Pope on Religious Ed

Monsignor Charles Pope, that is.  He’s a must-read blogging pastor priest superhero in the ADW and as far as I can tell he fears no one but God.  One of these days I need to head over to St. Cyprian for one of his masses (and maybe some professional chit chat).

Milord Pope recently laid down two great posts on the collapse of religious education in these United States.  Tolle et lege.

I can’t improve on it much, except to say that my years of experience sadly confirm his message.  It’s a stand-out rarity for students to darken my door with any knowledge whatsoever about the faith.  This is the spawn of parents who know just as little.  As I tell my middle schoolers, after the second day of class they know more about the Old Testament than their parents (at year’s end, more than any person they are likely to meet for the rest of their lives).

My parents are usually shocked at how much their sons love talking about the Old Testament around the dinner table.  Year after year the Catholics tell me how wonderful it is to receive an actual education in Scripture–the first in their lives–from their children.  There is always a follow-up question, however: how do I make the Old Testament so interesting?  What do I do to make them love it so much?

I answer, and I quote meipsum, “Not a damn thing.”

Look, people.  I spend about five minutes teaching the boys how to handle a sacred book without tearing pages or dropping it.  How we don’t use page numbers.  How chapter and verse work. How the table of contents is for weaklings and they will come to know the order of the books the same way they know how to walk across the neighborhood to a friend’s house.  After that, the pedagogical magic happens.  Brace yourselves…it’s fancy.

We open to Judges 1:1 and we start reading.  We don’t stop.  That’s it.

Despite the efforts of the Second Vatican Council (cf. here), the treasury of Scripture is more off-limits to laity than ever before.  It’s a self-imposed exile, a belief that you need degrees in ancient languages and decades of experience to understand the thing.  It’s another facet of making sanctity off-limits to ourselves by thinking only the superhero saints can do it.

People.  Pick up the book, use some common sense, and pay attention at Mass!  Yes, it will help to have someone with some wisdom and experience to steer you through some parts.  Yes, choose-your-own-adventure interpretations are a hazard.  But it’s your job to know the Faith and pass it on to your children.  You promised to do so.  Form a group, get some resources, ask your pastor for help.  Undo the extreme disintegration of society.  Break out of insular, atomic family structure and team up.

Let’s take a step up to doctrine, where the problem is just as bad.  It’s not just that parents don’t know anything at all.  Again, it’s a self-imposed exile.  Only people like me are supposed to know that stuff–having an interest and facility in theology is an oddity for priests and wannabes.  The best-intentioned parents want to be able to drop off their children at school and have us hand back to them fully catechized Catholics (the less-intentioned just don’t care).

Bad news, people.  It’s impossible.  There’s a whole host of core concepts that parents seem to think just spring into existence on their own.  They don’t.  People have to be taught about the dignity of the human person, that love is the power that moves the universe, that good always wins in the end (End end).

I don’t expect any of my parents to pound back chapters of St. Augustine’s de Trinitate over drinks each night, but I rarely meet a parent who can Catechism their way out of a wet paper bag.  I set my low bar expectation at this: parents should be able to look around at the stupid nonsense (I’m thinking stronger words there) the world spouts about Christianity and recognize it as false, vapid ludicrosity.  It scares me that my parents hear some of these “challenges” to the Faith and wonder, “Gee, is that right after all?”  Know enough to know the world is wrong, amirite?

The problem is, they are the culture.  My parents, that is.  It’s not like the broken world is Them and we just need to get Our People up to speed.  It’s a bit more like…well, like the great Mike McD once said: “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”  If you can’t tell that the world is wrong, that the world is the problem, then you are part of it.

Or, a bit more theologically, Colossians 1:13 can’t just be some words in a book about some distant point of abstraction.  Be transferred from one kingdom to another.  You cannot serve God and mammon.


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