Memorizing Catechism

This is something I have not done right for my children. It is great motivation to start and reminds me of what happened to me as an adult one Sunday at Mass. From Father Z’s Blog:

Some years ago I had an experience which confirmed for me the value of the old-fashioned methods of catechism: long and hard practice, memorization, and repetition.  I was called to a hospital to assist in a patient’s difficult death.  I gave the man Last Rites and talked with the family as they struggled with the reality of the end of the earthly life of a loved one.  A daughter of the dying man had been estranged from her faith and her family for a long time.  She was beyond her life’s middle years, which clearly had been pretty rough.  She was bitter and cursed life, fate and God for the cruelty of such an end as her father was experiencing.  She shouted at me, “Why did God make us if this is all there is?”  I responded asking, “Why did God make you?”  She became very still and stared at me.  Then she said, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”  I continued, “What must we do to save our souls?”  On cue she responded with something that she hadn’t perhaps thought of for decades, “To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity. We must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.”  “Did your father do that?”, I asked.  “Oh, yes…. oh yes.”  She had obviously been taught very well as a child.   One can imagine that she was at times forced to study and to learn, to repeat over and over what at the time seemed boring and pointless.  She had been drilled at school by the Sisters, whom these days we see mocked and abused in the media by ungrateful cads who benefited from their dedication.  More importantly, she had parents who fulfilled their obligations to see that she learned her faith.  I imagine they had to work hard to make her work hard.  Her father had done his duty to give her what she needed when the battle was joined.  Whatever they all did worked.  In the moment of truth, by the grace of God and the help of her guardian angel, the gift her dying father had given her years before was rediscovered and put to its proper use.

Many people today criticize the old method of education by memorization and repetition.  They say that children just wind up mouthing things they do not understand.  On the other hand, while they might not understand it at the moment, one day they will be ready for it and they will have it because it had been given them.  Countless soldier and sailors, for example, griped (and gripe) about their training.  Many Marines entertain homicidal thoughts about their drill instructor.  But when that Anchor, Globe and Eagle is finally pinned on, not a few Marines return to their DI and shake his hand and thank him for what he gave them.  In later service, when the time comes for that single skill or tool or piece of knowledge to be used in its critical time, it is there.  It gleams with purpose.  Polished and tended, it is tried and true.  We of the Church Militant are pilgrim soldiers and, if we are going to reach our goal of heaven, we need training, sacrifice, and leadership.

Going to catholic school in the eighties left me with lots of “I’m okay, You’re okay” fluff, but very little substance. By the time I was a teen and my faith was challenged I had little in the way of answers already planted to harvest from. I do remember once an adult friend of a my friend’s parent mockingly asked me what it is I actually believed in as a catholic. I was caught off guard and without thinking began to recite the creed. She cut me off after a few lines and walked away. The experience made me grateful to have some response and humbled me because it was the first time my faith had been challenged in any real way and I had no other words to speak. Soon after my slow fade from the church was complete. I didn’t think about it again until after I had returned to the church some years later.

I enjoyed writing as a teen and often would write typical teen poetry about the meaning of life and why we exist. All of them seemed to be missing something. They were feel good fluff and I knew it. The “Why do we exist?” question faded from my thoughts as adult responsibilities grew. It was during a homily that the priest speaking to the older members of the church began to reminisce about memorizing catechism as a kid under the direction of the sisters who taught in the catholic schools. He asked the crowd, “Why did God make you?”. In unison the crowd replied, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

For me the simple and obvious statement was a  light as bright as the sun. It was a “duh” moment. I remember thinking I had wished someone told me that as a kid. There was an answer to the question, it wasn’t meant to be a private interpretation of whatever philosophy I wanted to align myself with. There was such beauty, strength and comfort in that simple answer. My first lesson in the importance of memorizing Catechism profoundly altered the foundation my faith and perspective is laid upon, for this I am very grateful!

*Thank you Christine for the excerpt.

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