June 1, 2012
A recent survey has uncovered some interesting statistics about Catholic beliefs and practices. For example, only 42 percent of Catholics are able to name
Genesis as the first book of the Bible, in contrast to the 76 percent of Protestants who can. Only 43 percent of Catholics are strongly committed to listening to the Pope and the bishops when they speak on moral issues. And, just about 12 percent go to confession several times a year.
When it comes to belief in the Eucharist, the statistics are less than encouraging. The Eucharist is a core teaching of Catholicism. Belief in the Eucharist is one of the articles of faith which sets Catholics apart from Protestants. Yet, only 55 percent of Catholics understand that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ at the consecration during Mass. This lack of knowledge could partially explain the decline of Sunday Mass attendance to only 26 percent of the faithful.
Our most structured catechetical programs cumulatively take up less than two days of instruction every year. Few, if any, place an emphasis on memorizing the basic tenets of Catholicism. No surprise that many young Catholics - and adults as well - are unfamiliar with the doctrines and practices of the faith.
Every parish community makes commendable efforts to pass on the faith to the younger generation. So much more is done today than fifty years ago. Besides classroom instructions, there are service projects, retreats and socials. With all these good and necessary ways of catechizing the young, many young people still find it difficult to articulate the faith.
Ask any Catholic trained in the faith before the 1970s
Who is God. You will get the ready answer: “God is the Supreme Being who made heaven and earth.” Ask,
Why did God make you. And, the respondent will fire back at you, “God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.” The passing of the years does not erase these basic questions and answers imbedded in memory.
What lawyer does not want to have a quick recall of case decisions to help in his work? What doctor does not need to know the symptoms and causes of various diseases and the properties of different medicines? What banker can work without knowing the basics of finance?
Memorizing data may give knowledge, but not necessarily understanding. But, without the knowledge of basic facts, there is no understanding possible. We should love our faith enough that we want to pass it on as best as possible. We should love our young people enough to ask them to memorize prayers, definitions and basic beliefs. Truly, the challenge of catechesis today is seeing the importance of memory in knowing and understanding the faith.
We take great pains to make sure that our children memorize vocabulary so that they can master the English language. This opens for them the door to learning and communication. Why should we not give our young the basic vocabulary of the faith and have them commit it to memory? Do we not want to open for them the way to understand the mysteries of the faith by giving them the words and concepts to express and reflect on those mysteries? Is not one of the goals of education to help learners retain information in long-term memory and to use that information on later occasions?
Pope Benedict XVI has told young Catholics, “
Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination.” Today, there is an obvious need to give our young people the ability to articulate the faith. This cannot be done without having them learn by heart basic beliefs and definitions. It is time that we recognize, without apology, the indispensable role of memorization in learning the faith.