Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Renewing the Church in Australia Step 5: Transmit the faith!

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.


Joshua said...

The few adults who still practise their faith find it very difficult indeed to pass on the Faith to their children, given all the opposing forces in and out of the Church; and as for the majority who are Catholic in name only, well...

Pope Francis recently mentioned that whereas in the past the Faith was passed on from generation to another in a spontaneous manner, the transmission thereof has broken down. I can but agree in sorrow.

Cat said...

Thank you for this great series. I attended Catholic schools for 12 years and am now in my fifth year of teaching in a Catholic school and from both perspectives, I can attest to the fact that there are so many problems with our Catholic school system.

Last year I realized most of the children I teach (upper primary) didn't know the Glory Be and so we started praying it at the end fo each day. This year, we also call upon our school's two patron saints and St Mary of the Cross to pray for us. Different students each day take turns asking for their confirmation saint to pray for us. It has been wonderful.

For the month of May we have started praying a decade of the Rosary, including the Apostle's Creed and at least mentioning the Mysteries we have previously prayed. The students taking turns leading each Haily Mary by reading an accompanying piece if scripture (just printed and highlighted off one fo the scriptural rosary websites). I have been started to discover how many students don't actually know the words for Hail Mary so we have now put those up on a website.

I share these ideas in case they are useful for any other teacher readers. If you have any more to share, I would love reading ideas from yourself and any other readers about how I can reach about the sacrifice of the mass, Catholic prayers or how I can adapt the domestic church to the classroom. What specific things would you love to see in a Catholic classroom?

I love the idea of praying the Angelus together.

Thanks again for the great work you do with your blog.

J said...

Sorry, I was typing on my iPad so my previous comment is full or typos. I just wanted to clarify that we put a copy of the words to Hail Mary in our prayer space (seems to have autocorrected to website!)

The Loon said...

Great piece! How many kids finish year 12 and do not realise that the Mass is Calvary and that they participate by offering themselves in sacrifice alongside it to, and in adoration of, the Father?

Aside from the Mass there is also the treasures of Latin Prayers and Chants, the Rosary and from the Saints - a whole way of living, surviving the world and day to day life, being truly happy, and getting into heaven. A great heritage it seems the young are being robbed of.

As to books and Scripture - a little story. I was in Pauline Books and Media in Sydney City the other day and they had a whole prominent table full of books (no imprimatur on any) by Sr. Joan Chichester.

Lots of NRSV (which deletes or dilutes Christological references, prophecies, etc in the actual text) and NAB (with the Mangificat footnote saying Mary never said the words attributed to her - no evidence is offered though) Bibles.


The Mustard Seed Bookshop in nearby Lidcombe however was an oasis. Great CDs, videos, statues, classic books by the Saints and new stuff by people like actual theologian Scott Hahn.

Monica said...

In regards to commentaries, have you never come across the Navarre series? They seem to me to do pretty much what you ask.

Kate Edwards said...

Cat - Starting kids off learning the key prayers seems like an excellent starting point to me!

Monica - Yes I do have the Navarre series.

I find them very disappointing in the main.

My biggest criticism of them is just that they are very stolid and frankly boring! Though they do serve up a few patristic quotes, they don't seem to me to really reflect the richness of those texts, being very focused on the literal rather than other three senses of the text. They also seem more inclined to serve up large dollops of St Escriva (who isn't much my cup of tea) instead. Neither do they give much flavour of the historical research on the period and cultural context. The most problematic thing about them though, is that their views on authorship, historicity and so forth often runs counter to the (in my view still binding and in any case very solidly traditional) decisions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

You can find a good example of the problems in the Navarre Commentary here:


I actually think the Ignatius Commentaries by Scott Hahn et al are better in as much as they give good maps, cultural and other relevant context, albeit very little patristic material.

What I'm looking for is more along the lines of the 'Bible in its traditions' project:


But still a long way to go before this is complete.

Collin Michael Nunis said...

I use a few commentaries, but my favourites are the Ignatius Study Bible (commentaries by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch), and the Orthodox Study Bible.

Some people may find the use of the Orthodox Study Bible questionable, but it is very easy to use (more for devotional rather than academic use), very affordable, and a lot more 'orthodox' than the commentaries written by Brendan Byrne et al. The only thing notably missing questionable is the commentary on Matthew 16:13-19 but that's why I have the Ignatius to go with. :)

jeff said...

I want to send my kids to an Independent Christian school. I'm only surprised that there hasn't been a class action of angry parents whose children have gone on to lead lives of perdition launched to sue the "Catholic" school system.

They could say "You told us you were going to provide our children with a Catholic environment and formation but you failed: a) here, b) here, c) here, d) here.." and so on ad infinitum ad nauseam.

jeff said...

Age of confirmation? get 'em to make a decision just as they are beginning to question. this decision, freely taken, will help fortify them against all the sexualisation and crap that our culture feeds them.

don't make the mistake of getting them confirmed at age 7.

i've told my oldest son that he can't be confirmed before 12. minumum, and he'll have to ask the priest himself.