Why the USCCB’s approved religious education book list is only slightly more useful than a magic eight ball.
Okay, week 2 of First Communion prep has come and gone and a new round of worksheets is available.
Before I start, I must say that the teacher is supplementing the text with her own knowledge and they watched a video from the Oblates of Mary on the Sacraments which seemed quite good.
Week 2 from BAW (Blest are We) is titled "We Belong to the Church". The section starts off with "We are children of the light. We are children of the day. - Based on 1 Thessalonians 5:5 ".
Whenever a book prints two sentences and says it is based on one verse in the Bible, it's probably a good idea to go see why it was too difficult to print the actual Bible text. In this case, the text reads "for you are all sons of light and sons of day" (NAB) Oh, the anguish! Only sons are mentioned and all your little daughters are going to Hell! Thank goodness the authors saw fit to improve on the Bible.
The rest of the page is taken up with an activity about belonging which involves drawing lines from items to people involved in activities (the choir sign goes to the girl in a choir robe).
The next page starts off with "There are three sacraments of belonging. In Baptism we become new members of the Church. In Confirmation we receive strength to follow Jesus. In Eucharist we share a special meal with Jesus."
Okay...I have never heard the sacraments of initiation referred to as sacraments of "belonging" before. The chapter does mention this later but implies that the term "initiation" is an optional way of referring to these sacraments by only using it in sidebars or after "belonging".
Second, the description of Confirmation is pretty darn vague. Is this a vitamin pill? Is it a set of weights? What kind of strength is this?
Finally, the Eucharist or simply "Eucharist" as is currently in vogue is not a meal we share with Jesus. It's the sacrifice of Calvary where Jesus gives Himself to us. I'm sure that's what they meant to say.
The page ends with a walkthrough of the Baptism ceremony using the one-year-old baby and the Granite Box of Death mentioned in part one. The second picture has the following caption "The priest or deacon makes the Sign of the Cross on the child's forehead. He does this with blessed oil." Why, oh, why couldn't they have added "This oil is called Chrism Oil"? Little kids are great at memorizing things and Chrism Oil is a distinctive oil used at Baptism. There are many other kinds of blessed oils including "St. Joseph Oil" which one of the Cistercian priests at my college used to bless people with. Fortunately, the teacher did tell the kids the proper name for the oil.
The next page gives us a definition of sacraments: "A sacrament is a special celebration of the Church. The sacraments are signs that God is here with us now." So, does this mean that the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a sacrament?
Pulling out my handy First Communion Baltimore Catechism I found that "A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace." The Faith and Life book defines a sacrament as "a sign given by Jesus that brings us grace."
Does anyone notice a problem with the BAW definition? Hint: The BAW definition doesn't actually define what a sacrament is.
The rest of the page gives a partial definition of Original Sin and reinforces the notion that "Eucharist" is a special meal we share with Jesus. The definition of Original Sin fails to mention that one effect is that it keeps you out of Heaven.
At the bottom of the page is the question "How can we show others we belong to the Church?" Are you ready? No, wait, the suspense is building! And the answer on the next page is...a story about a Baptism and how one of the kids is planning on telling her siblings about the Baptism someday. Once again, the answers to these questions are far beyond my comprehension. Hopefully, second graders can figure them out.
The next page has a crossword puzzle that emphasizes the main points of the chapter. One of the points being the incorrect definition of a sacrament.
The next page has a "Prayer Celebration" which actually has good things for the children to pray for such as keeping the flame of Confirmation alive. The picture that covers the entire page behind the prayer is of a Gothic church interior at the Easter Vigil with (Warning! Liturgical Gestapo Alert!) a woman in the congregation wearing a veil. I don't know how that slipped through, but there it is.
Now we get to the fun part - Family Time for getting ready for Chapter 3!
The first paragraph under "Our Church Shows Us How to Live" contains the following gem: "The saints were men and women of various social and economic circumstances who lived extraordinary lives." I can almost hear "social justice", "Liberation Theology" and "Che Guevara" echoing in the background as I read this.
The next paragraph suggests the following activity:
Name the Saints
Together, pick out an admirable quality or virtue possessed by each family member, and then have a "saint-making" ceremony. Someone might be the saint of car repairs, and someone else might be the saint of kindness. Make a badge for each family saint with the person's name and "saintly" quality. Then present the badges at your ceremony.
