Tag Archives: Catholic schools

Pop Quiz

Jay Leno often did a schtick on the Tonight Show where he would have someone go out into the streets, read something from the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights, and tell people the government was thinking of implementing whatever it was. Most of the subjects would be outraged, or amazed, often remarking the excerpt was way too extreme.

I’ve seen more recent similar videos where interviewers have asked college students questions like “Which side won the Civil War?,” “Who is the Vice President?,” etc. with equally awful results.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of answers one would get if challenging Catholics with a similar pop quiz on the Bible and Catholic Catechism. My guess is that responses would be nearly if not more atrocious.

I’m not saying that to be insulting. In recent years, I’ve come to see that there is a great deal I do not know about Catholicism and what I’m supposed to believe or not believe. This is particularly distressing to me having attended Catholic school from first grade through graduate school, received instruction for five of the Seven Sacraments, trained as a Eucharistic Minister, written for a Catholic newspaper, read various books on Catholicism, attended numerous retreats and so on and so forth.

There always seems to be more to learn. Considering the many resources I’ve had over the course of my life, I wonder what Catholics who have not attended Catholic elementary, intermediate, secondary, college and graduate school do to learn about “being Catholic.” Although I must admit, I have a number of friends who are converts, who, much like naturalized Americans do about the U.S., know more about the history and rules than most lifelong Catholics I know.

While those believers out there who want to show us all how much they know about God and Catholicism would probably disagree, I don’t think it should surprise anyone that many, if not most, Catholics have more to learn about their faith. Unlike our Protestant friends, Catholics are less known to be big Bible readers. And if you’ve ever seen a print version of the Catholic Catechism, you might feel more comfortable picking up a copy of War & Peace.

The Bible, as one of my high school religion teachers liked to remind us, is far from boring reading. He loved picking out more risqué passages and asking an unsuspecting student to read them allowed. He particularly liked the story of Lot and his daughters after fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah. Also, David and Bathsheeba. Or Sampson and Delilah. You get the point. I’ve been reading my copy more these days. It comes in handy when people tell you “that’s not in the Bible.” Often, it is.

In recent years, when I lost two very special people to suicide, and was teetering on the brink of depression myself, I turned to the Catechism for clarity. I was comforted to know the Church recognizes mental health issues can indeed lead us to a type of distress that can only be quieted in death. I was under the impression that suicide was always mortal sin. Some may be surprised that in regard to homosexuals, the Catchism clearly states “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

We Catholics who are not theological or moral specialists might also want to consider reading and studying other Catjolic documents of importance – Humana Vite, anyone? How about Amoris Latetia? Do we know what the Church really says about infallibility? I used to think if the Pope said it, God said it. It’s much more complicated than that.

Catholicism is a living, breathing faith. Just like our relationships with people, we must attend to our relationship with God. What we hear and learn at Mass simply isn’t enough in a day and age when there is such challenge to our tradition and freedom to practice it. I forget this a lot. My children are learning more about Catholicism at Catholic school today than I believe I did as an elementary school student. They challenge me to know more and be more devout. And know the answers to their Catholic questions.

I challenge you, my fellow Catholics, to refresh your knowledge of our faith. It’s one thing to know the rules – yet we should know where our rules come from. We should recognize both the good and bad of our history, and realize that the humanity of Church leaders can lead them to sin just like the rest of us. We must know what conventional wisdom about Catholicism is correct, and what has been exaggerated to discredit our beliefs and values, should we be called on to defend God.

Catholicism is good and can be shared in love and with respect among lapsed and non- believers. Study up for those more and more frequent pop quizzes. Evangelize, don’t hide.

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Bless the Little Children

Much has been made recently of a Pew report illustrating a decline in Christianity in America, Catholicism particularly. 

The idea that six Catholics leave the Church for every one who joins it troubles me. However, yesterday I experienced something that gave me more than the hope I needed to realize that the Catholic Church I love so dearly will survive well into the future.

I have two daughters that attend a local Catholic school. My oldest was invited to participate in something called the “Living Rosary,” in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Neither of them had been involved in this activity previously, and because the event is held during the school day, my husband and I had never attended before. How I wish we had.

In the “Living Rosary” children from first through eighth grade serve as the jewels on the Rosary, one for each prayer. Assembled around the Church in the form of a Rosary with a student holding a crucifix at the head, each child starts the prayer they stand for, and the congregation of their classmates, teachers, parents and other parishioners answer back. Older children mark each of the holy mysteries of each decade.

It’s quite simple. There are no costumes, no special decor. No musicians, only two girls beautifully singing “Mary, Gentle Woman” acapella. (They reminded me of two girls in my grade school class who often cantered school Masses. They sang so beautifully. I always dreamed to sing with them, but had no such talent!) Just 200 or so Catholic school children leading prayer. 

I’ve been to Mass with these same kids. And they are kids at Mass. They can’t resist chatting with each other, they zone out, some fall asleep, and at least one is usually escorted out for whatever infraction. Yet yesterday, in our quiet, dimly lit Church, they were attentive, engaged and alert. Many held flowers they had brought to adorn a new statue of the Virgin outside the Church in our parish garden. 

