Doggies or Dogma?

In working out some theory with our new parish Director of Religious Education we’ve been looking at the various resources for catechesis and it seems that they fall into two extremes which might be called Doggies and Dogma.

By “Doggies” I mean puppies and kittens. Sugar and spice and everything nice. The books are full of charming pictures. They are well laid out and attractive. They have great activities and the emphasis seems to be on the encounter with Christ, life of Christ within a caring and compassionate community and the personal experience of the faith. This is a very huggable Catholicism.

The other extreme might be called “Dogma”. These resources are heavy on content. Very few pictures, and what pictures there are tend to be traditional, devotional classic Catholic art. There is an emphasis on authority, the Church and learning the facts of the faith. If the first extreme is all subjective and “heart”, then this extreme is all objective and “head”.

I am exaggerating to make my point, but it does seem that the contrast in resources also indicate a contrast in our approach to the Catholic faith. We have the “heart” Catholics and the “head” Catholics. Those who center the faith in community, compassion, caring and concern while the other side centers the faith in doctrine, dogma, discipline and duty.

The problem I have is that I always see the best of both sides. I’m a “both-and” guy rather than “either-or”. I can see the benefits and deficits in both approaches. Surely we need to devise a catechetical program that is community based-which leads the child to the encounter with Christ and unlocks the way of sacrificial, compassionate Christian life while at the same time teaching the fundamentals of the faith and making sure the content is mastered. Surely our approach should be “head and heart”.

While we’re doing the Scarecrow-Tin Man thing maybe the missing factor is courage. We need courage, strength of will and resolve to bring the two together. We need to live the faith in a courageous and self sacrificial way so our children see what needs to be done and wish to follow our adventurous example.

  • Hendo

    Thank you, Father. This is where I suspect we could use a 21st-century Dorothy Day to knock some sense into all of us.

  • Bill

    Heart vs Head! So, if one had to choose which one to put at the top of the list for religious education of a child/adult? My choice? Heart! Why? God is LOVE! i.e. Heart. Without that foundation the Head is just blather! With Heart, Head will follow appropriately and in it’s own timing.

    • A psychologist

      Bill, Father’s “both/and” seems better than “either/or”. As a psychologist, much of my life’s work has been helping those who followed their hearts into disaster to learn to use their heads. An informed heart is better than either heart or head alone.

    • Uncle Miltie

      Bill, God is also the Logos and Wisdom., so how does that all jive? Also, as St. Ignatius of Loyola put it, “to know, to love, to serve.” You can’t love what you don’t know.
      Fr. L said it rightly, Catholicism is “both…and”. Our Faith is very rarely “either…or.”

    • Matthew

      Bill:
      Nonsense! You cannot love what you do not know. First come to know the powerful and beautiful Truths of the Faith and you will love them. Secondarily since love is an act of the will, it is a choice we make and thus has nothing whatsoever to do with emotions!
      Matthew

    • Jacob Suggs

      God is also Truth, however, and without an idea of the truth, the statement “God is Love” can easily be misinterpreted. I think neither the head nor the heart will necessarily follow the other – this is demonstrated by the very sincere, very caring people who are on the wrong side of every issue dividing the populace today (abortion, gay marriage, etc) because they think it is more loving to be on the side they’re on, as well as by all the very smart people who nevertheless don’t actually do any work for their fellow man.

      Or in other words, while it is true that a head without heart can blather uselessly and accomplish nothing, a heart without a head can feel really nice and happy about itself while working towards accomplishing all the wrong things. You really need both, and to disregard one or the other as less important is dangerous.

    • Greg B

      Hi Bill,

      Real LOVE (a.k.a. the theological virtue of charity) is neither a “feeling”, nor a sterile set of rules. It’s a choice that stems from the disposition to seek the good of another. If the heart provides the stimulus for engaging oneself in aiding another, the head provides the road map for doing so with accuracy, or, differently put, “in truth/in actuality.” So I’m not sure we can really lean on one at the expense of the other. I would actually suggest that it’s “too much heart” that is the recipe for “blather”, as you put it in the absence of rationally-based guiding principles.

      When we die and stand in judgment, God will not ask us how much of the truth we knew in our minds, nor will He ask us how we “felt” about everyone. He’ll ask us what we DID for those in need. If we’re too heady, we run the risk of answering, “Well…I (callously) told them what was right and what was wrong and said, ‘Go do it’ (without lifting a finger to ever help).” If we’re too “hearty”, we run the risk of answering, “Well, I encouraged Sarah to marry her lesbian partner because I knew it would make her feel good, and I assured Tammy that the abortion she had was her own personal decision, and that she shouldn’t feel bad about it because I don’t like it when people feel bad.” Etc.

