The video below is of a performance of the traditional African-American spiritual “Children Go Where I Send Thee.”
It is a “cumulative song” in that each verse builds on the prior one (like “The 12 Days of Christmas”). The children’s choir in my parish recently sang it to great effect.
Although there are many variations in the verses, the ones below are the most clearly biblical and liturgical. There is a catechetical purpose to the spiritual, and it presents basic teachings in a memorable way:
Children go where I send Thee. How shall I send thee? I’m gonna send thee one by one One for the little bitty baby born by the Virgin Mary Born in Bethlehem!
Children go where I send Thee. How shall I send thee? I’m gonna send thee two by two Two for Paul and Silas One for the little bitty baby born by the Virgin Mary Born in Bethlehem!
Children go where I send Thee . . . Three for the Hebrew children Two for Paul and Silas One for the little bitty baby . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Four for the four that knock on the door (Four Evangelists) . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Five for the bread they did divide . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Six for the days when the world was fixed . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Seven for the seven that lead to Heaven (Seven Sacraments) . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Eight for the eight that the flood couldn’t take . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Nine for the angel choirs divine . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Ten for the Ten Commandments . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Eleven for them who saw him ascend . . .
Children go where I send Thee . . . Twelve for the Twelve Apostles . . .
Consider a five year old child who, though physically the size of a five year old, had not yet learned to talk or walk, who could only lay in his crib and who ate no solid food, only mother’s milk. Most of us would consider this a great tragedy. It would be a case of arrested development. And surely, as he failed to pass expected milestones and make the usual progress in maturity, his parents would consult doctors and experts in an anxious search for the cause of the problem and a cure. No one would fail to see the problem or shrug it off.
Now, compare the response above to the usual response to arrested development in the spiritual order.
Consider a young adult, say 25, who had gone on to physical maturity, and even earned a college degree. Perhaps he has just landed a job in a cutting edge field and is both technically smart and talented. But, despite being a highly trained expert in his secular field, his spiritual development is arrested and he has progressed little since second grade. In some ways he has even gone backward since, in second grade, he still knew his Act of Contrition and the Hail Mary.
Now, though thank God, he still goes to Mass, he is incapable of expressing much of anything about his faith. He knows there is a God and has heard about Jesus but does not know for sure if Jesus is God, he thinks so but he’s not sure. He is aware of the Bible’s existence but cannot name all four Gospels and would not even be sure exactly where to find them in the book. He’d eventually find them but it would take a lot of time. Names like Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, David, Peter, Judas, et al., sound familiar to him, but he cannot tell you much about them, except that they are in the Bible. He has heard the word sacrament but cannot give an example of one and is not sure he’s received them or if that is just something priests and nuns get. Every now and then he thinks to pray but he really does not know what to say or how to do it. Sometimes he remembers a prayer from Mass, but when he tries to say it, he gets stuck since there aren’t other people around him saying it and helping him along. He DOES know the Our Father though! We have to give him that.
Now, mind you, this is a smart guy, he has a lot of knowledge in his field which is highly technical. A lot of people seek him for technical advice and he is a real problem solver in the corporation, keeping the computers and other critical peripherals updated and in good functioning order. But spiritually he is an infant.
The interesting question is, why did his parents and parishioners not experience alarm as they noted arrested spiritual development in him? As he began to go from second grade to third and forth, not only did NOT progress, but he actually got worse. Why did his parents not sound an alarm? Why did the pastor and catechists not experience shock that he seemed to show no progress in the Spiritual life? As his age drew him into high school, not only did his knowledge of the faith not increase but his moral life now began to slide. Soon his language grew bad, he resented authority, was looking at porn on the Internet. His parents were irritated by this, but not really alarmed enough to intensify his recourse to the sacraments or augment his spiritual training. Spiritually he was frozen in time. But no one seemed to notice or care.
