Friday, May 6, 2011

What I Never Learned, Part I

Years ago, I sent out some "catechesis emails" to interested friends and family. They, like me, never really learned much in Catholic religious education and CCD classes. What I wrote was pretty basic stuff, and I thought some of the Bubble readers might like the overview. So, here is the first installment:

Hello everyone!  First, I want to say that as I write this first overview, I am assuming that you are all convinced of the truth of Christianity. If you’re not yet convinced, you still might get a lot out of this, but it's not technically directed at you.

What I'm attempting is a very brief outline of salvation history (God’s relationship with man since the beginning of creation). There is, of course, so much more to it than what I am going to write today, and the way I say things may seem almost childlike. But this is sort of the “skeleton” and we can add the flesh later.

I want to also mention that if there is any error in what I say, it is not the error of the Catholic Church, but my own error. In all things concerning faith and morals, I defer to the Church. I do not ever want to present my own subjective opinion (Christianity is a revealed religion, based in objective truth, not a religion of what any person thinks or decides it should be). I only wish to pass on the unbroken teaching of Christ, through His Church; so, I always stand open to being corrected if I am misrepresenting the Church in any way.


We all know instinctively that there is something very wrong with this world. All the suffering and ugliness that goes on daily (just watch the nightly news) makes that pretty clear. We all see that there is incredible injustice, immense pain and suffering, and endless examples of man’s inhumanity to man. This “broken” world is the result of a separation of man from God, which happened with our first parents, Adam and Eve.

But let's back up.

God, Who is infinite, and Who has existed always, decided to create the world and all of us. He created purely out of love. Everything He created was good, and out of all creation, His masterpiece was man. We were created to be in friendship with God. I love how the Cathechism of the Catholic Church puts it:
Of all visible creatures only man is "able to know and love his creator". He is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake", and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity. (CCC, 356)
God is absolutely faithful, but unfortunately, we humans are not. Adam and Eve (our first parents) became prideful, deciding they could name what was good and what was evil for themselves. They committed an act of disobedience against God that broke their friendship with Him. Sin had entered the world, and with sin came death – remember, there was no death and no suffering up until that point.

(By the way, people often wonder why God would allow Adam and Eve to sin, when everything was perfect in the Garden of Eden. Later, I will discuss why God gave us the free will to choose sin. It is very powerful and beautiful, and you will see why it was absolutely necessary.)

After their sin, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. They had “fallen from grace”, which means they killed the life of God (sanctifying grace) within them. Without this gift of sanctifying grace, they were no longer fit to live in the presence of God. Through their own free will choice, they had separated themselves from the friendship of God, and their lives became lives of suffering and, ultimately, death.

Though Adam and Eve’s actions showed their lack of love for God, God never stopped loving them. Even as He banished them, He promised, waaaaaaaay back then, to send a Savior one day to make things right again between God and man. (Genesis 3:15 is one of the most important and exciting passages in the Bible, but more on that later.)

The heaviest consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin? Essentially it was that the gates of Heaven were now closed to all mankind. Men had become sinners, and sin cannot exist in the perfection of Heaven (if it could, it wouldn’t be Heaven, right? It would be what we have here on earth, which is definitely no picnic!).  So, through Adam’s sin, mankind lost the ability to get to Heaven.

I think I’ll end now, and let you chew on that for awhile. As I said, what I’m presenting is very basic stuff and the actual depth and breadth of it is infinitely deeper than this... but that is why God gives us a lifetime to delve deeper into His Truths. His Truth are accessible to the most humble peasant who cannot read or write, while also being inexhaustible to the greatest minds in the world, to such as a St. Augustine or a St. Thomas Aquinas, etc. Trust me, this stuff gets deeper and deeper and better and better, and God will take you as far as you are willing to go.

Told you it would be simple! Next, go to Part II: After the Fall



  1. I feel like pretty much every Catholic out there could write a book entitled "What I Never Learned in CCD"... so I am looking forward to this!

    And what kind of word processing are you using? Email me, I might be able to help.