      Know what I mean?

      Really important for us to employ both/and in this case (and so many others).

    • Jerry

      Yes, God is love. But His love is primarily of the intellect and will (mind), not of the emotions (heart). It is a decision to do that which s best for the other person, even if it may be difficult — for us or for them. It is directed toward their eternal salvation, not necessarily what will make them happiest in the present moment.

    • Gary

      Unfortunately, no. The head doesn’t follow in its own timing. This is why there are so many poorly catechized Catholics as it is.

    • AnneG

      Or, without the head the kids end up making banners an doing scavenger hunts and never learn the Doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

    • Thomas

      I’m not sure that “with heart, head will follow.” The heart can also lead to wild emotional extremism, and ultimately a fizzling out. The head, first, always keeps us grounded. But a warning to the cerebral: watch out for being overly legalistic, and above all, remember the Great Commandments that Jesus gave.

    • glgo

      God’s Love comes from the Logos (as in Logic), The Word. It does not come from the heart. Love not based in reason is unguided and is not agape.

    • Bill

      Gosh, so many comments! I wrote “if one had to choose which one to put on the top of the list” in other words what’s the most primary and did not exclude the other. I stand by my comment along with the disciples who “loved” Him but didn’t “know” Him nor have ANY “dogma” “theology” to follow–just their love and trust of Jesus Himself. Any human with a lifetime of exclusion from all education “Head” is NOT doomed! Our Lord has ‘love” for him and will touch his “heart”—— he has but to receive!

  • AnneG

    Thank you for being so conscientious, Fr L. Wish you had been our pastor when my kids were growing up.

  • Kristn

    Are you going to put one together, Father? ; )
    God bless,
    Kris V.

    • frdlongenecker

      Check out my book Catholicism Pure and Simple

      • Blake Helgoth

        Fr.,
        Echoing Kristn, when I was in the same boat trying to find resources for catechesis I wound up taking Barbra Morgan’s (from Steubenville) advice and wrote my own. I’d encourage the same so that you have something that fits your particular parish need, not a one size fits all approach.

  • EdwardHu

    Father…yet another of your “two kinds of people” article. I think this is the third in as many weeks.

    These really serve little purpose…may be stretch deeper and find threads that connect us…or unify us that may not be apparent.

    • frdlongenecker

      They do serve a purpose…not to divide, but to recognize the strengths in both extremes and call for a proper blend bringing the strengths together.

      • EdwardHu

        Well you might want to shore up your case for the real existence of all these many “two kinds”…starting to get crowded around here.

    • TomD

      I think that this article makes an interesting point regarding catechetical materials . . . that this is another example of an either-or approach to the faith . . . that is so common today and is a very human response. And Father is right that this is another example of the necessity for a both-and approach. If our catechetical materials are either pastoral or doctrinal, they have it half right . . . they must be both.

      We tend to be comfortable with one aspect of a particular issue. Love the sinner, hate the sin. Pick one, ignore or disparage the other. This is very human. We tend to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable or is unfamiliar.

      But Christ calls each of us to be both-and . . . he challenges us to confront our discomfort and that which we wish to avoid. I believe Paul calls it being “in Christ.”

    • Greg B

      I would have to disagree, Edward. Fr. D is issuing a clear call for full maturity in Christ. There are very few yet, it would seem, who are “there.” Hence the need to “call out” EVERYONE for being too one thing and not enough another, so to speak. Too many Catholics practice a “compartmentalized” faith (plenty of them without even realizing they’re doing it), and these past few articles from Fr. D on the matter are merely descriptive of this ever-present reality.

    • Jacob Suggs

      As an example of what Father Longnecker said: I am almost entirely a “head” person. The “heart” approach seems strange to me, I don’t really get exactly how it works and I’m not very good at following it or really even understanding why it appeals to people. I get THAT it does, now, but I can’t even conceive of what it is like to be that way.

