Friday, June 15, 2012

We are starting over....


(The Rev. Know-it-all is away at
Mt. Flatten Monastery attending  a seminar on the creative pastoral uses of the thumbscrew and lash. As filler, we have a letter from a local pastor.)

Friends,

You may have noticed that recently, at Mass, I asked the young people who attend our religious education program to stand up. Of the 250, give or take, who attend the program, I counted about 50 or 60 at all the Masses.  Our teachers have done wonderful work. They have made great sacrifices for the sake of the religious education of our children. They have not failed. The 50-year-old system that they inherited has failed. We are using a model that was created before cell phones, soccer practice, twitter, facebook and video games. The model we are using is older than the Beatles. It’s as old as I am.

We inherited a system from the good old days of flourishing Catholic schools another failure which was lovingly remembered in the book, “The Last Catholic in America,” a charming reminiscence about Catholicism during the 1950's in which young Eddy Ryan loses his faith.  Religious education was called C.C.D. or the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.  In this usage it refers to a form of classroom style religious education for children in public schools. It was, at least in my youth, the threadbare cousin of Catholic schools.  

Catholic schools, by and large, have become failures themselves. There are some splendid Catholic schools, but in my experience of 40 years in ministry, increasingly, especially in large urban areas, Catholic schools have become inexpensive private schools for middle class people who have little or no interest in the Catholic faith, maintained at great expense by Catholic parishes. Catholic schools are, for the most part, over. 

We may have a few parish schools still plugging along, but are they Catholic? It seems that all we have left to us is the threadbare cousin. All our resources and energies go to maintaining the private school in the building next to the church. While the world is starving for Christ, we are giving them bingo and bratwurst, raffles and dinner dances, all to keep the school going.  

“But,” I can hear you say, “this is our major form of evangelism!” Aren’t you paying attention? The few kids from our schools who go to church don’t go because the school has converted them. They go because they have parents dedicated enough to bring them every Sunday, even in summer. Even in soccer season. Those kids may end up Catholic, not because they went to our schools and religious education programs, but because their parents were the first and best of teachers. In a recent conversation with a local pastor who runs a school of 250, give or take, I asked how many of his students and their families attend Mass during the summer months. He said, “about thirty of them.”   

In order to commit a mortal sin, a sin that severs one’s relationship to God, one must have sufficient knowledge that what they are doing is mortally sinful. Our kids come to Catholic schools and religious education where, presumably, they learn that it is a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass without a serious reason, such as illness or inability to travel. That means that by allowing children to come to religious education or to enroll in Catholic schools when their parents don’t come to Mass, we are enabling them to commit a mortal sin by giving them the sufficient knowledge to damn their eternal souls.That’s a plan.

We have tied our religious education to the public school system of kindergarten and eight grades. The sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation have become graduation rituals, rites of passage, instead of the beginnings of a life of faith and commitment. We have turned sacrament into sacrilege.  When you “get your sacraments” you’re “outta” there.  (“Out of there” for those who don’t speak Chicagoan.) The Sacraments are an ending instead of a beginning. I can’t do this anymore. I believe it is morally wrong. The last time I brought this problem up, angry parents called the bishop. I remember one agitated parent who railed at me for questioning his Catholicism. He said that he was perfectly good Catholic. He went to Mass every single Easter and every single Christmas without fail.

When I realized that Eastern Rite Catholics from the Middle East don’t have Communion and Confirmation classes, a light went on in my head. They receive first Communion and Confirmation when they are Baptized, even if they are infants. They have religious education for the rest of their lives and, consequently, they have a spiritual life. They are prepared for the Sacrament of Penance, but not for Communion and Confirmation. The result is that they have a vibrant spiritual like that they have maintained in the face of 1,300 years of unremitting persecution. In this country, we can’t manage a religious life because we are up against team sports.

I intend to drop the classroom model and go to a discipleship model that is called Youthchurch. It will involve Bibles, catechisms and water balloons.  And maybe doughnuts. I will know the program is a success when I find that the kids are mad at their parents for missing Mass on Sunday.

I  no longer intend to prepare children for First Communion and Confirmation. There will no longer be First Communion and Confirmation classes. How and when will the children receive Communion and Confirmation? They will receive when they are ready.  When are they ready? They are ready when they want the Sacrament. How do we know they want the Sacrament? When they understand it, can tell the pastor what it is and why they want it. If they are not in ongoing religious education and they are not coming to Mass on regular basis, they don’t want the Sacrament.

I am tired to distraction of having to chase young people down the aisles in church to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament because they have no clue what it is. A year or so back, I was offering a funeral Mass and a teenaged girl came up for Communion, took the host, looked at it, turned it over and began to walk away holding it in her palm. I followed her and asked, “Have you made your First Communion?” She said simply, “I’m Jewish.” I smiled and said, “Perhaps I should take that from you.” Quite a few of the mourners were furious with me for my discourtesy.

At another funeral not long ago I saw a passel of tattooed and pierced adolescents coming down the aisle at a funeral. It was a large funeral so a number of priests were helping with Communion. I had finished my line so I stood about ten paces from the celebrant, a visiting priest. The first of the young Goths received the host, looked at it curiously and as she passed me I asked, are you Catholic? She said, “no.” I said “Perhaps I should take that.” So there began a curious ritual, of clueless youths. One priest would say “Body of Christ and the second priest would say “I’ll just take that.”

I’ve had it. My efforts will be directed to preparing people for the Sacrament of Conversion (Maybe you call it Penance or Reconciliation. Whatever.) Then maybe the little dears will understand that Communion is more than an edible poker chip. Registration will take place over the summer. I will be doing it personally. If you are registered in the parish and using envelopes, that will be the first step to getting your child in Youthchurch. How else can I tell if you are coming to Mass? As I’ve said before I don’t care that money’s in the envelope, I care that you are in the pew.

