The system is down: systematic problems with the faith formation of children in American Catholicism

I loved this post by Jennifer Fitz over at Patheos: “The Hero Complex That is Destroying the Catholic Faith” (yes, I know the title is over the top, but give the article a chance anyway). I know there’s something laughable about someone with a Ph.D. in theology saying “catechism doesn’t take my family’s needs seriously,” but I honestly think there is something gone awry. The structure of our catechetical ministry (more than the catechists – this is not a case of individuals making mistakes) assumes that Catholic parishes, not Catholic parents, are responsible for bringing up children in the faith. Yet, you know, it was my husband and I, not the parish catechists, that promised to do exactly that?

I want to repeat, to prevent misunderstandings: I don’t think this is a problem because catechists don’t know enough, or are doing it wrong, or God forbid, are not working hard enough. These are structural problems that persist in parishes I’ve attended where the ministry team knows a lot, is doing their best with good skills, and is working all the time (maybe too much!). Structural problems demand structural solutions, which no particular catechist is in a position to implement, but which the liturgical community, working together, might be able to provide.

The first part of the structural problem is the large anonymity of many of our parishes, where catechists don’t actually know the families they minister to. This makes it easy and tempting to assume that all the families are the “default” kind. Obviously this is a fact of contemporary American culture, exacerbated by the fact that many nuclear families are living far from their natural (familial) support systems.

The second part is that we have as our “default” American Catholic family an essentially non-practicing Catholic family, and so that (through #1) becomes our catechetical norm. There is a stereotype I’ve heard both in pastoral writing and in theological education that the “normal” American Catholic family is, basically, not Catholic. And unfortunately, this presupposition is not usually challenged by getting to know practicing Catholic families, because our parishes are large enough that we often don’t get to know one another.

The third part is that those of us who are practicing domestic Catholicism (imperfectly, of course!) feel marginalized because we’re not heard. Two quick anecdotes: when I attended baptismal prep for my second child, with my spouse and her godparents, I was scheduled to give a presentation on baptismal spirituality at my parish, two days after my daughter’s baptism. As I walked into the baptism class, the parish priest laughingly forbade me from saying a word, “especially if I get anything wrong!” He meant well, and we had a good relationship, but I do have spiritual needs, and I heard in no uncertain terms that they weren’t going to be the focus of the evening. So no community building with these neighbors I had never met, no sharing of insights into Christian parenting, and no prayer! Just basic theology. Another: I asked my son what they had discussed on the second Sunday of Advent in faith formation, and he shrugged and showed me the page in the textbook. It was an introduction of Advent, with a basic theology of waiting, and a plea that the children might suggest to their parents doing something special for Advent, like maybe getting an Advent wreath. The rest of the paragraph described the Advent wreath. Thomas was unimpressed. He loves Advent, but he lives it, and he needs a text that can live into it with him.

It’s no wonder, I think, overall, that the myth of the “typical” American Catholic family (of nonbelievers) doesn’t get challenged. There’s no forum in our catechesis for going deeper. Now my son wants to leave faith formation classes and learn his theology at home with us. I want him to have the friendships and deep sense of community connectedness that should come from the parish faith formation, but that doesn’t seem to be a result of the system as we have it. What can be done?



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35 responses to “The system is down: systematic problems with the faith formation of children in American Catholicism”

  1. Timothy Johnston Avatar
    Timothy Johnston

    Your words affirm many of the same things I’ve been noting for years. Thanks for articulating this so clearly. I wish there was an easy fix, but it seems our catechetical structure has some systemic issues. I wish we could figure out a way (or hear stories from communities) to get parents more involved in the formation of their children, etc. Anyway, I look forward to reading what others have to say.

  2. Scott Pluff Avatar
    Scott Pluff

    This is one area where I’ve been impressed with the approach of Church of the Nativity (the Rebuilt parish.) The primary way they challenge people to intentional discipleship is through their network of small groups, including groups for adults, adolescents, and children. They have more than 500 active groups that meet on a weekly basis. The parish media ministry produces a DVD each week based upon the prior Sunday’s readings and preaching. The host simply opens up his or her home and provides refreshments, the session is led by the pastor or other staff person’s DVD presentation and discussion questions. I understand that these focus on very personal sharing and witness to the faith inside these small groups whose members become very close companions. The presentations offer serious challenges for people to make changes in their lives to follow Christ and to become evangelists to bring others to Christ.