      But after enough thought and reading and thinking about articles of this sort (head person, remember), my head has become convinced that the heart approach is in fact real and is in fact important. And it didn’t used to think that. A couple years back, I would have called the heart approach warm and fuzzy nonsense, and dismissed it as meaningless. Now I understand that even if I don’t get those heart people at all, that they’re actually looking at things from an angle that is important. Not an angle that can stand alone, but then again my angle can’t either – that’s why we’re in a Church together, we’re supposed to use our different strengths and not just our similarities for the good of the Body of Christ.

      I still call it warm and fuzzy, of course, but in recognizing that not everyone approaches stuff the same way and, more importantly that it is not necessary that everyone do so, I am actually more tolerant of my fellow Catholics than I was before.

      Or basically – not every recognition of difference is divisive, especially when the differences are a) real and b) legitimate. You can see some of the difference in Pope Francis and Pope Benedict – although Benedict was not short on heart by any stretch, he was obviously more of a head guy, which is probably why I liked him so much. Pope Francis is more of a heart guy, and I think having him around will be good for people like me, even if we don’t immediately identify with him as much.

      In any case, I just wanted to point out that this kind of distinction does in fact work towards unity for at least some of us, so long as unity is not mistaken for uniformity.

  • Chesire11

    I agree with you on this, Father, up to a point. If a “heart Catholic” pursues an encounter with Christ exclusive of the guidance of dogma, his encounter is unlikely to bear the full fruits of that encounter. Conversely, dogmatic Catholics who neglect the importance of encounter occupy and arid, sterile spirituality.

    That said, each of us was created with different gifts, and some of us will naturally incline toward, and excel at a Catholicism in which either the head or the heart enjoys greater prominence. While warning against neglect or omission, it is important not to discount the value of relative excellence of one over the other in our individual spiritual identities.

  • Carole

    If you win their hearts, those hearts will be receptive to dogma. If you present dogma without having won their hearts, you might as well be teaching sociology or history. Who would care?

  • Christian LeBlanc

    The Bible seems to split the difference pretty well.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    Where I live, heart keeps a Christian Christian; head keeps a Catholic Catholic.

  • Suzy

    I must admit that I sometimes find myself incredibly frustrated with Catholic “stuff” for kids. There seem to be a lot of outdated books with doctrine that’s over the head of the pre-school set, some decent toddler books that’s too young for the pre-school set, and a lot of squiggy stuff that doesn’t look all that orthodox at all. If I miss anything in Protestantism it’s the educational resources. We had wonderful children’s books for every age from infants on up. We had Sunday School classes for 2 and 3 year olds. I’ve gone through my cache of children’s books and had to reluctantly ditch a couple as far too Protestant, but why on earth can’t Catholic presses produce something as good as the Arch books? Why must the doctrinally orthodox stuff be so dull, dry and look like it’s illustrations are out of the 1930′s (or earlier)? Surely with all the wonderful resources that are being made available to adults we can spare some money to put into resources for our children. I’m sorry the Holy Baby DVD’s really don’t address the issue, and while the Brother Francis ones are much better than that, they’re a bit over the head of the average 4 year old. It just feels like right at the age where my kids were learning so much about the faith my granddaughter is at an age where resources are incredibly sparse. The stuff that’s aimed at the 2 year olds is too young for her. The stuff that’s aimed at the 6 year olds is over her head. I love a warm loving approach to things more than hit you over the head doctrine, but I’d also like something with a little bit of depth that is more clearly Christian than some of the catechetics stuff I’ve seen that could as easily be used in a Unitarian congregation.

    Now I’ll admit, the main line Protestants don’t do it any better. When I was a Sunday School Superintendent in a UCC congregation (two decades ago now…) I had to go outside UCC materials to find great Sunday School stuff, but the point is it was available in a format that didn’t conflict with the stated doctrine of our congregation (the national body’s doctrine probably was a bit different). I can still find pretty decent Protestant children’s books in the bookstore in our state that is a suppler of liturgical items for all the Catholic churches in the state. However, I’m hard pressed to find much of any really good Catholic books for younger kids.

    I guess my challenge to orthodox Catholics would be to put some real effort into producing materials for 21st century kids. Just because you choose to wear dresses and veils and attend the Extraordinary form doesn’t mean that your kids should have to have catechetics that’s nearly a hundred years old. On the other hand for those who want warm loving stuff, don’t underestimate the ability of pre-schoolers to understand actual Bible stories, or want to understand the why behind what we do and say at Mass. It’s not just a matter of why can’t we get along, it’s a matter of why can’t we have love and content at the same time. Why does it have to be either or?