Fr. Simon

PS. How much will it cost? Books will cost something, but there will be no tuition. If you are coming to Mass every Sunday, I presume you are throwing in the basket already. I don’t want your money. I want your souls. On the other hand, I have nothing against your money. The west wall is still falling down.


93 comments:

  1. Well, it was nice knowing you, Father.

    That noise you hear is the procession of parishioners with torches and pitchforks, and the sounds of a stake going up in the parking lot.

    Deny widdle pwecious her first communion dress and party? You big meanie!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you're being satirical.

      Delete
    2. I hope heis serious. I taught 7th grade CCD for 15 years and I can attest to much of what Father wrote. Furthermore, I think his plan is perfect.

      Delete
    3. I think Jeremy was referring to Mrs. Rudd's comment.

      Delete
    4. Hahahahahah!!!! I blame the touchy feely priests and bishops too "fwightened" to preach the Gospel and offend/challenge people with hard sayings and solid food! Lazy laity have no excuse, but priests should know better and grow a spine!

      Delete
    5. I used to teach 2nd grade RE - I had to quit. I couldn't take it any more. I wrote letter after letter to the parents about it being a 2-sacrament year and they must take their children to Mass, that it was a SERIOUS sin to miss Mass w/o a good reason (which did not include sporting events). Nothing worked. I finally gave up, hoping that at some point in their lives they would respond to some seed I had planted in their little brains. I turned to RCIA. I LOVE teaching adults! They want to be there; they're like sponges.

      Delete
    6. Yes, Jeremy. Father has a good sense of humor, and I enjoy teasing him. My comment was tongue-in-cheek.

      And congratulations, Father, on the inordinate number of commentators. Maybe some of them will stick around for further adventures.

      Delete
  2. Can you hear the applause!!!!!! At least from me. I'm so proud of you to stand up and say what needs to be said.

    I grew up in Catholic elementary school until 5th grade and then left for public school and the Kum-bye-ya School of Catechism (aka CCD) in the early 70's. I learned God is love and pretty little else. I did not know the Eucharist was really not a symbol until my convert mother-in-law told me after I married my divorced protestant husband. (It all worked out in the end and we convalidated our marriage a few years later.)

    Never was I told that my soul was all important and that I was to have a deep personal relationship with Jesus and that He would change my life. (I'm still working on that one.)

    All I remember from my Confirmation time was the fact the SSJ sister would not let me use the confirmation name of Lydia because she said it was not a saint's name. She was pretty upset when I brought her evidence Lydia was St. Paul's first European convert. At the time my attitude was "I showed her." Instead I should have been counseled that I really should pick a saint that I had great admiration for because of their heroic virtue, not because I got the name from a Gothic romance novel I was reading at the time.

    You are SO correct that CCD is a waste of time for so many kids. Our former pastor wanted to delay Confirmation until the fall of the kids' 9th grade year to keep the kids in CCD and the mandatory(!) Youth Group for a longer time, instead of letting them receive in 8th grade. Well! You would have thought the sky was falling how ticked off the parents were that the kids still had to go to Religious Ed for an extra 6 months! Some left the parish and others waited it out until the pastor moved to his new assignment and a new pastor came in and put the schedule back to where it was before. No where did anyone really mention that Religious Ed should be a life long endeavor and that you can't stop learning about your faith. Our bishops use the sacraments as a carrot to get you to continue in Religious Ed as long as they can get you to come, knowing the minute it ends you won't come back.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And rarely in Church do I hear that you should have a great love for the Man who loves you best. The "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" the protestants talk about.

    I read about the early Christians and how even children were martyrs for the faith. Where is that faith now? Perhaps you see it in China or the Christians in the Middle East that are persecuted, but it is a rare thing here.

    We sacrificed a lot to send our oldest to our poor little parish school which eventually closed the year my son graduated 8th grade. He moved onto Catholic High School and will graduate this coming year. He knows quite a lot about Catholicism. Does he or his friends have faith - no. The school tries I think, but it is hard to overcome a culture. And you are right - Catholic schools are essentially private schools for middle class kids. Parents sometimes almost go bankrupt to send their kids there. Is it worth it? I'm not sure. We wanted a good "Catholic" education, but more importantly did not want him in the gang and drug infested public school with the high percentage drop out rate. It is a great well-run family school and we are blessed to have him there, but will he have faith - time will tell.

    My other son is 9 and in a charter school because we just could not afford two tuitions. The CCD people try but I was told by people in the know that if I wanted to homeschool him for CCD it would be better. Many of the CCD teachers are teens - is that really what we want?

    I think we should give the sacraments as babies (except Confession) and then instill in people that learning about Christ is life long. Then support it by having good programs: bible studies, studies on Church documents, programs to teach Lectio Divina and other ways of prayer (if you see how many people sign up for Centering Prayer programs and Christian Yoga you see the hunger people have - why not give them real teachings instead of crap.) What it really takes is strong decisive bishops and priests who are not afraid. We are seeing more of that and hopefully in the future things will change and other priests/bishops will get just as ticked off as you. The problem is the present. How many souls will be lost because we have to do this silly CCD model and we have at least 2 generations with an religious education of fluff.

