Why the USCCB’s approved religious education book list is only slightly more useful than a magic eight ball.
It's week three and we have another doctrine-packed week of handouts to go through. Unfortunately, Faith and Life (F&L) only devotes a couple of paragraphs to the study of heroes aka saints instead of a whole chapter so the comparison will almost be fair this week.
This week's lesson in Blest are We (BAW) is called "Our Church Shows Us How to Live". Before I go any farther, I need to pick a bone with the title of this series. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "Blest" has two meanings: 1)Worthy of worship and 2)Held in veneration. Doesn't it seem a little presumptuous for a religious education series to be called "Blest are We"? But I digress.
This chapter starts of with a verse based on John 13:35.
Love one another. Then everyone will know that you are my followers.
Time to pull out the trusty RSV and find out what the verse REALLY says.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Once again, it is just too much for these folks to use the actual Bible. They have to make the verse pc to avoid offending their sensibilities.
The rest of the page has pictures of heroes including firefighters, EMTs and a girl reading to a blind man. The page says
Some people are heroes. They help others. They show us how to live. Find the heroes in these pictures. Draw circles around them. Who is your favorite real-life hero? Why?
As an aside, my daughter drew a circle around the seeing-eye dog instead of the girl reading to the blind man. There are no wrong answers here!
At the bottom of the page with an arrow pointing to the next page is the question "Who are the Church's heroes?"
And the answer is... the Good Samaritan. Remember him? He was last week's Catholic literary heritage tidbit. Now, I admit that the Good Samaritan was good but he isn't a hero of the Church - he isn't even real. To use him as the first example of Church heroes blurs the line between saints and other people who do good things. I'm sure that wasn't the intention.
The next page talks about "Heroes of Our Church".
The Church has many heroes who are like the good man from Samaria. The Church has Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the saints. From these church heroes we learn how to be holy. We learn how to be good followers of Jesus.
Notice that emphasis so far on heroes and saints is focused entirely on social justice issues. Helping the downtrodden, helping the handicapped and being emergency response people.
In the sidebar are two boxes - "We Believe" and "Faith Words". The "We Believe" box contains the following:
We grow in holiness by living in love. We grow in love for God and others through constant practice.
I don't know about you, but I would have a hard time explaining the phrase "living in love". Maybe second graders are smarter.
The "Faith Words" are "saint" and "holy". A saint is:
a person who shows great love for other people and for God.
to be like God. Holy people act like Jesus.
The definition given of being a saint is completely generic and could include the Dali Lama, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna. It also fails to point out that saints are DEAD. Chapter six of F&L defines a saint as
someone who lives with God in Heaven. A saint is someone who loved God very much while on earth.
The bottom of the page asks "How can we imitate Mary and the saints?" If you are expecting anything more than what came before, you are mistaken.
The next page gives us four examples of saints under the sentence "Mary and the saints teach us how to live as Christians." : Mary, St. Peter Claver, St. Brigid and St. Jerome. Mary " teaches us to trust God and to care for others." St. Peter Claver "cared for people nobody else cared about. He teaches us to reach out in love to everyone in need." St. Brigid "sold her belongings and gave the money to poor people. She teaches us to share our blessings with others." St. Jerome "loved to teach people how to read and understand the Bible. He teaches us to share the word of God with others."
From this page we learn that to live as a Christian we need to
- trust God and care for others
- Care for others
- Care for others
- Share the word of God
Now, caring for others is certainly important but that is pretty much all that has been mentioned in this entire lesson. Also, I am pretty sure that St. Jerome had little interest in teaching people anything since he lived as a hermit and was known for being a grumpy old man. I also wonder how he was able to teach people to read the Bible when a) hardly anyone owned any books and b) he was spending his time translating the Bible into Latin in seclusion.
The next page asks the children to draw a picture of a hero or a picture of the child acting as a hero. My daughter drew someone sweeping the kitchen and someone else preparing a meal (I think). At the bottom of the page we find another page-turner of a question: "How can we ask holy people to pray for us?"
Notice that throughout this chapter there is a concerted attempt to blur the distinction between everyday heroes, heroes in parables and the saints. This isn't by accident as the next page shows.