  2. I went to CCD for 8 years, and learned nothing. I didn't even learn that Jesus is God! I remember learning the Hail Mary and the Our Father in 2nd grade, and coloring a lot of pictures of Jesus. In junior high, I had the same teacher for three years, and all she ever talked about was college recommendations and STDs. Seriously. For three years, that was all I heard about. Once at the end of the year, we had to give a play for all of the classes and give a speech about a social justice issue. The play was about Saul persecuting the Christians, and it was the first time I'd ever heard that story. I was in 7th grade. Finally, in the middle of 8th grade, some parent must have complained because we got a new teacher, and I finally learned a little bit. We still did a lot of arts and crafts, but I learned about the saints and that the Catholic Church was established by Jesus Christ. :)

  3. Liesl, thank you, I will email you! And God Alone Suffices, that is so PATHETIC, but sadly not surprising. UGH!

  4. In defense of CCD.....
    (ack, split up again because I am just too chatty!)

    Part 1:
    First of all Leila, thrilled you are doing this series. I'm an adult convert, so I never had the traditional CCD experience growing up, but now I work in youth ministry and religious education and teach CCD, so I just want to throw in two cents to defend my colleagues and I:

    Many of you probably attended CCD in the 1970s-1990s. These were times of great upheaval everywhere in the Church, including the areas of religious ed and youth ministry. I know many of my own friends growing up in the 90s hated CCD, learned nothing, and certainly aren't practicing Catholics as adults. There are many reasons for this, and they all feed off each other.

    Firstly, family structure and the centrality of faith in family life radically shifted between the 70s and 90s. When my mom was growing up, the parish she belonged to was the center of her whole world. It was school, social events (like CYO), faith, and friends. Her whole identity was “I am a Catholic.” Catholic school and CCD were designed to supplement the parents’ own religious formation of their children, not replace it. Parents might not have known a lot of theology, but they knew that attending Mass was important, that you had to go to Confession before Mass, that we celebrate various feasts throughout the year, and that the Church has a set of moral principles in place to guide us and help us grow in holiness. The things kids learned in CCD and Catholic school were secondary to the education that kids were supposed to get at home. Parents , after all, are the primary educators of their children in all areas.

    That mentality started to fall apart after the Council because of 1) societal changes happening externally (like higher divorce rate, women entering the workforce and no longer being home as much, increase in mobility, more influence of media/television in the home, etc) and 2) massive chaos and misinformation within the Church itself. People's sense of Catholic identity is no longer strong and nowadays you'd be hard-pressed to find an average Catholic who could explain what makes us different from the Lutherans or the Evangelicals down the street. Traditional devotional and sacramental life was abandoned by many. Mass attendance and frequency of Confessions dropped off almost overnight. We are slowly regaining those grounds, but it is hard going.

    During the 70s through the 90s, catechesis itself was in flux. So many DREs were told that the pre-Concicular style of education (ie, memorize the Catechism and follow the precepts of the Church) was *bad* so they abandoned all teaching of doctrine and replaced most CCD with kumbay-ya fluffiness and coloring activities. Students didn't learn Catholic identity or doctrine at home anymore and now they weren't even getting it at church. For two or three generations parents paid their tuition, sent their children in, picked them up, and expected that an hour and a half a week would make their children "good Catholics."

  5. Part 2:

    However, we all know what really happened. The Church is hemorrhaging members. I heard in a meeting yesterday that the Church loses on average 1,000 members per week who just disengage or join other denominations. Most of these people aren't angry at the Church; rather they float away because no one ever explained the richness of faith to them or invited them to make faith a bigger part of their lives. Even worse, they have no idea what an authentic Catholic life looks like; that is, one rooted in prayer and sacraments, striving for holiness, placing God and family first, careers and school/sports/etc second. I had 18 students in my First Eucharist class this year and on a “normal” weekend I am lucky if I see 4 of their families in Mass. Parents tell me openly that they can’t go to Mass at all because of their students’ work and sports schedules. Faith is often last on the priority list, rather than first.

    However, there is hope! (I don’t want to end all that on a downer!) As Leila has written, each Easter thousands of new converts enter the Church. They are, for the most part, vibrant, orthodox, and well-versed in their faith. My younger colleagues and I (those of us under 30 mostly) are almost without exception very dedicated and loyal to the Holy Father and the Magisterium. We understand the synthesis of “head and heart” that need to happen in good catechesis; that is, head knowledge like doctrine is very important but needs to be complemented with faith experiences that make that knowledge applicable to our students and allows them to fall in love with Jesus and the Church for themselves. And most importantly, we are rediscovering and re-emphasizing that the family is the first school of learning for everything. It’s a long road ahead, but ever so slowly we are trying to make the families stronger and better catechized so they can better teach their children and live out an authentic Catholic life for themselves. It’s incredibly hard to break the paradigms of the past, especially since we now have two and three generations of parents who never learned anything, don’t practice their faith on a day-to-day basis, and have to be convinced that God ought to be first in our lives. But it is happening!