    Rock on Father!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I LOVE your blog post. I have 11 children who have had different levels of catholic school. My oldest skipped on confirmation--I don't believe what you believe in. With my next two, I literally held my breath trying to get them through the year of preparation for Confirmation. When they finally made it to their confirmation retreat weekend, I alternated between praying that I didn't get called by the cops asking me to pick them up and praying I didn't get called by a priest telling me they were performing an excorcism. My daughter continues to attend mass because we take the kids out to eat. My son gave it up, though he continues to go to his confirmation pass-it-on class...he had a renewal of sorts at his retreat, and he takes it a little more seriously and he likes girls :o) I'm ok with that...I want him to enjoy socializing with Catholics even through his college years. He believes that he is now in charge of his spiritual life, while the other kids just want to eat a meal out...Yes, he may wonder why the Catholic church has anything to do with 14 year old girls having abortions, but if he keeps hanging out with catholics, eventually he will get all the scoops. Our Church has done a terrible job of teaching us our faith and even why it should be important to us...But we parents haven't done that much better!! Prayer and fasting...
    holly

    ReplyDelete
  5. I wish that all priests were more concerned with souls than with keeping "happy parishioners." Reminds me of the public school nonsense about self-esteem: You can't bestow it, kids must earn it. Similarly, parishioners will be happy (eventually), if only they learn and practice their faith. In its entirety.

    I have lately found numerous occasions to say: The Catechism is not a menu.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Father, I heartily support your efforts and I hope you succeed! Please know that I am keeping you in my prayers!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I posted a response on my blog, but I have to say that I agree completely with your post. In fact, it got me thinking again about what we're doing here and how we can reform it so that we're actually evangelizing the kids instead of merely stuffing facts (which eventually leak out) into their brains. Great post, and I hope your efforts are successful!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow, Father. We live in KY and my son found your post. He is in high school and agrees with you. He wants to focus on the sacraments and does not want to hear about "relevant" issues any more. He has attended Theology of the Body for teens and it is helpful and essential on one level but he made the point that the sacraments should be leading us to a moral life-I am paraphrasing but it went along the lines of a sacramental theology leads us to a moral theology. I need to get him to put it in writing for his "old" mother. We are at an orthodox parish, wonderful liturgy, knowledgeable and faithful parents but we are still struggling with "lighting" the fire in the teens.
    Please, please post more on how this develops.
    God bless you and your work.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Father, a friend linked this to us on Facebook and I have to say, you make a very compelling case. I applaud your revolutionary thinking and will pray for you and your parish. Your zeal for souls is a gift, and you seem to be cooperating with it beautifully.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Please keep us updated, Father!

    ReplyDelete
  11. wow- great job father- my nephew (married parents, all of his family practicing Catholics) was going to miss his First Communion for another 2 years (so he would have to wait until 9 or so)because he missed the first class (a 2 YEAR program for the homeschoolers to punish them for not attending the parish church- how a family with 7 children and only one breadwinner can afford that I have no idea)...priests can administer sacraments on a case by case basis for those who are prepared

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sounds like it is too good to be true and therefore a hoax. You even mention the perfectly reasonable way that the Orthodox do things- you know, people who actually have a tradition rather than we poor, unfortunately Catholic who just talk about tradition all the time but have to suffer every religious innovation ever thought up.
    If I do not hear of some bishop publicly rebuking a Fr. Simon, and possibly relieving him of his duties, I will continue to assume this is a hoax. This comes at an unfortunate time, given that I have lately suspected my cynicism may be an impediment to any spiritual growth.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Father, you might want to look into this program developed at our parish. It turns the CCD model on its head by focusing on parent and family catechesis. It's transformed our parish and the 80 others who are currently using it. http://familyformation.net/ http://familyformationblog.net

    ReplyDelete
  14. A comment from England...I don't understand how your "Youthchurch" will work (I will watch closely) but I am your brother across the pond. You are speaking my mind.

    ReplyDelete
  15. That was heavenly... literally... Thanks Father!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm no longer Catholic, Father, but I respect you a great deal for being clear about what it means to BE Catholic and for being willing to teach that to your flock. And I'd bet - contrary to the consensus of sentiment here - that you'll get better results thereby. People *want* to be challenged to be better; they want to be part of something that asks them to live up to standards instead of inventing their own. Apathy is the result of permissiveness, not the cause of it. The Marines meet their recruiting quota while the Army goes begging. The Army tells you about the great things they'll do for you; the Marines look at you skeptically and ask, "What makes you think you're good enough to be one of us?" Follwing Christ is not easy, nor was it meant to be. God bless you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve,
      Know you are always welcome to come back to practicing the Catholic Faith. May Christ's blessing be with you!!!

      Delete
    2. Steve,

      Your comments inspired .

      Thank you sir.

      Delete
    3. That didn't work too well... let's see if this works...

      Here's the post you inspired:

      http://www.brutallyhonest.org/brutally_honest/2012/06/people-want-to-be-challenged-to-be-better.html

      Delete
  17. So... basically shy people like me will never get to receive any sacraments?

    I mean, I was all briefed about St. Therese and Fatima and everything, and I'd read tons of sixth-grader books about the subject, so I was definitely ready for First Communion when I was seven. I desperately wished that they still had the system of "memorize big chunks of catechism and you're in" (which I'd read about in my saint books), because I could have done that, no problem.

    But if I'd had to actually converse (rather than recite) to the Pastor (who was big, a bass, and bearlike), I'd probably be a heathen today.

    (I could have talked up a storm to his dog, but I don't think beagles are a good judge of sacramental preparation.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But if you want something enough, you will find a way to have it. In the case of your shyness, perhaps you could write a letter, or have an email exchange in lieu of a conversation. Or chat with the beagle while the Pastor listens from another part of the room. There is always a way, just because it isn't the same way as someone else's does not make it less than.

