Wednesday, June 09, 2010

First and best of teachers

James Preece has put up a provocative post, following a meeting in his diocese, about the role of parent in the education and formation of the children.
I had an interesting discussion with a couple of Irish friends recently, they blamed the decline of the faith in their homeland on the failure of parents to catechise and pray with their children.
Briefly, their argument was that the Faith had traditionally been passed on by mothers and grand-mothers through devotions and the penny catechism, essentially as something experiential. The Liturgical Movement disparaged domestic devotional practices, such as the Rosary and other Marian devotions and devotions to the Sacred Heart. After the Vatican II parents and children were told that the faith which they had been passing on was somehow superseded. Hermeneutic of rupture stuff! Basically the confidence of the domestic church was undermined by bishops, priests, religious and teachers: professional and sophisticated Catholics. The experiential became didactic a pedagogical.
What happened in Ireland has happened elsewhere.
This rite of infant Baptisms speaks of parents being the "first" and "best" teachers of their child it the ways of faith. Children who are taught the faith at home retain it, when it is left to professionals it is often lost.
The problem is how to get today's parents to take responsibility.


universal doctor said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you Father. As you say- how are we to encourage parents to take this responsibility as seriously as they promised they would at their marriage? I would suggest that most parents of children who are now of secondary school age are in fact incapable of fulfilling their duty because of their own lack of formation. The need for adult catechesis is perhaps as urgent as that for the young. The predominant stance of parents who send their children to catholic schools seems to be that Gallic "croyant mais non praticant". At the same time I know that there are many good and faithful parents who despair about what their children are being taught. We need to rediscover our Catholic identity and proclaim it with pride and confidence. In this respect the "transferral" of certain Holy Days to the nearest sunday and other acts of episcopal authority which erode our identity is nefarious.
May God bless abundantly all those good and faithful parents and teachers who strive to transmit the faith in all its glory and beauty.

Lucy said...

Maybe part of it could be for parents to be valued for their insights and experience of their own children. I recently had a situation where a priest completely ignored my opinion on a question of my child's sacramental preparedness because he wasn't "the right age".

Anthony said...

Missed the point totally! I rue the day that the priests were ordered to confine the words of their homilies to the readings of the day. Up until then there was a huge amount of catechesis from the pulpit - families of all generations learned much about their faith from the words of the priests.

Catholic schools also traditionally gave an understanding to Catholic children in the dogmas, mysteries and rites of their Church.

Children today generally cease to receive any form of catechesis after their first Holy Communion - they receive little that is not in 'child-speak' at school (have you ever heard the children's Angelus, instated by the teachers who are there to educate the youngsters, used to ensure children are able to 'understand'?!!). Unless young people opt to be Confirmed, they receive nothing sensible from the Church beyond that of first (primary) school understanding.

Adults receive no catechesis whatsoever today, and have not done so for 40 years or more. As a result, today's children no longer have informed parental guidence in such matters let alone words of understanding from the Church or the education system.

Volpius Leonius said...

Yes indeed the priests changed the "curriculum" on parents without even bothering to tell them creating a rupture between church and home.

Naturally children presented with two different versions of the truth which were opposed to each other, vehemently at times, either adopted relativism as the only way to make sense of the chaos or simply rejected the whole thing and went of to join the worldlings.

And the parents for their part often simply gave up and decided to leave it all in the hands of the catholic school who the presumed were able to teach the new curriculum. And who can blame then it gets demoralising after a while having yourself contradicted by the priest no doubt.

I have heard it said by people from that time that they did not leave the Church, the Church left them, I think that adequately sums up the whole sorry situation really.

Volpius Leonius said...

"The problem is how to get today's parents to take responsibility."

First you must give them something concrete they can actually teach.

If Father A says this but Father B says something completely different then what are they supposed to teach?

Who is right and who is wrong?

What is Truth and what is Error?

Is there anything that anyone can honestly say all priests are in agreement on in today's world?

Where is the unity of Faith to be found?

The solution the Church chose at Vatican II and has been following ever since is to keep everything ambiguous, but ambiguity does nothing to enlighten the faithful instead it plunges them in darkness and hides from them the Truth.

