It is interesting to note that even those diocesan guidelines which are unduly restrictive regarding the rights of Homeschooling Parents in the matter of sacramental preparation, acknowledge that "Catechesis is most effective when rooted in the life of the family, the domestic church." Fortunately, today, we have many discerning Homeschooling parents who have taken seriously their duty to be fervent catechists to their children. They continue to perform a distinct service to the entire Church in taking special care to hand down to their children "the Catholic Faith which comes to us from the Apostles". This they have chosen to do despite criticism from diocesan educationists who frown on parents actually exercising rights guaranteed by the Church’s Teaching Authority and rather seek to entangle them in their own bureaucratic structures and pedagogically questionable programs. It has not been unusual for such diocesan bureaucrats seeking "community uniformity" to insist that Homeschooling parents "must use books that are approved by the diocese... with lesson plans kept and submitted to the Religious Education Office each trimester." (a diocese in Ohio)
The history of Catechesis in the post-conciliar period presents, of course, ample evidence of the use of seriously defective religious education texts and programs uncritically adopted in many dioceses. Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) has for many years detailed such defects and errors of commission and omission regarding the Church’s articles of faith. One of the most serious revelations of the shortcomings of religious texts in vogue was provided by the U.S. Bishops’ "NCCB Ad Hoc Committee on the Use of the Catechism" in a 1997 Report listing serious doctrinal deficiencies. Home schooling parents had long noted the anti-supernatural ethos characterizing such texts and their allied programs. Catholic parents seeking to live the Faith and to study it more deeply were instantly to sense the hostile spirit of Naturalism evident in trendy religious education and sex education texts and in irreverent children’s liturgies. The desire to catechize their children in authentic Catholicism was one of the many motives which induced good Catholic parents to homeschool their children and to utilize that indispensable tool of modern Catechesis: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) declared by Pope John Paul II to be "a sure norm for teaching the Faith". It cannot, however, yet be said that religious education programs in many parishes are in conformity with the CCC. To give but one example, it has been distressing for homeschooling parents in a New York parish to encounter religious education texts which may discuss the Apostles’ and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds but refrain from declaring the "catholic church" mentioned therein to be, in fact, identical with the Catholic Church in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome!
It cannot be overlooked that all too many Catholic school and parish religious education programs continue to be influenced by that experiential "New Catechesis" which began with the notorious "Dutch Catechism" in the late Sixties. That unfortunate "Catechism" in large measure ignored the essentially supernatural character of Christianity and uprooted from the minds of both adults and youth the notions of sin and redemption. It neglected the fact of Original Sin and its sad effects on human nature. The catechetical texts of major publishers reflecting the disorientations of the Dutch Catechism would likewise incorporate the "I’m O.K., You’re O.K., God’s O.K." Pelagian spirituality furthered by agnostic and atheistic psychologists and social scientists possessing an exaggerated optimistic view of human nature. The penetration of Catholic catechesis by the Naturalism of 18th century Enlightenment philosophy with a corresponding Flight from Catholic Doctrine by teachers seeking to conform to the norms of an increasingly secular culture would have a devastating impact on the teaching of sexual morality. We have seen in our time the entrenchment of the contraceptive-abortion-population control society. Catholic parents seeking to protect the modesty and chastity of their children realized that "Ideas Have Consequences" and how the corruption of truth only produces bitter fruits in the moral order.