      Delete
    2. I don't think that Pastor's frustration with a serious problem will negate a pastoral approach for different people with different personalities. If he is not "sensitive" he is not a mature spiritual leader. I assume - he will be sensitive.

      Delete
  18. This deserves a virtual standing ovation.

    ReplyDelete
  19. You the Man! Stick by your guns. As a fellow priest you are inspiring!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have taught Confirmation for the last 7 years, and we (deliberately) about 3 years ago, decided to spend the first half of the year solely to get the kids to make a connection to Jesus, prayer, and the bible, and then when we feel that they have managed that, we move on to actually learning about confirmation. It's made all the difference, and we've seen more kids at Mass, retreats, youth group events, and so on. Doing this on a large scale would be awesome, and maybe you'll convert some parents too. Good for you! :)

    ReplyDelete
  21. Well, good luck with that. I love your blog Father and you are right about a lot of things here, but sadly the question is, will your reform work? I know nothing about "Youthchurch" but as a parent I find the very name makes me dubious. And it's all very well to say that the Orthodox have a vibrant spiritual life... but is this the reason why? Could it be, in our country at least, that it's mostly because they are a minority and stick together for all kinds of reasons? Schools and parishes got the way they did in many cases because that's what the parents wanted. Our archdiocese is trying to reorient the schools, and I went to one of our open planning sessions. Only one other person at my table was a parent, the others were teachers, administrators, and a pastor. All said that in their many years working in the schools, they found that parents did not care about Catholic identity or teaching the faith. They stayed in business because they did what parents DID want. Now, many parents are clamoring for Catholic identity -- but many are not, and the administrators are wary. I hope you have found a good solution and I guess the only way to get one is by trying different things. If I were one of your parishioners, though, I don't think I'd be too happy about switching to something unknown, even if the known was stupid. And believe me, what we have in our parish is stupid.

    ReplyDelete
  22. God bless you, Father. You said what needs be said. I know many have written that here in your commbox...but, add me to the list that, if there were more like you out there, there would be less need to pray for more like you out there. Keep up the fight, and may He look kindly upon your work!

    ReplyDelete
  23. So if having all three as infants has worked so well for Middle East Christians, why not with your flock?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Great post - it really resonated with me (I've been a Confirmation Catechist in the past).

    I'd love to hear about the model you're going to follow with this Youthchurch.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Having converted to Catholicism from Protestantism gives me a unique perspective on this issue. It was about two years ago, or so, that I continued in the evening classes for those seeking to come into the Church. I considered myself well-versed Biblically, though I confessed to ignorance of some of the more profound teachings of the Church, including the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and more. For whatever reason - only the Almighty knows - the deacon leading the catechesis considered that an impediment was present, which in his opinion, was a flaw to my coming into full communion with the Church. Though he attempted to explain to me several times the rationale, I never agreed with his view, though I abided by it, and wasn't fully received into the Church at Eastertide. In the following time, I moved out of state, and promptly found a Catholic church where I could worship, and later met with the pastor and shared my story. He disagreed with the previous opinion, and I was tested by the Director of Religious Education and found most excellently qualified, and a date was set to receive me into the Church. I should hasten to add that, during the interim I was obedient, and did not receive the Host, though I could have, and no one would have known... save me and Almighty. But I had purposed in my heart that, though I disagreed, and did not understand, that I would obey, and I did. And, I'm glad I did. Now, I unofficially catechize because the things that I did not previously understand, I do now. Of note, my patrons are St. Athanasius the Great, and Blessed John Henry Newman. I'll leave it to you to understand why.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Just a quick note, Father Simon was talking about Eastern Rite Catholics, not Orthodox, in his example of people receiving communion, baptism and confirmation as infants. It is not just a Middle Eastern thing, but would apply in any Eastern Rite Catholic (e.g Ukranian Catholic, Maronite Catholic, etc) parish in the world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those born into Orthodoxy receive Baptism and Chrismation
      ( Confirmation ) and Holy Eucharist as infants.

      Maureen

      Delete
  27. Dear Fr S,

    Yes, you're right.

    I suspect you will catch heck from the 'professional Catholics' (who always think the answer to any issue is that there should be more professional Catholics) in the Diocese Chancery.

    May I commend you to emphasize to your students that the _apostolate_ (rather than ministry) as the functional call of lay Catholics in your program. That's up there on the top 10 things we screw up when teaching the Faith.

    Q: Where can one get more information about 'youthchurch'? A web search returns nothing identifiably Catholic.

    Also, I attempted to read the previous blog entries on your site, but I found this difficult, being not used to reading essays in reverse-polish notation. So, please publish. Ebook is fine. Take my money. (I use lulu.com for printed stuff, they also do ebooks.)

    I saw a pdf or two along the way: maybe side-bar (where some people put a blogroll) links to the pdfs you created?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Thank you Father. When my son was held back in kindergarten at a catholic school, all I could think was that it would be another year before his first communion. what we need to keep in mind is that it is all about the saving of the immortal souls of our children. Any thing less is heresy. The last meeting I went to at a Catholic school involved a discussion of how we can prepare kids for a Global economy. You can read about the depths of depravity at that school in a post I made about "Catholic school parents run wild." Catholic schools are all about the numbers. God help us, we are living in schismatic times.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hilarious, Father! My husband is completing his first year as a "Director of Christian Formation", and boy have we learned a lot this year. You basically nailed it. We are just heartbroken at how many people ship their kids of to "religious ed" and think the burden is off of their shoulders. My husband is also trying to take a "Youthchurch" approach this upcoming year in hopes that over the next few years we can maybe make a change in these kids hearts and lead them closer to Christ and His Church. (PS We're originally from the suburbs of Chicago, we might try and visit your parish when we're visiting back home sometime. We're in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee right now. :) )

    ReplyDelete
  30. This would immediately solve a huge number of problems, gradually solve another huge number, and then begin to build something we've never really seen in a Catholic parish. I don't know that it is, because we've never seen it.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I have to tell you that things are terribly wrong in our churches, but it isn't tough to figure out that once we stopped showing reverence for the Eucharist, it was all down hill. The American Bishops made the protestants very happy when they tore out the communion rails and started tossing Jesus into peoples hands like he was a chiclet. Too bad it also gave the impression that Jesus is not really present and so we don't have to go to Mass because the rest of the crap the Church teaches is mostly likely not true either. Hmmm?