So now everyone is right even when they teach things that are completely different to each other, now there is no Truth and Error only dialogue and different opinions which must be respected because after all we are all sinners aren't we?

When will the smoke of Satan be driven out of the temple so that we can see the Truth clearly once more?

Catholics don't even know who they are any more, they think they are just like everyone else.

And the priests largely tell us the same thing, we are all part of the human family aren't we? Even Satanists are our brothers and sisters lets all just be friends and have one big happy family, lets set aside our differences and all be the same, united in nothingness. Peace to the World!

The people are taught humanism masquerading as Christianity, the priests feed the people this poison that rots the soul and they die.

Patrick Sheridan said...

It is my belief that ''pious devotions'' such as the Rosary, devotion to the Sacred Heart etc developed in juxtaposition to bad Liturgy. They merely indicate that the Liturgy, which ought to be as much the focus of the laity, the People of God, as priests and Religious, was not providing them with that essential spiritual haven away from the world. Liturgy should be lived, not attended as a boring chore at the end of the week.

Sadly most ''conservative'' Catholics don't have a clue about Liturgy and would rather gather in church to pray the Rosary and sing vernacular hymns than immerse themselves in real Liturgy. In a way I don't blame them - a typical parish church has about three different types of Mass on offer on a Sunday, and no Office.

Lee Gilbert said...

Well, for what it's worth, I led a bad life in my youth. However, and as the result of my father's prayers I had a little glimpse of where I was headed, did an about face and ran as fast I could in the other direction.

So, when it came to educating my own children we threw out the TV (Bless the day and hour!) which IN ITSELF went a long way oward creating a prayerful, peaceful.
quiet home. In the evening we spent half an hour reading good age appropriate secular literature with our children such as the Chronicles of Narnia, another half hour reading the lives of the saints, and about 20 minutes of catechism. We did this over a period of about ten yrs with our two children.

They NEVER balked at going to Mass, nor asked me why they had to go to Mass. In fact, there was no teenage rebellion WHATEVER.

At this point, ages 32 and 30, they are still practicing their faith fervently, and in fact my daughter is a contemplative nun- partly as the result of a freindship she struck up with St Therese when we were listening to a recording of her life.

For all this, THANKS BE TO GOD!!!!! GOD ALONE!!!

Our night prayer was perfunctory,consisting of St. Patrick's Breastplate or the Hail Holy Queen...and off to bed you go.

If only I could bottle this formula and sell it to the bishops.

Of course, winter, bad weather, and darkness were all very conducive to the smooth unfolding of this program, and it was often much abbreviated or abandoned on summer evenings, but it was our default evening.

It was something the children loved, really. We did not browbeat them into any of it.

In fact, one evening when it was 9 o'clock, we told them it was time for bed, even though we hadn't done any catechism. Then I heard with my own ears this amazing plea from my 6 yr old boy and 4 yr old girl- both jumping up and down- "But Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, couldn't we please, please, please study the catechism???!!!

These were the happiest days and years of my life, the days when I was most a father.

Lee Gilbert said...

One more thing, I've given a little thought about how this semi-homeschooling might be promoted.

As general backround, I'd recommend reading The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers ( it's online).

She talks about the stages of learning without giving any age parameters. The first is the poll-parrot stage where children love to memorize things. I think this begins around age four.

Because our son was being woefully prepared for his First Communion, while continuing to send him to the local Catholic school for the pious Catholic atmosphere (and very little else) we went to work with the Baltimore Catechism, the much dreaded vehicle of our own instruction in the faith. I think it was dreaded because we were exposed to it too late- age 6 and up. Anyway, at one point my son had memorized 26 questions and answers about the Mass as a sacrifice. And then we made the amazing discovery that so had his 4 yr old sister who had been listening in! As a the result of our pursuing this program religiously (with no browbeating or displays of anger or irritation on our part) she went into first grade (age 6) knowing far, far more than eighth grade graduates.

I have read of this happening with other Catholic families and their four year olds, too, which makes me think that four year olds are very underestimated. I know a three year old who speaks Czech, Spanish and a three year old level, but nevertheless.