But, by God, when almost failed a math course his parents went into action and hired a tutor! After all, this might threaten his getting into a good college! But his failure to grow spiritually never much fazed them. When he went to college they drove up with him, looked at the dorms, met a few of his teachers and attended orientation sessions for new students. But they never thought to meet the College Chaplain or ever to ask who would be spiritually teaching or pastoring their son. You know, that sort of stuff doesn’t really occur to you to ask about.
Well, you get the picture:
It starts, really, with low expectations. Most people don’t really expect that they should grow much in their faith. Advanced knowledge and deep prayer are for priests and nuns. Too many lay people just don’t expect much, and thus are not alarmed when they and their kids know next to nothing about the faith.
Further, the faith is sort of a side issue to many. What really matters is that you study hard to get a career that will unlike the American Dream. Never mind that worldly things don’t last, or that it’s pointless and harmful to climb the ladder of success when it is leaning up against the wrong wall. We’ll think about all that tomorrow. For now just keep pursuing your dreams.
Finally the sense that faith really matters at all is muted today when many have an unbiblical view that almost everyone goes to heaven. This removes any motivation to grow in the faith or be serious about living it in a counter-cultural way. To put it in a worldly way: why work hard or seek to develop yourself when the paycheck has already been deposited, and you’ll get paid no matter what, and can never lose your job?
Scripture – So here we are with a lot Christians who have a very bad case of arrested development. Scripture says:
We have much to say….but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1 Cor 3:1-2)
Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Cor 14:20)
My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” (Jer 4:22)
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Cor 13:11)
It was [the Lord] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Eph 4:11-15)
So then, Scripture is clear that the normal Christian life is
To be constantly growing in our faith.
To go from mother’s milk (of elementary doctrines) to the solid food of more advanced understanding.
To go from being young students to mature teachers.
To exhibit mature knowledge of the faith and also a behavior that bespeaks mature Christianity.
To go from being worldly in our priorities to being spiritual.
To be able to aptly distinguish false doctrine from true doctrine.
To show forth a stability of life and not be easily carried away by all the latest trends and ephemeral fads.
Yes, this is the normal Christian life. Maturity pertains to the human person in general and it certainly ought to pertain to men and women of faith. I pray you who read this blog are well along this path and are seeking to grow. I presume it, in fact.
But many are not Maturing. And I wonder if enough of us in the Church today see this as the horrifically strange and tragic phenomenon that it is. It is really far stranger and far more tragic than a five year old still lying in a crib, speechless and on mother’s milk. It is vastly more serious than the high schooler who is failing math and needs a tutor. To fail math may impact college and a career, but these are passing consequences. To fail in faith impacts eternity, not just for me but others.
Why are we so serious about passing worldly threats and not so about threats that have eternal consequences? In the end arrested spiritual development is by far the most serious of all developmental issues. A parent may give their child every good thing, but if they do not ensure the gift of strong and mature faith, they have given their children nothing but sand slipping thorough their fingers.
Only what you do for Christ will last. Pray God we get our priorities straight and make sure we ourselves and everyone grows up in the Lord. It is true that we must accept the Kingdom of God like a little child in order to enter it. But this text refers to our dependance not our ignorance. God made us to know him and to fail in this way is to miss the whole point and dignity of our life.
I’ve spent the last few days putting the Parish Sunday School curriculum together. As is often the case, every three or four years, I am returning to a back to basics approach in the parish that emphasizes the fundamental kerygma and its message of sin, redemption and grace. Perhaps a little background:
About eight years ago I was speaking to sixth grade Sunday School students and I mentioned Adam and Eve. It became evident to me within a few moments that they didn’t really know who Adam and Eve were. One of the students was able to say that he thought they were in the Bible or something, but no details could be given.
It became clear to me in that moment that we could no longer do business as usual when it came to catechesis. Luckily my Director of Religious Education had similar concerns and did not resist my notions that we had to try something radically new.
That “something new” was really “something old” and amounted to a back to basics approach which taught of sin, redemption and grace, in that order.
