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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.

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.



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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:

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. 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.

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., though: You want a skit when you have the Play of Daniel? St. Hildegard's Ordo Virtutum (where I see children participating and in the audience)? 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:

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?

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. 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.


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.

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)

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?

Kathy's list is important because it reflects an age-appropriate evolution from stories and images when a child does not have deep verbal skills but thinks in terms of pictures, to rote memorization of the most important bits of terminology that form the basis of the "Catholic identity" when verbal and writing skills have improved, but reflective thinking is not yet there, and so on. If our pedagogy, both in content and approach, is not congruent with the developmental level of our children, it's all a frustrating waste of time for everyone.I consider myself to have been very blessed. I was in early grade school during Vatican II and was in high school and college during the first stages of its implementation. I learned a Baltimore catechism approach until fourth grade (that 6-10 golden age of Kathy), and in high school and college read extensively from the documents of Vatican II. That the pedagogical approaches and content evolved as I was maturing was fortuitous but probably helped to keep me in the church.Gerelyn: Here are the things from your list I consider less than essential1) Attributes and marks of the church - had to look them up when I was taking a theology class last year. I really don't remember exactly what they are, in terms of being able to spit them back.2) Distinctions between gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit - missed that list in grade school, still don't know it without looking it up, and manage to do OK.3) Indulgences.They wouldn't make it on my list of catechetical musts, at least not in terms of fine-tuned definitions. For me, the Baltimore catechism approach was flawed because it made every bit of content seem to be as important as every other bit.

Theresa --You mean that not all pets are saved??? That means that Minnie Cat, my hellacious last one . . . (Sob! Dear Lord, have mercy on my Minnie!!) (I wonder what St. Thomas says.) (Or, better, St. Francis.)

Ann Olivier says that for Benedict, doubt is part of the journey towards God. She adds, In my experience young people as well as old ones suffer crises of faith.Jim McCrea cites Merton: Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt, and you overcome doubt by going through it.It appears they have company in high places. Todays NCR tells of a sister who greeted Pope Francis after hed given a talk to a group of women religious:

[She] told him she had been experiencing "a crisis of faith in the church" but had experienced a revival since his election as pontiff."He told me, 'Don't worry, I am twice a month in crisis.' "

Jesus already gave us the means to have a common understanding of the faith, something that allows us to say that we are ONE, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And He also gave us the assurance that this means to a common understanding would be reliable and trustworthy.It is called the Magisterium, guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit.That apparently so many people reject the Magisterium does not mean that there is not a single deposit of faith, a single common understanding of the faith. There is for anyone who will be accept it.

Wow, Gene! That's the best news I've heard yet -- for the Church, that is, if not for gentle Francis. We must all say three Hail Marys a day for him. (That's what he asked for.)

Hi, Juliana:Agree that it is no longer necessary to emphasize indulgences, but in days of yore, all the prayers in our prayerbooks had the indulgences beneath them. My faves were the ones that gave Seven Years and Seven Quarantines.Strange how dismissive (resentful?) some Catholics of today are of the old books that formed generations of Catholics. For 80+ years the Baltimore Catechisms were used in parochial schools. I was lucky to have Benedictine teachers, because they did not make "every bit of content seem to be as important as every other bit." They drilled us on the important parts. (I remember how hard the Confirmation questions were.) But they moved quickly through the less important parts. Same thing in Bible History. They didn't come out and say that Noah's Ark was a myth, but the way they told the story made it clear that it was less historical than King David, e.g. They gave us a good foundation. We learned a lot of prayers, a lot of Gregorian chant, and a lot about the saints from them. I think the problems raised in this thread will never be solved. If parents do not provide a religious environment, no weekend catechist can fill the gap. Some things that my classmates and I took for granted 60 years ago: Catholic magazines coming to the house; Catholic periodicals, pamphlets, booklets, sold in the church vestibule; parish missions preached by visiting priests; processions; hymns that everyone could sing without cringing; etc., etc.

Claire, my idea certainly needs to be discussed in more detail, but perhaps it wouldn't be offered every week. In our program, we have sessions every other week and on the 'off' week, we send home online work that we create for them. It takes about an hour to complete and is considered as a class. They can do it all online and submit it back to us electronically. We include a lot of media, technology and keynote presentations. Our culture certainly knows how to get our kid's attention, we need to be as 'smart'.In terms of what to teach, etc. If our programs are more centralized, we can coordinate our curricula. As it is now, at least in our area, parishes are independent and programs are all different in terms of class times, text books, class frequency, etc. These are just some thoughts that I have, really just hoping to open a discussion that goes beyond text books...

"It is called the Magisterium, guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit."Bender --How can you possibly say that when you know that the Holy Spirit DOES tolerate error in the magisterium? We KKNOW this because we know that the Church has changed some teachings. I'm sorry, Bender, but fundamentalist assumptions such as yours give real scandal to the young people and make them distrust all of us old people, including their religion teachers in high school and college.Catechists --What do you all teach the kids about actual changes in the magisterium? Do they ask about the changes?

Hmmm. I think Kathy's list is important because it reflects an age appropriate evolution into an adult understanding of pictures and music. Kids can appreciate imagery, but that is just the basis for an adult understanding it, not the fulfillment of it. Spend a few weeks in the church explaining why there are windows, what they mean, how it was blessed, etc. If the faithful keep silent, the stones themselves will cry out.Find other examples of faith embodied. Why is Good News a hard question? If someone comes in and says your parents have died,is that Good News? "War" is not good news, unless you are a Jew being sent to the gas chambers, a native being brutalized. Then War is good news, kind of. But you can learn to recognize, discern, what is good in life.Saints are a great idea. Who doesn't want to hear about St Christina's aversion to her smelly neighbors? Or should that be "Who does..." I suppose it could be a good way to talk about our aversion to the habits of the people in the church, and our efforts to live with them.The answer is our own faith, expressed through whatever materials we use. Our own faith that the Eucharist is symbolic, no matter what others say, and so much more. Meet 'students' where they are, with love and hope, and faith will be learned.

Bender --Francis made some very interesting statements today about what the Holy Spirit guides us to: Jesus Bergoglio continued tells us in today's Gospel: When He shall come, the Spirit of truth shall guide you into all the truth. Paul does not say to the Athenians: This is the encyclopaedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth. No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopaedia. The truth is an encounter - it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet [it]

"It is called the Magisterium, guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit."The problem is that a lot of Catholics set themselves up as their own Magisterium these days, especially conservatives.The teaching office of the Church may well be protected from error. But who's in it? Bishops and a CDF that lack reading comprehension? Bishops and theologians aren't given magical powers. They actually have to cooperate with God and with grace on this one.People reject the Magisterium largely not because they dislike the answers, but because they find the lived witness of the leaders lacks credibility.

