As long-time readers here know, I like to take my time and examine a subject. There are lots of good reasons for this approach, having to do with not overwhelming you (knowing how flustered I myself feel when confronted with a deluge of “must-dos”), as well as trying to make my way through the forest of often conflicting advice out there.
Perhaps not least, my methods allow me to build in long pauses for mysterious stabbing pains, visiting/resident grandchildren, and broken vacuums requiring alternate (and time-consuming) remediations. (Hooray for warrantied parts; boo for standard shipping, further interrupted by snow storms!)
Anyway. The result might be less than linear, so, a recap is perhaps in order.
What do we have so far?
Part 1: My preliminary musings on a sort of sadness and loss of meaning that comes from trying to live life without reference to the moral nature of the thing.
Part 2: Things grow according to their nature: God gives very young children a mother, a father, and family life to teach them that things are; a child at at the age of reason starts the simple task of memorizing the Commandments, with a necessary but small amount of instruction.
Part 3: A bit more about teaching the Ten Commandments, with some resources that can take you right up to to the point where the child is intellectually able to delve deeper and more analytically into the truths of the faith, and most importantly, has the beginnings of the habits of virtue that must undergird such a study.
Now we come to the older child — that child who can buckle down and study. His mind has taken a turn for real inquiry. In other subjects, he has begun to investigate causes. He is capable of examining a footnote (and I regard a 7th or 8th grader as gearing up for this sort of thing).
Whenever I open the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I am once again wondering why it is that we don’t just read it with our older children.
For teaching the moral law and explaining the role of the Church in this task, the Catechism is the clearest, most efficient, and most inspiring way to convey the whole body of teaching. (I truly am tempted to say just this about every section of the CCC, because it’s all amazing.)
The perceived problem is that it’s a big book. That makes it daunting. It’s got a lot of pages.
But no one said that you have to read it all at once!
Let me tell you how it operates.
There are four main Parts, in addition to a prologue which you will want to read (seriously, we will have another post about reading this Lent, and the CCC will be a great option).
You absolutely could make each part a year of your older child’s religion curriculum. With the addition of a systematic (not devotional per se) Scripture study, a return, as in every year, to the timeline of Salvation history, and of course, your family’s living of the Liturgical Year in the company of the Church, you would be sending him out into the world with a solid foundation as to the facts of Christianity.
It took me decades to figure this out, with many mistakes along the way; and I’m trying to say that “I alone have survived to tell you” — save yourself a lot of grief and go with this.
You can look at the table of contents to see how it’s arranged: one of the Parts is “Life in Christ.” This section is on the Ten Commandments, and their fulfillment in the New Testament, the Beatitudes.
Here’s a little sample (and I try to reference my documents on the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church site*, where they are mercifully free of the intensely distracting background found on the Vatican website):
The Duties of Parents [in the section on the Fourth Commandment, Honor Your Father and Your Mother]:
2221 The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. “The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.”29 The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.30**
It’s a feature, not a bug, to be forced to take some time to look up some of these words. How will your child function, intellectually, without knowing what fecundity, conjugal, primordial, and inalienable mean? Further, ponder the statement in quotes!
Each article builds on the preceding sections, and everything is shored up by Scripture and sound theology (and philosophy). The Parts were given to the very best and most orthodox minds to compose — this is no “committee production,” watered down to the lowest denominator!
Every aspect of the question at hand is examined, but there is also a section at the end of each article that summarizes the main points. One could certainly go through once using those “In Brief” sections and then go through again, taking the time to expand on them. But I guarantee you will be drawn in by the excellence and sheer inspiration of the main body of material.
Yes, you could get a textbook that digests all of this for you. But I’m not going to lie — it’s going to make it more tedious. (Sometimes I wonder if we think that serious things ought to be tedious! But that’s not true!) It’s better to approach this compact paragraph as it stands, showing your student how to expand it for themselves. Let them write you a statement about what it means.
It’s a real problem when we are tempted to add what is really a “slogging factor” to work that requires effort but is basically approachable if we take our time. It requires much more energy to read a textbook about Shakespeare than to read Shakespeare!
