Category Archives: Catholic Catechism

Teaching Children To Fly: Parents As “Flight Instructors”

As a flight instructor, it is important for me to be aware of and make use of the four levels of learning.  It is equally important for me to set an example for my students.  The attitudes and behaviors I exhibit will impact the type of pilots my students become.  Flight instruction has similarities to parenting.  Parents are the primary instructors of life in general, and of the Catholic Faith in particular.

The first level of learning is “rote.”  Rote learning is the ability to repeat back something from memory.  I can tell a flight student how to turn an airplane.  “Apply coordinated aileron and rudder with slight back pressure on the yoke.”  If the student can repeat that back to me, rote learning has taken place.  However, this does not mean that the student can properly turn an airplane.

Next is “understanding.”  Why will the airplane behave a certain way when the student applies coordinated aileron, rudder and slight back pressure?  The student must gain an understanding of the aerodynamics of flight.  Why must the ailerons and rudder be coordinated?  What will happen if they are uncoordinated?  Understanding is a higher level of learning.  Yet, the student may still not be able to properly turn an airplane.

“Application” begins when the student is in the airplane and actually attempts to turn the airplane.  When the student can perform turns well, the level of “application” has been accomplished.  It is possible to turn an airplane without understanding aerodynamics.  However, it is preferable to have a learning process that promotes understanding prior to application.

“Correlation” is the highest level of learning.  When the student can properly perform turns while climbing or descending, for example, then correlation has been achieved.  The student has taken the skill and incorporated it into more complex maneuvers and situations.  Turning the airplane has become “second nature,” and the learning has been “transferred” to other maneuvers.

During the learning process, the instructor must instill good attitudes in the student.  If the instructor is casual or noncompliant with safety concerns, for example, the student will not learn how to be a safe pilot.  The instructor must exemplify the “culture of safety” expected from all pilots if the students are expected to be safe pilots.  An apathetic, careless instructor tends to produce apathetic, careless pilots.

Parents are the primary instructors of their children.  This includes the Christian Faith.  For example, parents must teach children certain prayers (rote), what the prayers mean and why they are praying (understanding), how to pray (application), and how prayer affects all aspects of their lives (correlation).  In order for children to adopt a “culture of praying,” they must also see their parents praying.  The parents set the example just like flight instructors.  Parental attitudes and practices regarding the Faith are very important in teaching the Faith.

One thing I quickly realized as a new instructor was that teaching is the best way to learn.  Before I could teach a lesson to a student, I first had to teach myself.  I had to make sure that I personally had achieved the highest level of learning with each lesson before teaching it.  It would be no good for me to explain to my student how to perform a maneuver if I could not properly demonstrate the maneuver myself.  It would not be helpful to insist that my student learn FAA regulations if I myself did not know the FAA regulations.  I needed to constantly be teaching and re-teaching myself in order to remain proficient as an instructor.

Parents must teach themselves the Faith if they expect to teach the Faith to their children.  Parents cannot rely solely on the Church or Catholic Schools to teach children the Faith.  If parents are “stuck” on a lower level of learning, they will not be able to teach their children effectively.  For example, if parents only have a rote level of learning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Rosary or the Mass, they will not be able to take their children beyond a rote level.  Children will not gain an understanding or be able to apply those things to their lives in meaningful ways.  The Mass and prayers may become meaningless rituals that are shed by the children as they seek meaning in the world beyond their families.

When parents accept their responsibility as teachers of the Faith, everyone benefits.  The children learn their Faith in meaningful ways that transfer to real life.  The Church and the Schools are better able to pastor and teach the children that already have a fundamental grounding in the Faith.  The parents learn and strengthen their own Faith by teaching it.  Families grow closer as they learn and explore the meaning of their Faith together.  Love, compassion, empathy, discipline, togetherness, all the things families crave are realized in living the Faith genuinely.  Society benefits from having faithful, ethical Christians that are able to live and apply the love of Christ.  Everyone wins when parents learn and teach the Faith to their children.

