Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Religious Ed programs will never be enough

(All emphasis in the following is mine.)

While exploring the web site of the Diocese of Tulsa I came across an article occasioned by Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Catholic education during his recent visit to this country. 

The authors pick up on His Holiness' ongoing critique of relativism, observing that the Church's

essential missionary thrust in the world has been neutralized by the acceptance of a seductive relativism that proclaims that since what may be true for me may not be true for you since everyone’s opinion is equally (or relatively) true.

It is within the context of this confrontation between the universal truth of the Gospel ... and the rampant relativism and subjectivity of our age ... that the Pontiff addressed our indispensable need for Catholic education.

It is the task of our Catholic educational institutions to combat what then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger termed the "dictatorship of relativism."

In our educational institutions we grow in our knowledge of Him and are strengthened so that we can give unfailing witness to the truth of that encounter in an open, public forum.

The authors then make the case that religious education programs simply cannot accomplish this goal.

It must be conceded that this is a task beyond even the finest parish religious education programs. No Sunday school program, no matter how complete the content of its textbooks, how deep the commitment of its volunteers or joyful they are in their service, is capable of building the kind of social community which is founded in this kind of culture and which is capable of revealing in itself the interior life and mission of the Church.

They cannot do this because they will always be secondary to the primary education of their students, which is secular and relativistic.

[Religious education] classes add an additional class to the secular curriculum, but this one class, this one hour [75 minutes at my parish] a week, is not capable of revealing the dangerous deficiencies of secular assumptions, because by adding one class in religious studies on Sunday or on Wednesdays [Mondays at my parish], we actually reinforce the secular presumption that religion has both its value and place, but separate and apart from the things of “the real world.” We accept implicitly the world’s judgment that the things of God are one of its many categories of inquiry and God Himself just one “thing” among all the rest to be studied.

I think it is imperative that we acknowledge and accept that our first and foremost effort in religious education must be to revitalize our Catholic schools and do whatever is necessary to make certain that every family in the Diocese has the right to this kind of religious education for their children.

As someone who is beginning his 5th year as a junior high catechist I could not agree more.  While I am still learning my craft - and always will be - it has already become blindingly obvious that the parish religious education setting, no matter how good it might be in its own right, is but a poor second to the day in and day out exposure to the Catholic faith and culture that takes place in a Catholic elementary school.

That is why Catholic schools should be among the highest priorities in every diocese.

That they are not in this diocese is one of the primary reasons we are in such sad shape.

11 comments:

Dr. Knowledge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Dr. K.,

With 3 granddaughters having graduated from Holy Cross in the last 4 years, I got to see that school close up.

The integration of Christ and the Catholic faith into all aspects of the curriculum was obvious and the effects on the students striking.

There was not a single one of my granddaughters' classmates who were not good kids and a pleasure to be around whenever my granddaughters would bring them by.

By contrast, my wife taught public school for 33 years and ... well, I just won't go there.

sunny said...

I saw the difference close up at my daughters 1st communion classes. The children who could behave properly and enter into the discussions were mostly those that attended Catholic school. No surprise they are also the ones we still see at mass. This is by no means a pot shot at Rel Ed. We have a wonderful program, but when their faith is infused into everything they do from math to science to english - there is a big difference.

Mike said...

Sunny,

That's exactly the point the folks in Tulsa are making - and my point too.

I've been teaching junior high religious ed at Holy Cross for 4 years now and I believe we have a very good program. (I wouldn't waste my time if I didn't believe that.)

But I also know that our program has its limitations in passing on the faith, limitations that Catholic elementary schools simply do not have.

In
another post
I mentioned a survey that showed that 2/3 of our priests had attended Catholic elementary schools. Now, that's really passing on the faith!

CathParent said...

I have experience with both Catholic and public schools. I believe that the people running Faith Formation are doing the best they can, but they are fighting a losing battle. Our bishop, priests, and parents have already decided that children's faith formation is not as important as the other missions in our diocese, next family vacation, the sports programs, etc...
If it were, our Catholic Schools would be filled (I know, they are now that they closed over half of them). Maybe 2/3 of our priests went to Catholic Schools, but our Bishop didn't. He never experienced it, and I wonder if he would dismiss it so casually if he had?
It's as if he decided that since he didn't get to experience it, no one else should.

Mike said...

CathParent,

Not only did the bishop never attend a Catholic school, he also never pastored a parish. The closest he came was maybe 5 years as an assistant at 2 different Albany parishes.

I think experience as a pastor makes a priest more attuned to both the priorities of the Church and the needs of the laity. It doesn't work for everyone (witness the pastors in this diocese who cannot see beyond the dollar signs and are therefore opposed to Catholic schools because of the drag on their finances), but most pastors do see their importance.

Bishop Clark has never had that experience.

Adrienne said...

It would be wonderful if the Catholic Schools that were in operation were truly Catholic. I will agree that the kids at our local Catholic school are nicer and better behaved but they are not learning the true Catholic faith. Instead they are fed a constant diet of "happy clappy" Jesus loves you, everyone is ok, watered down Catholicism.

Dr. Knowledge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adrienne said...

Dr. K - I just had three "cradle Catholics" attending our RCIA (give 'em credit for that) say they thought Purgatory was where you went while God decided whether you were to go to heaven or hell.

They also thought that at the Last Judgement they may have a chance to go from hell to heaven. Mmmmm, no - I don't think so!

Dr. Knowledge said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Adrienne said, "It would be wonderful if the Catholic Schools that were in operation were truly Catholic. I will agree that the kids at our local Catholic school are nicer and better behaved but they are not learning the true Catholic faith. Instead they are fed a constant diet of "happy clappy" Jesus loves you, everyone is ok, watered down Catholicism."

I can only speak from personal experience for the now-extinct Holy Cross school, but I can assure you the true Catholic faith was taught there. I had 3 granddaughters graduate from that school recently (2005, 2006 and 2007) and the grounding they received in their faith was excellent.

That said, you may be perfectly right about other schools in DOR. I couldn't say one way or another.