Has anyone mentioned building a sense of community? I would not recommend my son's Catholic grade school to anyone for many reasons, but here's something they did right: The kids met en masse each morning and were invited to post their intentions on a big sheet of paper in the hall. Then everyone prayed a decade for the intentions listed there. It fostered a sense of concern for others ... and the touching thing about it was that even among little children, most of the intentions were for other people. Kids often want to help, and that was channeled into learning prayers. The principal and priest also learned a lot about the kids from looking at their intentions, and religious discussions were often tailored around that. It also was a constant reminder to the children that everyone carries around that burden of worry, and that helped build empathy.Fostering a sense of community and service to others can nourish one's faith. A cold and distant parish can stunt it. There's a reason the happy-clappies are outstripping membership in mainstream denominations ...

Is there anyone lurking here who is LDS or former LDS? If so, will you opine on the success/failure of Institutes of Religion in imparting the LDS faith to their children?I think that is a model worth investigating by the RCC.

I think there are a series of instructional levels for children: "Jesus loves me, that I know .. for the bible tells me so.""What a friend we have in Jesus.""Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine."And the CCC level.Without some level of success in the early stages, the CCC level will be the point of intellectual and emotional turnoff for 99% of Catholics, irrespective of age.By the same token, to never get to a level comparable to the CCC level will keep one at the Catholic child level at which so many people seem to be stalled.The final stage of life is also dangerous. It can become "to hell with it all" for many people.

Stephen Colbert just had on the producer of the new Gatsby movie. They discussed how the popularity of the book has gone up and down, or, rather, down and up. It seems that it does interest high school kids (not least because it's short :-) Maybe a lesson for catechists to learn is that the average kid can be reached by discussing really serious literature. I mean that adult stories discussed on an adult or near-adult level seems a surefire way to grab them. Great movies, too, I suspect. In the old days, when Catholic kids went to Catholic schools, 5 English classes per week provided time for such discussions. I suspect that without more time with the kids the catechists can't do a thorough job. A great remedial English teacher I know tells me that kids don't retain a subject unless they get to talk about it. I'm quite sure that's quite true of philosophy classes, and I'm convinced it's true of theology ones also. Unless you'r Michael Sandel, of course. Maybe the catechists should ask him how he get 1,000 kids in one class hooked on philosophy in classes with little opportunity for feed-back from them. (I'm serious.) He's doing something extraordinarily right.Religion classes for public school kids are only once a week. How can they possibly have the time to talk thoroughly about the material? I suppose that part of the solution is somehow to make Catholic schools affordable for all. Vouchers anyone? But then Catholic school instruction will have to improve too.

What do you all make of Newman's distinction between difficulties and doubt:

I am far of course from denying that every article of the Christian Creed, whether as held by Catholics or by Protestants, is beset with intellectual difficulties; and it is simple fact, that, for myself, I cannot answer those difficulties. Many persons are very sensitive {239} of the difficulties of Religion; I am as sensitive of them as any one; but I have never been able to see a connexion between apprehending those difficulties, however keenly, and multiplying them to any extent, and on the other hand doubting the doctrines to which they are attached. Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one. Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power.

His last point is perhaps elucidated when, a few pages later in the Apologia, he says that "the being of a God ... is as certain to me as the certainty of my own existence, though when I try to put the grounds of that certainty into logical shape I find a difficulty in doing so in mood and figure to my satisfaction.).

Jim: so what do you suggest doing when you have teenagers of which at least half do not have any sense that Jesus loves them?Ann: since there is so little time, I think that it is more important to, first, show the youth that there is more to faith than what they know of it, second, give them a desire to learn more, andthird, give them some tools to learn more in other ways (outside catechism.) The second reading of the feast of the Ascension (He 9: 24-28; 10: 19-23) is a good example of a text that requires study. I would be happy if I could simply shift attitudes from "This is meaningless" to "I don't understand anything" to "I wish I understood what that means" to "I know what I need to do to understand this better".

In the same way that suffering is necessary to sympathize with other people's sufferings, I wonder if doubts do not help bring us closer to those who do not believe, and make us better evangelizers. I wish I had more doubts, if only it could help me reach out to my children. They and I could journey together towards conversion.More selfishly, I think of doubts or crises of faith as ways to progress in our faith, so I worry about lack of doubts for that reason. Then I also vaguely worry about the responsibilities attached to faith. If faith is a gift, then surely one is supposed to do something with it...That core, seemingly unshakable sense that God IS, what is it, really? If it is impervious to all the difficulties that ought to weaken it, then how do we know that it is not an empty shell, a mere psychological construct; and if it rests on no solid rational foundation, then how do we know that it will still be here tomorrow? We don't know it, and yet, even that realization changes nothing. (Just saw the part saying the being of a God is as certain to me as the certainty of my own existence" before hitting "submit". Exactly!)

the being of a God is as certain to me as the certainty of my own existence, though when I try to put the grounds of that certainty into logical shape I find a difficulty in doing so in mood and figure to my satisfaction.)."I think that's a pretty common idea. I think the reason God defies "logical shape" is because, while we can sense God's presence, that presence transcends our ability to describe it. Maybe that's God's way of preventing our putting God in a neat little box. (Something I learned from my old Unitarian upbringing that still makes sense to me.)St. Julian of Norwich distilled, for me anyway, the importance of God's presence into three simple but profound ideas that she'd seen in a hazelnut (the crux of the biscuit for her): "God made us, God loves us, God protects us." In my view, the best "proof" of the existence of God is God's presence is the saints, that unbroken line of the Holy Spirit. Where the Church often seems bent on restricting human behavior amongst Catholics (for good and ill), the Holy Spirit seems to blow the other way, offering what seems like a random gift of grace to some of the most embarrassing types of people and raising them to the community of saints. If you want to teach kids the "rules" of the Church, it might be useful to teach them about the saints who struggled with them or who sometimes ran afoul of the Church's hierarchy.

Unless parents and children are consistently present at weekend mass, some of the major feasts and devotions, and addressed at their own level by those who preach, their religious formation will be simply haphazard and weak. We have so many who are never at mass with their families, who only infrequently attend faith formation classes, and parents themselves with incredibly weak understanding that the catechist's role is almost an impossible dream. Thus religious faith has no priority in their lives and no interest is developed in participating, even for grandma's sake!

