Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Catechetical meanderings - where do you go to (really) know your faith?

On Saturday a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on my door, as they occasionally do, wanting me to take a copy of the Watch Tower.

These days I have a couple of standard lines readied for such occasions, appropriate to the religion in question (viz Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, I don't think I've ever been doorknocked by anyone else!) so that I get to catechize them, rather than letting them set the ground for debate!

Ready for the knock on the door?

This time I tried out my line on the Bible (how do you know which books make up the Bible - answer: because the Catholic Church decided it was so!).

It certainly got a rise out of them, in as much as one of the two lads admitted that he was a catholic who had apostasized.  When pressed, he claimed it was because he couldn't see how certain doctrines, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, fit with the Bible.

I gave them a bit of quick catechesis highlighting a few key references (the Spirit hovering over creation in Genesis;  those Gospel texts like John 10:30, 'I and the Father are one', etc); a bit on the understanding of the faith handed down through the liturgy; a bit on understanding what Scripture means in the light of the Fathers and reflections of the saints.

Judging on body language, I think I scored some points with this friend.  But the ex-Catholic, I suspect, had some other baggage that was going on; I'm going to hope my prayers prove more effective in opening his mind than my words appeared to!

The problem of poor catechesis and worse theology

Still, it did bring focus for me the terrible legacy in terms of lost souls of poor catechesis in this and other Western countries.

We tend to focus in on those ex-Catholics who slide into cultural/cafeteria catholicism, maintaining their nominal identification with the faith while in practice rejecting it.  Issues of their own salvation aside, they certainly have a  high annoyance factor create endless problems for actual Catholics, through their control of schools, hospitals and other 'catholic' institutions.  Indeed, in the US and elsewhere, they even control the Catholic theological societies.

We also, in Australia at least, look at the huge increase in the proportion of the population who claim no religion whatsoever.

But in fact many ex-Catholics go the other way, choosing a much 'stricter' religion, whether Islam (still a minority, but a rapidly growing one) or Protestant (typically of the fundamentalist variety).

Sandro Magister in Chiesa this week points to what happens when Catholics are and aren't taught their faith:

"The nation that has the largest number of Catholics today is Brazil, with 134 million, more than Italy, France, and Spain put together. Catholicism there has successfully confronted fierce competition, which in recent decades inflicted serious damage on it. Because when liberation theology was in fashion among the neo-Marxist Catholic élite, the faithful did not convert en masse to their message. They went over by the millions to the new Pentecostalist Churches, with their festive celebrations, music, singing, healings, speaking in tongues. But now this exodus has stopped. In the Catholic Church as well, the faithful are finding the warmth of participation and firmness of doctrine that three and four centuries ago brought success to the Reductions, the Jesuit missions among the Indians..."

Magister argues that in the US the Church has stood up to the challenge of secularism better than many Protestant churches there.  It hasn't withstood the challenge posed by fundamentalism very well though - 1 in 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic.  And of those, around half become unaffiliated with any religion, the other half become Protestant. 

Are the figures similar in Australia?  Pentecostalist numbers are much smaller here, but are rising rapidly, and they have to be coming from somewhere!

Are the right tools available?

How can we change this? 

Well a good start would be to know the faith thoroughly ourselves, and make sure our children are being taught it.

Unfortunately, if the right tools are out there, I haven't found them, at least in any readily accessible, easy to use form like subject matter guides.

Don't get me wrong, there are certainly some excellent catechetical resources around - for young children, things like The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for example.

Many, however, will find the Catechism of the Catholic Church rather too discursive, and find its lack of clear, hard edged doctrinal summations annoying. The Compendium of the Catechism is more focused, but where do you go if you are looking for further reading?  Where are the traditionally oriented theological resources targeted at adults that take you beyond the Catechism?

There are of course a plethora of resources around. 

But all too many of the online resources and books you come across are infected by modernist errors, subtle or otherwise, advocating, for example, the views of suspect theologians such as Karl Rahner, who, inter alia, advocated the now condemned heresy of transfinalization in relation to the Eucharist.

A similar point can, unfortunately, be made about courses taught in our Catholic Universities and seminaries!

Sticking to the tried and true?