    So what can you do to help us as awesome Catholics? First of all, pray for your priest and your religious education coordinator. Pray for the families in your parish, that they would embrace a life that strives for holiness, not materialism. Pray for young couples just starting out, that as they begin their families they would prioritize faith right away. If someone in your parish makes a disparaging remark about CCD, rise to the Church’s defense! Parents simply can’t expect the DRE, youth minister, and the priest to take care of their children’s relationship with Jesus; they have to model one for themselves, but few people have ever heard that. And pray about helping out at CCD! Sometimes it’s so hard to find catechists that I’m just happy to have any warm body with a pulse, but in an ideal world the catechists would be on fire, faithful to the Church, desiring to learn more and go deeper in their faith, and loving and kind toward all the students, even the ones whose parents are totally disengaged. Jesus told us the harvest was heavy and laborers are few; it certainly feels that way! But at the end of the day, God will take care of us :-)

    St. John Bosco, patron of youth; St Charles Borromeo, founder of CCD, Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!!

  6. Maggie, that was brilliantly stated, and I wholeheartedly agree! I definitely was talking about my generation's CCD experience (and the generation right after me). I do see a slow turning around in the programs, yay! But the parents are so clueless that even in a great parish (as you've mentioned) there are obstacles.

    I know some parishes still teach fluff and nothingness, but thankfully we do have some solid stuff coming from those warriors for Christ like you!! I commend you for all you are doing, because you are the hope for the Church!!

  7. Love this series! Quick question based off information given to me by my 7th grade religion teacher: Were Adam and Eve real people? This teacher told us that they weren't...I remember being devastated and would love to know the real answer all these years later!

  8. GIMH, yes, they were real people! How sad that you got that kind of answer, oh my!! But again, not surprising… sigh...

  9. Thank you for this! I, too, feel like I learned so little growing up and am only now discovering the depth, beauty and richness of the Church. I'm so grateful God led me back! I'm excited to read more. I'm also interested in feedback, posts, or links to more info regarding how we, as parents now, can help our children learn and grow in the faith. I'm new to your blog, so if this has been covered already, point me in the right direction and I'll start reading! Thank you!

  10. Claire, many of the religious ed publishers have free resources for parents on their websites, though you do have to poke around a bit. Our Sunday Visitor is here, Pflaum is here, and author/speaker/catechist Joe Paprocki has a blog with great tips and ideas here.

    Hope that helps!

  11. Claire, welcome!! Maggie, thanks for giving her good links!

    I haven't really covered a lot of how to impart the faith to children, but to me it boils down to this: It needs to make sense to them. If the faith makes sense, they will stay with it. You need to make sure you know the basics well enough to have the answers for them. And that's where the Bubble comes in, ha ha ha! There are some really cool "Doctrinal Quiz Shows" that I've posted, as well as "Little Teachings From the Bubble". If you seek those out, you have a good starting point.

    So glad you are here, and on fire!!

  12. Oh good! Thanks Leila. I've always figured that they were real, but this teacher's comment that they were "fictional characters" has always irked me. This post reminded me of it so I'm glad I asked. I can rest in peace now. :) I should have figured she was wrong, especially since she used a rain stick during our prayer time.

  13. Maggie,

    Thanks for your post!

    I've never been a DRE, but I've taught, 9th, 10th, 4th, and 6th grade CCD.

    When you said this: I’m just happy to have any warm body with a pulse, but in an ideal world the catechists would be on fire, faithful to the Church, desiring to learn more and go deeper in their faith, and loving and kind toward all the students, even the ones whose parents are totally disengaged.

    You reminded me of this: Catechism Class.

    It was founded by the former DRE of my parent's home parish in PA, along with a priest from the diocese.

    It is a a computer based. It keeps track of student access, and allows for proctored exams (last I checked). It also encourages parent partitipcation, especially with the younger students. It can be used as a supplement to CCD, or homeschool CCD. Of course, its been a few years since I was in any way involved.

    I'm looking at their updated site, and it is a little information lite on who and what they are. I'm sure if you surf around it'll make sense, and I can get you the owner's e-mail.

  14. That should be Miss Leila, thanks for the post. And then everything else in response to Maggie.

  15. Leila, thank you for this post!! I went to a Catholic grade school and high school, personally for me, I don't feel like catechism was neglected but I wasn't "in a place" to comprehend it. My parents didn't reinforce it at home. As others have said and the catechism as well, it is the responsiblity of the parents to teach their children. I wondered if you have heard of Catechises of the Good Shepherd?? This is a wonderful program that definitely teaches from the heart and allows children to develope a relationship with God as well as to begin to understand our faith and traditions. Here's the website..
    I am currently in training to become a catechist for the program...I am learning so much!! I believe all parishes should institute programs for current Catholic adults similar to RCIA that reteaches what may have lacked or been forgotten in our spiritual upbringing.
    Thanks again, your blog rocks!!

  16. Giuseppe, thank you! And Debi, Yes! My kids have actually been in Atrium (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) and I LOVE it!!! I have some friends who are CGS teachers! I'm so happy you are training!!!!