    ReplyDelete
  32. I will provide a link to Family Formation. This is what my church puts out. The parents have to take an active role in teaching their child the faith if they want them to be in the programs for making their first communion and confirmation. The entire family has to learn. Yes, mom and dad too.
    http://www.familyformation.net/

    ReplyDelete
  33. This is good as far as it goes, but how about the parents?

    Serious Protestant churches have adult education right along with Sunday School, between services. I attend one at my husband's evangelical Anglican parish. (Don't worry, I also always attend Divine Liturgy at my Byzantine Catholic parish.) The class has had series on Church History, on the Sacraments (as they understand them), on their basic statement of doctrine, the 39 Articles,
    a survey of world religions and what they believe, a survey of Christian groups and the history and particular beliefs of the main ones, a survey of modern "isms" which contradict Christianity and why and how, and how to answer them. This class is well attended, especially by the many college students who attend this parish, but also by some older members, right up to those in their 80's and 90's. It is something serious members of the parish do.

    Now I don't see how you can get Catholics to do this. You can hardly get them to stay after mass to drink coffee and chat!

    But if you do have the parents coming to mass to put in their envelopes, because otherwise their children can't receive the sacraments, then you have them there to preach to. So preach your heart out! Preach like ...well I won't say preach like a Protestant...preach like an old mission preacher then,( I knew Redemptorist mission preachers) except that you can't assume you are preaching to people who believe in Catholicism or even in Christianity. It is a hard job, and I hardly think it can be done in ten minutes a Sunday, but somehow they need both to know what Christianity is, and they have to know in their hearts that there is something wrong with them that only God can cure.

    If you could get a parish full of parents who know this, you could use any system you want and the kids would learn. And the parents will come to Bible Studies and Catechism studies and whatever else you offer.

    Thank you for being there and for really understanding that there are souls in your care and for truly desiring their salvation.

    Susan Peterson

    ReplyDelete
  34. The real question being reviewed in this blog is the question "how can the truth be transmitted across the Catholic and technological culture?"

    Because cultures appear opposed intrinsically (especially in this case where the technological culture is the first in history to not contain religion as its catalyst and center)it's unlikely for successful tramission of truth across an exclusively cultural channel. Then I will agree with the individualization of the program. However, the question remains "what is the most prudent model of individualized catechism?"

    If the answer is Youth-church we have to critically analyze what this means. If by "youth" we mean the sub-cultures they submit to and attempt catechesis through rock bands and t-shirts I will be opposed.

    Culture in itself is man's reaction to contact with the truth. It is man's encounter with a model for living and dying. How to manage his affairs. How to develop community. Then culture in itself is opposed to mingling in multiplicity through the same people. The Catholic and technological cultures cannot coexist because in their primal cells contradict on how to live and die.

    Going to back to the previous point, it is even less likely to transmit the truth to our youth by means of sub-culture which are less of a contact with a truth and more of a reaction to the culture of their parents, enviornment, and popular culture.

    Moreover, if in Youth-church we mean "church" as a congregation separate from sacrament-receiving church, or the prepatory church, or separately worshipping church, or in any way divisive from the congregation I must be completely opposed. Only in union with the rest of the Church can Catholic youth answer the prayer of Christ in the garden for unity of all peoples. We will only undo Christ's work on the cross by separating our peoples.

    Today, the Church in the United States already face the trial of bringing hispanic and caucasion cultures together for one congregation in worship. Adding to the divisiveness will only make the Church's yoke heavier. We need to carry the spirit of St. Paul who was deeply opposed of even having dinner with exclusively Jews or Gentiles. We need all our people together at one table.

    Finally, I think individualization of the program would be ideal. However, ideology is much more difficult in practice and there is no priest who can individualize the average parish population. This is where Christ comes in. Transmission of truth by individualization arrives in prayer. The work of the priest is to live a holy life, thusly inviting the work of Christ into his parish.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Hang in there Father, you're not alone, we're just reloading.

    ReplyDelete
  36. God bless you in your endeavors Father. May He guide you in your good work.

    Love the post, and you have gained a follower. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  37. I can't believe you wrote this, Father! I'm stunned. I'm even a little teary-eyed. To the rest of the world, this is crazy talk. But you've now joined the growing ranks of Catholic parents (you are "father", after all) who are willing to sacrifice their popularity to shout that the emperor has no clothes. And... I don't feel quite so alone and crazy anymore. Thank you!

    I sit in the pews and listen to the drivel about the schools; the "jewel" of our church and the primary ministry of our parishes. And I look around and think: "Didn't anyone else besides my husband and me go to Catholic schools? Really? You're buying this stuff?" Between the two of us, we've attended a total of 10 different Catholic educational institutions... we've lived the failure... we are products of it. And now that we are parents (of 6) we get to relive the failure through our faith community.