Clearly if God’s people have lost touch with the awful disaster of Original Sin and all our personal sins, the gift of redemption and the glory of grace are under-appreciated and and even dismissed as of no value. Further, how can someone experience Jesus as their Savior if they don’t even think or know that they need to be saved?
So we have to go back to basics and tell the “old, old stories” again of mankind lost in sin, living in the dark shadows of death and ensnared in the mystery iniquity. Yes, It was time to re-read the Genesis account of Original Sin and all the old stories.
We have also developed a “whole family catechesis” approach wherein every grade level is on the same subject and are reading the same Bible stories and following the same curriculum. And while the kids are in Sunday School class, I am out in the cafeteria teaching the parents the same material.
I teach the parents both method and material. For material we use the old Classic My Catholic Faith which provides a great summary and curriculum of the faith in a kind of flyer format that is both handy and properly detailed.
But in each session we also read a Bible Story. One of the great losses in modern times is the loss of story-telling. And the Bible has great stories.
Standing instruction # 1 for the parents is “READ THE BIBLE TO YOUR CHILDREN.” Every day if possible! And I model that with the parents. In each class we spend the first 20 minutes reading a Bible story, usually from the Catholic Children’s Bible which does a good job presenting the whole Bible in story form. And, having read a story (e.g. of the tower of Babel) we discuss its teaching and I link it to the catechetical material specified in the curriculum.
In modelling this, I hope to show how they can do the same with their children at home. Bible Stories are both memorable, and teach fundamental truths in ways that reach deeper than merely the intellect. They touch the heart and draw the children into the world and mind of God.
Bible Stories don’t just teach they imbue. To “imbue” means to inspire or permeate with a feeling or quality; to saturate, suffuse, or steep one in what is taught or presented.
Thus Bible Stories are essential if we want to communicate the culture and world of the Bible to our children and help them make sense of our glorious faith.
The back to basics approach is broken into three main sections, based on the words of an old hymn:
I once was lost in sin, but Jesus took me in, and then a little light from heaven filled my soul!
Part 1 (Sept to January) – SIN –I once was lost in sin – Here we start with the story of Original Sin and read the early chapter that show how God made all things to be very good, But in Original Sin and all the other sins committed and described in the early chapters of Genesis, both creation and man were devastated. Sin and our conniving with the devil is responsible most of the suffering in the world. Through Bible stories and about forty pages of the “My Catholic Faith” catechism we learn of sin’s devastating effects We distinguish Original Sin, Actual sin, mortal and venial sin, the seven deadly sins and so forth. In so doing we paint of picture of how we were lost in Sin.
Part 2 (From Pre-Lent through early Easter) – Redemption –but Jesus took me in. Having welcomed Jesus as savior of the world at Christmas we now look to the paschal mystery wherein Jesus undertakes to save us from our wretched condition. Here too we read Bible stories and connect to the elements of Jesus ministry to heal us, drive out demons and ultimately to take the hill of Calvary engage Satan in battle, suffer die, rise and ascend for us. The goal here is gratitude more than information. We strive to “remember,” that is, to have so present in our mind and heart what Jesus has done for us so that we are grateful and different.
Part 3 – (Early Easter through Pentecost). – Grace–And then a little light from heaven filled my soul! In saving us, Jesus gives us a new mind and heart, a whole new life. The graces of the Christian life are explored: Faith, Hope, Charity, patience, joy, chastity, forgiveness, mercy, and so many other virtues and gifts. We reflect on the whole new Life Jesus has given us and encourage testimony about the transformation brought about by God’s grace working through Scripture, Sacraments, fellowship and prayer. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.
Its a back to basics approach rooted in the basic kerygma and meant to draw people into the great drama of life: sin, redemption, grace.
Pray for our Sunday School. This evening I spend a couple of hours reviewing the first section of our curriculum with our teachers. In effect I teach the teachers.