    Of course they have a way to go to catch up to Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church-they have more than 2500 small groups and attendance in these weekly groups averages 110% of their weekend service attendance.

    Many parishes have some kind of small group ministry, but it’s one of dozens of parish clubs and organizations. Nativity has no men’s or women’s club, no PTO, no athletic organizations, no Boy Scouts, etc. Their small groups take the place of all those types of organizations, and it’s assumed that every person registered in the parish will join a small group.

    Here’s a bold move: disband every social organization in your parish and redirect all of that energy into small group faith sharing. The guys getting together in the parish center to drink beer and watch football does exactly zero to form intentional disciples of Christ.

  3. Stephanie Buck Avatar
    Stephanie Buck

    I share all of your frustrations. The best structural overhaul I’ve seen so far (there may be something better, I just haven’t come across it) is whole community catechesis. I’ve started talking to my pastor and DRE about possibly implementing this in our parish. I think it is a way to meet the spiritual needs of many more in the parish and hopefully rejuvenate them as well.

  4. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
    Jordan Zarembo

    The crisis in catechesis is not parish formation, or the engagement of parishioners, but primarily the shape of catechetical materials. I remember sitting in my geographical parish after Mass. I listened to a presentation by the Director of Religious Education about the new after-school catechism program called “Finding God” (to which I blurted out, “was he ever lost?”) I was told that the program would include painting, but no details on doctrine and dogma. So? Are the children going to learn about the Trinity, transubstantiation, the Queenship, the seven sacraments, how to say the rosary, (not necessarily in that order) by painting? The course will probably be heavy on social justice but light on doctrine. Certain doctrines (sin, purgatory, hell) which few want to talk about, understandably — must be discussed but probably won’t.

    My parents, like many Catholic children in the middle of the last century, went through the Baltimore catechism series. Both can still recite parts of it by heart. I do not suggest a return to rote memorization of doctrine and dogma. This is not learning but merely parroting. Still, in my view a good catechism must emphasise that social justice flows from a thorough knowledge of dogma and doctrine — and not the other way around. Justice is the Cross, the Paschal Mystery, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. I despair that many catechists do not want to start at the true fonts of Catholic life.

    1. Mike Burns Avatar
      Mike Burns

      @Jordan Zarembo – comment #4:
      I respect your opinion. However, I don’t agree with you. The catechetical materials used in faith formation on the parish level go through a rigorous process called “conformity and consistency” with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This review process done by the USCCB’s Office of the Catechism ensures that the pillars of catechesis(Creed Sacraments, Morality, and Prayer) are covered at each grade level. Dioceses also have their own comprehensive curriculum guidelines for faith formation. The best catechists are trained on the parish and diocesan level.

      1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Mike Burns – comment #28:

        I went through after-school catechesis before the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so I did not benefit from the review process you note. I am certain that the catechetical books I was handed contained both an imprimatur and nihil obstat.

        An imprimatur, nihil obstat, or even the new review process provide only a baseline of conformity with Catholic doctrine. I am still not reassured even by the new apparatus of review by an organ of the American bishops. This is what students need: an unambiguous presentation of doctrine and dogma which is then followed by a social justice predicated on the truths of the Catholic faith. My trust that this will be done with more mainstream catechetical materials is waning.

        Again, the Baltimore Catechism is not the answer. But some memorization of doctrine is needed before a class examination of the fruits and actions of the examined and devout Christian life. Even if confirmandi do not return to Mass after the sacrament, at least they will have the foundation of doctrinal understanding should they wish to return later in life.

  5. Matthew Hazell Avatar

    @Scott Pluff (#2): The guys getting together in the parish center to drink beer and watch football does exactly zero to form intentional disciples of Christ.

    I’d disagree. Some of the best conversations and catechesis I’ve been part of with other men have been down the pub, drinking some beer with some sport on the TV.

    Perhaps this is a US/UK cultural divide?

    1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
      Rita Ferrone

      @Matthew Hazell – comment #5:
      I agree with Matthew. And I’d raise the stakes too. Forming community is called for by all of our catechetical documents; this isn’t done in a hothouse atmosphere consisting of sponsored and guided faith sharing exercises, but in natural and culturally appropriate ways. Hanging out and belonging to clubs and organizations that have no explicit catechetical agenda is part of being Catholic, being a community, forming bonds, and enjoying shared life.