Newman's teen-age evangelical conversion to committed Christianity he described as "a great change of thought" when "I fell under the influence of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through God's mercy, have never been effaced or obscured." The conversion, he went on to say, enabled him to "rest in the thought of two and two only absolute and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator."

Newmans teen-age evangelical conversion to committed Christianity he described as a great change of thought when I fell under the influence of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through Gods mercy, have never been effaced or obscured.I don't even know what that means. I would never show it to a teenager struggling with the faith.

Jean: Which part of it don't you understand? I could see myself giving Newman's Apologia to a teenager struggling with faith, along with other accounts of the struggle of faith, of course.

"I fell under the influence of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through Gods mercy, have never been effaced or obscured."This part. It's irritatingly airy-fairy; sounds good until you try to figure out what he means.What does it mean to "fall under the influence"? What does he mean by a "defininte creed"? Is there some sort of "Indefinite creed" he was exposed to earlier"? From whom did he "receive into his intellect impressions of dogma"? I presume he means the Holy Spirit? Why not say that? What were those impressions? How does he know they're the correct/orthodox ones? "Effaced or obscured" strikes me as redundant. I would not be able to present this to teenagers, tied up as they are in the physical and concrete. But, then, that, among many other reasons, is why I'm not a catechist. You and others here would doubtless do better than me.

"Jim: so what do you suggest doing when you have teenagers of which at least half do not have any sense that Jesus loves them?"Claire ... that is the bazillion euro question. I have no children and wouldn't begin to know how to deal with teenagers, outside of get out of the room ASAP.I fell under the influence of a definite Creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through Gods mercy, have never been effaced or obscured is about as cold a statement of faith that I have read.

Ann: "Catechists What do you all teach the kids about actual changes in the magisterium?"I can tell you what I say to my class, something along the following lines: "We learn about God from Scripture. Over time, Christians are developing a better and better understanding. It's like constructing a theory in science. Our understanding is rough and needs to be refined. That happens gradually. We call that Tradition. We build on Scripture and Tradition. Tradition is important so that each generation can progress instead of always starting from scratch. Because future developments are based on Tradition, the church is very slow and careful before adding anything onto Tradition, to try to prevent mistakes. It only happens when most people, most bishops, and the pope, are in near-unanimous agreement about something: then it's a sign that, most likely, the Holy Spirit is inspiring us. Still, sometimes some statements are off, but then at some point it becomes clear and later generations correct them. We make progress together." The most important thing, in my opinion, is that I subscribe to what I teach. I try my best to fit the catechism, but that comes second. I am sure that my credibility depends on my conviction.

Jean: It's funny, but I find the quote I gave quite concrete and not at all "airy-fairy". It's not the full story--it appears very near the beginning of his lengthy "History of my Religious Opinions," the rest of which could be considered in some respects to explicate this early experience, never forgotten and recalled with gratitude by Newman seventy-five years later. If I were to make use of this classic of religious autobiography in a class (even for struggling teen-agers), I'd make pedagogical use of many of the questions you ask.What does he mean by a definite creed? I think he means the classical Christian dogmatic creed, as distinct from the kind of broad indefinite Christianity practiced in his family. I agree that he probably would say that it was the Holy Spirit that impressed the great dogmas on his intellect--Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, but don't believe he needed to say that here. "What were those impressions?" He explains several of them in the next pages. Think of these sentences as topic sentences.I don't think "efface" and "obscure" mean the same thing.One of the great themes of Newman's thought, from his evangelical to his high-Anglican to his Catholic periods, is the need to make one's faith real--to "realize" it in that sense. In his , it appears as the distinction between "notional" and "real" assent.

Claire, what a great answer! Father, I appreciate the response, and I would probably enjoy learning about Newman if you were teaching catechism at the local parish. I also apologize for meddling in this conversation more than I should. I would be a poor catechist, and I should shut up about the short-comings of those who are trying their best to provide instruction.

Claire --Thanks for your response. If I had teen-agers I'd be happy to entrust them to you for catechism :-) Sadly, I doubt that the trad catechists' answers are anything like that, but I'd like to hear from them too. As I see it this is a perennial question in the Church, at least since the Enlightenment. As Jeanne Follman points out in her book "When the Enlightenment Hit the Neighborhoods" these problems have become endemic in our culture. Kids are encouraged by the culture to be skeptics.

Jean: I never think of you as "meddling" in any conversation. I always appreciate what you have to say and agree with you many more times than not.

Thanks Jean and Ann!In a different direction, to recap one striking theme from the comments on this thread:Mike: "Unless the catechists role is almost an impossible dream."Ann: "How can [religious classes] possibly have the time to talk thoroughly about the material?"Jim: "Without , the CCC level will be the point of intellectual and emotional turnoff for 99% of Catholics"Gerelyn: "I think the problems raised in this thread will never be solved. If , no weekend catechist can fill the gap."Ann: "Until , the young will either , or, more likely, they will drift away from the Church."Bernard: "Could it be that the ambient culture is such that unless there will be little chance of success?"I guess the majority sentiment is: focus on the children who come from families who take their faith seriously, make a mile-long wish-list for their religious education, and give up on the other children.

Jesus said, Suffer the little children to come unto me . . . And embracing them, and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them.Nothing about theology. Nothing about sin. Nothing about dogma. Nothing about faith. Nothing about ignorance (which you accuse them or). Nothing about Mass attendance. Hugs. Blessings. Bread. Wine. (My suggestion: show them "Marcelino Pan y Vino" instead of reading Cardinal Newman to them.)

JAK --ISTM that Newman's basic distinctions here are between 1) the purportedly objective facts spoken of in revelation, 2) apparent logical conflicts among the revealed teachings, and 3) our subjective reaction (doubt) to those teachings/inconsistencies. Does the inconsistency of the facts *as presented by the teachings* imply that all of the teachings are false and, therefore, *must* be doubted? I think not. But Newman doesn't get into how than could be. (I think that semantic problems are a lot of what is problematic, though maybe not all. He doesn't get into how he handles the doubts, at least not here, except for suggesting that the counter-evidence against what causes his doubts defeats the doubts. Says he, "Of all points of faith, the being of a God is, to my own apprehension, encompassed with most difficulty, and yet borne in upon our minds with most power." Hmm. The mere concept of God ("apprehension") is so powerful (regardless of its inconsistencies) that it defeats his doubt! This seems to me to be saying that the counter-evidence defeats only the *doubts* -- he does not say that the counter-evidence defeats the inconsistency of the teachings. I find this a very unsatisfactory solution.

