I’m in the midst of my 11th year of homeschooling, and I have a newly-Confirmed teen in my home. It’s hard to believe we’ve been at this for so long!
When we moved from the Orlando area to southwest Virginia, our lives changed in a lot of ways. We were no longer near family, we knew almost no one here, and we went from being near the center of the diocese to being in the outskirts of a new one. Even in Florida, near the See, you’ll find a lot of Catholics. But here, hours away from Richmond, we’re a tiny minority; someone told me once that Catholics are a mere 4% of the population in this part of the state.
I knew this would be a challenge when I was investigating homeschool co-ops for our family to be involved in, because I found two groups in the area, both of which had the following (or pretty similar) as their Statements of Faith:
1. We believe the Bible is the written Word of God and it is infallible, inerrant,and authoritative in matters of faith and practice.
2. We believe in the Trinity of God; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are co-equal in their nature and attributes.
3. We believe in the virgin birth, the perfect life, the vicarious death, the bodily resurrection, and visible return of Jesus Christ.
4. We believe salvation is by grace through faith, nothing more, nothing less.
5. We believe in the eternal security and preservation of the saved.
6. We believe the Church is a local autonomous body of baptized believers covenanted together to carry out the commands of Christ.
7. We believe these two ordinances: Baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper to commemorate His sacrifice for us.
8. We believe that born-again believers should live holy and dedicated lives unto the Lord.
9. We believe in a Heaven for the saved and a Hell for the lost.
10. We believe in the pre-millenial return of Jesus Christ.
Now, as a Catholic, I can certainly not sign a piece of paper stating that I agree with these completely. Certainly, there is a lot in common, but there are some definite theological differences here. One group (the one I joined, for reasons which will become clear in a moment) said that if I signed it, it was merely acknowledging that I understood that this was the basis for how their group was going to be run.
The other group insisted I sign it stating I believe these things. When I wrote to them (as I had with the group I wound up joining), explaining that as a Catholic I could not, in good faith, sign a paper saying I agreed with these, they said that was fine. I’d be welcome in their group.
As long as my children didn’t attempt to proselytize their children.
What that statement said to me was that their children were free to undermine my family’s faith, but we were not free to explain Catholicism to their children in any way. Obviously, with children who were going on 6 and 3 at the time, this would not be a good group to put them in.
When we moved here, it was clear to me that we would have to work on the kids really knowing and understanding the Faith and the reasons we believe what we believe. And we started out with some rigorous religious education mixed with age-appropriate apologetics on the side. I bought the Friendly Defenders cards, which I used to drill them sometimes, and we used both Seton’s and Catholic Heritage Curricula’s religious education programs.
At first, we worked on memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, too. Both Seton and the Faith and Life series make use of the old Q & A style. But I worked very hard on the why behind the questions. To be sure, some of the answers were memorized. Knowing that we are made to know, love, and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in the next is important, as is knowing that Sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace. But it’s just as important to know why we believe these things.
Some traditionalist Catholics (especially those who fit into the Rad Trad category) will say that Sunday school is far too watered-down any more. Kids don’t know the faith, they get through 12 years of Catholic School and don’t know why we’re against the redefinition of marriage or the use of contraception. They can’t pray a Rosary, they don’t know any saints, and on and on. “Bring back the Baltimore Catechism!” they cry, as if that’s what is going to fix it. If only we could go back to some Golden Age of Catholicism when people knew and loved the faith, before Vatican II let us pray in English and the dreaded Life Teen was allowed to exist! Mantillas for everyone! Latin only!
And while I agree that we could definitely beef up our religoius education, as far as going back to pre-Vatican II days’ methods go, I just don’t buy it. I haven’t for years, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. What I finally realized is that for all the talk of some Golden Age before Vatican II, there hasn’t been a Golden Age for Catholicism.
Ever since the Last Supper, we’ve had foxes in the henhouse: unfaithful Catholics who wound Our Lord and dissent from His teachings. It’s been the same throughout history. Time and again, our human frailties and concupiscence make themselves evident as those within the Church turn on Christ and disavow the doctrines we profess to believe each Sunday.
And there’s one other thing to remember:
The very people who grew up in this so-called Golden Age before Vatican II are the very people who whitewashed our churches, pulled down statues, and gave us sappy music that sings the praises of the People of God while ignoring the One we’re supposed to be worshipping at Mass.
I’ve often compared my discovery of old traditions and customs with someone who is rooting around in her grandmother’s home, looking behind the overcoats and rain boots in the hall closet, and finding a steamer trunk that, when opened, reveals a stash of beautiful treasure: gold, silver, jewels, and more!
Who knew these things were in our family? Why are they hiding back here behind the galoshes? Why don’t we use any of this stuff?
I don’t know why the generation that grew up with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass discarded all the lovely beauty of these traditions and customs, but they did. I don’t know why they did away with bells and incense, but they did. And they did it after all the Baltimore Catechism lessons that some Rad Trads insist will save the Church from Her less-than-fervent members.
My girls do know some of the Baltimore Catechism, to be sure. But more importantly than memorizing the Q & A style religion lessons, they know why we do the things we do. That’s how they can answer the questions of the Protestants on their soccer teams and dance classes. And they can give great answers to their questions! This is something I certainly wasn’t able to do at their ages, and I’m grateful I didn’t have need to do it.
There’s no quick fix to the problems of lackluster faith among Catholics. It’s not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of developing a relationship with a God who is not a concept, but a Real Person. Memorizing the old Catechism won’t change how zealous people are for Christ and His Church.
But with some work, we can chip away at the walls that separate them from a close, personal relationship with The Lord.