Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How do you like it served? Medium-scare, or warm and inviting?

I recently heard of a person giving a talk at an elementary school, and scaring the kids with stories of the devil and hell, etc.

In our day and age, you do not hear much of this kind of thing. Catechetics has moved to a more invitational, love-based approach to teachings about God and our relationship with God. Some people feel that this approach misses the mark. Today's kids not only do not know about sin, they say, they also do not know about their faith - meaning things like the four cardinal virtues, the three theological virtues, the seven deadly sins, and so on. The theory is that armed with such knowledge, we will be in better position to have a properly informed conscience, make better moral judgements, and so on. Throw in the terrors of hell, and you theoretically bump up the motivation to live a good life.

By contrast, the invitational approach says that Jesus brings Good News of salvation. Jesus above all wants people to know him, more than know about him. Jesus castigated the Pharisees over and over in the Gospel because they knew everything there was to know about the law and the traditions of Israel, yet were morally and spiritually bankrupt. Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus told his followers. Do not be like the Pharisees.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder son knew and kept the rules. The one thing he did not know was the only thing he really needed to know - he did not know his father. Neither did the younger son, initially. He sure does now. The elder son when last seen was still outside, mad and bitter.

There never will be an end to the debate, I suppose. I 'learned my faith' from the Baltimore Catechism, and many people of my generation would say that is the kind of forum in which our faith should be learned.

I have news for them. People of our generation learned our faith by going to Mass with our parents. By saying the Rosary at night. By going to wakes of people you might not have even known - and by taking food to the family of the deceased person. We learned to live the virtues, we learned to live our spirituality. We were brought to the point where our relationship with Jesus could take hold and become truly ours. That got lost in the discussions about what kind of catechism, we were or are using.

In the end, the invitational approach is not what has failed our children. Parents have failed our children. We are not going to Mass ourselves, and over and over what we see in parishes is the kids in effect bringing their parents to Church when it comes to sacramental preparation and sacramental participation.

As for our relationship with God, the invitational approach is the one. It certainly is what people hear at our parish, St. Paul the Apostle - all the way from the gathering area to the sanctuary to the ambo (pulpit). People come back because they love it. People participate because they sense the holy, not because they are frightened to death.

I scanned a picture out of the local newspaper recently. It is a springtime image of a mother duck swimming with her ducklings right behind her. Those ducklings simply 'know' they are safe. They will never need lectures on what they are supposed to do. They simply know who they ARE - to their mother. What do you think would happen if she started to chase them all over the pond or the field or the barnyard? They would scatter, that's what.

Our Church has chased its young, and they have scattered. Some of us older folks fall prey to the temptation to keep right on doing that - chasing. We are convinced they need to hear everything we want to tell them. Probably they do. But children will come to fear God after they love God - because they will never want to hurt their relationship with him.

Nobody every came to love another by being told scary stories about them.

We parents need to think this through. For our own practice of the faith. For the model we provide our children. And for what we will say about the catechetical program in our schools.

1 comment:

Aidan Murphy said...

Deacon Phil,
well said!. I too learned the old cathecism and grew up knowing it but learning to live it also. I do love the thought of a loving God instead of a punishing God.