So, here is my suggestion for catechizing both adults and children:

First of all, using every rhetorical device known to man, and your own heroic example, do your best to pry the TV out of the Catholic home. There are plenty of print materials to aid you in this ( see You might tout the very worldly benefit of preserving the child's attention span so that he or she will do very well in their studies, get scholarships, get wonderful jobs, make lots of money and support their parents in their old age :) It was in fact the best financial decsion I ever made.

Talk up the baptism of the imagination. Children of all ages imitate the examples set before them, whether saints or sinners. "If you want your children to grow up chaste and healthy, to have happy marriages and give you grandchildren, don't put bad example in front of them in the form of movies or TV programs or advertisments." I had such selfish motives for throwing out the TV, also prominent among them: I didn't want a call from a hospital, jail or morgue.

Talk up learning the faith. Specifically suggest to young couples that when their children reach age four that IN THEIR PRESENCE the husband and wife start memorizing the questions and answers in the Penny Catechism by questioning and drilling each other. When the child starts chiming in, as he will, include him, too. This will catechize the whole family, of course, but it will also create a love of learning and a desire for God in the child. Children take pride in what they memorize, and they should be made much over for doing so.

Now I imagine that in England as in the States the catechetical establishment is death on catechisms, especially those of yesteryear that have some content to them. If you have to get clearance for this program with the Penny Catechism, stress that you only want to implement it with children ages 4 through 7. That will be quite enough to do the trick, believe me. 20 minutes a night for three years, with a memory that is stronger and more retentive with each passing day.

After that, let other publishers see what they can do to round out this already very solid education. Perhaps, indeed, the child will get some new perspectives and insights, but in any case he will be Catholic in mind and heart till his dying day.

Dominic Mary said...

Excellent, Father !

Of course, there's also the point that - having taken over catechesis from the family circle, so that it was 'professional' - the clergy then largely handed it over to catechists who had no sort of natural relationship with the children, but were seen as another type of teacher (and what attention do most children pay to most teachers ?!).

We need to go back to familial catechesis : but, as UD and Anthony suggest, that may mean that we first have to educate the parents !

Ma Tucker said...

Daphne McLeod is of the view that we built Catholic schools in order that children would receive a proper Catholic education including catechesis. Parents are responsible for the practise of the faith. Granted without faithful religious in our schools the chances of a good Catholic education are remote so parents must now take up that role.

Savonarola said...

Imaging conspiracies is always more exciting than mundane truth, but it is rather a knee-jerk reaction to blame everything on Vatican II. A more sophisticated analysis might look at the ways in which family life generally has become more fragmented in contemporary society and how increasing prosperity and independence, the greater range of opportunities available to people, make them less inclined to identify the whole of their lives with any form of association, religious or otherwise. Perhaps also the Church of the past, pre-Vatican II, placed overmuch emphasis on the externals of faith, learning doctrines and catechisms, religious practices and devotions, saying prayers, all of which can be engaged in without any genuine experience of God. (The great prophets and Christ himself pointed out this danger 2 to 3,000 years ago). The challenge for the Church, therefore, is not to go back to former times, but to find new ways appropriate to today's world of helping all the people of the Church to reconnect with the true Christian tradition, the simple knowledge of God, for as Christ says, if we set our minds on the kingdom of God (not the same thing as the Catholic religion) everything else will follow.

nickbris said...

Trouble is these days is that if it is not taught in School the children are not likely to listen to their parents.The educational system is by and large Secular,if not totally Aetheist.

Children these days tend to regard their parents as a bit dotty if they go to Mass and would certainly rebel if the Catechism interfered with twittering or amassing "friend" on Face-Book.

ffn said...

Throughout the day,which I was present at, the first concern was the teaching that parents are the first educators of their children in the faith, and come to that everything else as well, this was a welcome attempt by our Bishop to bring together HEadteachers and clergy in order that we could meet together to look at and address how we can support parents in this vocation.

ffn said...

PS Try as I might in getting sacked from governing bodies of schools by robust challenges to diocesan authorities etc I have never suceeded.

mikesview said...

Fr. Ray, I think this is one of the best comments pages I've seen for some time on a priestly blog. Much good sense and helpful advice - and all(?) from layfolk too.

