August 10, 2013 – Different Perspectives

First I want to thank you for the compliments I received this past week about the blog, and also for helping set a new record.  Last Saturday the blog was viewed 21 times, which shattered the previous record of 19.  Still modest numbers, but hey, a record is a record.  As I said last week, I never would have guessed that I would have been doing this for this long, much less actually having MORE people taking a read as time went along.  So again, thank you.

One of the frustrating yet intriguing parts of life is how different people look at things from different perspectives.  For example, if you ask 2 people about the quality of a restaurant, one may tell you what a great meal they had, while the other may tell you that they wouldn’t let their dog eat there.  Or if you ask 2 people about how they liked a doctor they went to, one may tell you that they were kind and answered questions, while the other may tell you that they were abrupt and didn’t explain anything.  It’s not that one or the other is right or wrong, but they have formed an opinion based on their experiences.  The person who didn’t like the restaurant may not have liked that type of cuisine, or the person who didn’t like the doctor may have caught them on a bad day when they were running behind.  It’s about our own experiences.

In my reading this past week, I came across 2 different perspectives from 2 people that I respect very much.  During the World Youth Day celebration in Brazil, Pope Francis addressed the Bishops of Brazil.  He expressed concern about the number of people leaving the Catholic Church for evangelical congregations.  Pope Francis fears that the message of the church has become too “intellectual”, and that a simpler message reflecting the core values of the Catholic faith such as love, forgiveness and mercy is what is necessary.  In Francis’ own words, “at times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity, and import an intellectualism foreign to our people … Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his ministry.”  OK, so it seems that the Pope is telling us that some of our teachings may be a little too lofty for some people, and this is turning them away from Catholicism and toward a simpler message.  This appears to make sense, right?

Now to the other perspective.  I also viewed a short piece of video from Fr. Robert Barron in which he essentially talks about the “dumbing down” of Catholicism.  He points out that since Vatican II, we have taken a simpler approach to teaching kids religion in our Catholic Schools.  In some cases, it has even gotten to the point of not issuing a letter grade for the subject of religion, but simply assigning a check mark or an “S” for satisfactory on a report card.  He fears that this sends a message to kids and parents that religion is not as important as the other subjects, and does not deserve the time and intensity that other subjects get such as science and reading.  He also fears that if people of the older generation are not being properly formed in Catholic teaching, that they will be unable to properly pass on the faith to future generations.  He feels that if high schoolers, for example, can handle subjects such as physics and calculus, that they can absorb the teaching of theologians such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Newman.

So we certainly have been given two different perspectives.  Does this mean that one or the other is right or wrong?  I don’t think so, because I think there is validity in both opinions.  As someone who will be beginning my 15th year of teaching religion to 7th and 8th graders, I have struggled with both sides of this equation.  On one hand, I am reluctant to get too deep into Catholic teaching out of fear that kids in that age group will become bored and will be reluctant to try to learn anything at all.  On the other hand, I become frustrated when some kids are unable to answer basic questions such as what day Jesus rose from the dead, or when they appear not to grasp the notion that when they receive communion, that they are receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus.  I then feel like if they do not have at least a basic foundation of knowledge of their faith, that they will not gain an appreciation of Catholicism and will abandon it.

So what is the answer?  As is usually the case, the answer is not clear cut for us.  However, this much I know.  If kids are not given a base of religious teaching at home, it will be that much tougher to relay it to children.  If parents or guardians do not stress to their kids the important role God plays in their lives, it will be that much tougher for teachers to get them to believe this.  If parents make the decision that a shopping trip or a sporting event takes precedence over attending Mass on a Sunday, then it will be that much harder for teachers to stress to their students the importance of keeping Sunday a holy day.  Whatever perspective we gravitate towards, the teaching of the Catholic faith has to begin with a firm foundation at home.  If this happens, then we as teachers of the faith can figure out the rest much more easily.

On the subject of teaching, I cannot believe that the school year begins this coming week.  Was there a summer season?  Did I miss something?  Anyway, good luck to all of the students as they begin another year of learning, and let us pray that the year is productive and that our kids will gravitate toward what we teach them about our faith.

Have a great week.  Peace.

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