Monday, July 9, 2007


THEY ARE THE CHURCH – The Rev J. Glenn Murray SJ

You who have been with Adam’s Ale for awhile know that the parish in which I grew up tended to be about ten to twenty years behind the rest of the Church. At times this served us well and inadvertently made us cutting edge and sometimes just made us out of step.

Up until my high school years we were mercifully behind the times in the way CCD was taught. While most of the rest of the country had declared the Baltimore Catechism one step away from heretical and got on with the important business of making felt banners, we were still forced to learn why God made us. (To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next.)

Father Ozimek would brag from the pulpit that we had the best attendance in the diocese (would you want to explain to Fr. O why you weren’t there) and the whole kit and caboodle was run pretty strictly. We had examinations and report cards and the support (or perhaps threat) of the community.

Then in high school, with all the good intensions in the world, some well meaning people came into save and modernize our CCD program. The name changed to Confraternity of Catholic Dogma (CCD) to Parish School of Religion (PSR) and we gradually slipped out of a school environment into something between therapy and art class. We began to split up into discussion groups and talk our feelings about Jesus and His teaching and then gather around tables and make banners, which mercifully never made it into our little English Gothic Church. I understand the effort. I understand the well-meaning intentions. But we as students knew full well that we had stopped learning anything except that Jesus loved us and how each of us happened to feel about it.

This was not unusual in U.S. Catholicism. It just happened earlier in most places. The worst part of this great American experiment in religion education is that two generations (maybe three) of parents came of age not knowing their faith. Whereas at least before there was a snowball’s chance in July of parents being able for fill in gaps in religious savvy, now many times the parents are equally as uniformed about their faith as their children.

There is a perspective out there that many people believe that says youth gatherings of any type must be entertaining in order to draw people in and that they need to be social and accepting so that all feel welcome. These are nice ideas but not as primary objectives especially if that means sacrificing substance so that we end up with pizza parties and dances instead of kids knowing what the Eucharistic elements are or knowing how to answer the bishop (and our bishops in this diocese are becoming much more serious about this) when he quizzes them at confirmation. Pizza parties and dances are the job of the local recreation center. We can do such things but they must be clearly subject to the completion of our primary mission: the catechizing of our children. If we fail at that, we fail at our reason for being. Period. We might as well close our doors and send everyone to the pool.

We can’t suck kids in to Church by doing bad catechesis and entertaining them into sticking around until they are adults and hope that they will learn their faith by osmosis and be persuaded to put a few bucks in the collection basket. There are plenty of Churches that do that. We cannot be one of them. Our message is too important. Eternity depends on it. Everybody is willing to serve children candy. It is our business to give them meat.

Then, after they are fed, have the dance. But you won’t be failing your mission statement if you do not have one.


Anonymous said...

What's wrong with felt banners??

;-) I'm not sure there's anything right with them, unless they, like our post-Mass coffee, happen after the Important thing.

After helping to teach religious ed to other grades and being a substitute for many grades (sometimes I had to replace this one or that for the duration), I thought to say 'yes' to the request for Confirmation facilitation. We have a 3-yr. program of Confirmation prep--8th, 9th, and 10th grade. Without knowing what the 8th and 9th grades were doing, I entered in. I had no grand desire to do this, but there was a need that wasn't filled.

*blink blink*

Well.. it was hard enough for the RE Director to find anyone who wanted to do this.. but at the 11th hour, one teacher-to-be came to a final prep meeting for this 10th grade facilitation and said, "Oh, well, I run my own ship, you know? I have a certain way of teaching.. I can't go along with this mostly moderating. Bye." *gasp! Ah, so it wouldn't be tough enough as is.. we'd have to take on his portion as well.

We all (who had helped teach other grades, helped readied kids for sacraments and most of us, traditionally so) felt the same way as he did, but we had said 'yes,' and yes it would be, despite our huge misgivings. We trusted in the Holy Spirit --and that's GOOD, but what an awful feeling to so disagree with existing method, to be so humble and obedient, we'd have to know the whole while that the kids weren't getting what they should: we literally trusted the Holy Spirit to inform the kids.

For 3 years, my heart seized up as we did far worse than too much party: we packaged and marketed Jesus.. we built contemporary dialog around Him, and at His stations (we didn't go all the way over to the Church's Stations 12 feet away, but stayed in the parish hall), well.. there were posters up at each "station", like Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Arthur Ashed.. and the prayers themselves were altered as well. And raced through.

But what came even closer to slaying us was the order from the Bishop to implement a re-teaching of the Eucharist. Oh my, it seems THIS would conflict with the RE Director's plan.. and her poor teachers, "already burdened, and now this additional module."

Hey..what's it all about, Alfie??

Can we have the Sisters back as RE Directors, please? After 20 years of such as the above, so many of us've lost much heart in passing along the Faith in this way. My poor husband who came into facilitation one school year at my begging, who went to parochial school and high school and prayed the Rosary after supper each night, was simply stunned the whole while. Painful.