Gerelyn --Given my experience teaching philosophy, I think you underestimate the seriousness of ordinary people about the most important questions of life, at least when people are young. Unfortunately, however, we are inclined to seek easy answers to the questions, and the advertising and entertainment industries and many of our artists encourage the notion that it is actually possible to live easy, always pleasant, self-centered and happy lives. Ours is a hedonistic culture. But the widespread interest in Gatsby the last few years is perhaps showing that even young Americans have caught on: hedonism might not make you happy for long. So it's back to the hard questions and answers, and Sandel regularly has 1,000 students in his Justice class in which he tells them what Plato and the other philosophers had to say about it. Hmmm. I hope that's what's happening.

Hugs - Gerelyn, they're 13 years old, not 3 years old. Eeek! they would say; and their parents would wonder what's wrong with me.

Adolescents are a difficult group to teach because they are adolescents. Their concerns center around establishing an independent identity, a meaning for themselves that allows them to relate to others. IOW they are going their own ways and the object is to travel with them, perhaps even to get them to travel together with the others in the room. No t easy.Newman is an interesting case of this. Evangelical practice in the US at the time centered on adolescent conversion in the midst of the strum und drang of growing up. It looked back to the Great Awakenings and subsequent revivalism, nourishing an emotional commitment made at a particular moment in a person's life. Newman probably experienced something like this. He did not remain mired at that level, but advanced through many subsequent changes, but remained committed to that initial experience as the basis for spiritual and intellectual growth even as he left behind the theology and practice that had formed him.Trust in God. If God does not build the house, the laborers labor in vain. God has brought these people together to learn from you, so teach them what you know and believe. But ultimately it is God who will continue to walk with them and guide them. They may go through many wrenching changes in their lives, like Newman, yet remain faithful in ways you cannot predict. An example of faithful engagement with difficulties may be what they need.

Ann: You wrote: "ISTM that Newmans basic distinctions here are between 1) the purportedly objective facts spoken of in revelation, 2) apparent logical conflicts among the revealed teachings, and 3) our subjective reaction (doubt) to those teachings/inconsistencies."I find this puzzling. In the snippet I cited above, the basic distinction is between "doubt" and "difficulty," which you don't mention at all. In fact, "difficulty" doesn't appear in your post. Is it that you don't think there is a distinction between the two?You have often mentioned and praised the medieval practice of the quaestio, which was often prompted by the apparent conflict between or among recognized authorities, that is, the Bible and the Fathers, so that to a question one authority would give a Yes answer and another a No answer. This was their way of dealing with difficulties, because they knew that logical or metaphysical contradictions were not tolerable. (As you note: semantic clarifications went a long way toward resolving the difficulties.) Convinced of the truth and wisdom of the faith, they sought to address the inconsistencies ("difficulties") lest they eventually become "doubts". I think Newman was after something similar in his distinction.

Hugs Gerelyn, theyre 13 years old, not 3 years old. Eeek! they would say; and their parents would wonder whats wrong with me.Maybe bises would be better.

Claire: "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! Thats profound ignorance". Cupcake: "The lack of an answer to the What is the Good News question is the one that worries me the most. Thats the core of Christianity".I have read the whole of this correspondence. I have no idea what the answer is. I'm not sure I could suggest even a wrong one. Only one other person even refers back to this. Can anybody articulate it to me in a few simple sentences, especially if it is 'the core of Christianity"? I don't know what it meant at the time. I certainly don't know what it means in a news-saturated world. In Britain in some surveys of religious education, commonly repeated statements on the negative side are along the lines of "The same old stuff over and over again"; "it's like eating stale bread". I feel that 'Good News' has become such 'taken-for granted' twinning of words in the Christian-religious context that it no longer strikes most adult believers' as 'odd' - but until you hear the 'oddness' how will you communicate? I have heard Michael Sandel broadcast several times here on programmes I should enjoy - but what strikes me is how he controls the questions. In the Philosophy for Children movement that began in the States was not the whole point that the children/pupils/students ask the questions - which means they will ask the ones salient to themselves and the discuss them, not simply be the ones asked the questions adults think are right and then have to answer them - e.g. "What is the Good News" [and they can hear that capital G and the capital N and they know they have failed]? [Sorry I lost all control of grammar and punctuation there]. there is nothing worse than just knowing 'teacher's right answer' if you know that actually you do not know what everybody seems to just take for granted as being obvious.

Lorna, I did not have a set answer in mind. I then asked the same question under other forms: "What does it mean to be Christian?", "What difference does it make that Jesus, the son of God, was crucified, died, and resurrected?". It's not that surprising that they can't articulate it, but it would be good if at least some of them could say something, anything at all. The lack of answers signals that no one has ever discussed it with them. At this point it's a series of events with no meaning attached to it. So we're getting to the end of their years of religious education, but have not yet touched upon something that really seems rather central, doesn't it? I would not have been able to answer at their age either, after five years of catechism spent coloring and discussing ethics. But it makes one wonder if we couldn't just do without catechism altogether.

I suspect that in the present climate, catechists would not be encouraged to give their students a hug. One of my sisters was a kindergarten teacher in a public school, and in her later years at that work, she and the other teachers were forbidden to hug their children, even when, in her view, that was often what they most needed at a moment of sadness or fear.

There is a difference between doubt and difficult. However Newman's example of the difficulty of solving a math problem or getting a certain answer or the so-called right answer, misses an important fact. Within the Church there are profound philosophical and theological disagreements over certain doctrines. One school of theologians, and the Magisterium, will use various methods, principles and tradition to justify one outcome claimed to be the truth. Another school of theologians, the majority, will use the same sources and reach a different ethical conclusion. In many cases, there is real moral dilemma and doubt about the so-called moral truth unless you believe that every teaching of the magisterium is the absolute moral truth. For informed lay adults, there is both doubt and difficulty with respect to certain teachings. I think Mark Logsdon made a great point. Teenagers and young adults (as well as older ones) want to know "what does this teaching mean to me?" There are real issues that these Catholics want answers to and some of the answers are in tension with human experience, virtue and their informed, or not-so-informed, consciences. The Church, in Catechesis, rarely deal with these real contemporary problems. Consider a few of the many arguments I have heard among young adults: > If a episcopal married priest can be accepted into the RCC, then celibacy for RCC priests should be voluntary. > If the husband of a young married couple committed adultery (more than once) and got his recent girlfriend pregnant, why is it immoral for the innocent female spouse to divorce and remarry? Why should she be confined to a celibate and so-called single life until the husband dies? Did not Jesus in Matt say that divorce was permitted for unchastity (e.g., with adultery as its most evil form)?> Why is it immoral for a young married spouse with existing children whose life is threatened with certainty by another pregnancy to safeguard her life by the most prudent and effective method of sterilization? > Why do many priests have no problem with same-sex civil unions subject to the same faithfulness and obligations of heterosexual couples, while the official magisterium condemns such unions?

