Last night, the gracious and talented Karen
and I exchanged a volley of emails which, eventually, swerved on the matter of catechesis.
In my reply to her, I wrote:I grew up in one of the last places where V2 tookroot. My boredom was on my parents' list of concerns somewhere between #872 (fatal jellyfish attack) and#874 (scurvy). So we were dragged to Mass, and I was bored. My sisterand I went to single-sex schools (the Jesuit bootcamp in question is a 6-12 dealie) where I, at least, had to memorize the Baltimore Catechism. (I never bothered to see what my kid sister was up to, but the sisters were an unhabited lot, which always makes my antennae twitch.)So, I um, wandered away. At no point did I ever stand up and shout "I renounce this teaching as unbiblical!" or anything like that. I just stopped thinking about it and given the zeitgeist (early 1980s), I went along to get along. There may have been girls, as well as spirituous liquors, involved at some point.
But after cracking my melon eleventy gazillion times between Confirmation and age, say, 30 (we're rounding off, but play along) I started to remember all the things Fr. Justin drilled into me, between declensions. Fr. Justen was exactly my idea of a Jesuit. He was a hard@$$. He was acerbic. He was inexpressively brilliant. He was invariably right. He HATED (hated, I tell you!) the reforms of the 1970s and when asked about why he did X when, in the Spirit of V2 he ought've been doing Y, he would reply he was eagerly awaiting news of the council. (This being 1978.) He was hilarious. He was also secretly kind. He started smiling towards the end of the 2nd semester of every school year, and then only at seniors.
So that's how I teach my class. I openly tell them "they are relieved of the responsibility of enjoying themselves." I tell them what is expected of them, which is A LOT. I refuse to hold their hands and I make them memorize and discuss. I call them by their last name, Miss X and Mr. Y. Yes, even when I was teaching 4th graders.
That said, I'm also (I hope) funny. And funny is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. I sling out analogies THEY can understand. I explain why the Church is right and Elbonianists are wrong. (Big thanks to Fr. Justin, who was an ardent apologist.) And they, somehow, get it.
They have a midterm, and a final and assignments and homework. I hand out a syllabus! In CCD. Stop and ponder that for a moment. What's even more unfathomable is that they take it seriously and study.
I talk straight, shoot straight and expect more than they think they can provide me. THEN, when the kids from Jesuit school (or the other non-parochial Catholic schools who must attend CCD) come back and tell me they ACED their religion final their eyes are opened.
The boys like it that they KNOW that I know what I'm talking about when I tell them "X is a bad idea, besides being a sin." The girls like it that I tell them (politely, natch) exactly what is on the minds of 15 year old boys. (There's a very funny story on this for another time.)
I throw out Bible references all the time with Bible references. (No easy feat for a cradle Catholic, y'know. Another huge debt to Fr. Justin.) I explain where Confirmation and Confession show up in the Bible. And Purgatory.
I make them attend Confession during Advent and Lent.
What I specifically avoid doing is showing "earnestness" or "enthusiasm." I had catechists like
that and, as Wodehouse used to write, "they gave me the pip." I don't show any of those ULTRA LAME videos found in 90% of the CCD offices in the USA. I use video clips of the Passion of The Christ to teach them about the Rosary. I use the textbooks (for which, um, I don't care) the least amount permissible. If I'm really going to kick it old school, I might as well do the thing properly and go with the Baltimore Catechism*.
My favorite thing? We're all assigned a seminarian to be our aide, and chime in and generally help out. "My" seminarians invariably start taking notes.
A big help is that I'm at an Old Skool parish, with Carmelites Sisters all over the place in full-on habits (what my friend P. calls "regalia") and everyone expects there to be hard@$$edness. Even the 1st graders here know what it means to forego the Eucharist, where Jesus is actually present "in Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity." Oh, yeah, a lot of the students come back in subsequent years as volunteers.
Now, what Karen really wanted me to post was my syllabus, which I did Baltimore Catechism-like. Here 'tis:Part The First–About Our Teacher1- Who is to be our teacher?
Our teacher is to be J.M. García.2- How are we to address/refer to our teacher?
We are to address/refer to our teacher as Mr. García. Tasteful acts of veneration are strictly optional.3- Why is Mr. García our teacher?
The reason why Mr. García is our teacher is a Mystery.4- How is Mr. García different from most other teachers?
Mr. García is different from most other teachers in that he gives Tests and Assignments.Part The Second–About Our Class5- What tests does Mr. García give us?
The tests Mr. García gives us are a Midterm and a Final.6- What sort of test will our Midterm be, and material will be included on our Midterm?
Our Midterm will be 50 multiple-choice questions, 25 short-answer questions and 25 True-or-False questions, with additional extra-credit questions. The material included on our Midterm will be the material covered in class, or assigned as homework, until the next-to-last day of class in December. This is Mr. García’s idea of a Christmas gift to us.7- What sort of test will the Final be, and material will be included on the Final?
