Monday, July 15, 2013

There Is No Substitute

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets and Convert Journal

good guess, but wrong

wrong again- sorry

still wrong

that's it

Among all the Christian churches, the Catholic Church has the most to gain from a Bible-literate membership, given that the Bible is a Catholic book.  Yet the Catholic Church must have the most Bible-illiterate flock on the planet. Of course the Church is well-aware: at least since Vatican 2, she has been exhorting a billion or so of her sheep to just pick it up and read the thing:

"The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the Catechism the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Catechism is ignorance of Christ."

Just kidding. Here ya go: "The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." [St. Jerome] Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere." [Dei Verbum, 1965]

Umm...yes! We should all "gladly" do as the Church asks. But as Pork said, "Askin' ain't gettin'," and who knows that better than the Catholic Church? Regardless, being a catechist I focus on the "instruction" bit of that long last sentence.
 
Catechetical Sunday is coming up in September along with the start of most RCIA programs. In response, I've been looking at catechetical/ RCIA stuff such as this; and this; and this; and these. And once again I draw this conclusion:   

Institutional Catechesis continues to make inadequate use of the Bible.

By that I mean the Catholic catechetical system has had 48 years since Dei Verbum to raise its Scriptural game to an appropriate level; and is still nowhere near doing so. And what level would be appropriate? Well, maybe the level of our fellow Christians (and especially the Fundiegelicals who comprise the majority of Christians where I live), who were making maximum pedagogical use of Scripture long before there was a Vatican 2. Around here (and I assume elsewhere) Catholics of all ages are way behind their Christian peers in following the recommendation of the Catholic Church "to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ." That would be a good joke if it were funny. And BTW, hearing the divine Scriptures read aloud at Sunday Mass ain't the same as "frequent reading of the divine Scriptures." 

Now as to catechetical materials, I speak only of my own experience. Most of my religious instruction was via the Baltimore Catechism (B.C.). It was an excellent system to keep one Catholic in a culture that was already Catholic. It worked just fine in the South Louisiana of my childhood; it was a disaster in Upstate South Carolina. Either way, rote-memorization catechesis was an outmoded and soon-to-be obsolete method of faith-formation. I know some Catholics are fond of the B.C., and suggest it should be tried again. My opinion is that catechesis must be more about thinking, and less about memorizing: the B.C. is DOA in the 21st century. And in that respect I like the catechetical series my parish uses, Faith and Life by Ignatius Press. It expects the 6th-graders to think, and it's way Bible. Yet at the same time, it ain't Bible-enough. I expect a child who goes through the whole K-8 series will come out with a comprehensive grasp of Catholicism; but only a fragmented and separate grasp of the Bible. It's still the old problem: the Faith (and the Catechism) is here, and the Bible is over there. That's wrong: Faith and Scripture are part of a single entity, the way a man and wife form a marriage, fused and complementary in all respects. Jesus is the Word made Flesh; the Bible is the Word Written Down. That's how catechesis should be understood, but that's not how it is understood. Part of the problem is that the old Baltimore Catechism has been replaced by the CCC, which instead of supporting the Bible, shunts the Bible to the side as the B.C. used to. In other words, the Bible currently serves as a resource to add depth to the CCC and the textbook, but it should be the other way around. When the Baltimore Catechism was rightfully retired, there was the chance to pick up the Bible; but the new Catechism has been picked up instead. That's a mistake. The Catholic's primary faith book is the Bible: not the Catechism, and not a textbook. The CCC and textbooks are the handmaids of Scripture; the framework of catechesis, and what happens in the Catholic classroom should reflect that. Catechetically, the Bible should come first, supported by the CCC and the textbook. Put another way, catechesis needs a new paradigm.

Catholic theologian and author R.R. Reno recently wrote, "...we...should do more to create a platform for the reconstruction of a biblically-informed culture..." Indeed we should: Reno anticipates the benefits of the New Evangelization.  But if Catholics going through the Church's educational systems can't explain their faith and morals scripturally to their friends and neighbors, Reno can fuhgeddaboudit.

15 comments:

jdonliturgy said...

Well-said - and right on the mark. However, I would say that one thing the Bible-based churches do that we do not is encourage families to read Bible stories. I went to Methodist Sunday school - and by the time I was about 6 years old, I could recite the names of all the books of the Bible and was familiar with the big stories. Biblical literacy has to start from the moment the parents begin to read to the children. Most kids I see in classrooms are simply unfamiliar with the great stories of Salvation History.

Children's Liturgy of the Word is also helpful in presenting the Sunday gospels in a form children can understand.

Bottom line: the earlier children begin to hear the great stories of the Bible, the better.

Jennifer Fitz said...

Well, I'm a fan of the BC for two reasons: 1) My kids like it, and 2) It presents Christian doctrine clearly and succinctly. But it's only part of the picture. Bible Alone doesn't work, and tools like the BC or F&L (which I also like), have their part in providing the Tradition leg of the stool.

I suspect, though, that people who are crying out for more __[insert retro method here]__ are really just floundering in the face of nothing-catechesis, and grasping at anything that might be more than zero.

Christian LeBlanc said...

