Friday, July 21, 2006

CCD and The Definition of Insanity - address to CCD Conference, Guam, September 2006

The Problem

The recent furor over The DaVinci Code and the willingness of so many Catholics to either entertain the possibility that the book’s claims might be true or to think it harmless because of its fiction label underscores and highlights our pressing need for more authentic Catholic teaching.

What are we missing when so many do not see the harm in believing or even entertaining blasphemy, or even knowing what a blasphemy is?
  • What are we missing when the majority of those who attend our CCD classes disappear after they receive the sacrament for which they were being prepared and only reappear when they need the next sacrament? 
  • What are we missing when despite the best efforts of pastors and well-meaning catechists we are unable to enlist the support of the parents of the children whom we have been entrusted to catechize? 
  • What are we missing when so many baptized and confirmed Catholics find it so easy to leave the Church of their ancestors for a livelier beat down the street, or at least ignore and disobey Her teachings? 
  • What are we missing?

It is said that the definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The Solution

I would like to propose a possible solution…or at least encourage you to engage the challenge anew.

As should be expected, our Holy Mother Church has the answer. As a matter of fact it has been shouting the answer to us through Her Catechism, Her code of Canon Law, Her Councils, Her Vicars, and all manner of exhortations and documents, not only down through the ages, but especially in our Modern Age, and especially very recently. She has been shouting to us that it is THE PARENTS WHO HAVE THE RIGHT AND RESPONSIBILITY TO BE THE PRIMARY EDUCATORS OF THE CHILD!

The list of references for this teaching is so long that it would take the rest of the conference to quote them all. But let me just quote here the APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION: CATECHESI TRADENDAE OF POPE JOHN PAUL II, ON CATECHESIS IN OUR TIME.

Family catechesis therefore precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis. … "the church of the home"(120) remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children's catechists and to carry it out with tireless zeal. Encouragement must also be given to the individuals or institutions that, through person-to-person contacts, through meetings, and through all kinds of pedagogical means, help parents to perform their task: The service they are doing to catechesis is beyond price.

So, this, I believe, is the real issue:  
Are our Catechetical programs set up to “help parents to perform their task”, or are they set up to take the place of the parent? 

I’m not asking what the goal or the intention of the program is. My question is directed at the process. Are we in fact doing what our Church teaches and commands us to do: helping parents to perform the task of catechizing their own children?

We believe that we are there to assist the parent, but in effect, we take the child from the parent, even forcing the parent to turn over the child to the program by demanding that the child go through the parish’s instructional process before the child is allowed to receive the desired sacrament. Usurping the parents' right to request the Sacrament for their child is a violation of Canon Law. A diocese or parish may require that knowledge of and desire for the sacrament be demonstrated....but nothing more.

The litmus test for our program is not how much time we are spending educating other people’s children, but how much time and energy and resources we are dedicating to the parents, aiding and assisting them in their role as the primary educators of their own children, and, in fact, building up what our late Pope called the “church of the home”.

We often hear: "Well, the parent’s won’t come. We try to involve the parents, but they won’t get involved." Why should they? We have already told them by our requirements and actions that they are not capable of educating their own children. We have already usurped their role, nullified and negated their primary privilege and responsibility. Though not intentional, we have taken their children and sent them away.

If the parish is going to demand that a child be educated in the parish program, then the parish has the responsibility of proving to the parent that the person taking their place, the catechist is indeed educated and certified to do the job. After all, the teaching of the faith is more important and valuable than any other discipline. The child’s eternal soul is at stake.

But most parishes cannot do that. Most parishes and programs, besides not having the right to take the child from the parent, cannot produce qualified teachers. Most teachers are well-meaning volunteers with very little formal catechetical training. The real question is not how dedicated, sincere, and faithful these volunteers are. The real question is who will have to answer for the child’s soul at the gate of heaven?

So what to do? What follows is a basic outline of a plan that some parishes are already beginning to use to solve this dilemma.


  1. Determine the knowledge that a child must demonstrate in order to receive a sacrament
  2. Design a test: oral &/or written
  3. Select the materials for instruction & prepare a “packet” to be given to parents.
  4. Set the date for the reception of the sacrament(s).
  5. Set the date for the "exam".
  6. Parents are advised via announcement that anyone wishing for their child to receive the sacrament must attend an orientation on a certain date. (Set 2 dates for those who can’t make it to one.)
  7. At the orientation parents are advised:
  • That in order for their child to receive the sacrament that the child will have to pass a test on the given date.
  • That they, they parents, will have the responsibility of educating the child
  • That they will need to purchase the materials
  • That advisors will be available (CCD teachers)
  • That those who do not pass will need to wait for the next cycle  

The Pastor can always intervene when he sees the pastoral necessity. But catechizing the child apart from the parents would be the LAST resort. 

  • A very simple inexpensive catechism such as the St. Joseph First Communion Catechism available from Catholic Book Publishing Company would probably be all that is needed for young students.

    The Faith and Life Series published by Ignatius Press is also suitable and is designed for grades 1-8.

  • More than one orientation can be offered in order to get parents on the right track. A weekly Q&A can be made available to parents who want to learn more or who need advice (but only for parents, not the children)
Catechesis in this manner restores the right relationship between parent and child. Also, in catechizing the child, the parent is also re-catechized. It's not in learning that we learn, but in teaching someone else. This is the desire of the Church as shown above and in many other magisterial teachings and as evidence in Scripture and Tradition.
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