    Incidentally, we homeschool. And we do get badgered by the institutional powers-that-be because we don't conform to the model. The failed model. Badgered in spite of the fact that (for example) my outgoing, athletic, academically gifted teenage son loves to serve Holy Mass more than practically anything, voluntarily studies Scripture and the Church Fathers, is signed up for his own holy hour, and is discerning a priestly vocation. I'm still looking for the problem with this. As far as I can tell, the only thing that we're really doing "wrong" with our homeschool religious instruction is that we're not doing it the familiar institutional way.

    I, like you, have had it. While the parish is doing the happy-happy-love dance over our parish school children, the little angels are getting ready to bolt from Mother Church. We are fools if we continue to ignore this problem.

    As far as individualizing instruction... I hear what people are saying about the difficulties. All I gotta say is, the souls of our children are worth whatever it takes. Teaching parents to embrace their God-given obligation as the primary educators of their children would certainly be a tremendous help.

    God bless you, Father. I will pray for you. :)

    ReplyDelete
  38. I was directed to your blog through a Facebook friend through Patheos.

    I'm a homeschooling mother and my daughter is 6 finishing 1st grade. She will begin 2nd grade in August. I tried to contact our parish about First Holy Communion preparation. I was told they will not even start prep until the child is 7 years old. She will not be 7 until January, but she has almost completed Faith and Life Series Grade 1. She has attended a Catechism of the Good Shepherd atrium for a year (and I'm in the process of opening my own at home). She knows about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception, the Crucifixion, The Last Supper, the Real Presence, the Resurrection, the Sacraments, Baptism, Mary, Heaven, etc.

    But it doesn't matter. She won't be 7 before September, so she can't begin to prepare for First Holy Communion for another year.

    I'm really sick and tired of people treating children like byproducts and classifying them by their manufacture date.

    It seems to me that the church has gotten lazy and it is time to step up.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I am so subscribing to your blog!

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hi Father! I'm here from Father Z.'s blog.

    I wish you well in your endeavors. You're spot-on correct about it all, I think, but be prepared for some serious blowback. Please do post updates as to how your new discipleship model works. I'll include you in my Rosary for your intentions.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Bravo, Father! What you've described is precisely why we finally threw in the towel and started homeschooling our kids. Sadly, it boiled down to a choice between loyalty to our parish and thorough catechesis for our children.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I'm not a Roman Catholic, but rather, an Orthodox Christian. That said, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Thank you, Father. This is why we started homeschooling our children 7 years ago. The parish school folks have never really gotten over our rebellion... And they are sure to tell our oldest son all about it every morning AT DAILY MASS.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Father,

    Here's a book that gives a little more history on how we got into this mess. If you'd like to stock up and give copies to parishioners, I'd be happy to get you a volume discount.

    https://bridegroompress.com/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=3

    ReplyDelete
  45. Amen! I am an organist at 2 parishes with schools. One is a small "poor" parish with a school of 225. The parish is 800 families and over the weekend you won't even see 20 kids over 4 Masses.

    The other parish is a large suburban parish of 2600 families, 300 in the school, and not many more kids at Mass there either. They say they all go to LifeTeen on Sunday night, but if that were the case, we would need 2 or 3 more LT Masses.

    Sick and tired of all the resources of the people in the pews paying for those who want a cheap private school for their kids.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Well done, Father! I'm all for afflicting the comfortable . . . even me, when I need it. I only pray your local ordinary backs you up.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Fr, I am in full agreement but I think you missed a few items.

    along with buibles, catechisms, water balloons and doughnuts, you need:
    a. rosaries
    b. moms to drive the kids down to serve at the soup kitchen together
    c. help from others (personally I recomend checking out coquestclubs.com and challengeclubs.com but I wrote a decent amount of the stuff their so this sub-point might be considered self-interest although I am dead serious about the soup kitchen and the rosaries)

    ReplyDelete
  48. For all you teachers out there, here's an idea my wife and I have tried using in our PSR classroom. We assign homework for the parents; little things like make a family prayer or dig out all the family photos and memorabilia related to the sacraments and talk about it.

    We do get a lot of push back and comments that are attempts to shirk responsibility. There are those who do and those who don't, but there is usually one family who takes that first step to participate in way they have not in the past.

    ReplyDelete
  49. *Massive waves of applause* - well done Father.

    ReplyDelete
  50. I followed a link from WDTPRS and your discussion is interesting. I have been teaching CCD for 11 years. (Started "aid-ing" 1st grade class when youngest child was in, stayed when she moved to 2d, took over the class when sr. teacher had a baby, love my kids.) I had close-together children and we lived a "chines fire drill" for a number of years. 1st Communion prep of the 2 middle ones was parent-done at that parish at that time, I did what I could with little books, when the parish went to classroom CCd I took them to that, my oldest spent 2 yrs in Catholic school--until they couldn't decide if they would do afterschool study hall until 5 or not--and my parish now has both the "use sac. prep. to keep them coming" attitude and a youth group and a "youth minister" who is constantly doing odd things on pre-Confirmation retreats and etc. etc. I think I have enough exposure to this to comment. Your "Youthchurch" will either be classroom based and proceeding over a several-year loop to cover all the stuff that can only really be taught by structured teaching (yes, that would be the Catechism) or it will be just a youth group with some happy-clappy Jesus singing. I think we as parish members, CCD teachers, and parents need to both teach Jesus' love for each individual and teach the Catechism...by the way the Catechism is full of talk about Jesus' love for us. We need to introduce and explain and do skill-teaching for the devotions that are commonly followed in our parish: I tell the kids in my class about the Divine Mercy Chaplet when we talk about the Eucharist. (Something about "Eternal Father I offer Thee the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ....) Likewise, we need to introduce and explain and do skill-teaching for the Sacraments, for going to Mass, etc. etc. The bottom line, however, is that many or even most of the families have so much going on (especially since most of the Moms work for pay outside the home) that they can't assume the responsibility for teaching in structured fashion the dogmas and doctrines and customs of our Faith. They delegate this, which they haven't the capacity to handle at home, to the parish's religious ed program. (No comment about ignorant CCD teachers, and CCD teachers who see no reason to teach prayers, etc. because I don't want to be ugly here.) I send them a letter in the fall thanking them for letting me help them. I send home a flyer at the end thanking them again and telling them what their own child accomplished. I think if all of us teaching the kids at church would maintain that attitude it would go better than it does. And if the people teaching or administrating teaching didn't secretly think they own the kids instead of the parents and Jesus owning the kids, it would be ever so much better than it is. IMHO.
    Best to all
    KL

