Obstacles Don’t Stop Religion Education

It’s also “back to school” for all of our children and young people in our programs of religious education.

As devoted as we are to our over 119,000 youth in Catholic schools in the archdiocese, we remain passionately committed to those who come to us outside of regular school hours for catechesis, or formation in their Catholic faith.

Last summer I was in Ireland and Ukraine, two beautiful countries that have suffered for their deep Catholic belief.

My first pastor, Monsignor Cornelius Flavin, recalled the story of his own dad, Michael, a school teacher in County Tipperary, Ireland. At this time, Ireland was under British rule, and formal instruction of children in the Catholic Faith was forbidden in the public schools. So, young Mr. Flavin, committed Catholic that he was, would meet his students after class out in what became known as the “hedgerow schools,” where, in secret, he would teach the children their catechism.

Coming home early one evening after such a session, he met the parish priest on the path.

“Michael,” Father whispered, “take this bicycle, this small bag I quickly packed, and this money, enough for you to buy passage to America. The ‘Black and Tan’ [the feared British police] are at your home now waiting to arrest you for teaching the little ones their religion after school. Goodbye and God bless!”

No wonder Monsignor Flavin, Michael’s son, was so committed to both a Catholic school and solid religious education!

In Ukraine, the same thing: thank God, the Ukrainian Catholic Church is young, growing, hopeful; but, have they ever been through the trials! For decades, by persecution, arrest, famine, and outright martyrdom, the communists in Russia tried to liquidate the Church. And to think I was there in August for the dedication of their new cathedral in Kiev, appropriately named the Resurrection!

When I asked how the faith had been passed on to the children during the days of persecution, the priests and people would smile and explain, “Our grandparents and parents would teach them their prayers, and brave catechists would quietly gather the young people in secluded areas to prepare them for first confession, first communion, and confirmation.”

It obviously worked, as the Church there today is booming.

So, here we are in the archdiocese; Lord knows we do not have the overt harassment and threats they had in Ireland and Ukraine. But, obstacles there certainly are:

• children marinated in a “secular” culture that hardly considers religion important, and at times even ridicules it;

• students tired from a full day of school, then facing another hour-and-a-half of religion after class, or on Saturday or Sunday mornings;

• soccer, band, basketball, dancing practices, all competing for time;

• parents who sometimes themselves are less than fervent in the practice of their faith, who see religion classes as just a hurdle to jump through to “get” the sacraments;

• catechists so generous and sincere, who are the first to admit they need more preparation to teach. (We’re working on that!);

• directors and coordinators who get a meager salary, if any at all, and who are only part time. (We’re working on that!).

Yet, we keep at it and do a pretty good job, thanks to our devoted catechists, who, more often than not, are swimming upstream!

Keep in mind, too, that this important term religious education includes more than the treasure of our children. It is lifelong, because we’re never done with learning and deepening our faith.

So, look at the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults now kicking in throughout the archdiocese, as thousands of adults answer the invitation of Jesus to accept the gift of faith in and through His Church; we acknowledge our youth ministry, campus ministry; our adult faith formation programs (look, for instance, at how many of our parishes are sponsoring Father Barron’s Catholicism series) with classes, Bible Study, or parish renewal programs.

We usually sum up the divine mission of the Church as “to teach, serve/govern, and sanctify.” The first, in allegiance to our Lord’s final mandate is to teach.

Thank you, teachers, catechists, DREs, parish priests, parents, grandparents, God’s faithful. The teaching season is back!