Mary Martha said...

"Can we have the Sisters back as RE Directors, please?"

Umm... be careful what you wish for. My parish has a Sister as DRE in the 80s and it was no guarantee of quality. She had drunk deep from the cup of 'spirit of Vatican II' and shoved it down all of our throats.

I can look back at my CCD years and realize that I made a minimum of 2 felt/burlap banners a year. Did we ever learn anything about our faith other than jesus loves us? No. But I can make some pretty high quality felt banners that say Jesus Loves you!

Anonymous said...

My best friend in college--Catholic--said she taught teenagers CCD. I said, "wow, cool, I bet you know alot about your faith"--she said, "no, we used to just hang out and talk about different things, like their life, how things were going," "You never taught about Jesus?" "No." T

The worst part is she never felt compelled to teach--but why wasn't anyone asking her what she was teaching? And when they found out they were just chit chatting--talking about, gag, feelings, why did they not find someone else to teach?

Fr. V said...

I've heard (and experienced) equally as bad - but don't you guys think thinkgs are changing?

Anonymous said...

Agree with all the posters. And, our two eldest kids, (23) who went through 12 years of Catholic Ed., and second who went through 8, (20 y/o) could repeat what was said about spending a lot of time *talking* about Jesus and "relationships", etc. in their CCD and/or theology classes. In fact, my eldest commented while she was a senior in H.S. that the kids who were involved in *youth ministry* were often the "partiers"...and it wasn't only pizza they were ingesting. But not to be totally negative, our 12-year old who now attends Padre Pio school is receiving a fantastic Catholic education (Baltimore cathechism). So, you're right, Father it is changing...but slowly. We, dh and I, unfortunately were not on top of things with our two eldest during their time in Catholic school, but we do fill in the gaps now when asked.

Anonymous said...

Stepping in for the rest of the year once, there was one 4th grader who told me he couldn't be sure if he'd been to Mass, but he was pretty sure he had been. At least now and then. And then the others piped up.. "oh, isn't it that place with the big Cross, and has donuts?"

:-| Uh huh..

I dunno if it's getting better. I pray so.

Odysseus said...

-Jesus Loves You-

Of course, when you make a disparaging remark about this phrase, the weenies (we know who the weenies are, right?) will say you are mean-spirited, they will point out passages in the Gospel according to John to make you feel bad, they say you are against Vatican II, etc.

The problem is, "Jesus loves you" is meaningless if you don't know who Jesus is.

If I come up to you and say, "Ralph loves you." you might say "That's nice." You don't know who Ralph is. It's the same with that phrase, "Jesus loves you." It meant nothing to us as kids and it measn nothing to kids now because they don't know who Jesus is.

It becomes a much more significant statement if you know that he is the Messiah, God, the one foreseen y the prophets, the Alpha and the Omega.

Anonymous said...

Father V, I do think things are changing--I'm teaching catechism, our parish has a program with a criteria to meet before the end of the year. (I learn more than the kids.)

Adrienne said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You may be sure a copy of this will be in my Pastor’s hand this evening at RCIA. He is a fine man and agrees with your points and it will be good for him to know there are others out there who know the truth. I teach the 7th - 12th graders with the help of one REAL Catholic. The RE coordinator for grades through 1 - 6th said to me last year - “I so want the children to know Jesus”. I think a great way of “knowing Jesus” is to KNOW HIS CHURCH!!! I will have to say by the time I get them in 7th grade they can all color within the lines, make great scarecrows for thanksgiving and know lots of games. And we wonder why they all end up at Real Life Evangelical Emporium waving their hands in the air to rock music.
As to the fine sisters in our area ---- they sponsored a "retreat" for high schoolers where the most important thing they were to learn was Yoga and relaxation! Eeeeerk!!
The changes are starting to happen because there are old folks like me who don't give a rats rip if everyone thinks they are old fashioned (including my Bishop). I just keep trucking along "doing the right thing" and guess what??---- the kids like it better than felt banners!!

Sister Maxine said...

Children are HUNGRY for the Truth! I taught CCD and a good friend of mine teaches now (7th graders). She teaches based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not the "PSR" (my nephew calls it pisser) program of banner making.

They want to KNOW Jesus...what the Church is all about. She said one evening they totally got off the subject and discussed things they were questioning...abortion, suicide, faith...heavy stuff.

Although I have not been teaching for quite a long time, after reading this blog, I'm going back. Thank you!!!!

Sister Maxine said...

Sorry, side note....I had to chuckle... line from A Few Good Men... "you can't handle the truth." At least that's what Satan wants us to believe....

Fr. V said...

"The problem is, "Jesus loves you" is meaningless if you don't know who Jesus is."


Lillian - you are right - kids are STARVING for it and open. One only has to look at the most succesful youth programs to notice they are all built on solid content and formation. What's the point otherwise? I'll go tot he school dance.