I mentioned a few days back, three key tasks for the Church: the worship of God, the transmission of the faith, and good works. Today I want to focus on the second of these, the transmission of the faith.
The gift of knowledge
Today's prayer for the Holy Ghost Novena is for the gift of knowledge:
Come, O Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, and grant that I may perceive the will of the Father; show me the nothingness of earthly things, that I may realize their vanity and use them only for Thy glory and my own salvation, looking ever beyond them to Thee, and Thy eternal rewards. Amen.
The gift of knowledge is intended to enable us to grasp the truths of the faith easily and profoundly: it enables us to know to live; it gives us insight into the what we should and should not believe and do.
Yet like all the gifts of the Holy Spirit it is meant to perfect nature, not supplant it: we should not expect, save in exceptional cases, God to provide by immediate light that knowledge which we can and ought to be taught by our parents and teachers, or acquire for ourselves by study.
Unfortunately this assumption - that amounts to sheer presumption in my view - seems to have been at the root of much of what continues to pass for catechesis in Australia and elsewhere in recent times.
Knowing 'the story'
Reading Acts, one is presented a couple of times with the basic 'story' of the faith in sermons by SS Peter and Paul.
It is a story that starts from the Old Testament, from the creation of the world, through the fall of man, continues in God's promises to the patriarchs and prophets, embraces his saving action through history, and places Christ's mission into this context.
If you read the catechetical works of the early Church, such as St Augustine's Instructing Beginners in Faith, you will find a similar framework.
Why is it then, that instead of connecting the Mass to this Scriptural narrative, for example, the Australian Bishops paid for and endorsed a website aimed at school children called 'Together at One Altar' that instead of teaching what the sacrifice of the Mass is actually about (indeed you will be hard pressed to find the word 'sacrifice' actually used) focuses the narrative on Vatican II and its promotion of 'active participation'?
What use is it to tell someone about how to participate if they don't actually get taught what they are truly meant to be participating in?!
It is as if St Peter said, in those sermons, Jesus came not to save, but to tell you Pharisees and Scribes that you are just wrong; or as if St Paul should have started his preaching in the Areopagus not with the universal mystery of God, but with the Council of Jerusalem, saying the Jewish faith is out, this is all a new thing, isn't that great!
Instead of being given the big picture of Scriptural history; instead of being taught the subsequent story of how the Church's understanding of the faith has been crystallized into dogma in response, on the one hand to the challenge of error, and on the other hand, through the prayer, meditation and study of the saints and doctors, we have been fed, and continue to allow our children to be fed, the pap of 'experiential' approaches. Instead of being taught the prayers and devotions that have enabled Catholics down the ages to cultivate their faith, everything 'old' was dumped in the name of 'adapting to the times'.
It is past time to acknowledge that these approaches have utterly failed to transmit the faith and start afresh!
What must be done?
1. Fix the schools. A reader suggested, in a comment on an earlier post that part of the razing of the ecclesial bureaucracy that I was suggesting needs to occur should be scrapping our Catholic Education Offices and starting again.
I agree. Look at the websites of many diocesan CEOs and you will see that they are very much part of the problem not the solution, promoting bad theology and poor practice.
If Catholic schools aren't turning out practising Catholics with a solid knowledge of their faith, then they are failing in their most critical mission. It is simply not good enough to blame it on the parents - yes, they are the primary educators, but they are themselves mostly uncatechised, and have by dint of enrolling their child in a Catholic school asked for help in this task.
Nor should Catholic schools justify their existence on the basis of academic and social development alone - a Church institution should not be just another private school/NGO!
Are there any dioceses that are succeeding? Sydney Archdiocese, for example, does at least seem to be trying, but despite some positive initiatives, and a good deal of rhetoric in form of charters and the like, there is no actual concrete evidence offered on their website to suggest they are actually succeeding. The annual reports/accountability statements provided on religious education for example, look to be pretty wishy washy and vague, at least on the small sample I looked at.
And in any case, fixing our schools will require much more than improving the content of religious education courses.
We need to recover the genuinely Catholic ethos of Catholic schools. That means things like reducing the number of non-Catholics who attend them from the around 30% plus (depending on school or diocese) currently to less than 5%, even if that means closing some schools. It means reintroducing the Angelus and other prayers, said daily. It means insisting that all teachers take fidelity oaths, and finding habited religious to teach.
2. Restore the traditional order of the reception of the sacraments
Prior to Pope Pius X, the order of the reception of the sacraments was baptism; confirmation; Confession; Eucharist. Pope Benedict XVI, in Sacramentum Caritatis (18) opened up the possibility of returning to this traditional order, and some bishops overseas have taken up his invitation.
In my view, getting confirmation in earlier, so that children enter their turbulent teenage years strengthened by the sacrament, rather than receive it at a time they are typically questioning their faith, has a lot to recommend it.
It would mean, however, that a way would need to be found to ensure that subsequent catechesis does continue to happen!
3. Provide more guidance when it comes to theology and Scripture!
The biggest elephant in the room, though, it seems to me, continues to be the flood of books and other material around that promote outright heresy, or even not outright erroneous, undermine the foundations of the faith for those without sufficient theological training to put them in context.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Compendium, for example are excellent resources, but where are the Catechetical courses in each diocese based on them?
And when it comes to works on theology, while I wouldn't suggest a return to the index of prohibited books, I do think there is room for a lot more guidance to be provided. Instead of the ACBC worrying about film reviews, for example, perhaps it might devote some resources to guides to what the strengths and weaknesses - and outright errors - of various popular texts used in our Universities and theological institutes, being promoted by assorted ex-priests and/or retired bishops, used in parishes, or that are current best sellers. Perhaps, too, more effort could be put into promoting the use of imprimateurs - statements that a book is free of doctrinal error (and to making sure that this really is the case!).
Above all, if one actually wants Catholics to read Scripture (which I do think is essential), work needs to be done to provide better, thoroughly orthodox resources to help Catholics do that. In the nineteenth century Blessed Cardinal Newman translated St Thomas Aquinas' Catena Aurea of the Fathers on the Gospels, for example, as an aid for families in this regard. If there is a good commentary that integrates the insights of the Fathers and the subsequent tradition with the useful insights of modern scholars without succumbing to assorted modernist errors, I for one haven't found it. Yet this seems like an obvious priority.
You can find the next part of this series here.