Some quotes on faith and doubt at weekend I asked my 10-year-old niece: "Let me try a test on you. The apostles, and now Christians in general, are sent to announce the Good News. What is the Good News?" She looked at me as though I were stupid and answered: "Well, the Good News is that Jesus is resurrected, and he lives within us. Duh!"

The debate about faith and reason, grace and human liberty has been going on for centuries. Here are some further issues for reflection about doubt and difficulty as they pertain to aspects of our faith.As Catholics are we called to accept every Church teaching, moral and the fundamental tenets of our faith? It is often said that faith without reason is blind, and reason without faith denies the transcendental. Don't we need both? If not, consider what type of world we would have if we blindly accepted the teachings on slavery, religious freedom and the torture of heretics. If grace is a gift from God that moves the person to do good works, is it necessary that the person ask God for Grace in order that Grace be given and good works performed? Is Grace given to each of us as a gratuitous gift based on what we need for our salvation or is it given based on our spiritual state? If we cannot earn Grace by any good works, how does the Church grant it to us in the form of indulgences where after certain works are performed we gain either a plenary indulgence and can enter heaven immediately if we are in the state of Grace, or a partial indulgence for the temporary punishment due to sin? On the other hand, if we enter heaven only by the Grace and Mercy of God because no good works can earn us heaven, exactly what is the role of Grace, good works and indulgences? I do not want to sound controversial or drift far from this subject, because my point is that doubting is one possible way that the Spirit of God teaches. Is there not truth in both agreement and legitimate disagreement? Certainly, history has demonstrated that our understanding of truth has changed as we have gained better knowledge in the sciences, theology, philosophy, the Scriptures, human experience, the world, et al. Are those that accept all Church teachings better Catholics and more pleasing to God than those that disagree (e.g., have a serious doubt of an informed conscience) with some teachings for good philosophical and theological reasons? Clearly, these are complex subjects and questions and there are no magic bullets here that can function as the right solution or course of action in every case.To come full circle, we need better catechesis to deal with real issues that plague us and frequently cause us moral conflict and suffering.

JAK -Am having computer problems so I can't reply to you in detail. Will just say that my 1) and 2) above refer to Newman's "difficulties", and 3) concerns "doubts". Doubts being subjuective they cannot "turn into" what is objective (1). Neither can thoughts about the objective (2) turn into doubts, because a doubt would be the negation of those thoughts or at least a judgment that a thought might not be true.Or maybe "doubt" is ambiguous.

Ann: As my Webster's points out, "doubt" can also have an objective meaning, referring to the object which causes the subjective state. Similarly, when we are talking about intellectual matters, I can experience difficulty in understanding something, and that is subjective--in fact, aren't all intellectual difficulties subjective? What would be an intellectual difficulty that didn't reside in someone's mind?When physicists say that light sometimes seems to move in a wave and sometimes as particles, they are presenting something difficult to understand (and impossible to imagine), but they don't seem to be in any doubt about the data that have given rise to the notion of the "wavicle."One can be without doubt that God is both omnipotent and all-good but have a great deal of difficulty in understanding the problem of evil; the problem (difficulty) arises, however, only for those who believe in both the omni-potence and omni-benevolence of God. Another point: Faith is not sight, and because it is not, it gives rise to hosts of questions (see the Summa theologica), but, as in the case of Aquinas, the questions arise out of the difficulty of reconciling authorities and beliefs without these difficulties arising out of doubt. Consider the doctrines that God is both One and Three.

The argument about authority in terms of the morality of voluntary human activity has been going in serious debate since Humanae Vitae was published in 1968. Since Vertitatis Spendor (VS) was published in 1993 the assertion by 'authority' has also been disputed especially over various moral methods and whether the proximate end of a deliberate decision involving the choice of an voluntary human action determines its moral species. Consider the fact that S.T. I-II, q. 18. 6 that VS 78 refers to does not mention a "proximate end". ST 18.6 does refer to ST I-II, q. 1, a. 3., but this text (in particular ad. 3) describes the proximate end as the natural end, not the moral end, as in the physical, material voluntary human act "to kill a man". It is the agent's intention-to-end to either safeguard justice or to satisfy anger that determines this act's moral species. The natural end, or proximate end, of the physical act 'to kill a man' is the death of the person, but this only determines the act's natural species. It is these moral issues that are at the center of theological dispute and not issues such as whether God is but One and Three. Therefore, doubt is real and part of our human nature. We need to guided by prayer, give respect and priority to Church teachings, follow the advice of our spiritual advisors, educate oneself comprehensively about the subject in question, and follow our informed conscience, among other things before we should make a judgment that is in tension with the Magisterium. Nevertheless, one is not right merely because one accepts all and every Church teaching, nor should we be naive to believe that an individual conscience cannot err. These are complex issues and doubt and difficulty are part of our moral decision-making process. While there may be some truth in most arguments and decisions of authority, one must never go against their informed conscience. This is not an easy concept to fully understand, but this is also why better catechesis is necessary, as well as further dialogue about important matters.

I often refer back to two usually overlooked purveyors of wisdom and truth when I ponder either the difficult or the doubtful:"Cope, don't mope." Bl. Mechtilde of Ubaldigor"Sometime I like to put sands of doubt into the oyster of my faith." Brother Cadfael

Mr. Barberi: You write: "It is these moral issues that are at the center of theological dispute and not issues such as whether God is but [both?] One and Three."For those mainly interested in moral issues, moral issues are at the center of theological dispute; for others, not so much. For example, anyone who wants to engage in serious theological conversation with members of other religions, most especially Muslims, will find whether God is both One and Three a question quite near the center of theological dispute.If I were to urge Newman's distinction between difficulties and doubt in the area of moral theology, I would ask whether a Christian moral theologian has any principles that in fact he does not doubt even though many difficulties may attend them. Of course, anyone who thinks that any difficulty and its attendant is equivalent to doubt is simply denying Newman's distinction, which, of course, he is quite free to do. But for myself, I think there is something to the distinction.