  6. Donna Eschenauer Avatar
    Donna Eschenauer

    I am in full agreement, there are certainly systematic issues within catechetical ministry in general. In 1990, after working with the RCIA, I decided to work in catechetical ministry because I wanted to change what I saw. I knew instinctively that RCIA was the model. For over 20 years I used the principles of the RCIA in a very successful parish program ( a program, I was told, that people actually wanted to come to). For example, in addition to the use of textbooks, great emphasis was placed on the liturgical year, catechists and parents focused on the Sunday Gospel, and reflected on its meaning for our life today.
    Our vision statement saw our task as helping parents in their responsibility of forming their children (citing the baptismal rite). Much of what we did to support families in their task is described in my book, First Communion Liturgies, Liturgical Press 2014. And, note, the rationale for everything can be found in various catechetical documents.
    The systematic wound cannot heal without better pastoral insight, care, knowledge, and skills. Catechesis is an art. It is a process. It is vital to the health of the Church. In my experience, many well intentioned people are out there working very hard at the wrong thing. The goal of catechesis is to know Christ. We need to stop settling for mediocrity and motivate “catechetical leaders” to develop their theological and pastoral skills.

  7. Elizabeth Korves Avatar
    Elizabeth Korves

    Thanks for bringing this up. In my parish, we have a large percentage of parish households without children (because they are now grown in many cases). At some point, our religious ed program switched to a multi-generational model…but many of us (esp. who don’t have children) found the adult portion too remedial and dropped out. Even our Sunday morning adult education session has been combined with the catechetical side of RCIA to address the fact that “there are many who need the basics”. And yet, a limited number outside of RCIA attend because we’re looking for something more.

  8. Nick Wagner Avatar

    Donna Eschenauer : I wanted to change what I saw. I knew instinctively that RCIA was the model.


  9. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    We have a lot of people who expend a great deal of effort in teaching our kids about our Triune God and his church. But the entire program presumes that the children are believers and belong to believing families. No doubt they have lots of beliefs, but so many lack a personal connection or experience with Christ that leads to a faith that bears rich fruit. Our leaders are presently working thru Weddels Intentional discipleship books with the hope that this may lead to a systemic restructuring. This is in a parish in which the number of intentional disciples far surpasses the typical 5-10%.

  10. John Swencki Avatar
    John Swencki

    For better or for ill, I tend to approach some/most adolescents and adults as kinds of benign agnostics– not sure if there really is Anyone or anything “out there” but very interested in finding out.
    Greatest challenge has been dispelling misunderstanding of who/what God is, and misunderstandings of the purpose/teachings of the church.
    I allow (encourage) alot of question and debate and try to show it is quite possible to be intellectually honest and a devout believer. For the most part it is meeting them on their ground and on their terms. And using alot of “re-mythologizing”– faithfully teaching the Gospel & church teachings via contemporary story, analogy, metaphor. Many times, it turns out that the kids teach their parents.

  11. Clarey McInerny Avatar
    Clarey McInerny

    I cannot agree more, Kim. I’ve been a DRE, a religion teacher at a Catholic school, and now a mother and this whole problem is so very familiar. I’ve even been a part of the problem! And when I’ve been part of the problem, it’s because I believed parents weren’t catechizing their children. Now, that was the case more often than not. My parish or school then made policies about what “had to happen” in order for children to receive the sacraments because we feared they weren’t getting good catechesis. Now that I’m a mother, I see how difficult it would be for me to approach my parish or school and ask for my child to receive the sacraments, even if she were catechized by my husband and I who are both religious educators. I fully intend to “homeschool” (that word doesn’t really work when it comes to catechesis, but it will do) our daughter as a Christian and hopefully, somewhere, there will be a parish and/or priest who trusts what we’ve done and agrees to confirm/commune her when she’s ready. Now, finding one who will do the sacraments in the proper order is an even bigger challenge!

  12. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    Kim’s overall point is excellent. The program mentality that goes along with most parish catechetical efforts shoots for the least common denominator and does not really adapt well to actual differences. Ever see AP religion? No, it’s all “remedial.”