Back to basics! Parents, are you reading bible stories to your children? How are you growing in your own faith? And don’t be anxious. The basic curriculum is not that hard. Its easily memorized in the words of the old song
I once was lost in Sin But Jesus took me in. And then a little light from heaven filled my soul!
Sin, redemption, grace. Keep it simple, don’t complicate it. Details can come later after the mastery of the basic elements. In two weeks I will scan the curriculum and post it on my Parish Website.
But don’t wait. Get a children’s Bible and start reading the Genesis stories to your kids (and to yourself)!
Here’s a kind of jazzed up version of the Hymn I reference. Looks like it was filmed in the 1970s so take that into consideration 🙂
Author’s note: I am away this week preaching a retreat for priests in Connecticut. I may post some new material this week but I also thought in my absence to re post some of my older articles that some newer readers may have missed. Here is one I posted back in Sept 2009:
When I was in high school back in the mid-1970s catechism in the Catholic Church was at a low point. I remember making a lot of felt banners with slogans like “Gather as God’s People” and so on. We also had a lot of “rap sessions.” Now back in the 1970s Rap Music was unknown. So what was meant by a “rap session” in those days was an informal discussion usually conducted in a circle with issues that interested young people. Now a teacher may have tried to guide the discussion, but usually we teenagers dominated the discussion. We often tweaked the teacher by bringing up controversial issues and then taking exotic or extreme positions, meant to shock. We were playing the teacher. But since relevance was so highly touted in those days and adults seemed desperate for us to like them, we played the system and we played it well.
Point is, I learned very little in religious education in the 1970s. We were largely on our own in terms of learning doctrinal and especially moral issues. Among the issues critical to teenagers is sexuality. We got little or nothing in terms of instruction about that. Most of us had some awareness that there were teachings against premarital sex but why it was considered wrong was vague to us. We just sort of figured the Church had “hang-ups” and was in general “hopelessly out of date.” Our parents too were from a different, more repressed time, so what did they really know? Or so we thought. The generation of the 1960s just before us had blown the roof off everything. They were hip and free. Most of us took our clues from them. After all, when you’re a teenager, you usually look for the more permissive opinions.
Through most of this the Church was silent. Not, officially, but at the local parish level little was really done to counter the sexual revolution that had taken place a mere ten years earlier. I really regret that no one ever took the Scriptures and read me what God had written. I figured there was nothing wrong with premarital sex since God had only said not to commit adultery. I wasn’t married and so couldn’t break that, or so I wrongly thought. I just figured the prohibitions against premarital sex were hang ups of adults and clergy. But that God had something to say directly to me was never shown me. I think it would have made a real difference in my attitude had I seen premarital sex forbidden by God, right there in black and white, in the Bible. But it was not until years later, in the seminary, that I was finally shown such texts.
I would like to exhort teenagers and young adults to be familiar with what God teaches about pre-marital sex (or fornication as the Bible calls it). I would also like to admonish adults who are parents to be sure to teach their children what the Scriptures say about sex and sexuality. To that end, I have a attached a PDF document (see below) which summarizes about a dozen New Testament texts wherein God speaks clearly to the questions of sexual morality, in particular pre-marital sex. As I have noted, the Biblical word “fornication” is the word that corresponds to what we call today “premarital sex.” Hence, “Fornicator” means one one engages in premarital sex. There are a very few places in the Scriptures where the word fornication (in Greek Porneia) is understood to mean sexual misconduct in general. But usually fornication simply means premarital sex since there are other terms for adultery (moichao); and homosexual acts (arsenkoites). The passages in the PDF document all treat of fornication (premarital sex) and in each case God spells out very clearly that God it is wrong and a serious sin. Please share these texts:
But why does God say it is wrong? Is he just trying to take away our fun? No indeed. But God is trying to save us a lot of pain and to protect and dignify marriage. Consider some of the following reasons that God’s teaching makes sense:
To Protect Marriage and Family – Sexual intercourse is a gift given to the married. God wants to strengthen marriage with a special gift that only the married enjoy. It is a great pleasure and thus helps make marriage attractive. It also draws the spouses to each other frequently and helps to knit them together in a stronger bond because of a shared joy. But the unique and restricted place of marriage for this pleasure is essential. If this pleasure is made available by a culture before or outside of marriage then marriage is both delayed and threatened by infidelity. Notice how much weaker marriage has become in a promiscuous time such as ours. Thus God wants to strengthen marriage as his first reason to limit sexual intercourse to marriage.