The next page has a "Litany of Saints and Heroes".
A litany is a prayer that is said aloud.
A leader names different saints or other holy people. (emph. mine)
After each name we ask the saint or person to pray for us. (emph. mine)
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
Saint Peter Claver, pray for us.
Saint Brigid, pray for us.
Saint Jerome, pray for us.
All who help the poor and the hungry, pray for us.
All who care for the weak and the sick, pray for us.
All holy men and women, pray for us.
Heavenly God (not Father), may we follow the example of your saints and other holy people. May we always try to help people in need. Amen.
First of all, a litany is always prayed to God or the saints. There is no such thing as a litany to "holy people". In fact, this litany doesn't even require that the person be dead! Notice also that everyone and everything specifically mentioned in the litany is mentioned for social justice reasons. No one is mentioned as a confessor, or someone devoted to prayer, or someone who was a martyr. Notice also that because of the blurring between saints and heroes, you are basically free to decide who is a saint.
Okay, now that we have covered (or not) what a sainthero thing is, it's time to move on preparing for next week's lesson with Family Time! Chapter four is called "We Praise and Thank God". I can't wait.
The page starts off by mis-quoting Saint Augustine. "Saint Augustine said that those who sing pray twice." Actually Saint Augustine said that "Those who sing WELL pray twice." But no matter, we shouldn't be sticklers for things like this when doctrine is treated in such a vague and misleading way.
Things to do this week include 1) making a list of things to praise your family members for. 2) Singing grace and 3) playing "Name that hymn".
In line with last week's "make a family member blest" activity comes an activity where in the unit called "We Praise and Thank God" we praise and thank each other. I am starting to wonder if this is intentional.
Number two caught my attention because it suggests the following as a grace before meals:
Evening has come, the board is spread. Thanks be to God, who gives us bread.
It then asks the parents to explain the meaning of "board" and "spread". If words can be defined during family time, why can't they be defined during class time? For example "special oil" could really have been called "Chrism oil" in last week's lesson. Never mind that there actually exists a Catholic prayer before meals. We don't want to offend any non-Catholic students who are in this class preparing to receive First Holy Communion. Oops! I mean First Eucharist.
The next page suggests the following activities. 1) join in the singing at Mass this week 2) think of something each day to be grateful for 3) visit www.blestarewe.com
Just out of curiosity I went to the website (BAW recommends this every week) and found that there wasn't any more substance there than in the workbook.
The chapter ends with "Something to Know About...Our Heritage in Music"
Since the seventh century the Church has been expressing its praise of God musically through Gregorian chant. Named after Pope Gregory I, chant is a solemn form of singing that creates a harmony between words and melody. Because in some pagan religions music was used to stir up people, Christians were encouraged to have a kind of music that was prayerful. Gregorian chant met that standard. There were other kinds of chant before Gregorian chant, but it was more beautiful and developed than some of the others.
In recent years a group of monks put out a recording called Chant that proved to be very popular. It revived interest in Gregorian chant.
The section also has a picture of a chant for "Feria Tertia" in actual chant notation. The workbook gets several points of extra credit for even mentioning that chant exists and for not degrading it. On the other hand, the book manages to completely overlook the elephant in the room by avoiding any mention that chant is supposed to be used in church even today and crediting a revival in interest to a cd recording from more than 12 years ago.
Since F&L doesn't have a saint section, I can only put in the paragraphs that are part of other chapters:
From chapter 6: Many Catholic children are given a saint's name. It may be your first name, or it may be your middle name. A saint is someone who lives with God in Heaven. A saint is someone who loved God very much while on earth.
Ask your parents or teacher about the saint whose name you have. Maybe they know a story about him or her. Ask your saint to help you to be a saint someday too!
From chapter 34: We all die someday. Our souls and our bodies will be separated. If we have loved God in this life, we will be ready to love God forever. God will welcome us into Heaven. We will be happy there forever. We will see Jesus and Mary and people in our family who have died. The souls in Heaven are called saints.
Did you notice that BAW managed to get through a whole unit on the saints without using the word "Heaven" once?