    There are exceptions. A well-run RCIA does adapt. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd trains catechists to observe and listen to the child. In first rate Catholic schools a higher goal is set for students who study religion daily rather than once a week.

    But underneath is the unresolved tension between schooling and education. I believe education is going on all the time, and certainly at home. Schooling is only a small part of education. Many people confuse the two.

  13. Kathleen Basi Avatar

    I have to think this is a perennial problem that may just look a little different now. Dogma is important, but so is action, and even social justice that focuses too broadly and doesn’t start very close to home is unlikely to resonate with children or adults. Knowledge that is never put into practice through honesty and integrity in our daily dealings–whether business or family relationships–isn’t a living faith, either. There may have been a time when people knew all the fundamentals better than they do now, but whether or not it actually directed daily decisions is quite a different question.

  14. Michelle Francl-Donnay Avatar

    I had a variety of experiences, in the same parish, that bracket this issue. When I went to be married the last time, I had been to graduate school in theology, with an interest in sacramental theology, and had been happily married for just over five years, then widowed. My spouse-to-be was not Catholic, and never before married. We both attended mass regularly (daily in my case, along with the LOH, weekly for him). We were in our late 30s. The pre-Cana curriculum did not address most of our needs. Some parishes would tell you to simply endure it, what’s a weekend if you really care about being married in the Church? My parish did not, and instead invested three evenings to help prepare us spiritually for what we were undertaking.

    On the other hand, I walked out of the required parent education for first Communion after the group spend 20 minutes struggling to name the seven sacraments, and did not return. To the catechetical staffs’ credit, my children were still allowed to receive their first Communion, but any preparation we had was thanks to an excellent spiritual director.

    I would argue to insist that practicing Catholics with a robust knowledge of their faith sit through remedial work – undermines the sacramental economy. It flirts with selling the sacraments (take this class in exchange for being married, having your child baptized). It further sends the message that we don’t think the sacraments are really important enough to prepare you with what you need to receive them well. And we risk alienating the practicing families in a parish. It diminishes us.

  15. Todd Orbitz Avatar
    Todd Orbitz

    What is particularly frustrating is the one size fits all approach. The last time I needed a baby Baptized was about 1 1/2 months ago. I was told in no uncertain terms that I they only do 6 a week in a group, only on Sundays, I had to take a 2 hour class with my wife, and the waiting list was 3.5 months long. Furthermore, it will probably be done in Spanish as the majority of the parishioners who have children are of Hispanic descent. This was for my 7th child.

    Additionally, I was told “Father will not discuss or negotiate these requirements with you.”

    So I wrote them a note, and cc’d the Bishop. I told them that this was my seventh child. I had a JCL and a theology degree from Navarre, and I had no intention of waiting more than a few more days before I would find another Priest to do so, or I would do it myself in my home. I told them I didn’t care what day it occurred on or what language they did it in (I suggested Farsi as I was in a bad mood.), but it would be happening in the geographic Parish and they had 1 day to give me a date, or they would be entering it in their baptismal record as having occurred irregularly.

    Voila. I received a call two days later and it was scheduled for 8:30 PM on a Thursday night.

  16. Todd Orbitz Avatar
    Todd Orbitz

    With that said, I went to the Baptismal Class offered at my parish after the Baptism of my child just to see what they discussed. Several parents made clear that they wanted Baptism for their child so the families could see it, but don’t expect them to be Sunday Catholics.

    Furthermore, among the parents, none seemed to grasp the idea of baptismal regeneration of that it had any ontological effect.

  17. Jay Edward Avatar
    Jay Edward

    #16 instead of Farsi, you should have requested a Latin, Extraordinary Form baptism!

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      @Jay Edward – comment #18:
      Aramaic. The refugee relatives from Syria are coming.

  18. Todd Orbitz Avatar
    Todd Orbitz

    It actually ended up being in the old rite.

  19. Halbert Weidner Avatar
    Halbert Weidner

    When I look at Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, Sydney Callahan, and any number of great Catholics, well educated, and active but now without practicing Catholic offspring, I think we are over simplifying the problems and resort to semi-Pelagian solutions. I know of no program in my time in catechetics since 1966 that “works”. Faith is a gift. And the dear horses sometimes just do not want to drink.