Parents do not need to have degrees in theology to teach their children.  There are plenty of reputable resources available through books, CDs, DVDs, the internet and Church programs.  All it takes is for parents to claim the responsibility and step up in faith.  One resource I have found is a series of DVDs for children called “Brother Francis.”  My three year olds love them and I have learned from them as well.  Just start with the basics and build upon them.  Teach yourself.  First and foremost, pray for the grace to be the loving Christian your children need to see and follow.  Any parent with children of any age can do that!  Teach your children to soar on what Pope John Paul II called “the wings of faith and reason!”

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.

The Verse That Stood Between Me And The Eucharist For 20 Years

When I left Catholicism, I had to change my thinking about Communion.  I had been taught that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus at Mass.  Bible-only Christians told me this was a false doctrine “invented” by the Catholic Church.  They told me the bread and wine were only symbolic.  They were quick to point me to the one and only verse that seemingly pulled the rug out from under the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation.  For 20 years that verse stood between me and the Holy Eucharist.

At the Last Supper, Jesus clearly says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”  In John chapter six we see the Bread of Life discourse, during which Jesus tells his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life.  This teaching really disgusted and offended the people that heard Jesus say it.  The more they objected to what Jesus was teaching, the more graphic and realistic Jesus made his words.  To drive home the reality, Jesus even made a point of using a word that meant “chew” or “gnaw” the way an animal would eat (Tōgō in Greek).

“Not to worry,” I was told by my Bible-only friends, “Jesus is only using a metaphor, he’s not seriously expecting us to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  That would be gross.”  They called my attention to John 6:63 at the end of the discourse where Jesus says, “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.”  “See?” my friends would say, “It’s all just a spiritual metaphor.  Jesus even says that the flesh doesn’t matter.  The bread and wine are only symbolic, like when Jesus said he was a door or a vine.”  At the time this explanation made sense to me.

What my friends did not seem to notice, however, was that Jesus did not say, “My flesh is of no avail.”  What Jesus said was, “The flesh is of no avail.”  They are small words but they make an important distinction.

Jesus said, “The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh,” and then he told us to eat his flesh.  He also said, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  So, why would Jesus go through all the trouble of saying how important his flesh was only to “negate” all those words with “my flesh is of no avail?”  (As if he was saying, “Just kidding!  My flesh isn’t really important after all!  Just seeing if you all were listening!”)

Which is it?  Does his flesh matter or not?  Of course Jesus’ flesh matters!  God sent his Son “in the flesh.”  His flesh was crucified.  Jesus gave his flesh for the life of the world.  The flesh of Jesus avails much!  Without it we are hopelessly lost.

The other point my friends did not mention is that “Spirit” does not mean “symbolic.”  The Spirit is what gives life.  When God created the world the Spirit moved in a life-giving fashion.  When Jesus said that his words are “Spirit and life” he did not mean that the bread and wine are “symbolic.”  God’s words have a real effect, not just a symbolic effect.  “Let there be light” is one example.  The way that Jesus changes bread and wine into his body and blood is through the power of the Spirit.  This is why Jesus says, “What if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before?”  In other words, Jesus is saying, “Why are you offended at eating my flesh and drinking my blood?  I can make anything happen.  I am God.  Just wait until you see me rise from the dead and ascend into Heaven!  Would you believe that?”

So, Jesus did not say that his own flesh was of no avail, and he did not say there was anything symbolic about his words.  What, then, is “the flesh” that is of no avail?  It is our flesh!  Our pitiful, little, faithless, human reasoning is of no avail!  Jesus makes this clear when talking to the Pharisees in chapter 8:15.  They object to Jesus saying that he is the Light of the world so he tells them, “You judge according to the flesh.”  It is our human tendency to rely only on our own reasoning that is of no avail.  Jesus was telling them not to get caught up in how disgusting and gross it all sounded, but to have faith.  He would make it happen by the power of the Spirit.  Just as the Jews consumed the sacrificial lamb at Passover, Jesus would allow his followers to consume the sacrificial Lamb of God that fulfilled Passover.

