One of the criticisms of previous eras in the religious formation of young people is around the learning of rote formulas. In the past, many students learned significant parts of the catechism off by heart. The criticism is that this led to a whole load of head knowledge and very little heart knowledge. The parable of the sower could be applied here as, no doubt, quite a few students, when faced with the challenges of life, had not been rooted in deep soil and so fell away.
As with many things in our world there is a pendulum here, a continuum. All wrote learning may lead to a weak depth of experiential spirituality. All experiential learning can end up being little more than feelings that fall away when the times of testing in life arrive. Obviously, what we need is a balance. That said, my sense has been that for at least the last couple of generations we have let go of much catechetical learning and hoped that making liturgies, ‘fun’ would be enough to keep our kids practising the faith. It didn’t.
In today’s video I share a great quote from Pius X where he talks about the very real risk of giving the church what he calls, ‘inert members’. For Pope Pius the danger was that purely wrote learning would lead to an almost robotic faith where people may know the creed and the core propositions of faith but little else. He pointed us to another outcome. For him, the goal of catechesis and learning the faith was a true transformation of the inner man. It was all about the development of Christians who knew their faith and would actually put it into practice.
To be honest, not much has changed. A quest to rebuild a deep and genuine process of catechetical instruction for our students is all about helping them experience the genuine transformation of the Gospel message.It is about teaching their heads so as to inflame their hearts. It is about giving the Church what Pope Pius called “active members’ who are ready to practice their faith and make a difference in the world.
Think for a moment about the way in which so many of our students have a deep desire to change things. It may will be a characteristic of young people at all moments of history yet it seems particularly popular in the current era. How often is this deep desire to do good hijacked by suspect political agendas? So often, young people are presented with iconoclastic notions of tearing down power structures and building a brave new world. How much more desirable would it be to see this same impulse directed by a deep level of Catholic formation? What if our students had a deep formation in their creation in the image and likeness of God? What if the understood natural law, virtue ethics, the intercession of the saints, the power of the Eucharist?
Pope St. John Paul II saw the possibility of this idea when he began the first World Youth Day. He understood that there is a great energy and goodness in young people that needs encouragement but also formation and direction.Let’s be proud of our rich Catholic tradition. Let’s press on as teachers in handing on the deposit of faith to each student we are privileged to encounter.