    1. Donna Eschenauer Avatar
      Donna Eschenauer

      @Halbert Weidner – comment #21:
      Sometimes, the best we can do, with adults and children, is show then an awareness that God is active and present in their lives.This message ought to be consistent in everything we do.

    2. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Halbert Weidner – comment #21:

      I think we are over simplifying the problems and resort to semi-Pelagian solutions. I know of no program in my time in catechetics since 1966 that “works”. Faith is a gift.

      I would be more bold and say that catechetical programs, and especially after-school catechetical programs, are often plainly pelagian solutions.

      For a time I attended a private, non-sectarian school. Hence I was obliged to attend what was then called CCD in my geographical parish. I learned almost nothing of the faith. Rather, I specifically remember a textbook chapter of how (now) Pope St. John XXIII prayed the rosary for social justice before the Second Vatican Council. This is well, but what does this instruct about the various documents of the Council? Why start there instead of with the catechetical basics? To this day I wonder about the intent of those who wrote these textbooks.

      Catechists have settled for MTD than a shot of “faith as a gift”, as Halbert remarks. Crypto-Lefebvrists are on a whole not ethical or moral people at all according to the yardstick of social justice or even social grace. However, what attracted me to them as a young adult was the fact that, heck, they actually believed in something! I never learned from CCD or even parish Masses to love the sacraments and find meditative solace in them. Rather it was do your time and then to the parking lot. No wonder young adults stayed away.

      I did write plenty of essays in CCD about why God loves me. God indeed loves me as I am in his image, but there is also cooperation in grace. To teach about God but not truly of his grace is a scandal. Yet, I suspect that MTD is better than saying nothing to children whose parents do not take them to Mass anyway.

  20. Philip Spaeth Avatar
    Philip Spaeth

    I would have to completely concur with both Kimberly and the original article at Patheos. I have seen this same thing going on at the parish where I work for years. My own children are fortunate to attend a Catholic grammar school, where formation is part of the curriculum, so that their day is infused both at school and at home with prayer and spirituality, and we of course attend Mass together on Sunday’s. We do not see the school as the primary religious educator, but part of the equation. But, our parish religious Ed. program is quite a different story. Our DRE tells me that we currently have five children in the Kindergarten program… in a parish of about 1400 families. I would not be surprised if that number increases to about 30 when they hit second grade… preparation for First Communion.

    I also share the experience of many here with Baptism prep. When my son was due to be born, we were told we should attend a Baptism prep class, even though we had already had our daughter baptized at the parish. It was a fairly new program, and, because I do not wish to exclude myself from the rules just because I work for the parish, and because I loved the priest, and because one should never assume one already knows what one needs, we obliged. It was very much a class of the “remedial” variety, and the other attendees were neither familiar to me as parishioners, nor have they been spotted at mass since the Baptism. We got very little out of it, other than the go-ahead for Baptism. The priest and DRE had obviously put great effort into this, as well. Not only that, but, at a later date, we were invited to a “Baptism reunion” event at the parish a year later, as an attempt to help parish families to reconnect with one another. We were the only family that responded, and the event was cancelled. This is definitely a structural problem we are dealing with.

  21. Jim McKay Avatar
    Jim McKay

    Jordan Zarembo : I learned almost nothing of the faith. Rather, I specifically remember a textbook chapter of how (now) Pope St. John XXIII prayed the rosary for social justice before the Second Vatican Council. This is well, but what does this instruct about the various documents of the Council? Why start there instead of with the catechetical basics? To this day I wonder about the intent of those who wrote these textbooks. .

    For several days I have been trying to add something here, but haven’t quite been able to formulate it. Jordan’s remarks give me a focus for saying it, for which I am grateful and in no way do I mean to criticize him.

    We oversimplify the dynamics here. We have different ideas of “fundamentals” ano judge who needs remedial aid differently. Catechists find children in front of them that a) have a lively sense of God and no concept of trinity; b) have no concept of God but with a loving heart; c) know the documents of Vatican II but nothing of prayer; etc. Some will think a and c need remedial aid, others will think a and b do, and some will think everybody does.

    I have no solutions for this. I might even be saying there is no solution, or even that there is no problem to be solved. The issue is rather to bring these many Catholics together, though that may be an answer for adult catechesis that does not work with children.