  • Enders_Shadow

    This largely reflects the Myers Briggs personality type spectrum of ‘Thinkers’ v ‘Feelers’ – as the Wikipedia article summarises it ‘The continuum reflects the person’s decision preferences. Thinking
    types desire objective truth and logical principles and are natural at
    deductive reasoning. Feeling types place an emphasis on issues and
    causes that can be personalized while they consider other people’s
    motives.’ Once you spot this motivation in people, you begin to recognise why some succumb to modern liberalism whilst others don’t etc etc.

  • Tim Reid

    I very much agree with this post of yours, Father. I don’t always agree with your positions, but this balanced, intelligent yet compassionate, traditional yet evangelical and high theology yet faith of the people approach is exactly what the Church should and in certain places does do. I loved taking those theology classes and the dense theological explorations of Augustine, Aquinas etc… but I also am moved by the simplicity of a Francis of Assisi or the creative passion of Ignatius of Loyola. We need it all in our Tradition.

  • Craig

    I can see your point-when it happens. But that is a big generalization for those following Tradition and Holy Mother Church.

    It seems we need that devotion to Tradition; people may very well be craving this, especially the younger ones.

  • haggis95

    Both/and, not either/or! Love it!

    We need to catechize people “where they are at” but we need to use the best of our resources to do so. Let’s not “Nick Junior” our faith!

    BTW the Veggie Tales aren’t bad :)

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    It seems to me we also have to make sure catechesis isn’t seen as something to be undergone – as modules to be ticked off (like school) – and so, once complete, archived or binned. But rather, seen as a solid foundation for Mystagogy – not just for a the ‘obligatory’ sessions following Confirmation or reception into full communion – but the springboard for lifelong growth into a mature discipleship.

    I assume a wise catechist will assess whether their catechumens are ‘right’/’left’ brained, or head/heart, and will know how to add material to stretch them into being more rounded in their discipeship, but the problem you mention is very real.

    I think the ‘Didache Series’ from the Midwest Theological Forum – especially the ‘Semester Series’, which aligns with the modules of your National Catechetical Framework – is the best. Although one of the more cerebral, it does try to communicate the heart stuff rather than the, ‘just the facts, Ma’am’, approaches, yet without being ‘doggie’.

    However, my biggest concern in catechesis is parochial inertia (I am in England). For many of us, our parishes are ‘dead’ apart from a couple of ‘intentional disciples’ and so catechumens, especially our young, even if enthused during catechetical programmes, hit a socio-ecclesial brick wall, and experience a sort of spiritual entropy or ‘downer’ once ‘weaned’. They often end up just ‘getting Mass’ like everyone else, leaving before the last hymn so they can get out of the car park quickly, or simply lapse/become Evangelical, at worst.

    I recommend a truly excellent (British) blog on Catechesis and the New Evangelisation, written by a very knowledgeable and good-hearted gentle catechist who’s just completed her MA in Catechesis at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham:
    http://transformedinchrist.wordpress.com

  • http://xcontra.wordpress.com X Contra

    When you mention courage, I think of testimony –> how an ordinary Christian lives it out, like someone who learns to live out Luke 6:27-38 or Matthew 25:31-46. Testimonies are powerful.

    Just think of the great saints.

    Or JPII — what a philosopher, but he came up the hard way, backbreaking work in a quarry, keeping one step ahead of the Nazis, then the Communists! Yet he was kind of a skiing/hiking fanatic, a cool cat who also stole a pair of sunglasses from Bono! WHAT!?

    Following him, you have B16, a malingerer conscript contra the Hitler Jugend who ended up writing all those remarkable books and if possible is even smarter than JPII, and the man plays the piano.

    Rev. 12:11

  • Jeremiah H

    I haven’t taught this stuff yet, merely chatted with friends about it in college. That said, I think it might be easier to insert dogma and an emphasis on truth into an encounter/community/activity/discussion-based text. Questions about morality are probably a good example of this.
    While my experience is also limited here, I think that the most faithful Catholic universities focus on teaching future catechists doctrine and the cerebral at least as much as they do about engaging. Since that’s how catechists are trained, they naturally insert that style into textbooks made by previous generations, (which focused on community).
    *By easier, I mean keeping a kid’s attention

  • Howard

    I have the Precious Moments edition of Summa Theologica on pre-order.

  • Howard

    Seriously, just choose materials which are complementary to the style of the catechist. If you have someone who emphasizes the warm and fuzzies, make sure at least the teaching materials convey the important facts. If you have someone who is strong on facts but has a cold personality, choose teaching materials to compensate.

  • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

    “I’m a ‘both-and’ guy rather than ‘either-or’.”
    Great! So is the Church.

  • Bernard Fischer

    I saw a talk on Institute of Catholic Culture where the speaker said that the Liturgy of the Hours is good because it enforces a kind of balance: it contains both thanksgiving and supplication and penitential and intercessory prayers and forces people to say them all. Otherwise, people would tend to ONLY give prayers of thanksgiving or ONLY penitential prayers, depending on each persons disposition.

    When putting RCIA, etc together, we try to adopt the same strategy and give a mix of different styles to expose people to it all.

    • Stefanie

      At our monthly RCIA for families session, we always pray the LOTR together in the chapel at the beginning of our sessions (which includes attending Mass together) plus traditional prayers of a litany specific to our topic of the month.

  • Sonja Maierhauser

    Fr. Longenecker, this is a dilemma you share with many parents who educate their children at home. I feel your pain! Many would agree with you that in Catholic publishing it is either Fra. Angelica or cartoons. However, I would like to share with you one resource in faith formation that works well at blending the modern world with our traditional faith: http://www.familyformation.net/. This program originates from the Church of Ham Lake in Minnesota. They do a great job of presenting the teachings of the Catholic Church to children with a view to educating their hearts and heads.

  • Simon D

    Benedictines and Franciscans…

  • DeirdreMundy

    I tend to go “Head” for religious ed. Why? Because you can teach theology from a book. The ‘Heart’ part comes from the caring examples of the teachers, not from a book. So the books that go ‘heart’ tend to miss BOTH goals.

    I think a good plan is to combine a series like Faith and Life (love it!) with a Children’s Adoration program. Then the kids get both– A personal encounter with Jesus AND good theology.

    • William Schierer

      In John Paul II’s encyclical letter on the relationship of Faith and Reason, he taught that faith without reason withers into myth or superstition. Deprived of reason, faith is left with only feelings and experience. It loses its universality (Fides et ratio, 48). It seems to me that what is at issue here bears some resemblance to this dichotomy. Clearly, one can have an intellectual basis in Catholicism without this being salutary (it is good to reflect that Satan has faith and believes in God. The devil has more head knowledge than we will ever grasp – for he has a superior intellect to us) but nonetheless the head is essential. On the other hand, a heart uninformed by reason and the head will wither and does not engage the whole human person created in imago Dei with an intellect and a will. So certainly with Fr. D.L. I would argue that we must head the Lord’s command to love with our whole mind, heart, and soul…

      “Faith and devotion are as distinct in fact as they are in idea. We cannot, indeed, be devout without faith, but we may believe without feeling devotion.” —Blessed John Henry Newman

      My fear is that too much of the ‘heart’ version is not merely lacking in ‘head’ but is actually undermining the head and contrary to the head. We cannot truly love God if we do not know WHO HE IS. We cannot call ourselves catechists of the Good Shepherd if we do not convey the teachings of Jesus Christ in their entirety, with complete fidelity to the magisterium.
      If we focus on the head and miss the heart, then we are missing the heart. If we focus on the heart and miss the head, then we are not only missing the head, but we have missed the body completely.

  • Jim

    I encountered a holy man who said that everything we believe is found in the Roman Missal; and so, I read the Roman Missal. He said that it would take 30 years to even begin understanding the Roman Missal because reading it requires a man to live the cycle of the seasons year after year. He spoke of how much he is in love everytime he celebrates the holy Mass, especially when he is alone without even anyone serving.

    It was he, I believe, that taught me that the key to the Roman Missal is the Breviary. Later, I discovered this is especially the case with the ‘Little Office’ which is because Mary is the key to the Psalms.

    Perhaps we should teach our children the elevating prayers of the holy Mass and also teach them the Canticles, Graduals, and Versicles. Poetry is the language of love, which neccessarily means it engages the intellect, love being an act of the will.

  • FW Ken

    Perhaps different approaches are appropriate at different ages, or at different stages of growth. Clearly head and heart are both needed, and is possible to integrate them. Surely.

  • Amy R

    I am only a Level I catechist at this point, but am very impressed with the beauty and heart of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the Montessori-based program created at her request by the Italian university professor ,Sofia Cavaletti. Not only do I wish my now grown children had had this formation, I wish I had had it. And to some extent, I am getting it through the training, and presenting.

