Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why does religion class focus so much on doctrine?

In one of my classes last semester we were discussing the oft times misconception regarding the teaching of the faith as opposed to teaching the children about having a personal relationship with Christ. I had shared a story about a parent who questioned the fact their child had a "D" in Religion when the child went to Mass every week and was an altar boy. I could not for the life of me get this person to understand the difference between teaching the doctrine of the faith and spending time in prayer with the Lord. They are not the same, as evidenced by the "D" in Religion class.
Religion as an academic subject can be difficult. There is a lot of "meat" to be learned. We have 2000+ years of tradition to live and learn. I mean tradition in the strictest sense of the word, the tradition with a capital "T". As a Catholic religion teacher I have great responsibility to help children come to understand why we as Catholics do the things we do and where it all comes from. I do stress the importance of knowing our faith in order to help them understand why it must be lived as well and this does include their prayer life.
I have mentioned before that we as Catholics are losing our identity as Catholics because we do not know the teaching of our faith. Our Catholic faith is rooted in Sacred Scripture and the Traditions of the Church. This deposit of faith has been passed down Apostolically, meaning apostle to apostle, pope to pope, bishop to bishop, for 2000+ years. That is incredible and it was meant to be because Jesus Christ meant for it to be. I tell my Confirmation class that when they go off to college the day will come, if it hasn't already, someone will ask them why they do such and such in the Catholic Church or why we don't do such and such. It is important for them to be able to defend the Faith, defend the teachings that have been safeguarded all these years. They are the future of our Church, hopefully there are some future priests and nuns in the mix as well.
I firmly believe, and this is where the faith and reason issue comes into play, that if a person knows and understands their faith, can reason and rationalize it, the faith will follow. To know this incredible faith of ours surely makes someone stop and contemplate the awesome wonder of what God has done for us. Some people have told me different, it is their faith and belief that keeps them rooted in the Church and they believe that it is this faith that will keep their kids in the Church. It is a personal relationship with Christ that will keep them Catholic. ummm I wonder....
The Catholic Church is so rich in Tradition and so rooted in Scripture. Other religions are Scripture based and encourage a personal relationship with Christ, but the Magisterial teaching that hands down that apostolic tradition is what keeps us grounded in truth. This is the reason the Catholic Church has been around all those 2000+ years. It is the truth and it is this truth that wells up in us to reach out for a personal relationship with Christ, the Truth.
As Catholics parents we have a responsibility to teach our children the prayers of the faith and to make sure they attend Mass regularly. The little "t" traditions of the Church come from the handing down the faith from parent to child. If a child sees a parent in prayer, or sees their parent genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, that speaks volumes for the development of that child's personal relationship with Christ. I had a lady fuss at me once because the second graders I was with didn't all genuflect before entering the pew and wanted to know if I was teaching them to do so. I assured her I could teach them and remind them to genuflect until the cows came home but if they didn't see their parents doing it then I didn't have a leg to stand on. My point is that this lady thought it was my responsibility to teach them this so it must be my fault they weren't doing it. I teach them why we do it and can show them how but this must be lived by all Catholics to make an impact on the faithful.
This week we as Catholics are being encouraged to contact our legislators to vote "no" regarding a health care reform bill that does not mandate the refusal of using funds for abortion. As Catholics the respect for life, unborn and elderly and disabled, is fundamental to the dignity of the human being as created in the image and likeness of God. Yet I wonder how many have done so and how many make this teaching a priority in their faith life. In order to have this personal relationship with Christ I would think that this understanding of the human person would ironically be the basis of what is "personal". We know Christ because He was a person, a human person. It doesn't get any more personal than that.

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