    ReplyDelete
  51. Fr., I find your post very interesting. There is a lot that is not going well with the current system of religious education. I don't know if you'll post updates as you begin the program and then evaluate it maybe at the end of the year. I'm not sure throwing overboard the current means of religious education is the answer either (not many would disagree that change, renewal and new methods are very much needed). Your new idea of "youthchurch" is interesting and it may very well work wonderfully. How about after you are transferred to another parish? The Mass attendance issue is huge and I think in the process of evangelizing our culture we have to invite, attract, welcome, and challenge the faithful. May the Holy Spirit truly lead you and help draw those you serve closer to Christ.

    ReplyDelete
  52. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Thank you. God bless you. You are on target in every way. Go collect those souls and send them on the right path. It isn't all about the 'little white dress' or the 'little black suit' in any sacrament, it's about what's inside what's inside the little white dress and little black suits, i.e. that little precious soul. Glad someone gets it. :)

    ReplyDelete
  54. Well....I agree and I disagree.

    As a DRE, my first thought was - Oh! do you need a new DRE? I'm applying! Because it seems as though everything you say is on target.

    On the other hand..... As a child I went to a Presbyterian Sunday School (a lot like CCD class) ...and like a lot of Catholics, I only was taken occasionally. Yet, what I was taught was enough to open my mind to Christ. I am sure that from the director's point of view I was a total waste of their effort (and I suppose if keeping me Presbyterian was the goal, they would be right...) If their goal was to sow seeds of Faith they did it - well.

    But, it was because my parents' loved - me and others - and demonstrated Christian values (though not often so-designated)- that what I learned in my rare visits to Sunday School resonated. Parents ARE the most critical piece, but I am not so sure we can always judge even the parents by what we see.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Were the Goths graduates of Catholic schools? What is the point of this story? It sounds like the Good Father needs a drink... or a Xanax.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Thus the reason we homeschool -- and work daily to convert and convert and convert some more our children, that they may be fully united with Christ through the Catholic Church.

    ReplyDelete
  57. Time to also make the Extraordinary Form the Ordinary. Lex Orlando, lex credendi, lex vivendi

    ReplyDelete
  58. *shrug* As long as priests don't understand proper liturgy, the faithful will remain faithless. Rather than ditching CCD, why not simply be a bit more stringent in requirements (require that, in order to receive a sacrament, you must be a regularly attending parishioner, ie) and do everything as properly as possible.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Love it!!!!! In Gr. 7 we had a confirmation retreat (which actually had nothing whatsoever to do with confirmation) and our parish priest took every kid aside to ask them why they wanted to be confirmed. My mom told me later that he told her I was the only one out of 30 plus kids that could answer and from the heart. Keep up your posts!

    ReplyDelete
  60. First of all, treat all the children (and their families) of the parish the same, whether they go to the parish school or not.
    Second, return to the practice of daily Mass.
    Third, put a priority on modest dress. (I can't begin to tell you how many developing young ladies are wearing their uniform skirts half-way up their thighs, so that even if they wanted to genuflect, they can't because it would reveal all.) Fourthly, take time when processing in and out of church to actually slow down enough to properly genuflect and make the sign of the cross properly. What IS the hurry? Get rid of the happy/clappy music, poster-bearing, one student per prayer of the faithful, learning to play a clarinet crowd and stick to regular Mass.

    ReplyDelete
  61. God Bless you, Father. I've taught Religion classes going back 30 years on and off, and when I'm dealing with 15 y.o.'s who don't know what constitutes a mortal sin, nor what religion they practice, I broke out the pre-1962 Baltimore Catechism. I taught my own sons the same way (both of whom go to a Catholic HS, and run rings around their instructors.) The Church needs more men like you. Don't give up, remember what St. Pio went through.

    ReplyDelete
  62. Father, I have been a fan of this method (or something close to it) for years. I'm excited that someone with the authority to execute it is finally on board. I think that youth groups and CCD can have a lot of value, but setting Sacraments as wickets to achieve along a timeline is an insult to the grace.
    Youth group had a huge impact on my involvement and personal ownership of the faith and I will probably always involve myself with it. I'm currently volunteering with one of the best confirmation programs that I have seen in 15 years and 4 states worth of volunteering. It's great to see the effect that is taking place with many of the kids, but there is no way to get around the fact that our current system is flawed. Our old school system was atleast partially flawed too. If it wasn't, more kids would find inspiration for their faith from their parents instead of expecting it to be fed to them from the parish. We have a wide margin for improvement in youth ministry and administration of the Sacraments. I think your move is a step in the right direction.
    God bless!
    AMDG

    ReplyDelete
  63. Father: FYI, I came across your post via the remarkable Kevin Knight at NewAdvent.org. Thanks for sharing your very sharp observations , delivered with such a drolly sardonic tone.


