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Voices Online Edition
Volume XIV, No 1
Teaching Your Children the Faith:
It's really Up to YOU
by Theresa Foster
In November 1997, I wrote to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to give them my opinion on the series of catechetical books used at the local parochial school, as well as on the "Faith and Life" series I use at home.
I was inspired to do so by an article in Voices which contained information about the work of this committee of bishops created to review the way the Catechism is used in religion textbooks [NCCB Special Report, "Recurring Deficiencies in Catechetical Texts" Voices Vol. XII: No 2, Summer 1997, p 2 ff.].
The bishops had made a list of ten doctrinal deficiencies they found "rather consistent" in the textbooks they examined, and had presented this list at the June 1997 NCCB meeting. I thought that once the bishops' committee reviewed the various religious education texts (submitted voluntarily by the publishers), and issued their "seal" of conformity to the Catechism, such texts would be reliable tools for passing the faith on to the next generation. I was relieved to think that parental battles and anxiety attacks were over.
Last summer when our school newsletter announced that a new religious education series deemed to be in conformity with the Catechism had been purchased, I thought that finally my children would be receiving solid information on the Catholic faith at school as well as at home.
That thought lasted until the new books came home. When I opened the new second grade text, This is Our Faith, published by Silver Burdett Ginn, I was amazed and dismayed. Although the series bears the bishops' approval for conformity with the Catechism, the subject matter presented was far from complete.
I'll use the Sacrament of Baptism (Unit 1, Chapter 1) as an example. The entire theme involves entering a community and being welcomed. There is not a single mention of the words "original sin" not even in the glossary. But Item 8 on the bishops' 1997 "deficiencies" list was "Deficient teaching on original sin and sin in general".
The bishops found that,
The texts do not clearly teach that original sin is the loss of original holiness and justice, transmitted by our first parents, and which wounds human nature in all people. ... The texts need to speak of sin in a thematic way that presents the great struggle going on in the world and within each human heart a struggle in which God's grace works within us to help us live more fully the new life we have received in the Sacrament of Initiation.
But here is the definition of baptism as given on page 26 of the new textbook:
[Baptism is] a sacrament that joins us to Jesus and welcomes us into the church. We are baptized with water. Water is a sign that we share Jesus' new life.
Item 7 on the bishops' deficiencies list was "Inadequate presentation of the sacraments". The bishops observed:
Sacraments are often presented as representative of events in human life of which God becomes a part, rather than signs and reality of divine life of which man becomes a part. ... [this] leads to a deficient understanding of the divine action and graced transformation that is at the heart of each of the Sacraments.
On the same page of this new catechism for second-graders, the Eucharist is explained as follows:
"At Mass we share a special meal with Jesus. The Eucharist is another sacrament of Jesus' love."
There was not one mention of the Church's teaching on transubstantiation in this book, and the supernatural dimension of the Sacrament was ignored. So a second-grader walks away from religion class thinking that the Sacraments of the Catholic Church are simply things we do in a community, not much different from Brownies or Girl Scouts.
The problem with this series is not necessarily what it teaches, because those things are true enough. The problem is what it does not teach. The bishops' Committee, in its list of "doctrinal deficiencies" had come to this very same conclusion about the books they had examined.
Evidently, however, the Committee's own "conformity with the Catechism" approval is not, after all, a guarantee that the serious doctrinal deficiencies that appeared on the bishops' own list have been corrected in these books. It does not mean that the subject matter is presented in full, or that the method of presentation is approved. Instead, the Committee's approval is limited to assuring that the Catechism for the Catholic Church is quoted accurately in the catechetical texts, and that these quotes are not used in misleading ways. This limitation of the Committee is profoundly disappointing to parents who had been so encouraged to learn of the bishops "Recurring Deficiencies" list.
What is a parent to do?
I thought about the days when my mother was growing up and my grandmother did not have to check on what was being taught. Parents could safely assume, then, that Catholic schools were teaching authentic Church doctrine. But things had changed a generation later.
My mother assumed we were being taught the faith in our catechism classes as she had been. But while she was busy raising twelve children, we were being taught a deficient "community-based" catechism that has been one factor responsible for the falling away from the Catholic faith of so many people of my generation.
In a strange way, I may be better off than my mother was. At least now we parents are aware that it is our responsibility to know what our children are being taught about the Catholic faith.
"Right and Duty"
I am often reminded that it is up to me to help my family be holy. I cannot point a finger at anyone else without the rest of my fingers pointing to myself.
In the Holy Father's Apostolic Exhortation The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris Consortio), section 36, addresses "The Right and Duty of Parents Regarding Education" [1980, Boston: Daughters of St. Paul edition] . The letter quotes the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Christian Education, which states that,
[S]ince parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. [p 59]
Wow. "Scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it"! That should make us shake in our shoes!
The Pope continues:
The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others. [p 59. Original emphasis.]
It is very clear that we parents are not simply to rely on Catholic schools or CCD classes to teach our children the faith. Just as parents help their children with their math or social studies so they should look at what they are being taught in religion classes. If the material is deficient, they themselves must see to it that their children are taught the authentic faith.
I recommend the "Faith and Life" series published by Ignatius Press as an excellent source for grades 1-8 either for your parish or use at home. The "Image of God" series (also published by Ignatius) is excellent for younger children. (Order via internet at: www.ignatius.com, or phone 1 800 651-1531.)
There is also a catechetical program on computer diskettes written by Father Robert Levis. (Father Levis is featured on the series, "Web of Faith", a Q&A show on EWTN.) This diskette series, "The Catalog of Faith", is useful for students from about grades 5-8. The content is excellent. Unfortunately, the material cannot be printed. Father Levis is also the author of "Jesus, the Catechism and Me" which is very good for students in upper grades, young adults, and RCIA candidates. (Contact Father Robert Levis, Gannon University, Erie, PA 16541-0001; phone: 1 814 871-7706)
I think it is very important to pray for your children's faith. I say a prayer each morning that I keep by my kitchen sink. I invoke the intercession of the Blessed Mother and numerous saints for my girls each day. I also pray for them in front of the Blessed Sacrament and offer novenas of Holy Communions. The battle we are fighting is a spiritual one and we need to use spiritual weapons.
We should see to it that our children go to confession at least once a month. Go over the ten commandments and examination of conscience with them. Use "teaching moments" to explain moral issues to them in words they can understand, and to discuss the way a Catholic should respond in a world that has all but forgotten God.
I pray, too, for the day when parents no longer have to wonder what their children are being taught in catechism class may it come soon! Catholic parents really need the help that our Catholic schools are intended to provide.
Theresa Foster and her husband, David, live in Cortland, New York, with their two daughters, ages 10 and 7. They are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Syracuse, N.Y. Mrs. Foster is a finance director for a social service agency. This is her first contribution to Voices.
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