What a wonderful letter. Thank you very much for writing. I say thank you because your letter is a holy witness for me. Sometimes being a 'cradle Catholic' myself it is easy for me to fall into a pattern of teaching religion as though it were just another subject. I tend to take for granted the beauty and vitality of our faith. When you explain that you do not want the subject matter to become dry and boring I am reminded that the way I present the material determines in large part the way it will be received. Thank you (and certainly the Holy Spirit working through your docile heart) for such a gentle wake up call.
I like to teach religion every day of the school week. I use the Baltimore Catechism (I grew up on this method and find it comforting). However, used alone I am afraid that the beauty of the faith would become lost in the 'rules and standards'. In the classrooms of the 1950s and 1960s when the Baltimore Catechism was in its prime the atmosphere was quite a bit different than in our homeschool classrooms. There was a great deal of discussion, hands on projects (I still have some of the prayer books, mission projects, and such that I made as a student) and lively give and take between our teachers (usually Dominican sisters) and students. Our classrooms were alive with all the visual cues that prompted our faith and allowed us to become immersed in the Catholic life. This is not to say that we can not give this to our children, but we must remember that even when the Baltimore Catechism was used in Catholic school classrooms it was not the only means of teaching the faith. It was used as a supplement. In our studies sister would spend 20 minutes with the Baltimore Catechism and the rest of the class would be spent in other equally enriching activities.
Another aspect of the Baltimore Catechism and one that is generally forgotten is the purpose of this book to the meaning of Catholic education. When the dedicated religious sisters were commissioned to teach the faith to children beginning in the early 1900s it was discovered that though many children (and their parents as well) were Catholic they lacked the true understanding of the faith. Many immigrant families had practiced the faith with deep devotion yet were unaware of the basic precepts of the church. Having come from countries where the Catholic faith was the majority to a country of diversity, it was difficult for families to pass on the faith with conviction owing to the gap in their information. In other words, how can a person defend the faith to themselves first and then to others if they do not totally understand the foundational precepts of the faith. The Baltimore Catechism was an excellent resource to teach the faith but in real life situations it was never meant to be the only instructional tool in the classroom. For a time however due to the great increase in students attending Catholic schools in the 40s and 50s (there were 65 children in my second grade classroom!) dedicated and hardworking nuns had only enough time to use this quick and efficient resource. I can remember sister sitting at her desk and calling each of us up to her desk to drill us on the questions. Everyone would sit quietly while she drilled each student individually. How amazing and beautiful that there were (and continue to be) religious sisters that love the faith to this sacrificial degree. God is so good!!! Though this method imparted information, many young Catholics began to effectively 'know' the faith but lacked the reasons why for much of their faith. The church began to see what is termed 'check the box Catholics.' These were Catholics who lacked the depth of their faith. They felt that as long as they followed the rules they were living the faith. The church began to see a sharp decline in Mass attendance and in particular the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The guidelines of faith were being self interpreted and the meaning and purpose and beauty of these guidelines was being lost. For example, if one only 'needs' to go to confession once a year why bother with the other 364 days of the year. What was being lost was the great strength found in the Sacraments. The Sacraments are life giving tools that help us grow in our faith.
As the church began to address these concerns it became apparent that not only had the method of teaching progressed in general in schools (smaller classrooms were seen as beneficial, the psychology of children was more clearly understood, and more lay men and women began to be teachers) but that there was a need to update as it were the method of passing on the faith. In other words what was efficient and effective to a degree in the 40s and 50s was losing its impact in the late 60s, 70s and on. Protestant churches were picking up on the changes as well. Their approach in Sunday School more closely imitated the model in the public school classroom. As we understand more about how children learn we must update our method of teaching.
The Catholic Church is a vibrant, alive and active church. It is protected by the Holy Spirit through the designs of the Lord. The holy, dedicated and helpful people who shepherd our faith seek in large part to pass along the true beauty and holy worth of the faith through a complete understanding of the precepts coupled with a true love and devotion to the faith.
I use the Faith and Life series in addition to many hands-on religion supplements. We surround our children with the icons and symbols of the faith just as I remember from my Catholic school days. My husband grew up Southern Baptist. His grandmothers were 'foot washing Baptists'. He converted and has been recently ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church. We have a family altar, an altar in our classroom dedicated to the Blessed Mother, the stations of the cross are hanging up in the living room, there are statues and such throughout the house. In a sense we are trying to create a Domestic Church here in our home, so as to give our children a Catholic lifestyle where the comfort of the visual stimulates the desire of the heart.
Your children already have the most beneficial and vital teaching tool in your love and devotion to the faith. Children model the behavior of the persons they love. Children are very observant. If a parent merely drops a child off at Faith Formation each week, but fails to attend Mass the message is.....follow the rules and decide for yourself which rules should be followed. I could go on and on about this owing to my years as DRE for our parish. Sufficient to say...Love your faith, Practice what you love and Sacrifice for your Love. Think of your journey in the Catholic Church as a marriage. I trust that you do not tell your husband that you love him only once a year. Love grows in love's ways.
Again thank you for your dedication, your love of the faith and your holy, docile witness. 'New' Catholics are a sign of the Lord's great love for us. My husband is a wonderful Catholic deacon however his Baptist parents loved their faith and I owe his reception of the call to come to the Catholic church to his parents and their holy example of faith. Jesus calls us to the truth through our lives.
Let us pray together a Hail Mary and ask that all fallen away Catholics will return to the Church. Let us offer our prayers for the souls of all children who live religious poverty because the persons who are responsible for bringing them to the truth are starving themselves and neglecting to partake of the food of life. It is in this poverty of spirit that the sorrows of adulthood are borne. Our Lady of the Seas, pray for us. Please protect and guide all persons who are traveling the oceans of life today. Amen.
Sending out a prayer,