    To answer Jordan’s questions, CCD taught you that teaching comes out of prayer. That the most authoritative and complex documents are born out of 1)praying the rosary 2)to aid others. Apparently you learned that simple prayerful meditation is the source of the teachings we receive, if not our faith itself. If they had taught you about the documents of VII you would have learned a different lesson, instead of learning about the importance of prayer.

  22. Richard Malcolm Avatar
    Richard Malcolm

    Todd Orbitz’s anecdote is certainly the most depressing shared experience here, but I can’t say that it really surprises me. What it reveals is a parish where, apparently, neither the staff nor the families really take the sacrament of baptism seriously. It’s particularly striking because it is the sort of case that would actually unite the most passionate of traditionalists and the rule-critical Francis devotee alike in serious outrage. (“Over three months to wait for a baptism? And I have to jump through how many hoops?!?”)

    It’s also a manifestation of what Kimberly refers to as “default” Catholicism, which has undoubtedly evolved very gradually over a long time, often as a not unreasonable reaction to the new emerging pastoral reality of non-practicing parishioners. With fewer and fewer parents taking the faith (and therefore sacraments) seriously, it became easier and easier for the parish to lose any sense of urgency in baptism, either. Nonetheless concerned on some level with this indifference, it added in a mandatory catechetical requirement. The result, unfortunately, is anything but edifying, and a kick in the teeth to the rare parent who actually takes this stuff seriously. I wonder whether non-JCL-wielding parents would have gotten such a swift reaction. Perhaps I would rather not know.

    The best catechesis happens (and should happen) in the home. No parish program can really substitute for that. But it is depressing that so many parishes make no effort to offer anything more to the few parents who do seem to want more. You never know; it might catch on on.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Richard Malcolm – comment #26:

      The best catechesis happens (and should happen) in the home. No parish program can really substitute for that.

      Today no person in a “western” “democratic” “society” has a right to an external Christian forum. This is true not only because of the external pressure of secularity but also because of an inertia against home catechism. I grew up in a fairly religious house, so a more thorough family catechism was one reason for my alienation from the vague nature of CCD catechetical materials. I agree with Jim McKay that these materials must be vague, simply because the preparation of each student cannot be assumed.

      I sympathize with you Richard, and also Todd, that the well-educated devout should not have to go through baptismal classes, especially if this is the second or later child. However, a catechist or liturgist might argue that no person has a right to demand baptism of any child without catechesis save for emergencies. From a catechetical perspective, everyone has to go through the same training, even if a parent knows the theology. No person is excluded from the “worshipping community”. Hence, the group experience is just another component of ekklesia.

      I have always contended that “the Mass and sacraments speak for themselves”, that they do not need liturgical studies or the ekklesia theory model, but at the most only the most necessary rubrical commentary. Participation in the ritual alone imparts meaning without the language of “assembly”.

      But now I realize that, while I still have issues with the idea that “liturgy” is flexible to the point of constant re-creation and (in my view) the danger of novelty, the loss of a public Christian forum might require some sort of catechetical-liturgical preparation beyond the exorcisms, baptism, and chrismation. Will constant tinkering with the “process” of catechism outside of the rites retain alienated Catholics? I’m not certain.

  23. Jim McKay Avatar
    Jim McKay

    I don’t think vague is a good representation of proper materials. It is more that fundamentals are “refreshed” for all rather than remedial instruction is provided. It is a complex group of students that need to be brought together, and that is more likely to happen with concrete materials than with vague.

  24. Lee Gilbert Avatar
    Lee Gilbert

    While the Baltimore catechism is not THE answer, I have good reason to think it is part of the answer. When we realized that our parochial school was not going to provide much more than religious atmosphere, we began an 80 minute program in the evening that consisted of 30 minutes of the “Chronicles of Narnia” or the like; 30 minutes of a full book length life of a saint and 20 minutes of the BC.

    This was to prepare our 6 yr old son for the sacraments, since the school had practically nothing to tell him except God is love. Yes, they memorized a good bit of the BC, but we did not insist on excessive reverence. Just get the matter in your little heads. They learned it lying on the floor, dangling off the couch, twirling in the middle of the living room. The lives of the saints made it all come alive.