Fr. Komonchak,I never implied that there was no distinction between doubt and difficulty. As for my comments they were directly focused on "catechesis" as well as doubt and difficulty. Perhaps I misread your article but it seemed to me that catechesis was focused on teaching the young and not-so-young Catholics about the Catholic religion. Thus, for most Catholics whether God is both One and Three is not an really an of issue of serious doubt. When it comes to what is needed in catechesis, your topic, we need more than prohibitions and negative injunctions and memorization of things, as many on this blog have already mentioned. As to your question to moral theologians, many have doubts about a great many things but the level of doubt is the issue. When we have a majority of theologians that have profound doubt about certain doctrines and teachings, then we need a better moral theory that all Catholics can understand and embrace instead of non-reception. This applies to catechesis as well since catechesis reflects these teachings. The list of disputed teachings is long and I have already mentioned a few of them.As for Muslims and non-Catholic Christians there continues to be disputed issues that have not be resolved for centuries. Frankly, I don't know if your article was talking about such issues but I agree with your point, as you seem to agree with mine.

Mr. Barberi:I'd be interested in how you would state the distinction between doubt and difficulty. I responded, not to what you said about catechesis, but to what you said about "the center of theological dispute." The discussion on the thread had moved in a direction that seemed to me to suggest that raising difficult questions was incompatible with firm faith. I thought Newman's distinction between doubt and difficulty was pertinent, and that it might even be useful in thinking about the meaning and manner of catechesis, for which, lest there be any doubt, I agree that something "more than prohibitions and negative injunctions and memorizations of things" is needed.I am aware that many moral theologians disagree with some magisterial teachings; the question I put was whether there were Christian moral teachings or principles with which they do not disagree, on which they have no doubts even as they confront difficult questions. If there are some, then perhaps Newman's distinction again is pertinent. My reference to Muslims was simply to illustrate how the "center of theological dispute" is not exhausted by moral questions and could readily involve doctrines such as that of the Triune God. I happen also to think that the communication of the faith is the primary challenge and that the moral questions can only be properly addressed from within a faith-perspective.

My problem with Newman here is that his distinction is not clear.He begins talkimg about "intellectual differences", but later talks generically, about "difficulties", which, I think, should include doubts in any sense of "doubt", whether doubt as an uncomfortable feeing associated with a dogma or doubt as an outright denial of a dogma.But Newman makes it very clear that a difficulty cannot be a doubtcof any sort.

Oops -- should have been "intellectual difficulties"Not " intellectual differences"

Another quote from Newman: That is no intellectual triumph of any truth of Religion, which has not been preceded by a full statement of what can be said against it. (Newman, The Idea of a University; ch. 8, section 7; p. 476).

Fr. Komonchak,I think we are agreeing on the major points of discussion regarding doubt, difficulty, catechesis, Muslims et al.To get into a heavy discussion about doubt and difficulty would not be as fruitful as your interest in my distinction would lead you to think. There are levels or degrees of intellectual difficulties as well as doubts. Some people have great difficulty in understanding theoretical physics but only have a small or inconsequential doubt about a particular theory. In my case, I have difficulty understanding the works of Martin Rhonheimer and have to read his works 5 or more times to understand his thinking and be able to either agree or disagree (or have serious doubts) with some of his philosophical conclusions about morality. While I may have serious doubt about some of his conclusions, and in certain Church teachings, I remain open to further education and realize that we must approach such issues with humility.As for whether moral theologians can agree on certain principles for which they have no doubt seems to me a moot point. For example, I think that most theologians agree with many principles of Aquinas's ethics but disagree on certain interpretations of his texts as they are offered in support of or in disputation of Church teachings. Few theologians would disagree that in human actions, good and evil are predicated in reference to the reason, as Dionysius says "the good of man is to be in accordance with reason, and evil is to be against reason." However, when we move to specific applications about the role of reason in the moral specification of voluntary human action, there are disagreements, doubts and difficulties among theologians. I am afraid that this subject can bring us far from your major point and it is easy to forget the major issue under discussion.I have no issue with your thinking that "communication of the faith is the primary challenge and that the moral questions can only be properly addressed from within a faith-perspective." However, I was more focused on the specific moral issues and problems that divide our Church and agree that we need more dialogue to reach a consensus of argument and a closer understanding of the truth. This also means better catechesis, less doubt and difficulty. The last thing we need is to close the book on such debates which the Magisterium has done regarding many moral teachings.When we both get to heaven we will know the truth. Until then, doubt and difficulty is the unfortunate part of the process of striving to understand the truth.

This is late in the thread to bring this up, but I see in Rocco's post today that the Alpha Course (a very successful catechetical program initiated by the Anglicans) is now being adopted in some Catholic countries as well as by many Protestant churches worldwide. I really don't know anything about it except that I've read that the Anglicans have had success with it. See Rocco at:

Oops -- that should have been "Alpha courses". There are many of them for different ages groups, etc.

Meanwhile I considered using the catechism and to see if there was anything that could be integrated to class, for example some concise definitions that could be carried over from year to year across different instructors, but it is not helpful. For example, on the definition of sin: "Sin is a word, an act, or a desire contrary to the eternal Law (Saint Augustine). It is an offense against God in disobedience to his love." Two problems. First, it gives two definitions, not one, so that's already a problem for consistency - I would like it minimalistic. Second and more importantly, that is not how to teach sin. The law-and-order emphasis, the perspective of legalism, obedience, offense against the supreme being, are counterproductive because they do not evangelize: it's not attractive. (For the opposite, look at how Paul's letters are full of often annoying directives but at the same time filled with contagious love!) In my setting at least, it is of no use.

Claire: I agree with your second point, but not with the first. There is nothing inconsistent in the two statements you cite. The second introduces considerations not found in the first, and one could argue that sin is an offense against God precisely because it is an act contrary to his law.The problem with considering sin in terms of violation of divine law is that law is almost always considered to be something external to the person, imposed from without, whether by God or by man. But the essence of sin as personal is that it runs counter to inwardly perceived and experienced obligation. That is, one has by one's intelligence and reason concluded that something ought to be done (or not done) and yet refuses to do it (or does it). And since it is by intelligence, reason, and freedom that we are made to move towards God, sin is both personal failure and a failure to advance in the path toward God. There are few places in theology in which extrinsicism has done more harm than in the matter of sin.

Joe, I agree, but my objection is pedagogical: if you want to teach something easy for children to remember, I think that a good way is to use a short formula, and this offers two of them (both different from the one I used, "turning away from God", and one that they have heard elsewhere, "a lack of love".) Even if, as I believe, all four expressions are valid, hearing a different definition every time they ask someone different creates a lot of confusion and hinders learning.

Claire --Here is Pope Francis' mini-sermon of yesterday about sin. Another little classic. I wonder just how he would define sin.