To Protect Children – Children are also protected by God’s prohibition of sex outside of marriage. Obviously children need and deserve to be conceived in an environment that is stable, committed and loving. Marriage prior to engaging in sexual intercourse is a matter of justice and premarital sex is injustice. Children conceived outside of marriage are at high risk for abortion. And, although it reamins true that it is good when life is chosen over abortion, it must be admitted that Children in single parent families are raised in irregular and less than ideal settings. God wants to protect children from all this. And don’t tell me that contraception can prevent all this. Contraceptives have a high failure rate, aside from being immoral. Notice that abortion has gone up, not down since contraceptivces have become more widely available. Likewise, out of wedlock births have gone up, not down since contraceptives arrived on the scene. God wants to protect children and give them the best.
To Protect the Individual – God wants to protect individuals from all sorts of ills. Promiscuity brings all sorts of woes: sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, AIDS, broken families, single parenthood, broken hearts, objectification of women, abortion, adultery, Children without both parents, and on and on. God loves us too much not to tell us the truth and insist we live it.
So, another post that is far too long. I’ll end. But spread the word! God loves us and wants to save us some mileage. If you struggle with sexuality, don’t despair of God’s mercy. But don’t call good what God calls wrong. Repent, try to stay chaste. If you fall, get back to confession and start again. In the end, the truth will set us free.
Here’s a video from Archbishop Fulton Sheen recorded back in the 1970s. Sadly it never made its way to my catechism class. But the video sparked my reflection and memories this evening as I post. In it he explains the need for boundaries and rules. I post here only an excerpt. The full 29 Minute video where he goes on to talk about sexuality is available here: Bishop Fulton Sheen on Youth and Sexuality
Almost no one in the Church would claim today that we have done a good job of handing on the faith to our children. Depending on how we reckon it we have lost two or three generations to an ignorance and inability to articulate the faith. Even the most basic teachings are unknown to the young.
A few years back I was talking to Catholic sixth graders about Adam and Eve and it became clear to me that they had little idea of who Adam and Eve were except that they were “in the Bible or something.” That was it. I collected all the glossy page religion books and instituted a “back to basics” curriculum at every grade level. We started with creation and the fall of man and used the Biblical narrative along with memorized questions and answers and culminated the year with a “religion bee” wherein the children were expected to demonstrate their mastery of the material for prizes. The kids did well and they whooped their parents. The following year we instituted a parallel program for the parents. While their kids were in Sunday school class the parents were being instructed in the same material by yours truly.
I am no expert in pedagogy (educational theory) but it seems rather clear to me that we seriously lack in two major areas of catechetical instruction: discipline and content. Pretty devastating gaps it would seem! Not much is left over except self-esteem and slogans like “God loves you.”
In terms of content, it seems we have made improvements. The publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and stricter standards that our Catechetical materials conform to it, has been the single greatest reform. Our materials are more orthodox, and the content is more substantial than the darkest years of the 1970s and 80s. Several good series have been published as well which have good content and are visually pleasing as well. I will not mention them by name since this is a blog of the Archdiocese and it is not appropriate for me to single them out. (It seems to me that you are free to speak of series you like in the comments since the Archdiocese does not endorse every comment that appears here). So I think content is improving.
But content is not enough. Academic discipline is also required. All the best material and visually beautiful as well cannot alone help children master the faith. Stronger and more rigorous academic discipline must be reasserted in the catechetical process. There are a number of elements of this academic discipline that I would like to mention and perhaps you will add more.