The words of Jesus are Spirit and life because Jesus is God and the creator of everything.  When Jesus holds up bread and says, “This is my body,” it is the same Jesus that said to the dead Lazarus, “Come out of the tomb.”  He is the same God that said, “Let there be light.”  He is the same Jesus that cured the blind and the lame and created everything that exists.  It is no problem whatsoever for Jesus to change bread and wine into his own body and blood.  He is God.  It is we who have the problem believing it.  That is why so many of his followers left him that day.

Anyone offended by the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is looking through the lens of human reasoning rather than the eyes of faith.  That’s what John 6:63 is all about.  In verse 64 Jesus sums it up: “But there are some of you that do not believe.”

Catholics And Bibles

I’m currently reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It’s a great way to learn what the Church actually teaches rather than what it supposedly teaches (or doesn’t teach).  Too often we hear inaccurate things about Catholicism from people that either misunderstand Church teachings or deliberately distort those teachings.  It is always best to go directly to the source rather than rely on hearsay.  It is particularly dangerous to rely on sources that obviously oppose the Church, since such information is likely to be tainted in favor of the opposition.

As I read through the Catechism, I intend to post thoughts and reflections on certain topics that impress me the most.  Here is my first Catechism reflection about Scripture:

Why am reading the Catechism instead of the Bible?  Actually, I am reading the Bible.  That is one of the things about the Catechism that I find impressive.  It is very rooted in Scripture and refers to it often in support of the Church teachings.  It is, in effect, a Bible study.

One of the things Catholics often get accused of is not studying Scripture.  There are even folks who believe that Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible.  Most Catholics may not be able to quote memorized Scripture chapter and verse.  However, if they are faithfully attending church they will hear nearly the entire Bible read to them over a three year period.  The Mass itself is loaded with Scriptural references.  All it takes is listening.  If you go to Mass and actually pay attention, you will be studying the Bible.  The problem isn’t the Mass.  The problem is people not paying attention.

So, does that mean that the Catholic Church doesn’t want Catholics to read the Bible at home?  No.  The opposite is true.  Paragraph 133 in the Catechism says, “The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.  Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”  That is the teaching of the Catholic Church.  Read and study your Bibles, Catholics!

Now, the fact that many Catholics would rather watch television or play video games than read their Bibles says nothing about Church teaching.  The fact that many Catholics leave Catholicism for other churches out of a desire to study the Bible also says nothing about Church teaching.  What it says is that Catholics need to wake up and learn what their Church actually teaches and then follow the teaching.

Catholics also need to stop letting non-Catholics teach them about their own faith.  Think about it.  How many non-Catholic Christians are going to tell a Catholic to study the Bible because the Catholic Church says they should?  Not likely.  Non-Catholic Christians are typically going to say, “Hey, you Catholics don’t know the Bible and you don’t study the Bible, so come to my church where we study the Bible all the time.”  Imagine what would happen if every Catholic could respond with, “What do you mean?  We hear the Bible at every Mass.  The Church also exhorts us to study the Bible!  I don’t need to leave Catholicism to study the Bible!  I already go to a Bible study!”

Catholics, if your parish doesn’t have a decent Bible study, then either start one or find a parish that has one.  No more excuses.  Just because many non-Catholic churches have thriving Bible studies does not mean that they are teaching what is right and accurate.  Catholics may need to work on developing better Bible studies, but that does not mean the Catholic Church does not have the truth to teach.  It simply means that this is an area where Catholics need some improvement.  So, let’s do it.  It’s time we started inviting non-Catholics to our Bible studies so that they can learn all about the fullness of the Christian Faith found in the Catholic Church.  Of course, it certainly helps if we ourselves know about that fullness and what it means.