Some Aspects of Teaching Religion

Credibility Motives

Faith is a supernatural gift from God, a completely undeserved gratuity, a theological virtue infused into a soul at Baptism. It is, in its ultimate meaning, not something arrived at by any logical human reasoning unaided by God's grace. However, those who receive this gift of faith and who activate it in their lives by their willful cooperation with that grace, have an obligation, as they mature in the course of their human growth, to see that their faith settles comfortably into accord with the rational part of their human nature. In other words, their catechetical studies should help them establish how their Catholic Faith is perfectly logical and agrees with human reason, although in many ways it goes far beyond human reason. They should be able to see, throughout their lives, that to believe is reasonable and to not believe is unreasonable.

One of the primary goals of catechesis must be to provide for the student, especially the junior high school, high school, and adult student, the rational motives of credibility for the student's own personal fulfillment, as well as to enable the student to "be ready always with an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is within" him or her (1 Peter 3:15), so that the student can defend his or her faith and respond to any and all objections posed by others to it.


All mature and well-instructed Catholics should, therefore, have at least a rudimentary grasp of that part of theology and catechetics which goes by the name "apologetics". In English the words "apology" and "apologize" mean something altogether different than what is meant here, a scientific vindication of the Catholic Faith, the Christian Religion. The meaning in English has to do with "being sorry", accepting blame for some error, mistake, wrongdoing, etc., which has nothing to do with Catholic apologetics.

On the other hand here, deriving from the Greek and Latin meaning of the term (and also similarly in the French and German languages), "apologetics" in the catechetical and theological sense means a reasoned defense and explanation of the doctrines of our faith, positing the arguments that show the rational validity of Catholic belief. Of course, this does not mean religious polemics, which often generate more heat than light. But, some possession of apologetic mastery, can equip a Catholic to face successfully those parts of our world and culture which are hostile to religion, which are agnostic, skeptical, humanistic, secularistic, or which are non-Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, otherwise pagan, or which are semi or incompletely Christian, that is, some variety of Protestantism, either of the older or new types, different kinds of heterodoxies, etc.

Such a rudimentary knowledge of apologetics might not equip everyone and every time to refute with success the Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons who could show up at a front door, but it will convey a sense of comfort in knowing and mastering the reasonable nature of God's true Religion. It can also make one less distrustful of oneself when religious discussions occur, as they often do, in family gatherings, work places, and the like.

What to Know

A well-catechized Catholic, for instance, should be able to articulate the arguments for God's existence and something about His Oneness and His attributes, the arguments for the spiritual and immortal soul of every human being, the arguments for the need for all human beings to practice religion, etc.

He or she should be able to set out the reasonableness of the Gospels' historicity, the claims of Jesus and their vindication by His miracles, fulfillment of prophecies, His transcendent human personality, etc., and then His establishment of the Church, with her marks of one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic, and her attributes of authority, indefectibility, and infallibility, Christ's divinity, therefore, and the certitude that He will be with His Catholic Church until the end of time.

Once these things are intellectually validated, the Church, as hierarchically established by divine arrangement, can be seen as requiring our docile obedience, when she teaches with certitude the canonicity, inspiration, and correct interpretation of the Gospels and, indeed, of all the Books of the Bible, along with the contents and correct understanding of Sacred Tradition, and those things deriving from what is implicit in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Upon those motives of credibility then can be constructed the reasonableness of our creeds, of the sacraments and liturgical life of Catholics, of the commandments and the requirements of Gospel living, and of the necessity of a life of prayer, virtue, and preparation for the end of one's life on earth and for the particular and then the general final judgment.

Opens the Door

The apologetic area of catechetics constitutes only one aspect of religious teaching, and it does not begin to exhaust what a well planned, well coordinated, and well developed C.C.D. program should bring regularly to its students. However, it can provide some important intellectual and spiritual "ammunition" to Catholics, especially to our children and youth, allowing them to face our contemporary religious chaos of pluralism, relativism, and general religious confusion and ignorance with a serious hope for success.

It is always possible, of course, for anyone to misuse the human freedom that God gives to each of His human creatures. It is possible even for well-instructed Catholics sometimes to fall away from the faith, usually for some moral failure or inability to observe the demands of the Gospel. This is often followed by an attempt to rationalize or explain away the misbehavior to one's own conscience and sometimes to others. But, this is far more difficult for one who is properly catechized, with appropriate instruction in apologetics, for whom it is clear that sin is in the will and not in the intellect.

Apologetics has marked the entire history of the Catholic Church, from her earliest days, through the time of the Fathers and ancient Doctors of the Church, through all the vicissitudes of her two millennium history, down to the present time. There is a vast Catholic apologetical literature, and there are an abundance of current and excellent modern apologetical books and magazines available today. Even if we no longer are involved in formal religious instruction or teaching, we would be spiritually and intellectually enriching ourselves and others, were we to continue to study seriously the part of catechesis called Catholic apologetics.

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