With school coming to an end, I couldn’t help but see the growth these children had experienced through the year. Watching the prayers of the Rosary flow from soon-to-graduate eighth graders to just-beginning first graders was a powerful symbol of how we Catholics are obliged to pass our spiritual traditions on to our children, and they to one another.

They’re all kinds of children. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian. Boys and girls. Princesses and tomboys. Athletes and bookworms. Skinny ones, chubby ones. Ones with glasses, some with various spring injuries, others missing a tooth. A few who forgot to wear their special uniform blue polo.  A reminder that God welcomes us all, no matter our differences, to unite in worship. Such a simple thought. Yet so powerful through the example of these children. 

 As the members of the Rosary and their classmates proceeded from Church to the courtyard to honor Mary with a crown of beautiful spring blossoms, they sang “Hail Holy Queen” with an enthusiasm normally reserved for sports and recess. One by one, class by class they laid their flowers before the Mother of God. Picked from gardens, bought from local stores, pruned from flowering trees. It was an amazing bouquet, fit for a Queen.

There are certainly dynamics working on the population of Catholics in the United States. The faithful come and go, often leaving the Church for purely human reasons – relocation of priests, something said at the pulpit, sour grapes over who’s who in the parish. Yet in so many places, these gems – the Catholic elementary schools that welcome all children to learn – still stand strong. 

These children give me hope. I see their understanding of the basis of Catholicism – they know how to love one another, and how to forgive. As they grow into the adults who will lead the Church, I know Catholicism will live on.

Catholic Schools are Community Jewels

Recently, a team of professors from the law school at the University of Notre Dame released a study suggesting that neighborhoods lose more than economics when a Catholic school closes.
That price, the researchers say, is community vitality.
Ok, I thought, but there’s a lot more to community erosion than closing Catholic schools. And then I had an experience where the reality of that study smacked me right in the face.
I grew up in the Catholic school system. Grade school, high school, college. Even grad school. My two beautiful girls are now enrolled in a Catholic school. My experiences have not been horrible as so many attest. No nuns ever beat me with a board, no priests or brothers abused me. Of course like anything, Catholic school isn’t perfect. But there is one thing that makes it different.
If you are part of any Catholic school, particularly elementary school or high school, it’s because you WANT to be. Not because it’s where you were “assigned.”
Parents, including parents who are not Catholic, send their children to Catholic school because they want an educational experience for their children that’s more than 123s and ABCs. And, dare I say, one that’s even more than catechism.
Parents who send their kids to Catholic school know it’s reality. It’s an investment financially, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It’s tuition, fundraising, time commitments, more fundraising, countless donations, and trust. It’s teaching by example.
It’s cliche, but it really is like a family, the way modern people think of it : You spend a lot of money and time to be with people you may not want to be with for the sake of your children and your own roots.
And that’s the rub right there – what the researchers may have been driving at. Community is not about candy and roses and everyone loves one another. It’s more about bearing with one another, no matter how you feel about them, for something worthwhile.
That’s what happens in Catholic schools. Case in point, sports and activities. In this fashion, Catholic schools have changed since my day. Many reasons have taken programs like football and cheerleading out of some schools. Mostly, however, schools don’t have the number of kids necessary to field two football teams and cheerleading squads anymore.
But kids and parents still want the opportunity to play. In our area, parents from various schools in the region (north, east, west, south) took the responsibility to pull interested players and cheerleaders from multiple schools into teams, chose volunteers to manage the teams and squads, manage and man concessions and administration, and built programs stronger than many of the old single school groups.
Parents did this. Parents who work day jobs, who have kids in other activities, who have babies at home, who care for ailing parents, who may not always want to spend time together, may not even know one another, do it so their kids can thrive and discover their talents. The ones who understand that community begins with strong confident kids say “why not?” instead of “do I have to?” or “I don’t have the time.”
Big deal, right? It’s football. But grade school football programs are also community engines. There are local photographers hired to take team pictures, local screen printers who do t-shirts and hoodies, vendors who provide concessions, venues that hold games, social events and banquets. Our team even offers space to a woman who makes jewelry in team colors. And it’s parents showing kids that they are important, and that everyone in the community has something to offer.
Community isn’t about having everything you want and liking everyone where you live. It’s much more about doing things you’d rather not on a rainy Saturday afternoon out of a sense of responsibility and necessity. It’s about forking over another $20 for candy or candles or wrapping paper so your child’s class can have a Thanksgiving play. It’s about hauling three cases of bottled water to a cross country meet because it’s your turn and sweating in the heat until that last kid crosses the finish line on a 90 degree afternoon.
It’s about giving kids something to do after school or on a weekend so they don’t have to find something questionable with which to occupy their time. It’s about sacrificing some personal pursuits to teach a future generation how people come together and strengthen one another. It can be about swallowing pride in front of your kids to show its important to find ways to work with one another.
This may happen in other institutions. But Catholics are particularly good at it. Like families, we certainly have dysfunction amongst ourselves. But our gift lies in pushing forward regardless of how problematic our inner differences maybe, and sacrificing when we’d rather not.
Kids – who in modern society so often get pushed aside, abused or overlooked – keep our communities vibrant and growing. Supporting and striving for the future of Catholic education is about more than economics. It’s about teaching another generation how to build a community people want to be part of.