The Final can be one of two types. For those of us who passed the Midterm, it will be of 50 true/false and multiple-choice questions. For those of us who failed the Midterm, it will be of 100 true/false and multiple-choice questions. The material included on the Final will be the material covered in class, or assigned as homework, until the next-to-last day of class in April. This is Mr. García’s idea of an Easter basket to us.8- What kinds of questions should we expect on our Tests?
The two kinds of questions we should expect on our Tests are: Hard questions and Trick questions. This is to prepare us for life, when God will allow difficulties to arise to test us, and Satan will try to trick us.9- Why does Mr. García give us tests?
Mr. García gives us tests to foreshadow Purgatory for those who pass them and Hell for those who do not.10- What assignments does Mr. García give us?
The assignments Mr. García gives us are related to reading Scripture, praying and learning prayers, all of which will prove useful in helping us pass Mr. García’s class.11- Do students learn in Mr. García’s class?
Students learn in Mr. García’s class more than they realize.12- Why do students learn so much in Mr. García’s class?
Students learn in Mr. García’s class because they are afraid.13- Why are students in Mr. García’s class afraid?
Because they have fear of the Lord, which Mr. García makes students keep in mind.Part The Third–About Our Expectations
14- How can students pass Mr. García’s class?
Students can pass Mr. García’s class by application, supplication and study.15- How do we define application?
We define application to be making the maximum effort to learn the material covered this year, and include it in our daily lives.16- How do we define supplication?
We define supplication to be praying to God the Father that we may be open to the material covered this year, to the Holy Spirit that we may be enlightened in our tests and assignments and to Jesus Christ that Mr. García grades us with extreme mercy.17- How do we define study?
We define study as looking over our texts, handouts and other materials on our own time and is a form of prayer to Jesus Christ that Mr. García grades us with mercy, and the likeliest one to be answered the desired way.18- What is the purpose of this class?
The purpose of this class will be to prepare us to receive and be worthy of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, from which we are quite far at this point.19- How can this class prepare us to receive and be worthy of receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation?
How this class prepares us to receive, and be worthy of receiving, the Sacrament of Confirmation is a Mystery. It seems we need abundant applications of the Holy Spirit.20- Besides class, what else will we be doing throughout the year?
Besides class, we will, at various points throughout the year, be attending Mass, going to Confession, participating in sessions with our sponsors, watching films, attending a retreat, and participating in prayer services related to the Sacrament of Confirmation. We might consider these excursions away from the classroom a mini-vacation, but we would be wrong to do so.21- What will be expected of us students this year?
Students this year are expected to attend every Monday night on the schedule, to have selected a Patron Saint by [insert date], to have selected a proper Confirmation Sponsor by [insert date], to have completed a Confirmation Journal before the appointed date and to have completed 45 hours of Community Service.22- What are we expected to do every Monday night on the schedule?
We are expected to arrive at assembly on time, walk to our classrooms in some semblance of silence, sit in our assigned seats quietly and speak only when Mr. García calls upon us.23- How are we to select a Patron Saint?
We are to select a Patron Saint with reflection, meditation and prayer, after having studied the saints carefully, since we will take as our Confirmation Name the name of this Patron Saint, who is to intercede for us, to guide us and assist us. We are not to select a Patron Saint because he or she has a cool name, like St. Fabian, or a funny name like St. Eusebius, or a smarty-pants name like St. Louis, St. Bernard, St. Nicholas or St. Valentine. The worst thing of all for us to do is to come up with a made-up name like St. Vituperius or St. Elsewhere.24- How are we to select a proper Confirmation Sponsor?
We are to select a proper Confirmation Sponsor from someone who is a friend or relative who is a practicing Catholic and over 18 years of age. That means, for example, that a 15-year old who is divorced and living with someone else’s concubine and a stolen poodle would be not be acceptable as a sponsor.25- How are we to complete 45 hours of community service?
We are to complete 45 hours of community service by volunteering to do, or join in, activities that are of benefit to others. Since it is a good exercise in resisting temptation, we will not count (towards the 45 hours): chores, things we do for our friends anyway, things for which we are paid, and/or any community service hours the judge gave us in court.26- How are we to complete our Confirmation Journal?
We are to complete our Confirmation Journal based on the answers we give at our Sponsor Sessions, and we should include details of our activities with our Sponsor and of our Community Service. We are to type it, in consideration of Mr. García, who will be aging rapidly as he teaches us, possibly as a direct result.27- What are we to bring to class every time?
We are to bring to class, every time, our Student Bible, paper and pen/pencil for taking notes (there will be lots of notes) and our textbooks. It will also be handy to bring in a Rosary (you’ll get one at the retreat, if you are currently Rosary-deprived). Taking needed items from the desk of the student where you are sitting is a Very Bad Idea, and clearly sinful stuff, requiring you to go to Confession. Having a separate CCD book bag is a great idea, hint-hint.28- Whom should we contact with any questions?
Contact the Office of Religious Education with any questions. Preferably just before lunch.
Thus endeth the lesson.
-J.* Which reminds me of SNL's Hans & Franz: "Hear me now and believe me later." Too much emphasis has been placed on having kids "understand" stuff. I believe in knowing stuff. To understand is to acquire wisdom via the application of knowledge to circumstances.