Some Priorities For
The National Catechetical Directory
By WILLIAM H. MARSHNER
February 21, 1974
The shopping list of things that ought to go into, or be kept out of, the National Catechetical Directory is too long to be contemplated in our short lifetime here below. In happier days, we had religion teachers who could figure out what to do and what not to do, once they had absorbed a few rules. Docility to the tradition of the Church kept them on a sensible path. Today, however, the religion teachers have been convinced that they should “rethink” everything and, while they’re at it, come up with radically new ways of “presenting” what they have “rethought.” The result is a complete chaos in which the teachers cannot be relied upon to respect any tradition, to un- derstand any dogma. or to avoid any idiocy. Hence, you have to tell them everything, like chimpanzees who cannot natively understand that, having put on one shoe, it is wise to put on the other as well.
Fortunately, we are not called upon to consider the entire list of necessary items at this time. Since the first draft of the National Directory has not been written yet, we are concerned only to provide the drafters with some elementary guidance. Herewith, a handful of points.
1) Topics 1-9 on the model outline reiterate the first batch of sections in the General Catechetical Directory. They concern “The Christian and Cultural Crisis” and “The Church in Contemporary Culture.” As presented in the Roman document, these sections contain some grossly oversimplified sociology (rapidity of change in the modern world, technology, urbanization, diversity of lifestyles, etc.) in order to help the catechist locate the problems of which he must be conscious and to which he must make the Christian message relevant. The inclusion of these same topics in the model outline suggests that Msgr. Paradis and his co-workers expect the National Directory to contain a specifically American description of the same general problems, with American examples and American nuances.
I wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to skip this whole business, not because the topics are unimportant (far from it!), but because there is a better way to handle them.
The Christian teacher, particularly when dealing with high-school students and other adults, will be called upon, obviously, to relate Christian teachings to these contemporary social and political problems. Catholics have never been willing to take the Protestant Fundamentalist attitude that these issues could be ducked in favor of a purely personal pietism. In fact, any Catholic catechetical program which does not yearly produce tens of thousands of militant anti-secularists and pro-lifers is un-worthy of the name.
In the past, Catholic teachers were aided in addressing these problems by several rich and suggestive sources. One could turn to the social encyclicals of the Popes, especially the Syllabus, the marvelous corpus of Leo XIII, and the Quadragesimo Anno of Pius XI. English speakers could also turn to the lively and tough-minded writings of Chesterton, Belloc, and similar figures (including even radicals like Peter Maurin), who could be counted on to give traditional teaching a fresh and lively countenance, both as critique of modernity and as alternative to it. Today these sources are largely forgotten, and in their place stands a bewildering hodgepodge of attempts to Catholicize divergent ideologies (including even Marxism and classical liberalism). So where is the Catholic teacher to turn for guidance and orientation? To a handful of generalizations in the National Directory?
NO ROOM FOR SOCIOLOGY
The plain fact is that unless the Directory is made to assume gigantic proportions, it simply cannot contain enough useful analysis of urbanization, pluralism, etc., to really help the catechist do his job.
Moreover, anyone who thinks that there is a consensus among social scientists as to where American society is heading in these areas must never have opened a serious journal. Influence of the mass media, sexual revolution, generation gap, political alienation — not only is expert opinion divided on these things, you can find experts who deny the very validity of the terms! Will the National Directory solve these differences? Hardly. Will it choose sides, then? Necessarily. But on what basis and by what right?
I am sure that Msgr. Paradis has his favorite sociologists, and I have mine. But I do not think it would be wise to try to impose a single analysis of “contemporary culture” on all religion teachers through the official pages of the National Directory. Even if there were enough pages to do so half-way intelligently, there is no authority for such an imposition. The last time I looked, at least, sociology was not given in the Deposit of Faith.
On top of everything else, analyses of contemporary problems have a way of becoming outdated with breathtaking rapidity. Only five or six years ago, it was taken for granted that “secularization” would create a society in which almost nobody believed in “supernatural” beings or influences. Christianity was supposed to demythologize itself in order to survive at all. Today, the secular city is a veritable snake-pit of astrologers, witches, and amateur exorcists. Ten years ago, inspired by Teilhard, everybody was busy re-orienting Christian piety toward “building the Earth.” Then came ecology, and we found out that building the Earth was the source of pollution. For the better part of this century, it has been fashionable to assume that the “cities of the future” would be fantastic clusters of skyscrapers, replete with environmental controls and unimaginable conveniences. Now we have an energy crisis, and these dreams are suddenly as archaic as Cadillacs. My question is this: Why should the National Catechetical Directory include analyses which five years from now, in all probability, will be nothing but an embarrassment?
