Year of Faith
Repenting of the Failure of Parish-Based Catechesis: Time for An Old Idea
The sad reality of parish-based catechesis in most places is that it's boring, lightweight, irrelevant drivel for the kids, and frustration and embarrassment for the catechists.
First Proposal: Recommit to Content and Rigor
I got into teaching RCIA because I had two converts who were in graduate programs in engineering and I couldn't find a parish program that wasn't insultingly banal. I didn't want us to lose them because what they found in the Church was so much dumber than what they found at UCLA. I sat in on RCIA classes at three different local parishes before I despaired of finding a good program and decided to teach them myself.
You think I'm kidding about how dumb these parish programs are? I have seen sessions that SNL would reject as being too ridiculous. Oh, the humanity!
Not long ago, my husband and I attended a mandatory two-hour session at a local parish, for parents with new babies and their corresponding godparents-to-be. There were about fifty of us in the hall and the main miracle of the evening was that none of us left the Church for another religion during the course of the evening. It was dreadful! Instead of helping us understand and value the glorious baptismal ritual, the three "team leaders" wasted our time asking us to decorate little white cloth dresses with colors and pictures that made us think of God. They told stupid stories about when their babies were born and embarrassing moments they had seen at baptisms. There was a long, awful period in which every pregnant couple got to explain the name they had for their baby. Almost none had chosen a patron saint's name. And why would they? No one on the "team" suggested it as a good idea!
The evening was a well-intentioned, dumbed down, idiotic mess that was a waste for everyone who had crawled out of their offices and homes and missed dinner. I hated how the much-needed opportunity to prepare these parents and god-parents was squandered. We don't have time for this!
I get that the Baltimore Catechism by itself isn't enough. But it doesn't follow that it isn't very good. Because it is -- especially for children who need to be sponging up and storing as many concepts as we can give them as resources for their future lives. What is infuriating in so many of these terribly banal parish programs is that they may say little truths, but their whole subtext is a giant lie. The lie is that the Catholic Faith, that Christianity, is a boring, irrelevant unreasoned cacophony of old dogmas and rituals. No! Our Faith is smart! There's more to it than any of us can ever fully learn morally, spiritually, intellectually, and liturgically. There's a ton that we need to memorize so as to ruminate over—psalms and lists and parables and turns of phrase and principles.
The reason our parish programs are boring to kids is not because they are too difficult, but because they are too dumb! We need to ask a lot more of our candidates, catechumens, and students. And they will respond to this demand because the truth they find will be worth it.
Second Proposal: Let's Get Teachers to Teach the Faith
The Church in the U.S. grew and thrived largely due to the efforts of religious brothers and sisters who ran and taught in the parish school system. We don't have enough nuns anymore, but many areas still have Catholic schools. Let's drop the Sunday school model and instead have the government school students brought over to the Catholic schools one afternoon a week. Let's pay the Catholic school teachers to stay an extra two hours one day a week to teach religion. They will know how to teach, and they will know much better what to teach. It would be a thousand percent improvement on what the kids are getting now.
Barbara Nicolosi is the Executive Director of The Story Institute at Azusa Pacific University and an adjunct professor of screenwriting at Azusa Pacific University and at Pepperdine University. She blogs at The Church of the Masses.