  17. My religion teacher in 6th-8th grade used a rain stick too! LOL! I shouldn't laugh, though. It's kind of sad.

  18. GIMH, that's hilarious! A rainstick! Oh gosh, you got me laughing this morning and I needed it. A rainstick! Too funny.

    Great idea to post on this Leila. Heaven knows we could all use true catechesis!

  19. What a great post! It always amazes me that after 13 years of Catholic school and as a Catholic school teacher, how much I don't know (or misunderstood!).

    Thanks Leila!

  20. I heard in a meeting yesterday that the Church loses on average 1,000 members per week who just disengage or join other denominations. Most of these people aren't angry at the Church; rather they float away because no one ever explained the richness of faith to them or invited them to make faith a bigger part of their lives.

    My husband is the Director of Catechetical Ministries for our diocese, he is also defacto the Director for the Office of Catechesis, which means he oversees Catholic education, both schools and Parish RE programs. One of the problems that he encounters with this particular problem that Maggie has mentioned is that it has been difficult to engage older Catholics in any type of adult formation and catechesis so that they can rekindle the basics. Many of the readers here notwithstanding, I'm sure; but my husband has reflected on this particular issue here and I think it has some merit.

    Any thoughts?

  21. Bethany, that is so interesting! Your husband is doing wonderful work!!

    I am not familiar with the program he speaks of, or the levels of development, so I can't give a great answer. I did teach RCIA for five years, and since materials then were so bad, my co-teacher and I made up our own program. We started at Square One: Truth, what is it, and can we know it? And then moved to Adam and Eve and all the way through, apologetically. We found that people who had tried other RCIA classes were so happy to get some "meat". I think that if the Faith makes sense to people, they will stay with it. Now, that may be more for children and teens, but I think that adults want the world and their faith to make sense, too.

    First and foremost, they need to know who Jesus is and that He founded a Church to teach His truth through the ages. If they can grasp that, they will find peace. And a home.

    Okay, I may be rambling.

    I still can't get over the reports here of CCD teachers using rain sticks in prayer!!!!!!!

  22. Bethany!!! Oh my gosh, your husband's blog is a gem! I've been listening to his social media webinar for the past 30 minutes. It's great. I send tons of his links onto my diocesan adult faith formation coordinator.

    We should email. We (green bay diocese) are having a summit on young adult and youth ministry in the fall (sept 29) and your husband would be a great speaker. What's your email? Mine is on my blogger profile- feel free to shoot me your info.

  23. Maggie- :) By now, I'm sure, you've received an e-mail from my husband. I told him about this post and he checked it out and said he read the comments. It's a shame he won't be able to make the summit this year. He has another conference around that time in Sept. And actually baby #5 is due sometime around Sept. 7th. :)

    Hopefully you can connect. Resources, at least this is what it seems to me, are a catechists best friend. Perhaps there will be another opportunity to have him come up. He's a Packers fan, so he'll enjoy coming up to Green Bay.

  24. Thank you so much for the resources and links! I'm reading up!!

    And thank you Leila, for the Bubble! I am tremendously glad I found my way here! I love what you're doing here!!

  25. Bethany-
    Yes I did, thanks! And congrats on baby #5!

  26. I assisted my mom teaching religion from 11-15 and then had my own class from 16-21. It was sad how little I knew. The book was alright and I stuck to that-the We Believe series. I never taught very high grades (1st through 3rd only) and I loved preparing the students for the sacraments. It was sad I lacked so little knowledge myself, but the church just took those well meaning and worked with that. I did have great classroom management skils (lol-its related to what I do now)...but sadly, I agree with everything you write here, Leila. My best religious ed experience was a really awesome knowledgable women taught an 8th grade class without the book. Every week we could ask anything we wanted and she would answer. It was perfect timing in our lives for this kind of depth! Our current church does Cathechisis of the Good Shephard/Atrium and I hear such good things. I am so excited for my son to start, I hear they do it even at 3 in the preschool!

  27. This is brilliant, Leila! Simple, nuts and bolts, but brilliant nonetheless! I was fortunate to have received a pretty decent upbringing in the faith right from the cradle--God bless my wonderful parents--but I'm finding as an adult that there is always just SO MUCH more to learn about our faith. I look forward to more!

  28. Leila, are you claiming the existence of an actual Adam and Eve, the first humans of whom we are all the descendants of?

    My understanding was that the Catholic Church does not believe this to be the case and that it is a metaphorical parable on man's separation from God.

    If you can send me a link (apart from CCC 1263) where the Church affirms or denies Adam and Eve's actual existence? And your own opinion on this. Many thanks.

  29. These might help:

    390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.264 Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.


    Absolutely, they existed.


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