Repetition – There is an old Latin saying: Repetitio mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of studies). Learning requires a lot of repetition for it to sink in and become second nature. One of the major flaws in the current catechetical process in most parishes and Catholic Schools is the way the curriculum is divided up. In second grade we talk about Holy Communion and Confession (but never again). The fourth graders are talking about Commandments – but never again. In fifth grade we talk about the Church (history and structure) – but never again. The sixth graders are talking about the life of Jesus – but never again. And so forth. The catechetical process is compartmentalized and doesn’t always seem to build on mastery of what came before. To discuss things but once hardly seems effective, especially if the material does not build on what came before. Back in public school, at least in my day, mathematics did a great job of a kind of spiral curriculum which combines repetition with increasing mastery as new material was introduced. First we learned numbers. Then we used numbers to count. Then we used numbers and counting to go backward and forward by adding and subtracting them. Then we used numbers and counting and adding and subtracting to learn multiples and divisions. Then we used numbers and functions to realize that whole numbers can be fractioned and that numbers could have negative values and we learned how to count in fractions and to add and subtract them, multiply and divide them. And the material continued to build and the mastery of what went before was not left behind but folded into the new material and was used in an upward spiral. It is true that faith is not so simple as Math but the narrative of the faith does build in a spiral way. From God to creation to fall to promise of salvation to paschal mystery, to the life of grace by the sacraments to ultimate restoration with God forever in the paradise of heaven. These basic elements must be reviewed over and over in an ascending spiral that respects human development at its various stages. But just talking about creation and the fall in the early grades and not at all later is bound to lead to a forgetful and confused student. If the wound of original sin and the loss of a relationship with God is forgotten, how will redemption make sense? No wonder it all seems “irrelevant” to many of them.
Memorization –mastery of material is almost impossible without good old fashioned memorization. We just have to know things like the seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, the basic prayers, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Further, basic definitions like grace, redemption, Mortal and venial sin, incarnation, etc have to be memorized and understood. Answers to basic questions like why God made me, who were our first parents, what is the Church, who were the prophets etc. Answers like these need to be committed to memory. Without these basic building blocks being committed to memory very little building is going to go on. These basic memorized things are like hooks on which many other things hang. Without the hooks, everything falls flat. Early in school I memorized my ABCs and then many words and how they are spelled. So much depended upon my simply committing these basics to memory. The same was true with my multiplication tables. My parents and teachers were clear, just memorize them! Do the work now and everything else will be easier and make sense as you go. I struggled but I got it and I have never lost them. Give me any two numbers between 1 and 12 and I’ll give you their product instantly. Memorizing those tables opened a whole world for me and simplified life enormously. Why should the faith be any different? In memorizing and knowing the seven deadly sins I am greatly assisted in examining my conscience, grasping the deeper drives of sin in my life, understanding and anticipating the moves of the world, the devil and the flesh, and helping others understand the negative drives in their life. It all starts with simply memorizing and grasping basic concepts.
Time – Most people spend barely an hour a week trying to master their faith. This is not enough. Mastery of any discipline requires something more than one hour a week. We cannot expect magic. If we only ask kids to spend an hour week with no homework or expectations in between, we should not expect any mastery of the material. Another time related problem is that catechetical instructions in parishes are not year-round. Most Protestant Churches I know would never think of cancelling Sunday School for the summer. They attach the same priority to Sunday School that we attach to mass. Sunday School is every Sunday almost without fail. In the Catholic Church we call the whole thing off from May through mid September. And every single three day weekend also seems to get lumped in as well. In many parishes the children have religious instruction only half the weeks of the year when summers, holidays and snow days are subtracted out. In my parish we are gradually increasing the coverage with the goal of making Sunday School year round.