This is the brilliance of the Catechism. It is intentionally compact and succinct. Certainly you, the teacher, can read outside sources to help you explain things to your child, but I would be very wary of eliminating or attempting to override the particular format of the CCC.
This kind of in-depth study of the Commandments is irreplaceable. Do you remember from our reading of Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy:
We have seen that thought alone can keep spiritual life sound and healthy. In the same way, prayer is beneficial only when it rests on the bedrock of truth. This is not meant in the purely negative sense that it must be free from error; in addition to this, it must spring from the fullness of truth. It is only truth–or dogma, to give it its other name–which can make prayer efficacious, and impregnate it with that austere, protective strength without which it degenerates into weakness… Dogmatic thought brings release from the thralldom of individual caprice, and from the uncertainty and sluggishness which follow in the wake of emotion. It makes prayer intelligible, and causes it to rank as a potent factor in life.
If, however, religious thought is to do justice to its mission, it must introduce into prayer truth in all its fullness.
The very ability to pray, the gift we want to give to our children, rests on the truth. The Church exists for worship, which requires that she guard doctrine; each person must also guard it, which is why Scripture exhorts us to follow God’s commandments and write His precepts on our hearts.
In his precise little volume, Difficulties in Mental Prayer, Dom Eugene Boylan gets to the point of what might be giving us trouble in our relationship with God in the chapter called Goodness of Life:
Prayer will not develop unless the soul is advancing towards the fourfold purity of conscience, of heart, of mind, and of action… [Sin] is a direct denial of love to God…
Nothing so darkens our gaze on God, nothing so weakens our desire for God, nothing so lessens our striving for God, as a single inordinate attachment. That is the great source of many difficulties in prayer.
The inquiry into the proper orderings of attachment is exactly what moral education is, and that begins with the Commandments.
If we want our children to know and love God’s Law so that they can have a relationship with Him, we have to teach them. Yes, the natural law is written on man’s heart (CCC 1955), but it must be nurtured. Today there’s a lot of discussion about conscience and one’s actions; what is not so much valued anymore is the role of teaching in forming conscience. The Catechism has this to say:
1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.
That last clause is why we begin with the Catechism itself!
That’s the “study” part of things (and immediately, we find that study becomes prayer, paradoxically!), but of course, such a study forms a part of a more comprehensive education, taken in the larger sense, which has to include other, non-analytical ways of expressing the same thing.
I’ll try to address that aspect in another post.
*The site also has the virtue of a search box that brings up a result, and then enables you to locate it in the larger context. However, there is no substitute for the actual in-real-life book.
**the footnotes in this paragraph are to Familiaris Consortio and Gravissimum Educationis, two of the many documents that address the duty to educate.
The first footnote in Gravissimum Educationis illuminates the solid foundation of teaching on which the statements are based — I’m just going to plop it here so you can see for yourself how deep down it goes:
1. Among many documents illustrating the importance of education confer above all apostolic letter of Benedict XV, Communes Litteras, April 10, 1919: A.A.S. 11 (1919) p. 172. Pius XI’s apostolic encyclical, Divini Illius Magistri, Dec. 31, 1929: A.A.S. 22 (1930) pp. 49-86. Pius XII’s allocution to the youths of Italian Catholic Action, April 20, 1946: Discourses and Radio Messages, vol. 8, pp. 53-57. Allocution to fathers of French families, Sept. 18, 1951: Discourses and Radio Messages, vol. 13, pp. 241-245. John XXIII’s 30th anniversary message on the publication of the encyclical letter, Divini Illius Magistri, Dec. 30, 1959: A.A.S. 52 (1960) pp. 57-S9. Paul VI’s allocution to members of Federated Institutes Dependent on Ecclesiastic Authority, Dec. 30, 1963: Encyclicals and Discourses of His Holiness Paul VI, Rome, 1964, pp. 601-603. Above all are to be consulted the Acts and Documents of the Second Vatican Council appearing in the first series of the ante-preparatrory phase. vol. 3. pp. 363-364; 370-371; 373-374.
If you consulted each of those documents, you would further find references to the early Fathers and to Scripture.