Many traditionalists address this problem by sticking with those good old Baltimore Catechisms, the Catechism of Trent, and if they are feeling adventurous, some of those old 'Manuals' advocated by Fr Z amongst others.  These are certainly good starting points, great as far as they go.

But they don't go to the heresies common today that you are most likely to encounter over at Cath News or V2 Catholic for example.  You won't find the response to the historico-critical subversion of Scripture in them.  Nor do they incorporate more recent Magisterial teaching - and to my mind, that's just a recipe for encouraging schismatic thinking or even or sedevacentism.

So, suggestions anyone?


Victoria said...

The bishops of Australia must hang their heads in shame re the abysmal state of catechesis in this country."To whom much is given much will be asked" I wouldn't be sleeping too soundly if I were one of the negligent shepherds. It is they who allowed the foxes to savage the flock from the pulpit and in Catholic in name only schools. I am of the last generation which received authentic instruction in genuine Catholicism; what will happen when we die -who will be left to teach the Faith?

Anonymous said...

Advice? Don't get caught up in the machine

3 acres and a cow. GKC

PM said...

There is an excellent book by an English Dominican, Richard Conrad, entitled The Catholic Faith: A Dominican's Vision - very readable and based on a rigorous Thomistic education, and with a good knowledge of science and modern philosophy which he brings to bear on relevant issues. It was published in 1994 and is now out of print, but I understand he has a revised and expanded version in preparation.

Fr Richard is, by the way, an occasional celebrant of the EF who mostly celebrates OF liturgy - rather like yours truly who mostly attends the OF with an occasional excursion into the EF when circumstances permit. Pace Mr Mullins, I'd describe myself as a reform of the reform sympathiser rather than a hard-core traddie - I hope I won't be banished from your blog!

Martin S. said...

Term 3 Intensive
Philosopy & the Existence of God
28 & 29 July 2012
Dr Edward Feser PhD will be facilitating this Topic at the CAEC.

A very good sign:

"Feser is an Aristotelian-Thomist philosopher from California who is, for my money, among the top two or three most formidable apologists for historic Christianity writing today."

R. J. said...

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Australian JWs, like the various local adherents of Pentecostal dementia, have a remarkably high proportion of apostate Catholics in their ranks.

Mary said...

I just came across this book review on AD2000 for 'The Second Wave Revisited' by Dr J.N. Santamaria on the errors of modernism.
It has convinced me to buy it!

Mary said...

As Archbishop Hickey recently stated, Australia is going through a rapid phase of secularisation, this on top of a poorly catechised and dwindling congregation of Catholics who, on the whole, see the Church as a democractic organisation - and why wouldn't they?- is a total recipe for disaster.

Enter the new evangelisation.

If there was ever a time for strategy and well thought out catechecial programs, this is it!

What I've found of catechetical resources is, like Kate says, that you have the tried and tested on the one hand and the modernist on the other. Certainly the Catechism is the bedrock, but what else is there to address the issues of modernism, relativism and agressive secularism along with a thorough grounding in the basis of Catholicism?

I think the YOUCAT set out to do this in a realistic way, which meant that it had to get to the core and hopefully inspire its readers to take steps to get better informed.
One blog that uses the YOUCAT as a basis for further
study can be found here:

Other books that I have found helpful or have on my 'to
read' list include:
- The Return of Modernism: The Second Wave Revisited
by Dr J.N. Santamaria (Fidelity Books)
- The Clash of Orthodoxies by Robert P. George
- Handbook of Catholic Apologetics: Reasoned Answers to Questions of Faith by Peter Kreeft
- The Love of Wisdom: An Christian Introduction to Philosopy by Steven B. Cowan
- The Faith Explained, Third Ed., by Leo J. Trese is also a good starting point for Catholics who havn't been taught much about Catholicism.

And a couple of my favorite web sites:

Personally, I have also found the Papal Documents to be a treasure-chest - something that for most of my life I didn't even know existed. How many others don't know about them?

Let's get the message out there!

If only it was all in one book!

Mary said...

Another book that I just happened to stumble across is 'The Mystery We Proclaim: Catechesis for the Third Millennium' by Francis D. Kelly.

I just read a number of pages via Google Books and it seems to be truly excellent.