No, the best way is to skip the whole subject. Let those teachers who are competent to do so make their own judgments about modern crises. And for those teachers who are not competent, let the Bishops commission from time to time bibliographies and specialized studies which will reflect the whole gamut of Catholic scholarly opinion. Any other approach is sheer dilettantism.
WHERE DID ‘REVELATION’ GO?
2) Topics 10-23 on the model outline concern the “Ministry of the Word” in general, covering much the same material as part II of the General Catechetical Directory. As presented in the Roman document, these sections contain material that does not require local adaptation (such as the forms, nature and purpose of catechetics). Therefore, there seems to be no reason why a National Directory should address itself to these matters. A cross-reference to the General Directory would do just as well.
However, it is well known that the National Directory is planned to include the doctrinal material that makes up part III of the General Directory and the whole of the Basic Teachings. As a guide for the content of religious education, this will be the most important part of the National Directory. Woe betide us, then, if anything important turns out to be missing.
In this light, I tried the ex- periment of checking through the Basic Teachings (which is based exclusively, remember, on part HI of the GCD) to see if it said anything important about Divine Revelation. The nature and duration of revelation, of course, is one of the most burning issues in contemporary theology and catechetics. Well, the Basic Teachings didn’t seem to say anything about it. I checked the index. Would you believe, the word “Revelation” doesn’t appear. I thought, “That’s funny, there’s a very crucial passage on this subject in the GCD.” I thumbed through part III. Not there.
“Where the devil,” I muttered to myself, “is that passage where the GCD slaps down on-going revelation?” It turns out that what I was looking for is in part II, section 13. I refer to the following words: “On the one hand, the divine revelation which constitutes the object of the Catholic Faith and which was completed at the time of the Apostles, must be clearly distinguished from the grace of the Holy Spirit, without whose inspiration and illumination no one can believe.” An important doctrinal point, would you not agree? Something that ought to have been in the Basic Teachings, huh? So I quickly amend what I said before about leaving part II out of the National Directory. Certainly all of the doctrinal points contained in part II of the GCD must be included in the National Directory, to make up for the oversights of the Basic Teachings.
In particular, the point that Divine Revelation must be clearly distinguished from the grace of the Holy Spirit belongs in the National Directory. Why do I stress this? Well, because God offers His grace to all men, right? God gives everybody a chance to be saved. But if revelation is the same as grace (so says Karl Rahner), then God must be offering His revelation to all men. But if revelation is always being offered to all men, it can’t have been completed at the time of the Apostles. Hence the notion of ongoing revelation.
A TOUCH OF MODERNISM THAT GOES FAR
Moreover, grace is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, right? You can’t directly experience grace, anymore than you can prove to a stranger that you are in a state of grace. Well, then, if grace is the same as revelation, it follows that you can receive revelation without knowing it. Hence revelation is unconscious and, necessarily, unconceptualized. Hence revelation is not Divine “speech” but an unconceptualized and non- conceptualizable experience. Moreover, every attempt to con- ceptualize this experience will be like trying to hold a moonbeam in your hand. Whence Modernism and the relativity of dogmas.
Moreover, if revelation is the non-conceptual self-disclosure of God, and revelation is the same thing as grace, it follows that grace must also be such a self-disclosure. But grace inheres in the human soul as a quality of the soul itself. Hence grace must be turned into a mini-beatific vision in the soul of every man. Whence the “anonymous Christian.”
And if every subjectively honest man is a Catholic already, without knowing it, it follows that the distinction between the Church and world collapses. The Church is the world conscious of what it really is. The world is the Church unconscious of what it really is. Whence the collapse of mission theology, the end of Catholic resistance to the spirit of the world, and the foundering of any meaningful distinction between the natural and the supernatural. All these ghastly conclusions can be read on page after page of Rahner, Moran, Marthaler, and their catechetical sycophants. But with the one affirmation that revelation must be distinguished from grace, we sweep them all away.
RETURN TO THE OATH
3) Topic No. 70 on the model outline concerns “Teacher Training and the Formation of Catechists.” In view of the heightened importance of catechetics today and of the immense influence that religious educators can have on all the faithful, it is time to pay more attention to the accountability of these educators vis-a-vis the truths of the faith. In the past, only priests had to take the Anti-Modernist Oath, because they were almost the only influence on people’s faith. No longer. Therefore, the National Catechetical Directory should require all religion teachers to take this supremely relevant Oath. Training programs for teachers should include an explanation of what the Oath means; and after the thing has been honestly explained, any prospective teacher who sincerely feels that he or she cannot take it should be excluded from teaching in a Catholic program.
