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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.

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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].vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/

"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 http://www.tentmaker.org/Quotes/faithquotes.htmThis 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.

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About the Author

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