY-NINTH: ON THE COMMANDMENTS OF GODLESSON THIRTIETH: ON THE FIRST COMMANDMENTLESSON THIRTY-FIRST: THE FIRST COMMANDMENT--ON THE HONOR AND INVOCATION OF SAINTSLESSON THIRTY-SECOND: THE SECOND COMMANDMENT THE THIRD COMMANDMENTLESSON THIRTY-THIRD: THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT THE SIXTH COMMANDMENTLESSON THIRTY-FOURTH: THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT THE NINTH COMMANDMENT THE TENTH COMMANDMENTLESSON THIRTY-FIFTH: ON THE FIRST AND SECOND COMMANDMENTS OF THE CHURCHLESSON THIRTY-SIXTH: ON THE THIRD, FOURTH, FIFTH AND SIXTH COMMANDMENTS OF THE CHURCHLESSON THIRTY-SEVENTH: ON THE LAST JUDGMENT AND THE RESURRECTION, HELL, PURGATORY, AND HEAVENhttp://www.cin.org/users/james/ebooks/master/baltimore/bindex.htm

The poor disciples of Jesus who could hardly read or write. How did they ever manage?At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants."

This is a topic that I am passionate about. I've been involved in religious ed. for about 25 years. I am convinced that the problem is not what is being taught (although that is so important), the problem is that our religious ed. structure is broken. No matter how we 'tweak' text books, curriculum, etc. the kids are not embracing our faith. I think that religious ed. should not be at the parish level. Most priests would love to not have to deal with it, it's not a money maker, and many priests, while they have many gifts, do not like having to work with the children. The two main complaints I receive from the catechists are, 1) these kids don't go to Mass, and 2) these kids never see a priest. Why not manage this at the diocesan level and create religious ed. centers where different churches participate. They would be staffed by those who really feel the calling to work with children, clergy and laity alike. We have stepped out of the box with our church's religious ed. program. It includes a kid-friendly Mass as part of the session (children sit with their classes), followed by a 40 minute class (for the older kids) or 3 'stations' for the younger children. They end with a 20 minute group assembly where they hear Bible stories - OT to NT - our Salvation History. Our program is filled with videos, slide shows, games, etc. They also have online homework which is all done electronically.Each session is 2 1/2 hours and the kids leave happy and smiling. I think our greatest testimony was at Confirmation last week when, during a slideshow, when our 14 year old students erupted in spontaneous applause at a picture of the Tabernacle.Religious Ed. needs to be addressed....our current methods aren't working.....let's not lose yet another generation!

NCR today: "The North American Forum on the Catechumenate, a lay-run organization that formed the backbone of diocesan- and parish-based Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs by providing workshops and resources across the United States and Canada for more than three decades, will be dissolved" Lack of funding.http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/lack-funding-causes-lay-run-rcia-...

When I was young we were taught that it was a sin to doubt the Faith.One of the best parts of being young is growing up!Faith means doubt. Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt, and you overcome doubt by going through it. The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith. (Thomas Merton)If a (wo)man will begin with certainties, (s)he shall end in doubts; but if (s)he will be content to begin with doubts, (s)he shall end in certainties. (Sir Francis Bacon)Our Church is a better one when we realize who we are: some of us see what we have been hoping to see, some of us dont see it at all, and some of us stand in the middle, hoping for but not seeing the Church they want to see, yet also graced to stick with it, living out our lives in holy doubt. (Francis X. Clooney, SJ, Thank God for Today's Doubting Thomas) http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=4171#co...

Oops ... Merton most certainly applied that to women as well.

Jeanne: even if we agree on concepts (which is doubtful, but let that pass), a common vocabulary and common formulas are missing. I told my kids several times that "to sin" means "to turn away from God", hoping that they would memorize it; then they go to a different event, where they hear, also repeated several times, that "sin" means "lack of love". Those of us who want to teach facts try to encapsulate some notions in concise formulas, but we do not all use the same formulas, so it's confusing for them. Even for the sacraments and the holy days, there are now several competing names for the same sacrament and for the same feast. It's a silly but real practical issue. (Maybe our different choices of words reveal more significant problems in our differences of perspective?)Irene: I bet those "incredibly complex rules" have to do with canon law, not with theology. My impression is that theology is beautiful in the same way that Math is beautiful: whenever you gain a new insight, what previously seemed impenetrable now looks simple and obvious. Theology matters for deepening our faith. Canon law doesn't. (Why should a 13 year old have to concern herself with canon law? That is so very, very low on my list of important knowledge!)Teresa: that's close to my own list since there is so little time, I'd primarily like the kids to be equipped to continue learning by themselves, so, to have some general direction, last fall I set myself three concrete goals: help them to appreciate the Mass better, familiarize them with the gospels, and expose them to a variety of ways to pray. This way, maybe they will be able to deepen their faith by participating more actively at Mass, by reading Scripture by themselves if they get touched by grace, and by praying in the way that is best for them. At least that's the idea.Cupcake: early in the year I asked my class what they wanted me to do. The lives of the saints was one of their requests. I haven't managed to work it in so far, but linking it to history is a good idea.Andrea: if we follow both of your suggestions, to have religious ed centers for clusters of parishes, and to include the Mass in the catechism sessions, then I see a practical problem: the families bringing their kids in from other parishes are then going to attend Mass at the place where the religious education session is taking place, instead of at their home parish (here I am talking of those who do normally go to Mass). Doesn't that seem like a bad idea?

Pages

Share

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.