  • Dan C

    If you didn’t belittle those embracing caritas or Peace and Justice Catholics, or embrace a more serious presentation of viewpoints you can barely enunciate, then I would take more seriously your claim to present both sides.

    Doggies…sugar and spice…yes, this is belittling Caritas-serving Catholics over dogma.

    You need a more serious study of your opponents. I can discuss with depth the varied viewpoints of Novak, have read Sirico’s latest Apologia for wealth, and keep tabs on Weigel. I know Joe Carter’s latest employments and who he writes for, have observed RReno’s shift in opinion since taking the mantle of First Things, and have watched lesser luminaries in the Conservative Catholic universe harden or change in their views.

    I make no claim go being a good writer, but I keep track of my opponents in an attempt to engage them honestly and wuite frankly, you are barely two-dimensional in your representation of liberals and the left.

    I actually expected more from you.

    Yes, you belittle the left, relegating them to less than conservatives while claiming even-handedness.

    • frdlongenecker

      Do me the favor of not putting me in a box and I’ll do the same for you. I’m neither left nor right, conservative or liberal. I’m Catholic.

    • Greg B

      Dan, consider something? Why is there a “left” in the first place? Why is there a “right”? Why are we not all aiming straight for the center?

    • Rosemary58

      Fr. L said he was exaggerating to make a point. I took that to mean that this subject requires more discussion.

      No one is your opponent here. Most of the comments I see are sincere, some are a bit testy but I think we all have moments like that.

      What I have found over the past few decades of working with a cross-section of people is that charity is something with which God has gifted all humans naturally. I have met many atheists who were fonts of charity. One does not have to believe in God to have caritas.

      However, the intellectual part of faith is something quite different. God is someone we have to get to know over time. We can’t just say we love someone but not want to form a relationship with them. The heart without the head would be like idolatry. We see that also in human relationships – people who treat others like they are idols. When the superficial relationship does not develop as hoped, the idol is tossed aside until a new one comes along.

      As you might guess, I believe that the head part has to come first because it is more complex than the charity part. The intellectual part of faith is a challenge but I believe that God gives us what we need to develop our understanding of Him. Also, wanting to know God is not something an atheist would do.

  • Casey Truelove

    A combination program works really well to best capture both the heart and the head. The heart part could be fulfilled through the teaching of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. A Montessori-type program that opens the door wide for young children to establish a solid prayer life. The head part could be Ignatius Press’ Faith & Life series – very solid.

  • Bruce Grey

    It’s not a case of “head” Catholics versus “heart” Catholics. It’s a case of “head and heart” Catholics versus mere “heart” Catholics.

    I’ve never met a “head” Catholic who wasn’t also a “heart” Catholic.

    The mere “heart” Catholics are invariably ill informed and are essentially Protestant while remaining nominally Catholic.

  • Joel Everett

    I think an apt analogy would be the different ways in which a person learns: aurally, visually, and by doing. I, myself, tend to be a ‘head’ person, or at least I find it a lot easier to grasp and understand; while a very good friend of mine is pure ‘heart’. She may not be able to quote the Bible or the Catechism verbatim, but she lives it. The fun begins when we, as individuals, attempt to integrate the two. ‘Heads’ might find the heart useful for how to live out all of that knowledge, and ‘hearts’ might find that a little ‘head’ knowledge helps understand why their faith is lived out. We need both as Catholic Christians.

  • Mandy P.

    In re: catechetical materials. I am a homeschooling mother of two and our family uses a very traditional Catholic curriculum that includes religion as a major subject of study. The curriculum in question is very much on the Dogma side of the spectrum. Conversely our parish uses the puppies and kittens-style curriculum for the children’s classes. My personal observations are that my children have actually learned and understand more of our faith after our religion studies every school day than they come home with after CCD classes on Sundays. At church my children have learned that Jesus was a really nice guy. At home they have learned about the Trinity and the Sacraments, etc and so on, with age appropriate explanations of the whys behind each topic.

    With that in mind I would posit that it would be better to choose a curriculum steeped in Dogma and challenge your Catechists to present the material in a fun and friendly way. That’s what the Catechists are there for to begin with. If we expected them to just read the booklets word for word there would be no need for the teachers at all; we could just hand the books out to the parents and instruct the children to read and memorize them on their own time.