Abigail said...

There is a very simple way to help parents build a true domestic church--the Rosary. If every Catholic family said the Rosary together once a day, not only would there be an abundance of joy within the family, but it would pave the way to a better and deeper understanding of the faith. It encourages all good things, for Our Lady wants nothing more than to bring us to her Son.

Anthony said...

>Savonarola said: “Perhaps also the Church of the past, pre-Vatican II, placed overmuch emphasis on the externals of faith, learning doctrines and catechisms, religious practices and devotions, saying prayers, all of which can be engaged in without any genuine experience of God.”<

I understand what you are saying, but that catechesis, that understanding, has stayed with me (us?) ever since - it is those emphases which helped develop the love of God as time passed, and gave a huge depth of knowledge of that love, especially through the understanding of the liturgies (especially the Mass).

>Dominic Mary wrote: “Of course, there's also the point that - having taken over catechesis from the family circle, so that it was 'professional' - the clergy then largely handed it over to catechists…”<

It was, in my most humble opinion, the move from catechesis in the schools to the clergy that started the downturn. A number of readers will probably remember the loosely-termed ‘Catechism Classes’ in their parish before this change of emphasis ocurred: these were available for Catholic children who attended non-Catholic schools – Catholic children already received such education. Father is probably far too young to remember such things?!

Catechesis from the family circle (primarily, but not always, the parents) was most often limited to ‘setting an example’; but what a powerful ‘example’ that was, and how sad that, all too often, it is not so prevalent today.

How I love to see children in church being encouraged by parents (as we did ours) to focus on the sanctuary during Mass, and being given whispered words of understanding, and finger-pointing encouragement to follow the words in their Mass Books. How often do we see something completely opposite, as in the ‘this will keep you quiet’ snack accompanying the paper and crayons.

The parents need help, as well as encouragement, as potential catechists.

pelerin said...

Anthony mentions the 'Catechism classes' of yesteryear when children who attended non-Catholic schools were able to learn the Faith from catechists.

I took a Catechist Training Course in 1965/66 and have just found the certificate I received signed by Bishop David of the newly formed diocese. I later took a small class of some 5 or 6 children each Sunday before High Mass in my Parish.

Once my first child arrived others took over the catechism classes. My one regret is that in spite of having this privelege with other's children I found myself unable to do the same with my own. Sending them to Catholic schools and attending Mass as a family I thought at the time would give them the grounding necessary for a later adult faith. My husband and I wanted to guide them without 'pushing it down their throats.' He himself had rebelled against too much religion at one time and it was only after a period away that he returned on his own accord. Were we wrong? It would seem so.

I could not use the excuse of lack of formation mentioned in universal doctor's comment as I myself had had a prolonged introduction to the Catholic Faith as an adult from a good and holy Priest before taking the Catechetics course.

Looking at various friends it is sad to see that almost without exception their children who were contemporaries of my own children, long ago gave up any practise of the Faith. And this includes one family who said the daily Rosary together as their children grew up.

I must be grateful that my own grandchildren were baptised and did receive their First Communion as I have spoken to other grandparents whose own grandchildren have not even been baptised. The Church has lost two generations and one does wonder sometimes whether it will ever recover.

Dominic Mary said...

Savonarola & al;
To be honest, I wasn't suggesting that the fault for this particular problem was all Vatican II; I think that, in the UK at least, that just happened to coincide with a 'development' in education which was so enthusiastically promoted that it even affected faith schools - with consequences which we can now see clearly.
As various people have rightly said, the important thing is for parents to accept the responsibility for catechising their children; and if that means that they first need to accept catechesis themselves, then so be it !

epsilon said...

Thank God for blogs like this one - the source of many a conversion / re-conversion, along with EWTN, it would be fairly safe to say, I'm sure, Father!

Richard said...

"The problem is how to get today's parents to take responsibility."

40 years too late, Father.

Trouble is, few of us parents now have that sort of "penny catechism" knowledge of the Faith, so most cannot pass it on.

Of course it's our duty to learn so that we can educate our children, and I do what I can, but if you're talking about a broad movement across the Church then the foundations aren't there.

You need to teach the parents first before they can teach.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...