The writers and consultants for the texts of the "New Catechesis" who were engaged in shredding the organic fabric of Catholic doctrine and were alienated from what they called "the Catholic Ghetto", never quite understood the demands of Catholic Culture. Products of the "idols of the age" patronized in American Universities and Colleges, they never grasped what the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson realized so well:
"Christian education was not only an initiation into the Christian community. It was also an institution into another world: the unveiling of spiritual realities of which the natural man was unaware and which changed the meaning of existence. And I think it is here that our modern education -including our religious education- has proved defective. There is no sense of revelation. It is accepted as instruction, sometimes as useful knowledge, often as tiresome work in preparation for some examination, but nowhere do we find that joyful sense of the discovery of a new and wonderful reality which inspired true Christian culture. All true religious teaching leads up to the contemplation of divine mysteries, and where this is lacking, the whole culture becomes weakened and divided." (Understanding Europe, p. 244)
Dawson’s words were written in 1950, and before spread of a revived Modernism sparked by the "Dutch Catechism" and a torrent of catechetical texts promoting a naturalistic revelation which masqueraded as authentic Catholicism. They lulled many into thinking that an improvement in religious education had taken place! In 1967 the great Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand felt compelled to write his "The Trojan Horse in the City of God" (a volume which was eagerly read and widely distributed by Catholics United for the Faith). He noted that:
This book is addressed to all those who are still aware of the metaphysical situation of man, to those who have resisted brainwashing by secular slogans, who still possess the longing for God and are still conscious of a need for redemption. It is addressed to those who have not yet become deaf to the voice of Christ amid the noisy huckstering of cheap and shallow formulas, to those whose minds are not spellbound by the alleged coming of age of modern man, to those not caught in the turmoil of the contemporary puberty crisis... We shall try to shed light on the confusions, apostasies, disclosures of loss of faith that are to be found among those who trumpet forth the claim that they are the true interpreters of the [Second Vatican] Council. Against the background of true realism, of the very core of religion, of the good tidings of the Gospel, we shall try to examine all the horrible errors that being propagated now by the so-called ‘ progressives’.
Despite the difficulties encountered by Catholic Homeschooling parents (e.g., some dioceses still have First Communion before First Confession!), they have the right and wonderful opportunity to introduce their children to the Divine Person of Jesus Christ, to His one and only Church, and to His supernatural world of sanctifying grace. One of the greatest Irish spiritual writers , Fr. Edward Leen, C.S.P., noted what is at the heart of all genuine Catholic catechesis:
It should be the aim of our catechetical efforts so to present the faith to the minds and hearts of the young, that it will open to them an avenue of vital experience responding to the soul’s instinctive aspirations. The life which the faith offers must outrival in attractiveness of appeal the life offered by the opposing theories of human existence. The Saviour proclaimed that He came to give life and abundant life, not merely to offer to man a system of laws. To understand His message one must understand the life that He undertakes to live. He accompanies His offer with the assurance that in that life men will find satisfaction even in this world. It is strange that, though this is so, comparatively little effort is made in Catholic instruction to unveil the splendours and develop the attractiveness of this most appealing life which is given by Sanctifying grace... Comparatively few realize that it is a divine energy that puts them in relations of social intimacy with God. Appeal must be answered by appeal. The analysis and development and illustration of the vital experience that divine grace opens to man, should form the central theme in religious instruction. There can be no love of what is not known. If grace is not known, what it signifies cannot be either appreciated or loved. Since it is the thing that supernatural religion offers, if it is not valued, religion cannot be valued. It is hard to see how God can be loved, if the life of God, as offered to us in participation [via the sacraments], is neither known, nor in consequence, valued and loved... It is only when mind and will and imagination are, as it were, steeped in the Person of Jesus, His life, His works, His sayings, His views, His principles, His ideals that one is strong to resist the seduction of what competes with the Saviour for the loyalty of the human heart. (See Fr. Leen’s classic "What is Education?", Sheed & Ward, 1944, pp.175-178)
May all Homeschooling parents especially study the CCC’s teaching on grace (see its Index) to assist them in forming the minds and hearts of their youth in love of and loyalty to Christ Our Lord.
Readers interested in obtaining information concerning the norms for authentic catechesis and wishing to receive information on specific catechetical texts and programs can contact Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) Information Services: (1-800-My Faith).
This article appeared in PRO ECCLESIA, P.O. Box 524, New York, NY 10276-0524 (Vol. XXXVI, No. 1; 2005; pages 14-15)