Now, I suppose it will be said that this proposal is just a negative and even punitive measure designed to exclude all “modern theology” and all teachers sympathetic to modern theology from catechetical programs. I reject this imputation with great surprise. Have I said that all modern theology is contrary to the Anti-Modernist Oath? Why, not at all. Heaven forbid. But if this theology is consonant with the Oath, what possible objection can there be to explaining that fact to our teachers? Everybody knows that the popular distortions of recent theology are very dangerous. Why not eliminate these distortions by making sure that catechists fully and precisely understand the sense in which recent theological positions are consistent with the Anti-Modernist Oath?
4) Sections 57-60 of the proposed outline deal with catechesis in different minority groups — Blacks, Spanish-speaking, Indians, and immigrants. This is potentially a very important section. What might be said here could make the introductory stuff on sociology superfluous, for example. But this section should also deal with the so-called White ethnics: Poles, Irish, Italians, Germans, etc. I am convinced that a good deal of today’s crisis in the American Catholic Church is the direct result of a misplaced zeal for assimilation. Children were made to see their Catholic Old-World heritage as something dark and shameful, to be overcome, something un-American, something inferior to the life-style of the WASP elite. Such mistakes must be scrupulously avoided in future catechetics. Units which instill pride in the European and Latin American Catholic heritage should regularly enter into program planning.
METHODS SUBORDINATE TO CONTENT
5) Topic No. 73 in the Model Outline is entitled “Relationship of Content and Process,” and the reader is referred to Section 112 of the General Catechetical Directory. Turning to that section, we read the following delightful sentence: “Methodology is by its very nature nothing other than careful consideration of means that have stood the test of experience.” Well, this may be common sense in Rome, but it is rank heresy in America.
In Rome, people think that content (the Faith) is certain while methods are in doubt. Hence, when you train teachers, the Romans think you should present the Faith dogmatically and the teaching methods pragmatically; when you evaluate books and programs, you should make content mandatory and method optional. Why? Because the various new methods have not been tested by experience.
In America, on the other hand, teaching method is looked upon as a deduction from theological method (or madness, as the case may be). A new method does not have to stand the “test” of experience. In order to be certified as ultimate wisdom, it need only cohere with some fashionable theological prejudice. For example, last March, at a workshop in Nashville, Tenn., a leading American “catechetical expert” told this reporter that the most fashionable new methods in teaching (the method which tries to extract religious meaning from the child’s own “experiences” and from the “signs of the times”) depends upon the theological validity of on-going revelation. In other words, the “experts” in this country do not consider method neutral with respect to theology, and they cling tenaciously to bad or erroneous theology, even in the teeth of Papal opposition, because they are one hundred percent sold on their hot, new method — regardless of statistical evidence that the method doesn’t work. Thereupon, reflectively, the evidence of failure can be covered up by appeals back to the erroneous theology (“How can you measure faith?” etc. In other words, “just because our pupils fornicate and deny the Church’s authority is no reason to believe our catechesis has failed.”)
The only remedy for this situation is for the National Catechetical Directory to enforce the Roman understanding of the relation between method and content. The directory should require that all diocesan judgments as to whether a particular text or program may or may not be used in the diocese, be based exclusively on the conformity of the content with the Bishops’ minimum norms. This would put an end to the situation in which books are banned solely because somebody doesn’t like their “pre-conciliar” method or their pictures or their “cognitive” approach. The burden of developing and choosing successful methods will then fall upon the teachers, where it belongs.
SEND IN YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS
In the second and third installments of these “Priorities,” I have tried to suggest a few key ideas which, if written into the National Catechetical Directory, might accomplish catechetical reform. Subject to correction from those whose practical knowledge of the situation is greater than my own, I urge all Wanderer readers to support these ideas by incorporating them into properly worded recommendations to Msgr. Paradis’ office. The proper procedure is as follows:
Take a plain sheet of paper and type at the top “Recommendation for the National Catechetical Directory.” Under this, state the number of the topic on the model outline to which your recommendation refers (1-135) and give the title of the topic or else the title you prefer to give to your recommendation. Under these titles, type “reasons for this recommendation,” and then state your reasons. Now turn the sheet over and type at the top “Precise text of recommendation.” Under this use the exact language you would like to see in the Directory on this subject. You need not sign your name at the bottom, but you are asked to indicate your capacity: teacher, parent, priest, member of an organization, etc. Use a separate sheet for each recommendation. Mail them off as soon as possible — and pray, brethren, pray.