Claire,A possible third pedagogical problem with those definitions is that they raise more questions than they settle. At some stage of development, a believer may wish or need to hear about "the eternal Law," but that's a big topic to open in a catechism session. In the second definition, "disobedience to his love" is an expression that requires further explanation, because the common understanding, I think, is that love lays the lover under some obligation, not the beloved.

I don't think that any brief definition or description of something as complex as sin is going to obviate the need for further explanation. In fact, I'd prefer one that evoked questions. Questions are the great engine of intellectual development.The ambiguity of the word "law" in a phrase like "eternal law" can be illustrated by St. Thomas's treatment of law in the Summa theologica, which begins with three questions on law in general, followed by one question each on the eternal law and on the natural law, three questions on human law, eight questions on the old law, and three on the new law, or the law of the Gospel. The eternal law is said to be the divine wisdom insofar as it directs all acts and movements; any human knowledge of the truth is said to be "the radiating and sharing in the eternal law"; human laws derive their authority from the divine law to the degree that they conform with right reason; and all human affairs are subject to the divine law insofar as its precepts are known and insofar as it inwardly moves human beings to act. So when it comes to defining the new law, the Gospel's law, St. Thomas can say that "what is most important in it, that in which its entire power consists, is the grace of the Holy Spirit which is given by faith in Christ. And therefore the new law chiefly is the grace of the Holy Spirit itself which is given to those who believe in Christ." Thomas insisted on this to the point that he could write: "Even the letter of the Gospel would kill unless inwardly there were present the healing grace of faith."Ann: I think your comment about love and obligation might apply in many cases of love between human beings, but could scarcely apply to the utterly gratuitous love of the Creator and Savior. How does knowing such love for oneself not place one under an obligation to love in return--and this independently of Jesus' "new command" that we love as we have been loved?

JAK ---Is this addressed to me, Ann O.? At any rate, I don't understand your question exactly. Are you saying that because God loves us for no good reason on our part that we are obliged to love him back? Hmm. I wonder whether love is a matter of oughtness in the first place. Isn't real love, i.e., non-self-serving love, a matter of giving what isn't owed?But, again, "love" is so ambiguous that it's difficult to generalize. Even when it's not ambiguous it's difficult to generalize.

Ann: People who love perceive "oughts" that people who don't love don't see. What's the difference between the father in the parable, who perceives an ought ("We have to celebrate!"), and the older son, who doesn't feel it at all? Da mihi amantem, St. Augustine exclaimed, "and he'll understand."

JAK =-I sense some ambiguities about "ought". There are the oughts of moral obligations, the oughts of promises, and the oughts, no doubt, of giving to loved ones. But they differ in their groundings, I think, so not every "ought" is a moral obligation. Throwing a welcome home party just isn't the same as feeding your child. (This could take a whole thread.)

Ann: Well, of course, there are various kinds of "oughts"--who would deny it? But what might they all have in common? I'm mainly interested in the experience of the ought, e.g., X ought to be done; I ought to do X; etc. I think we all experience various kinds of oughts, and it's worth reflecting on the experience, the inner experience of a "must," an "ought." So often people think of "oughts" as externally imposed by parents, by the state, by God. I think the real oughts are matters of personal authenticity, the felt demand for consistency between what one knows what one should do and what one does.

'I think the real oughts are matters of personal authenticity, the felt demand for consistency between what one knows what one should do and what one does."Aren't there uses of the terms "ought" and "must" and "demand" which signify something objective, e.g., "It ought never to be done", "It's a must", and "The insult demands a response". What is a "felt demand"? If it's a feeling, then it's a subjective reality, while if it's a demand then it sounds like an objective reality. How can one act be both? Or should the concept "felt demand" be analyzed into the parts of some sort of process?I don't think that the expectations which result from being loved are "demands". If they were, then the lover would not be acting gratuitously in granting them. (ISTM gratuity is a defining characteristic of love). When God loves us it isn't because of what we are but because of what He is. (Actually I think that is a bit of an oversimplification, but it gets at my main point.)At any rate, I think that the subjective and objective meanings of "ought", "demand", etc. need to be sharply distinguished. They all connote some sort of requirement (whatever a requirement is), but that doesn't specify them as generically the same.And isn't "what one should do" ambiguous also? Did any of the phenomenologists do analyses of "feeling" obligated? I can't think of any, but I don't know them well. The linguistic analysts' talk a lot about Hume's is-ought distinction, so you'd think they would have done an lot of analysis of the meaning of "ought", but I don't think that's the case either.

Ann: In reply to some of your comments:

Arent there uses of the terms ought and must and demand which signify something objective, e.g., It ought never to be done, Its a must, and The insult demands a response.

Yes, of course, there are oughts that signify something objective. Thou shalt not... really means This ought not be done or You ought not do this...

What is a felt demand?

Its what one experiences when one has judged that I ought to do X. The judgement of duty poises you before the requirement of consistency between judgment and action. If I am a reasonable person and have reached a reasonable judgment about what I ought to do, then there is an inner push to do it. One can perceive it negatively, when one is sorry that one didnt do what one should have done, or did what one shouldnt have done. A guilty conscience, in other words, testifies to this radical inconsistency, which is basic sin.

If its a feeling, then its a subjective reality, while if its a demand then it sounds like an objective reality. How can one act be both?

I dont see why you think this is a problem. The demand may be existential, personal: This is what I myself ought to do. "It may also be general: This is what everyone should do. In both cases the judgment of duty can be mistaken or correct; if it is correct, then the subjective demand urges one toward what is objectively required. One doesnt have to choose between subjectivty and objectivity; its by the exercise of our subjectivity, intellectual, rational, and responsible, that we achieve objectivity.

I dont think that the expectations which result from being loved are demands. If they were, then the lover would not be acting gratuitously in granting them. (ISTM gratuity is a defining characteristic of love). When God loves us it isnt because of what we are but because of what He is. (Actually I think that is a bit of an oversimplification, but it gets at my main point.)

Once again, I was speaking of demands as experienced by the one loved, not as demands imposed extrinsically by the one who loves. For example, would you not think gratitude a felt demand consequent upon an awareness of having been gratuitously loved and blessed? Wouldnt we be rather harsh in our judgment of someone who was not grateful for it. Think of the parable of the unmerciful servant who, after being forgiven an immense debt, has a fellow-servant thrown into debtors prison over a relatively trivial debt. The master rebukes him: I canceled your entire debt when you pleaded with me. Should you not have dealt mercifully with your fellow servant, as I dealt with you (Mt 18:32-33)? Ought not those undeservedly forgiven forgive in their turn?