    On YouTube, Fr Barron relates a visit with his brother where he happened to notice the stack of his niece's textbooks from her Chicago-area Catholic high school, which included Hamlet, Latin, & other meaty texts. Sadly contrasted with this was her religion text, in comic-book format. Too typical!


    This merely underlines an important point: Catholicism is rich, deep, & rigorous. Her teachings are hard to understand & difficult to live out under the best of circumstances; in our current culture one could envy the salmon swimming up the Columbia river! It's not nearly enough to just to know enough rudiments in order to be "confirmed & done"; our young people are supposed to be equipped to evangelize the lost, encourage the faithful, & defend the Church from atheistic secularism on the one side & reductionist fundamentalism on the other. That takes hard work, prayer, & fearless leadership from parents & pastors, not comic books & drop-offs to CCD class.


    If the Church is to survive, she needs her children to know, love, & serve the faith. Not to wax nostalgic, as there were many faults, but one thing the Church in the U.S. did not lack in the decades before Vatican II was kconfidence. I'm not advocating a return to the contentious polemics of that time, but rather the "Ecumenism of Orthodoxy", as Dr Peter Kreeft so pithily puts it.

    The 23rd Psalm, does not read "... your powder puff & your feather-duster..."; no, it is "...Your rod & Your staff that give me courage". The point being, real love is tough, God's love is the most real, therefore God's love is the toughest, while without contradiction being the tenderest.


    So please be encouraged to give your students & parishioners the "strong meat" of genuine, orthodox Catholicism, in the hope that at least some will be adequately equipped to carry on. I haven't read his sermons yet, but I would give long odds that St Jean-Marie Vianney did not lead so many folks to his confessional by being excessively comforting in the pulpit.


    God bless!

    ReplyDelete
  64. Fr. James Mallon from Catholicism 201 fame has written about this model and is employing it at his new parish in Nova Scotia.The fact that sacraments have become rites of passage out of the Church is a travesty, we need something drastic. Fr. is right its all about souls.
    http://www.saintbenedict.ca/wp-content/bulletin/document/Pastoral_Care_of_the_Sacraments.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  65. This is a post with claws. You are right about parents being the first and best teachers, but they are too busy worrying about whether their offspring might climb trees etc. What the world really needs is a Children's Crusade, and perhaps we will live to see it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So many, many "Catholics" on this post know just what needs to be done to save the Church. Get rid of fluff and bratwurst, add water balloons and donuts, get the kids out of the trees, and completely disregard anything taught in a catholic school for the past several decades. All written so "all encompassing" - where did you all come from? I recently lived through the great Catholic School purge in Philadelphia. It was much like a crusade. So many middle class students left without schools.....but we open mission schools for the non-Catholics - can my kid go to one of them? I prefer not to send them to the crack infested, low test scoring public schools. I go to Mass (and in Philly, Father, they do want money - a set amount - in the envelop) Let's have a good old fashioned crusade...with swords and stuff. It should be great fun, or should it be humorless and dour....children trudging off to find true religion? You all seem to the be good Cathoics...what's the answer?

      Delete
  66. I have been catechizing since 1999. I too am fed up with the poor results of the Catechetical System. I started over from scratch two years ago:

    https://www.createspace.com/3835986

    ReplyDelete
  67. I haven't read all the comments so I don't know if this has been mentioned, but in my experience the youth that are really in love with God and love the Church are those where the Mass is celebrated very reverently following the rubrics of the Mass and where the priest is not acting like he has to entertain or joke...

    ReplyDelete
  68. My big question when it comes to the Eucharist, is how often is the true presence preached at Mass? How often is the "Catholic line" taught in regards to curriculum in Catholic schools? Most of our religious ed curriculum is loaded with the fluff and feel-good stuff, but too little on the basics of the faith. This, however, is a problem with much of the curriculum in all subject areas. Having kids develop the precepts when they have little background is ludicrous at best. Most can't even decide what to put on in the morning, much less intellectually come to the premise that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Trinity Incarnate.
    Deacons and Priests should not complain if they are not talking it up in the homilies. EVERY homily needs constructive reference to the Eucharist and its true nature.

    Deacon Bill Gallerizzo

    ReplyDelete
  69. I figure the real presence along with reference to it about to become real before us is mentioned about 1 in every 4 Sundays by my assistant or by myself.

    ReplyDelete
  70. God bless you, Father, and best of luck. You've a difficult task ahead of you.

    If you feel inclined to further teach the Catholic faith, you might want to try offering the EF Mass at your parish. I know, I know, it has a lot of one of those dead languages in it, but if you want to teach great holiness of the Mass, you will get that with the TLM. It's a wonderful teaching tool for showing reverance toward Our Lord, and especially the Holy Eucharist. Just a thoguht! Best wishes.

    ReplyDelete
  71. I HOPE THERE ARE MORE PASTORAL PRIESTS LIKE YOU IN YOUR COUNTRY. GO AHEAD FATHER. JESUS IS WITH YOU AND MY PRAYERFUL SUPPORT TOO.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Hey, Father! Thank you so much for your article. It's exactly what we did at St. Benedict's Church in Duluth, MN when I was youth minister. It's also what's inspired me to write a 3-year youth ministry curriculum which takes the 4-pillars of the Catechism, the Theology of the Body, our diocesan guidelines, and the suggested format from the USCCB and fit them organically into the 3-year lectionary cycle of Scripture.

    We re-constructed the youth group to ONLY small groups with well-equipped leaders who were IN the lives of their youth on a regular basis and it worked amazingly!

    Thanks for your candidness, Fr.

    ReplyDelete
  73. This is awesome! Praying you see success.

    PS - Happy to be following the blog of my favorite Relevant Radio show host. :)

    ReplyDelete