I realize that to some, the ability and willingness to fix a car may be considered holy, but why couldn't the activity have focused on, oh, I don't know, the virtues? the gifts of the Holy Spirit? or even the virtues exhibited by real saints? Oh, and while we're at it, maybe the title of the activity could actually suggest what the activity is about.
The other two activities are actually good. The first is a research project to go figure out which saints your family members are named after and what dates the saints' feasts are on. The second explains how to make a shrine to a saint.
The final page includes two activities: finding out what saints are pictured in the windows in your church (if you are so lucky as to have a church with identifiable art) and also to see where saints' names come up outside of church (New Orleans Saints, St. Louis, MO, etc.)
However, just when you though things were actually pretty decent, you are presented with the following:
Something to Know About...Our Heritage in Literature
The story of the Good Samaritan is famous. Many people know about the kind man who stopped to help the hurt stranger. The story is so famous that a good samaritan law has been enacted. This law requires people who have medical training to stop and help when they see an accident.
There was a time when those who had medical training wouldn't stop because they were afraid of being sued. This law protects the "Good Samaritan" from being sued, while requiring them to use their training to help the injured.
And there you have it - the Church's heritage in literature.
The Faith and Life (FL) comparison this week is taken from chapter 6 - Becoming a Child of God.
The FL chapter is only four pages long but somehow manages to cover in one page an infinitely larger amount of substance than BAW does in six.
FL also starts with a Bible passage but assumes that children can handle text from the ACTUAL Bible instead of distilled, pc Bible-like quotes.
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." - John 3:5
Notice that this passage only applies to males, you women are off the hook.
The first page explains original sin:
When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost the gift of God's life in their souls, called grace. They could not get to Heaven. Their children were born with Original Sin, too. They had no grace in their souls.
We call Adam and Eve our first parents because all people came from them. So do you. We were all born with Original Sin on our souls.
Remember, some of the biggest problems with most religious education texts is not what they contain, it's what they omit. BAW doesn't use the word grace once in its explanation of the sacraments. It also fails to mention that Original Sin keeps us out of Heaven.
Here is the BAW explanation of Baptism:
Baptism takes away original sin and all other sin. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are the children of God.
Here is the FL explanation:
At Baptism, Original Sin was washed away, and your soul was filled with God's life of grace. Now you are able to go to Heaven and be with God.
Baptism is like being born again. The first time we were born into the family of our mothers and fathers. At Baptism we are born into God's family, the Church. Then the Blessed Trinity comes to live in us.
Notice that the BAW explanation doesn't mention "grace" or membership in the Church, leaving it to sound very much closer to a Protestant understanding of Baptism than a Catholic one.
The next page in FL is a full color, full page picture of a Baptism with a baby that does not look newborn. Aren't there any pictures available or even prop babies available that actually look like newborns? What kind of message do these pictures send?
Okay, so this week in BAW we learned that there are three sacraments of "belonging" and that a sacrament is a special celebration that shows God is with us. We learned that original sin makes it hard to do what is right. We also learned that Baptism takes away all sin and fills us with the Holy Spirit. In the parents' section we learned that saints came from "various social and economic circumstances" and that equating car repair talent with saintly virtues is okay. We also learned that the Catholic contribution to literature is a law that keeps people from getting sued for helping accident victims.
In FL we learned the actual definition of a sacrament (grace is involved), we learned that Original Sin keeps us out of heaven, and we learned that Baptism removes Original Sin, fills us with grace and makes us part of the Church.
BONUS MATERIAL: While trying to match up content this week, I found that chapter 31 in FL is devoted to the concept of the Body of Christ, a topic covered in last week's BAW lesson.
The chapter, called "God's Family - the Church" explains the hierarchy of the Church and how we are all part of the Church with our own responsibilities. It describes the pope, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity. It then tells that:
The Church makes us holy. It brings the grace of God to everyone. Each of us can receive that grace and become holy. We can also bring God's grace and love to others.
The section ends with the Apostle's Creed which is prefaced by "Everything we believe is in a prayer called the Apostles' Creed. The word "creed" means what we believe." This is a very poor way to preface the prayer since it only contains the fundamental beliefs of the Church and certainly not everything we believe.
Again, the take away in this section is what BAW doesn't mention - the hierarchy of the Body of Christ and the fact that the Body of Christ is actually visible in the Catholic Church.
Question for discussion - How come BAW doesn't capitalize words like "original sin" and "faith"?
Extra credit - Explain the development of the use of the word "Eucharist" apart from "the".
Till next week...