Accountability– at some point we need to expect young people to demonstrate mastery of the material. Things like tests, religion bees, presentations etc. should be used. Why should children take religious education seriously if they will never have to render an account for what they have done or failed to do? Things like religion bees can be fun and challenging. Rewards can be offered. Religious “It’s Academic, or Trivial pursuit formats can be fun but serious ways of assessing mastery of the material. Things like this and tests also impose certain deadlines for mastery of the material. Deadlines are really lifelines since they awaken urgency and discipline. In the end both student and teachers must be accountable. Accountability must be returned to the catechetical process.
Resourcefulness – In school I could not learn everything. But one of the disciplines I learned was how to find answers. I remember trooping off the school library and being taught the Dewey Decimal System and how to use a card catalogue. We were introduced to encyclopedias, journals, and later in College, to abstracts. Today things are easier with the Internet but we sill have to teach young people how to find answers. Sites like newadvent.org ; The EWTN Libraries; and the Bishops Website and many others are places where answers can be found. In the end, one of the best fruits of my education was how to be resourceful.
OK. That’s enough from me. How say you? You will surely have some thoughts to add to this discussion on Catechesis, particularly in terms of content and discipline. Especially helpful are things you have found to work. What further disciplines would you add to the list? We can all stipulate we’ve done a poor job in the Church of late. Content and resources are improving but what of discipline?
This video is a good commentary on the problem of content which I did not develop as fully here. Msgr. in the video does mention a Catechetical series. Again I must issue a disclaimer that posting this video does not amount to an official endorsement of the series. I am not empowered to make such endorsements on the part of the Archdiocese. But the video is a good reflection on the need for content as well as technique and discipline. (Hat tip to Patrick Madrid for the video)
In the reading from today’s Mass we are introduced to Samuel for the first time. We also see are rather stunning portrait of poor parenting and poor priestly leadership in the person of of High Priest of the Sanctuary at Shiloh, Eli. Consider this line from the Scripture today:
Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was. The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.” Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”“I did not call you,” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.” …..At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet. (1 Sam 3:3-5).
Now let me ask you, how could it be that Samuel, a young boy living in the temple of the Lord and under the foster parentage of the High Priest was “not familiar” with the Lord? Some may argue he is but a young boy. Still, he is old enough to speak with Eli, to hear and heed Eli’s instructions. Has Eli told him nothing of the Lord? It would seem so. Ah, but you say, the text has indicated that Samuel knew nothing because the Lord had not yet revealed anything to him. The text seems to root the cause of his unfamiliarity in the Lord rather than Eli. But Eli is still without excuse for it remains true that God reveals himself to us not usually as a voice in the night, or some unusual theophany. Rather, God reveals himself to us through parents, priests, religious and other elders. For a young and already talking Samuel to be unfamiliar with the Lord while living under the care of the High Priest supposedly ministering in the very House of The Lord is unconscionable. It is a dereliction of duty. Eli has failed thus far as a parent and a priest. Children should be taught of God from their first interactive moments. Among the first things they learn should be Bible stories and prayers. They should be made aware of and become familiar with the “still small voice” of God as he whispers his presence to them.
I have only a few memories of being a very young child of about 5 years of age. But one of the memories I most cherish is how plainly I heard the voice of God and felt his presence. There was a very beautiful statue of the Sacred Heart near my dresser and God surely spoke to me from there and I was familiar with his calming and loving presence. But I could understand what I was experiencing because my parents had made me familiar with the Lord. I knew who it was that was speaking to me in those quiet and calm whispers. It was the Lord. Sadly, as I grew older and the flesh became more alive I lost my ability to hear the “still, small voice” of the Lord. I have sought it ever since my conversion back to the Lord and am only in recent years beginning to experience it again in moments of contemplative prayer.
I knew who spoke to me and had been made familiar with him, but Samuel did not and this is a very serious dereliction of duty on the part of Eli. When asked he finally did tell Samuel of the Lord but Samuel should not have had to ask.