    The thing that astonished me was that listening to all this was our little 4 yr old daughter who simply absorbed it. They both were in what Dorothy Sayers called the Poll Parrot stage and LOVED to memorize things. See her “Lost Tools of Learning” It’s online. In fact, one year for St. Patrick’s Day for our evening closing prayer I supplied the 36 line version of “The Shield of St. Patrick,” they stunned me by jumping up and down and saying, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Can we please memorize this??!!” The love of learning and the desire for God had taken root in their hearts. After about two years of this we backed off on the BC because it was becoming too onerous, but in the meantime the kids had learned tons. Our little daughter entering first grade likely knew more of her faith than did the 8th grade graduates.

    There was NO social gospel per se, nor was there any need for it, since the lives of the saints supplied this by way of example. Stephanie spent a couple of summers working in Mexico with the poor, and David at least one summer there as well.

    Now in their 30’s he is at Mass Sundays with wife and 2 children; she is a contemplative nun. In short, it worked, BC and all. Thanks be to God!

  25. Halbert Weidner Avatar
    Halbert Weidner

    sorry to take up so much space…honestly…but i think I need to remind everyone how far we have come and I think it shows that we are fortunate that anyone is in the Church STILL.
    I had Fr Francis Connell’s Moral theology. I was no rebel, in fact a convert instructed out of Baltimore Catechism III by a very well instructed Maryknoll priest. And the college I attended where this dreadful course was part of our seminary preparation. Even then I did not think it was moral nor theological.
    If you recall your own experience of such basic theological instruction you remember that sins were mortal or venial and natural and unnatural. Rape was a natural sin…all the physical elements were in place. Masturbation was unnatural…only one part was in place. The virtue of charity could be satisfied by contributing 3 per cent of our superfluous income though what tax dollars I put in that helped the poor could be deducted from this amount. We had after all three kinds of income…basic to life income, income necessary for our state of life…Catholic Dukes and Duchesses should be able to live like ones with a clear conscience and then there was superfluous income and that was a source to be used for the virtue of charity.I was scandalized then and was determined to learn it cold so when the time came I could help change it. Then God sent us Bernard Haring who for his troubles got called into the Holy Office. As a German during World War II he was called in for questioning by the Gestapo for anti-Hitler talks. He said later that he was more afraid of the Holy Office than the Gestapo.

  26. Lee Gilbert Avatar
    Lee Gilbert

    “He said later that he was more afraid of the Holy Office than the Gestapo.”

    And why not? The Gestapo could only shoot him. The Church could excommunicate him. So if nothing else he had a sense of proportion.

  27. Richard Malcolm Avatar
    Richard Malcolm

    Jordan Zarembo : @Richard Malcolm – comment #26: I sympathize with you Richard, and also Todd, that the well-educated devout should not have to go through baptismal classes, especially if this is the second or later child. However, a catechist or liturgist might argue that no person has a right to demand baptism of any child without catechesis save for emergencies. From a catechetical perspective, everyone has to go through the same training, even if a parent knows the theology. No person is excluded from the “worshipping community”.

    The difficulty that I think Todd was trying to highlight – certainly the one I would highlight – was actually *two.* It wasn’t just that a baptism catechesis class would be superfluous for him and his wife at that point (he did, after all, attend the class afterward anyway). The problem was (more importantly) that it is a terrible danger to make parents wait 3.5 months for a baptism. What if the child were to die in the meantime? To die without baptism? This is not 1750, but the child mortality rate is not zero.

    So plan the catechesis class during pregnancy, if at all possible. But don’t make parents wait a third of a year to baptize their child. I can’t imagine that Francis would be a fan of such a requirement.

  28. Richard Malcolm Avatar
    Richard Malcolm

    Msgr Charles Pope (Archdiocese of Washington) also underlined this point a few years back:

    “I think it is pastorally sound trust in God’s mercy for unbaptized infants. However, I do not think it follows that we ought to disregard or substantially delay a sacrament which Jesus commands, and which the Church indicates ought not to be delayed. The Code of Canon Law says the following:

    Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it. If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptised without any delay. Can. 867 §1,§2

    The Catechism also states: The Church and parents deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer baptism shortly after birth. (CCC # 1250) So it seems clear that a higher priority should be given to scheduling the baptism of babies within the first few weeks after birth.


    And yet, despite all this, many parishes insist on measures guaranteed to greatly delay baptisms. Not only do they schedule them infrequently, but insist that catechesis class (which by itself is not an unreasonable requirement) not be undertaken until *after* birth.

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