Religious education classes have started all over the country. I know because this post with a catechist letter to parents has suddenly become my post popular post. It happens every fall. Once again, I too have started teaching a seventh grade class. This year looks like it will be a pretty good year. How do I know? I surveyed the class and all but two students said they go to Mass most Sundays. This is a change from last year when I only had two students in the entire class who said they attend Mass most Sundays. The young ladies are all fully clothed. Last year I was constantly having to ask the girls to put on their sweatshirts or jackets because they were revealing way too much skin. Also, unlike last year, none of my students declared themselves atheists on the first day of class--a declaration made to the priest who visited the classroom. Yes, this is definitely going to be a better year.
Teaching religious education can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility. How on earth am I supposed to teach the faith in one hour per week over the course of the school year when the lessons are not reinforced at home? What I have realized, is that I am not supposed to do that. I am supposed to do what I can to supplement what the parents do and what the Grace of God provides. I do what I can to teach the basics, make the Faith relevant, and offer it all with love. Offering it with love does not mean watering down the Church teachings or seeking warm fuzzies. It does mean offering the Truth. I cannot judge the fate of anyone's soul, but I can faithfully pass on what has been revealed as the path to salvation.
Another perennial catechist's lament is that the CCD program is treated as the unwanted stepchild of the parish if the program shares facilities with a parish school. The school may hold its fund raisers but the bulk of the operating budget, facility maintenance, and tuition subsidies comes from the general parish funds. All of the parishioners support the school. Therefore, when I walk into the school and the Smart Boards are covered with drapes to keep those unwashed CCD students from benefitting from their use, the remotes for the televisions and DVD players are locked in the teacher's desks to keep the CCD classes from using them, and the chalk boards are covered with writing with big "DO NOT ERASE" messages leaving me little options for visual aids while teaching, I have to wonder if the parish school understands its purpose. The parish school educates only a small fraction of the students of the parish. Its purpose is to provide a wholly Catholic environment for education. While the school is expected to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic its raison d'être is to foster Catholicism. This is the same mission of the CCD program and the CCD program reaches many more children than the parish school. So why should a sliver of the parish youth population receive the bulk of parish resources while the primary education program of the parish youth receives the dregs? Truthfully, I am not sure that is how the resources of my current parish are divided, but if you speak to those affiliated with the school, that is how they feel it should be divided.
The parish school building should be a parish resource. School teachers should prepare their rooms to accommodate CCD on the nights religious education classes are held. CCD teachers should ensure the classroom is left ready for the school children arriving the next morning. We should be on the same team, not competitors. The children who attend CCD are no less part of the parish family than those who attend the parish school. We should not treat them and their families as "second class Catholics".