“Our parish can get along without the school. But that school cannot get along without the parish.” That shocked the parish council. One gentleman gently chided the pastor, “Oh no, Father, the parish exists in order to serve the school.” Father shook his head. “No, it doesn’t.” Council members shook their heads.
So Just Where is that Epistle to the Children?
A new pastor came in a year later. He said the same thing. He got the same reaction. That’s why the Catholic Church in America is in trouble.
When the apostles started out, they knew they had work to do. The whole world needed conversion. Everyone was pagan. That is, the world looked very much like it does today. The apostolic approach to the problem differed from ours.
Peter, for instance, did not set up a single parochial school. Luke did not write a children’s gospel. Not one of Paul’s epistles were decorated with yellow duckies. In short, according to the Scriptures and Church history, the apostles didn’t bother teaching children the Faith. They taught only the adults. Why?
Because the apostles understood the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Pius XI in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno described the principle succinctly: “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.”
The apostles knew they could not replace parents. Through the sacrament of marriage, God endows parents with the ability to teach their own children about Him. The apostles only needed to teach the parents the Faith, it was the parents’ responsibility to teach their own children. So, what has changed in the last two millenia? The answer to that is simple. Nothing.
Nothin’ From Nothin’ Leaves Nothin'
A child’s primary catechist is his parents. The bishop is the primary catechist of the diocese, but he is not the child’s primary catechist. The priest is the pre-eminent catechist in the parish, but he is not the child’s primary catechist. The Director of Religious Education (DRE), the CCD teachers, the parochial school teachers, all of these people are somewhat useful in passing on the Faith, but none of them are the primary catechists. The parents have the first and primary responsibility to pass the Faith onto their own children. No one else does.
The bishop does not delegate this responsibility to the parents. Neither does the priest or the DRE or the Catholic teachers. At the moment a man and a woman exchange vows in marriage, each consecrates the other as both spouse and catechist.
Let us be absolutely clear. The Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, God Himself, consecrates the bride and bridegroom to be the primary catechists to their own children. Canon law, the Catechism and the documents of the Church are all quite clear on this. Bishops, priests and their lay employees all exist to assist the parents, not to replace them. It is their job to make sure the parents know the Faith and know how to pass it on. It is the parents’ job to do the passing on.
But parents can’t teach what they don’t know. The pope understands. In his very first encyclical, Teaching the Faith Today (Catechesi Tradendae), article #23 points out, for “instruction in the Faith to be effective, it must be permanent. It would be quite useless if it stopped short on the threshold of maturity.”
Quite useless. That means all the time, money and effort poured into the parochial school, the Catholic high school and the CCD program, all of it is money poured down a rat-hole if adults, if parents, are not taught the Faith.
Let me repeat that.
Without adult formation, the entire Catholic parochial and high school educational system is a complete waste, a total failure, an abject defeat, a colossal shibboleth, an empty shell, nada, nothing, goose egg, empty set, we keep knockin’ but there’s nobody home. It is useless.
Sacramental Preparation is the Parents’ Job
This is especially true today. Lay teachers in Catholic schools are trained by secular humanists. Their last formal instruction in the Faith could easily have been their confirmation classes. They had zero college coursework showing them how to integrate Catholic Faith into the curriculum. Indeed, many lay teachers aren’t even Catholic. They may be otherwise fine teachers, but they have neither the knowledge nor the ability to integrate the disciplines.
Even if they were good enough, it wouldn’t matter. Children cannot absorb the whole of Catholic Faith. Only an adult mind has the capacity. So where should the bulk of our efforts lie? With teaching children or with teaching adults? Which is more important, the parochial grade/high school or the parish?
Bishops, priests, DRE's, catechists, all of these people are supposed to be teaching the adults, not the children. After the parents are taught, the parents are meant to prepare their own children for the sacraments. The bishop, the priest, the DRE, the other catechists might give the parents pointers, advice, supplementary material, etc., on how to do this, but it is the parents who are supposed to prepare their own children for First Confession, Confirmation and First Eucharist. The bishop, the priest, their lay employees are required by canon law to verify that the child is indeed ready to receive the sacraments, but it is the parents who are supposed to prepare them for these sacraments. Others might teach other points of Faith, but sacramental preparation is the parents’ job.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly says this. Open it to article #2225, “Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith.” The Catechism is divided into four major sections. Flip back to the Table of Contents and read the heading to Section II. It is called “The Christian Mystery.” What are the contents of Section II? The sacraments. From the earliest days of the Church, the sacraments have always been called “mysteries of Faith.” Indeed, the Greek word for sacrament is still mysterion: mystery.
The American bishops know all this. They even wrote a letter, Our Hearts Are Burning Within Us that says adult education is of central importance and that the bulk of parish resources are to be devoted to adult education. The bulk of parish resources. Hmmm….
Look at your parish. Consider how much time, money and effort is poured into your parish school, the physical plant devoted to it, the raw number of personnel. Now do the same for the adult formation program(s) in your parish. Hmmm…
Everyone agrees the family is under assault. Everyone fails to notice the local parish is often in the vanguard of the assault. Attempting to replace Catholic parents violates parental rights, violates the principle of subsidiarity, and attacks the family, yet the attitude of a significant number of DRE’s, priests and bishops is precisely this, “Parents are not qualified to teach their own children because they are ignorant of Catholic Faith, so it is up to me to do the job.”
To any bishop, priest or DRE who thinks this, let it be said as succinctly as possible, “No, it is not up to you to do their job. It is up to them to do their job. It is up to you to teach them to do it. Stop enabling their co-dependence. Start doing your job so they can do theirs.”
© Copyright 2004 Catholic Exchange
Steve Kellmeyer is a nationally known author and lecturer, specializing in apologetics and catechetics. His new book on the Theology of the Body, Sex and the Sacred City is now available for on-line or phone ordering through Bridegroom Press as are his other books, audio recordings and teaching tools. If you would like to comment on his columns or other writings, please visit www.skellmeyer.blogspot.com .