Perhaps you think I am being too hard on Eli or reading into the text a bit. Maybe Eli was a busy man being High Priest and all. Or perhaps I am just plain wrong and Eli was actually a good father figure for Samuel. But I do not think I am wrong nor am I being too harsh for poor parenting and poor priestly leadership are a pattern for Eli. Consider another story about the two priestly sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas:
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” If the man said to him, “Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would then answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.” This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt……Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death…..Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’ “Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: …those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line …” ‘And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always. (1 Sam 2:selected verses)
The basic facts are these:
The priestly sons of Eli, Hophniand Phinehas, are wicked men. They violate the sacred liturgy and and take more than their portion, a portion that belongs to God. They scandalize the faithful, act unjustly toward them and have illicit sexual relations with the young women assigned to care for the Shrine at Shiloh.
But Eli does nothing. When it is called to his attention he gives a verbal rebuke. But he must do more than this. They have acted so scandalously that they must be removed. They are a threat to others by their exploitative and opportunistic behavior. They should have been removed. It is a true fact that we struggled with this very same thing in the clergy sexual abuse scandal of recent years.
God rebukes Eli for his weak rebuke and tells him that his weak response indicates that Eli favors his sons more than God and also scorns the sacred liturgy.
God cannot allow Eli and his sons to minister at Shiloh any longer. He will bring Eli’s family down and replace him with a priest who is faithful and will do what is in God’s heart and mind. In a word, Eli has been replaced. Samuel will soon enough take up the holy priesthood. Hophni and Phinehas will die soon for their sins, and Eli’s line is at an end.
How has all this happened? Poor parenting and an unfaithful priestly ministry. In failing to raise his children in the fear of the Lord and in failing to punish wrongdoing Eli has brought grave harm upon himself, his family and his sons. In addition, when Samuel was placed in his care he continued with his pattern of failing to preach the Lord and make Samuel familair with him.
This is a moral tale for our times as well. How many young people today have not been raised in the reverential fear of the Lord, have not been raised to be familiar with the Lord, have not been properly disciplined by parents and trained in righteousness? How many of them have not been instructed in God’s ways and have been allowed to fall deep into sinful habits and patterns.
In the Church too some have not at times been willing to discipline where necessary. Sin is often not rebuked from our pulpits, children are poorly instructed in the faith. We celebratete compassion but sometimes to a fault where sin is tolerated and grows very serious in people’s lives. Silence by many clergy and Church leaders in the face of serious sin can and is taken to be tacit approval of sin and has led to a widespread moral malaise. Disobedience in the clergy has sometimes been tolerated. Liturgical norms and the sacred liturgy have often been abused. And yes, as we sadly know there has been abusive and illicit sexual activity too.
Thank God there are signs of revival and renewal in many of these areas in the Church and in some of our families. But the story of Eli is an important moral tale for our times that God wants us to take serious our obligation to raise our children to know the Lord and walk in his ways. Through proper discipline and instruction we are summoned to have our children be familiar with the Lord at the very dawning of consciousness and reason. To fail in this regard is something God takes very seriously. Thank God for good parents, clergy and religious who have done their very best in this regard. Hopefully the story of Eli for most of us is simply an encouragement to do what we are already doing. But for those who fail to take seriously their obligations in this regard it should be seen for what it also is: a warning.
Since this was a rather heavy post, perhaps you’ll allow me to post a humorous video. As I have pointed out, Parents and priests should teach Children to pray. But this video by Tim Hawkins tells us what to avoid when teaching children to pray. In a phrase: “Don’t be spooky!”
Here is Part Two of Archbishop Donald Wuerl’s series on CatholicTV.com. He meditates on the truths and mysteries of faith making use of the beautiful art and mosaics in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Here in part two Archbishop Wuerl focuses on the Redemption Dome at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. He uses the dome as the backdrop for his discussion on the death and resurrection of Christ, the temptation in the desert, the crucifixion, Jesus’ descent into hell and His resurrection and closes with the Lord’s Prayer.