Thursday, 4 December 2008

Heartbreaking Ignorance

I recently gave some presentations on Our Lady of Guadalupe to some pupils in the local Catholic high school. They were very attentive. Driving home afterwards I thought again about the ignorance of the Faith I have found in many "young people", from primary school up to the mid-thirties and even forties. In fact it was probably a couple of generations after mine when things started to go wrong. Whatever the faults of the "old" catechism may have been, that grounding - deeply theological and spiritual as some of us came to appreciate later-remained with us and helped us to grow in our understanding of the the Catholic Faith.

It seems obvious to me that major mistakes have been made in catechetics. As a parish priest I have often felt powerless when faced with the desperate lack of basic knowledge I find in so many Catholic children and young people. Where do I start? Without prayer I might lose hope.

The parent/school/parish relationship has never been in reality what it was on paper. How can we improve it? It seems to me that we need another approach to catechesis, drawing on our best experiences from the past, and our schools need to be made catechetical centres where the whole Faith is presented. This will include such unknown things as "grace", "mortal sin" and the meaning of "sacrifice" in relation to the Mass. In my view we must put more emphasis on the relationship of the schools with the local clergy. This may seem like going backwards to some, but I am convinced that this is the way forward. Where so many parents do not practise the Faith and teachers may be asking questions about what they are being asked to teach, it is the local clergy who (with training and encouragement) can provide support and vision. At least that's my opinion. I am not suggesting some kind of clergy oversight or control - far from it, rather that they should be seen as part of the "team" and take a more active role in promoting the Faith and the spiritual life. Perhaps this is the time to renew the Catholic schools' relationship with the clergy in a positive and productive way, making them part of the school community rather than people on the fringe of things. Some teachers may say they have wanted this before and it hasn't happened, but part of the problem has been the lack of freedom allowed to the clergy and the sense that they are sometimes seen as a threat rather than a help. We need to work together on these problems, and we must be united in our commitment to the Truth.

I enjoyed going to the school. I like the kids. The teachers are welcoming and seem to be doing a good job. Can it ever be acceptable, though, that in a major Catholic school something like 80% (I am being generous) do not attend weekly Mass ? Shouldn't we be doing something about it? It seems that very few Catholic children know about the Sunday obligation. How can they know such things unless they are taught about them? I don't say these things to be negative or "strict", but because I believe that only the Truth sets us free and we are not telling the whole truth. Why do so few children and teenagers go to Confession? The obvious answer is that they have a poor awareness of sin. If this is the case, then how can they appreciate the need for a Saviour, and how can they be expected to experience the joy of being forgiven?
We (I mean bishops, priests, deacons, teachers and parents) owe it to our children and young people to speak the Truth. We should be giving them the best - because they are worth it.


  1. I have in recent months been turning more and more to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I have been using questions from it as the basis for catecheses during Eucharistic Adoration; and my recent talk at John Fisher School drew heavily on it, too.

    Now, I wonder whether the RE teachers at your Catholic school have a copy?

  2. I must admit that I am only just getting to know the school. I have offered myself as a confessor on Fridays, but few come. I discovered that they had not had regular confessions for some years, so it was not really a part of school life. I think there is a great deal of ignorance of basic Catholic things. I shall certainly ask about the Compendium. Thanks

  3. Dear John,
    Thanks for your interest in Damien. Trying to contact you privately but cannot figure out how, as it appears that comments are all published directly to your blog.