Two Sundays ago we were celebrating the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion with the Elect and candidates of the diocese. Today public Masses and catechetical programs are canceled, many of us are working from home, and we are all adjusting to a “new normal.”
With so much on people’s plates it may be tempting to wait to engage in catechesis. Where do we even begin?! But there are some simple things you can do to keep the catechetical process going.
Focus on the faith, not programs. The plans and goals that we set for ourselves this year no longer apply. We are literally in extraordinary circumstances. So don’t worry about making sure kids “get through the textbook” this year. Instead, focus on helping them pray, grow in their relationship with Jesus, and find ways to practice the faith off parish grounds. See this time as an opportunity to help the faithful discover new ways of praying and being Church, even as we mourn not being able to gather for liturgy and fellowship.
Keep in contact. Right now people want to know that the Church remembers and cares for them. Next week, call — don’t email — every family enrolled in your program. If you have a large program, enlist some lead catechists to assist you. Let families know you are concerned for them and praying for them. Find out if they have any particular needs or prayer requests, and try to connect them with services that can help. As we continue to practice social distancing, check-in regularly with families.
Share home-based catechetical materials parents can use with their children. This is an excellent time to help families develop their Domestic Church and assist parents as the primary formators of their children. Our diocese’s Office of Catechesis is maintaining a list of materials, videos, and other resources families can use together. Email 2-3 suggestions to your families each week to keep them engaged and to offer new ways to keep their children practicing the faith.
See what resources your textbook publisher is offering. Many of the major catechetical publishers are offering free resources and materials to help parents during this time. Check your textbook’s website or email your sales representative to see what you have access to.
Above all else, pray for our civic and Church leaders, that they may have the grace, perseverance, and wisdom they need in these times. And be assured that you and all catechetical leaders are in my prayers.
Earlier this month we had our first diocesan board of education meeting of the year. In the course of the meeting we split into groups to discuss various issues affecting catechesis and education in our diocese; I sat with the Catholic Identity group. A good portion of our conversation centered on parents and helping them claim their role as the primary catechists of their children — which led, naturally, to the question of why parents aren’t comfortable catechizing their children.
A Catholic school teacher in our group offered an explanation that I had not considered before: that, due to many of the changes since the Second Vatican Council, many parents no longer feel like they know the “correct version” of the content of the faith anymore. The example she gave was prayer: many of the prayers we say now have so many variants that parents fear teaching them to their children in case they wind up teaching them the “wrong version.” This is exacerbated if their Catholic school or PSR program tests children on the prayers.
While the idea of giving tests based on the “correct” version of a prayer baffles me (do we really need to worry about whether kids are using “thou” or “you” in the Hail Mary?!) the unease it may generate for parents is understandable. Are parents who learned the Rosary before 2002 going to be comfortable teaching the Luminous Mysteries to their children? Will converts bristle when catechists don’t teach the doxology to the Our Father? Will parents want to teach their children the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel if the version used in the parish is different from the version they learned as children?
Of course, prayers are just one example. Because of the sheer number of catechetical texts and curriculum out there, it sometimes seems like we’ve lost a common language of faith; words or phrases once commonly known and taught are now considered “old fashioned” or relegated to certain circles within the Church. As a result, parents may not even recognize definitions in catechetical texts! How can we expect them to participate in the catechesis of their children with such shifting sands beneath them?
For our diocese, as part of our develop of religion curriculum guidelines for schools and PSRs, we will be developing resources for parents to help them understand what materials will be covered each year, what prayers, Bible stories, and doctrines will be covered, and how they can help their children (and maybe themselves!) to practice the faith and make it their own. Hopefully this will help us to re-integrate the language and embolden parents to reclaim their role as catechists to their children — even if we don’t all say our prayers exactly the same.
This episode is a little different. Instead of an interview it features a talk given by Fr. Andrew Carl Wisdom, O.P., to a group of DREs last year. In it he talks about some of the fears shared by the parents he talks to as their sons discern a vocation to the priesthood.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with some of the new principals in our diocese as part of their ongoing formation. I talked briefly about the spiritual role that principals play in Catholic schools and what it means to be a spiritual leader.
This seems an important topic to me because, while principals may receive training in management, curriculum, and finances in their education programs, very few get formed in what it means to work in a specifically Catholic educational setting.
There is any number of topics that we could have talked about, but I distilled them into five points:
The primary job of a Catholic school — and therefore the primary responsibility of the principal — is to build disciples for Christ. Everything else is secondary.
Principals must encourage parents to assume their role as the primary catechists of their children. Parents cannot outsource religious instruction to schools or PSR programs. For better or for worse, children will follow their parents’ example.
Principals are responsible for the spiritual formation of their staffs. This means more than just the occasional diocesan formation class; it means forming them through prayer, retreats, and spiritual reading, and inviting them to participate in the faith.
As part of their oversight of curriculum, principals must ensure that the catechetical textbooks and materials used in their school conform to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Finally, principals must be an example of joyful faith and holiness to their staff, faculty, and students.
Admittedly this is a tall order! But, as spiritual leaders acting on behalf of their pastors and the Church, principals are responsible in assuring that our schools are not just placing of academic learning, but places where the faith is nurtured and students can become the saints they are called to be.
Respect has no substitute; neither assistance nor obedience nor love can supply it or take its place It may happen that children are no longer obliged to help their parents; they may be justified in not obeying them; the circumstances may be such that they no longer have love or affection for them; but respect can never be wanting without serious guilt. The reason is simple: because it is due in justice, because it is founded on natural rights that can never be forfeited, even when parents themselves lose the sense of their own dignity.
– Rev. John H. Stapelton, Explanation of Catholic Morals (1913)