    The reason I say to go with Dogma is that it is important to have a very solid grounding in the faith and our doctrine before we get into applying those principles with “heart.” And I also think that applies largely to the Catholic “culture wars” you’ve been discussing recently. I firmly believe in both/and but where I think we run into problems is that the all puppies and kittens, all the time-type of people aren’t grounding people in the “what” of our faith before demanding people make emotionally charged judgment calls on various issues, and that of course leads people into serious problems when they can’t articulate what we believe and why. Conversely I think the lack of solid catechetical teaching for so long has driven the more dogma-type folks to become more militant and rigid in their approach. Personally, I lean towards the dogma, but that is really a result of my own experiences during my conversion process ( lack of catechesis in RCIA and basically left to my own devices in figuring out the actual doctrines of the church beyond the very basic) as well as in teaching my own children.

  • Michael Cox

    As Holy Mother Church and the Church Fathers have taught–Reason AND Faith.

  • JennE

    I second Sonja on the family faith formation. If the parents take the faith seriously then Catechesis is a great aid and way to build a christian community across the generations. But if the family sees it as a way out of mass or a check box to fill in then no amount of catechesis will hand down what we think we want to see. Then the witness of the catechist is paramount because it may be the only thing that the kids get to witness Christ. The books only do so much. I prefer the “head” book and the heart of a living person that can make the book come alive. The cute cuddly book to me and my kids were always very boring. A once and while kid will not get that this matters from those cute books (and one does lean towards a group confession – some details matter much!) And we have been through many catechetical settings in our moves in the US.

  • Dr. Eric

    The old gray St. Joseph Catechism has both. There are questions to answer, T and F and fill in the blanks, but there are also projects to complete as well. This week it was to find out which are the Catholic Tv and Radio stations and write them letters thañking them for their ministries.

    • Stefanie

      I have actually gone full circle — 8 years ago, I started out with the usual current catechesis workbooks. This year, I ordered Baltimore Catechisms for everyone and am going old school. There is so much wealth of wisdom, cut-to-the-chase, immediate testing of the chapter, AND activities to live out your faith. I was amazed — and it’s so inexpensive — less than $7 per book. That, a bible, and a missal is all you need to teach the faith — no matter what the age. We also include parents in our classes — meaning, they must attend once a month with their child. This makes a world of difference because now the family can actually have a ‘on-the-way-home’ conversation about what they learned; rather than the burden being entirely on the child.

  • leogirl87

    I think “head” people are the Republicans and the “heart” people are the Democrats. The “head and heart” people are the faithful Catholics who can see good in either party but know that neither one conforms 100% to Church teaching. Republicans tend to be more about the rules, even if they don’t always help people (poor people, immigrants, death penalty), while the Democrats go too far the other way, they give people what they want but do not have rules so they get into trouble with God’s law (welfare given to people who are able-bodied but choose not to work, which is against the dignity of the human person; abortion rather than adoption; same sex unions, etc.). Of course there are faithful Catholics on both sides, but they do not follow their party’s platform on key issues.

  • Kathleen

    You need to start teaching advanced CCD class which combines The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the bible.

    • Christian LeBlanc

      That’s a thought.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    This is part of why we have stories about saints: love stories, adventure stories, funny stories, child saints, adult saints, villains turned hero saints, saints who stumble, saints who keep to the high road all their lives, etc., etc. Bible stories (NT and OT), saints’ lives, and other stories of church history, are all full of life and emotions that sometimes the dogma and moral instruction doesn’t have. Having both is awesome.

    Of course, I’m that kid who basically took the Pokemon/baseball card approach to learning about lives of the saints — if they’d had collector editions, I would have collected and memorized ‘em. Albeit more the stories and weirdness, rather than any sort of stats. :)

  • Christopher Range

    Mark 12:30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

    I believe your point is well taken Father, that head and heart are both in play. Scripture does not offer us this false dichotomy. Neither the catechism which reads “The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.” (CCC 362)

    “Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.” – That’s powerful stuff.

    I think that one reason young people are vulnerable to so much sophistry today is that secular sources try to claim physical reality as their exclusive domain – shutting out faith, and especially Christianity. But our God is not a God constantly in retreat into the gaps. He isn’t confined to our imaginations and emotions. He is sovereign throughout the entirety of creation. He is found in all things of substance. I think we have to emphasize the reality of God, grounded in the physical world as much as the abstract ideas and heartfelt emotions of faith. Who would have known physical reality and the shape of things better than a carpenter?


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