At any rate, I think that the subjective and objective meanings of ought, demand, etc. need to be sharply distinguished. They all connote some sort of requirement (whatever a requirement is), but that doesnt specify them as generically the same.

I dont have a problem with distinguishing between objective and subjective demands, on the grounds that not all subjective judgments of oughts are correct, that is, objective, that is, stating what really and truly ought to be done, either by me alone or by anyone similarly situated. But distinction is not separation, and objective moral judgements are reached only by the exercise of my subjectivity. Correct and concrete recognition of duty yields the felt demand for consistency, that is, a sense of obligation.

And isnt what one should do ambiguous also?

I dont know that the phrase is ambiguous. It just covers a very broad expanse of obligatory actions, actions, that is, that are obligatory on various grounds and for the sake of various goals.

Did any of the phenomenologists do analyses of feeling obligated? I cant think of any, but I dont know them well.

Max Scheler did a great deal of work in this area. But isnt it already in Aristotle who makes the just person the measure of what justice requires? By the way, another area that goes unexplored, at least as far as I know, is the experience of wonder? I think it was Aristotle who said that wonder is the beginning of philosophy, but do you know anyone who has studied wonder for itself, wonder as experienced?

"[A felt demand] is what one experiences when one has judged that I ought to do X. The judgement of duty poises you before the requirement of consistency between judgment and action. If I am a reasonable person and have reached a reasonable judgment about what I ought to do, then there is an inner push to do it."JAK =So a felt demand is a feeling which is the result of and accompanies a judgment of duty, such that the judger is inclined to act consistently with the judgment.My problem with this is that it reduces an "ought" to the subjective part of the ought -- to the feeling and judgment of the judger. As I see it, "ought" it is a relational word with two relata: 1) the person who has a duty, and 2) the *object* of the judgment and the inclination, viz., the objective reality which is produced by the judger's action. The object to be produced is *essential* to the notion of doughtiness. It is a*necessary* part of an equation concerning justice, so to speak. And the next paragraph of your post seems to agree with this. Why is it essential? Because *what the object is* constitutes the reality which grounds the obligation. It calls the obligatory relationinto being, so to speak.. For instance, you have an obligation to grade your students fairly because of what they are, not because of some subjective feeling. I would say that the subjective feeling to do right by them is itself produced by your grasp of what they are. In other words, "ought" cannot be defined apart from an object of the ought. (I once had a room-mate who thought that she was obliged to help clean the apartment only out of love, so she only cleaned up when she felt like it. I felt that was terribly unfair. She didn't know what a duty is.) As to gratitude, I don't think that gratitude is a felt demand to act in the sense above. The sense above pertains to a process involving rational thinking and choice. Gratitude, I think, is just a natural feeling which is psychologically automatic -- somebody gives us a gift and consequently we like the person and wish them well. Does gratitude demand that we reciprocate with a gift? Not if the gift was really a gift. Yes, some people are so self-centered that they have little if any feelings of gratitude, but that is just an ugly situation, not an immoral one.You might make a case for reciprocation on *aesthetic* grounds -- as a matter of fittingness. But not, I think, on moral grounds.Thanks for the Scheler recommendation. I've ordered a book.

Ann: I think I've been saying all along that one mustn't separate the subjective and the objective in the experience of an ought. I've used clauses like: "I ought to do X" or "X ought to be done" to convey what I'm talking about, so I haven't been excluding the object, the action, from my considerations. But it remains that in the conscientious person obligations are experienced as personal oughts. It's not just that cheating, for example, is wrong, but that I should not cheat: that "should" is now personal, now is part of what defines, constitutes, me, so that then to go on and cheat is not only to do what ought not be done but is also to betray my own self, my own integrity. What I am talking about as the experience of an "ought" is what the conscientious person recognizes when he has to admit to himself that he has violated his conscience. Think of the difference between giving a reason why you did something and rationalizing it away. If we have a reason why we didn't do something, it's not a violation of conscience, of personal integrity, whereas when we are offering a rationalization to oneself or to others, we know in our own hearts that it's not true, not an excuse, not a real reason.

JAK --So are you saying that a "personal ought" is personal not only in the sense that it is a person who has a moral relationship to something/someone else, but it is personal *also* in the sense that there is also an obligation to the self/the subject involved? I wouldn't dispute that. But the obligations are not identical.I think that especially in this culture we have to be careful not to see obligations and just acts as primarily concerned with the self. Much too often Americans judge moral acts on the basis of whether or not one is "comfortable" with the results. Being satisfied, or dissatisfied with one's actions is not a criterion for deciding whether or not one has done right by the object. Making self-satisfaction the criterion of for judging what is good distorts the whole process of making moral judgments. Further, on a theological level, having self-perfection as the goal of one's spiritual program is a distorted view of what a truly virtuous life is, I think. Self-perfection follows from perfecting our relationships with others, so our relations with others ought to be what we concentrate on, not our own being virtuous. "Spiritual" writings generally turn me off because too often they put the emphasis on one's own perfection, not on loving others. Still further, too often when smug Christians attempt to evangelize, their/our self-satisfaction turns off the seekers who want nothing to do with such an apparently self-centered moral system. I'm convinced that Pope Francis' success in capturing people's hearts so quickly is due in large measure to his message that what Christ calls us to first is service to others, not making perfect confessions. I love his term of scorn "self-referential". He sees that orientation as the source of much that is wrong with the world, including the Church. Not that you're disagreeing. I just think that when we don't make a clear distinction between the good of the subject and the good of the object that we can easily end up kidding ourselves about our own virtue.

Ann: I wasn't talking about some kind of narcissistic "Do your own thing", and, of course, judgments have to be made about what is the truly good, worth-while, thing to be done. In Lonergan's terms, for the morally converted (Aristotle's "just man"), authenticity, self-fulfilment, is self-transcendance, that is, decision moves away from a criterion that pivots on a calculus of pleasure and pain, to the genuinely valuable, whatever its cost to them might be. But it remains that "oughts," however "objectively" right, are experienced as "oughts" precisely because they are objectively the right thing to do.St. Thomas once commented that if a person does the good and avoids evil only because God commands the first and forbids the second, that person is not free, is not self-directed (He cites here Aristotle's dictum: "Liber est causa sui.") But if by inner inclination he does the good because it is good and avoids the evil because it is evil, then he is free, and this, he says, is what the Holy Spirit does in the hearts of the converted. Catholics still have such a problem with, such a fear of, subjectivity, which many of them cannot think of except as subjectivism. In that respect, we are so far from the likes of Augustine and Aquinas.

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