"Bible Alone doesn't work, and tools like the BC or F&L have their part in providing the Tradition leg of the stool."

Indeed they do play a part.

Christian LeBlanc said...

"the earlier children begin to hear the great stories of the Bible, the better."

Yes.

Brian Sullivan said...

I often wonder is need to learn Scripture is why God took me (and others) on a 25 year detour through evangelicalism--so we could learn Bible. The problem is that now I also have to learn the teaching of the Church (CCC, for example). Both/and would have been better.

Christian LeBlanc said...

Brian, that's not unusual at least in the South: nominal Catholic becomes Evangelical; gets all Bibled up; eventually the Bible starts looking awfully Catholic; former Catholic reverts to Catholicism. Do you know of Francis Beckwith?

I'm consciously trying to make sure my Catechism class kids won't need to initiate that process.


Moonshadow said...

Before publishers of parish rel. ed. materials were required to reference / cite / quote the latest Catechism (mid-1990's), students' workbooks cited / referenced / quoted the Bible. I swear to it.

In those days, RCL Benziger sold a scripture workbook (for Catholics). For a number of years, I treated my students to a copy and we worked through it together in class.

I've been out of the loop for more than a decade, no longer browsing publisher booths at rel. ed. conferences. But online searches don't turn up comparable, contemporary resources. If I'm drawn back into teaching this year, as I suspect I am, I might have to make up my own stuff.

How much of this is so as not to intimidate volunteer catechists?

Christian LeBlanc said...

"How much of this is so as not to intimidate volunteer catechists?"

Dunno. That does beg the question: why should the Bible be intimidating? Millions of people over hundreds of years have not found it so.

Barb Schoeneberger said...

I agree with Jennifer Fitz's comments.

Raised Catholic in a devout Catholic home, I remember reading the great Bible stories by age 6. At age 4, I was given a book of women saints that I loved to read. Growing up I often went to daily Mass where Scripture was implanted in my brain. I memorized the BC in religion class. My parents gave me a Bible for high school graduation and I loved reading it. Apparently, from what you say in your post, this was really unusual. I am thanking God for His blessings.

As we grow in our spiritual life, we must realize that lifelong learning of the Bible and our Faith is essential. It would help if priests would preach more from the Bible like they are supposed to do during Sunday homilies.

Your approach to catechesis is ideal. Maybe you are supposed to create materials and models for all catechists who should, themselves, be engaged in lifelong learning?

RAnn said...

One problem is that our faith is so complex and there is so much to know. Our catchetical programs operate on this 32 weeks a year for an hour a week for children only model. While Baptists can indoctrinate their children into their faith by starting with interesting simple Bible stories and moving to more complex ones, we have help kids understand liturgy, teach them about saints, teach them about traditions and teach them about the Bible. The result is a topic-based approach that uses scripture as a resource rather than a scripture study approach. In most parishes there is no general expectation that most adults (at least those who are at all serious about their faith) will attend religious ed programs. Kids in Catholic high schools may study the Bible at some point in more depth but the year my son did, what I saw could have been taught in a "Bible as Literature" class in a public high school.

Based on my experience in adult ed classes and in talking to people, I'm more knowledgeable about Catholicism in general and the Bible than most Catholic adults, yet I often learn from your posts. I think we need to get away from a school model of catchesis and into the Protestant Sunday School model where both adults and children study their faith weekly throughout the year.

Christian LeBlanc said...

Barb, this was me too: "I remember reading the great Bible stories by age 6...I memorized the BC in religion class."

I knew the stories too, but I learned them only in a generic Christian way; they were not presented with any intent to teach Catholicism. When it was time to learn about Catholicism, we got out our BCs.

Christian LeBlanc said...

RAnn, funny you mention the topical approach to faith: it was by increasing use of the Bible to teach the required topics that the Bible became the main book in class, supported by the Catechism, as it should for any Catholic.

I feel another post coming.

Christian LeBlanc said...

RAnn, if y'all get 32 classes, I am jealous. This year we have 29 meetings and I'm in ecstasy.

Baltimore Catechist said...

I do take issue with what seems to be a blanket rejection of memorization, as if one had to choose between committing something to memory and understanding it. I'm pretty sure your doctor had to memorize the names of all those muscles and bones, and you should be glad he did, just as you should be glad Mrs. Kidswatter in grade three made you memorize the multiplication table.

How can we understand whether we've broken the Commandments unless we can name them?

Do we really want our kids to still be reading the Apostles' Creed off a card when they're in high school?

Christian LeBlanc said...

Baltimore, thanks for commenting. I happily support Catholics memorizing the things you mention: Commandments, prayers, Holydays, Seven Sacraments, the Liturgical Year, etc. In my class we work on memorizing the Act of Contrition, which virtually none of the kids know. I suppose time spent on memorizing such things might comprise 15% of a child's catechetical education. For the rest of the time I would like to see Catechists using the Bible as directly, substantially and effectively as our Separated Brethren do. Given that it's a Catholic book, that should be a minimum standard which we are nowhere near.

BTW re memorization, you might like this: http://platytera.blogspot.com/2009/06/repetition-repetition.html