I’m teaching 8th grade school of religion this summer.  It is a two week course, meeting four hours a day, five days a week.  I taught 8th grade last year, and the program was a disaster.  I was upset to learn that all five teachers taught all 50 of the kids in the same room.  My “that-is-not-a-good-idea” sense was tingling the entire time, and my suspicions were amply confirmed. 

Thankfully, that mistake will not be reproduced (entirely) this year.  I have my own classroom (help me, God) this year.  However, there was an interesting discussion last year after the program finished.  The teachers got together, and everyone freely admitted that the program was somewhat of a disaster.  I think at least one productive thing came out of that meeting.  We got into a long conversation over what the purpose of catechesis is.  Two of the teachers argued that the purpose of these classes is to tell the kids how Christ has worked in their lives, to give them a glimpse of what Christ has done for them.  I found myself in a polar opposite camp from them.  It’s not that a personal relationship with Jesus is something unimportant; indeed, it is what we are hoping these kids acquire.  However, I argued that there is no way to instill a love of Christ in 8th grade teens in two weeks.  These kids don’t know who they are or what they stand for.  The last thing they want is someone preaching at them.  And such a relationship takes time and energy; without a stable faith-life at home, I doubt that two weeks can do much to change a person.  It’s not impossible, just not likely. 

I found myself arguing that the purpose of catechesis is, er, catechesis.  It’s not possible to love a person if you know nothing about them.  Most of these kids are entirely ignorant of their faith.  It’s no wonder why.  My archbishop is on commitees that produce text books for these programs, and he says that the writers are well-intentioned, but have no real understanding of the content of the faith.  And it shows!  Last year’s book was awful.  It had “quotes to live by” or some other name in the margins, which would give a quote by someone famous on how to live a good life.  Being a Catholic book, one would think that the saints would be a good place to find quotes.  Rubbish!  Rosseau and Emerson were the orators of choice in that book.  When I questioned this, I was told that we want to show that the things that Christians value are universal values.  With that type of teaching philosophy, why can’t the kids become Buddhist and get the same universal values that Christianity teaches?  If the kids don’t know their faith, then they can’t love it, nor the person in which we have faith. 

I get uncomfortable whenever I hear homilies which state that our faith is in a person, not in doctrines.  It’s not that it isn’t true, or that some heady Catholics need to hear it.  However, these homilies are usually given to groups of people who are already ignorant of their faith.  These homilies ignore what has developed into a crisis in American Catholicism.  For if the catechesis is taught correctly, there is no opposition between doctrine and the transcendent truths pointed to by the doctrine.  I understand that the doctrines of the Church are only indicators of a higher reality.  But we also have a guarantee by the Church that they are good sign posts, so why don’t we use them? 

Most kids aren’t ready to make decisions to really accept or reject the Catholic faith.  It just so happens that when the time comes for them to do so as adults, they have no idea what the Church teaches, or what the Church is about.  I want to make sure that they have that information so that when the time comes, they know what they are accepting or rejecting.  I don’t think we can ask anything more of catechists.  Granted, ideally this would not have to be the case.  But pace Leibniz, we don’t live in an ideal world, do we?

Explore posts in the same categories: Religion, Theology, Uncategorized

One Comment on “Catechesis”

  1. woleary Says:

    Great blog. Appreciated your insights. Our parish has a 2 week summer program. I liked reading about your bishop who says the textbook authors are well intentioned but they do not get it. It seems very true. There has got to be better ideas for textbooks than what we have.

    William O’Leary

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