Religious Ed Curriculum Upheaval

September 11, 2007

Interesting news coming from the religious education world today. A non-denominational Christian group, CFM Religion Publishing Group, recently purchased Benziger and Resources for Christian Living religious education programs. Both of these programs are what you expect to find in Catholic parishes: watered-down pap that is only on the USCCB’s approved religious ed list because it doesn’t contain anything explicitly heretical. If you don’t grasp the fine distinction between orthodox and not-heretical, read this.

Last Friday the new company, RCL Benziger, announced the acquisition of the Silver Burdett Ginn religious education series, another nominally Catholic program. A partial review of the First Communion program is available.

The company behind CFM Religion Publishing Group is The Wicks Group, a venture capital company. The web site describes CFM Religion Publishing Group’s offering as “The Company offers true-to-the-Bible materials including classroom and group-based curricula, books, and magazines, as well as Christian-themed toys and games”.

Considering that the buyer has no experience in the Catholic market and the three absorbed publishers have no experience producing quality, orthodox, Catholic education material, it’s a match made in Heaven.

Hat tip to People of the Book.

Funny, the People of the Book blogger mentions that “Loyola Press (for whom he works) and Sadlier are the other two publishers of Catholic religion curriculum” but doesn’t mention the only companies that are actually producing high quality, no-question-orthodox religious education programs, Ignatius Press and Midwest Theological Forum.

Ignatius Press produces Faith and Life and Image of God series for grade school and Midwest Theological Forum produces the Didache series for high school. If you actually want your children to live the Faith and stay Catholic, I suggest that instead of taking your chances with everything else that passes for Catholic religious ed, you take a look at these series.

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Part V: Why we only carry Faith and Life and Image of God Religion Series or…

January 1, 2007

Why the USCCB catechetical list is not the place to find out if a religious education series is good.

If you haven’t read the other posts in this series, please start there.

Unit 2 of BAW is called We Ask God’s Forgiveness.

Family time to prep for this chapter is titled “We Can Choose What is Good”.

The section starts by asking the question “how do we figure out what the good is?”

We try to form a good conscience to help us identify what is good and then try to conform our behavior to our conscience. Being Catholic helps us understand that God gives us free choice, and yet he is always ready to forgive us when we choose sin.

Remember, this section is for the parents to read and then discuss with their kids. Notice how there is no mention of learning what the Church teaches to form a good conscience? If you think that that explanation comes later, you haven’t read the previous posts critiqueing this program.

Another thing that this section and the entire chapter does is replace the word “will” with “choice”. For example, the various prayers in the chapter thank God for giving us “free choice”. “Will” is never mentioned. This is disturbing for a couple of reasons. First, Catholic theology is a very precise subject and swapping out words that don’t mean the same thing is not wise. Second, God doesn’t give us “free choice”. There are many things that we don’t get to make choices about but we always have free will.

The “Our Heritage in Art” section this time includes Rembrandt’s painting Return of the Prodigal Son  and a retelling of the story.

The “Something to do” section suggests that

During the Penitential Rite, reflect on the choices you made during the week. Thank God for his guidance.

That’s a good thing to do but since the explanation of where God’s guidance comes from is incomplete, the child is going to develop a deficient conscience if this book is his only source of religious education training.

Chapter 5 is called “We Can Choose What is Good”

You would assume that this chapter would explain how to figure out what is good when you have a question. You would be wrong. The chapter starts with an activity where the child draws a happy or sad face next to statements depending on whether the choice is good or bad. Next, the chapter retells the story of the Prodigal Son and then explains:

The boy in the story knew he had done wrong. His conscience told him so. God gave everybody a conscience. Our conscience tells us the difference between what is right and wrong.

Again begging the question, “How do we know our conscience is telling us what is right?”

The next paragraph, “Our Church Teaches” explains:

We sin when we freely choose to do bad things. When we sin, we hurt our friendship with God and with other people. God wants us to be sorry for our sins. God loves us very much, and he is always ready to forgive us.

You might expect that at some point the book would explain why hurting our friendship with God is bad or what the consequences are. Again, you would be wrong.

The sidebar has a section entitled “We Believe”

God wants us to choose good and stay away from evil. But God lets us decide what to do. We call this free choice.  (emphasis original)

Again, the phrase “free choice” has replaced “free will”.

The page ends with the question “How can we practice making good choices?”

The answer – listen to the story of Peter Rabbit and explain what bad choices he made. I’m not kidding. The next page has a word scramble activity where kids are shown choosing to do good including not fighting, sharing and telling the truth.  The page ends with the question “How can we celebrate the gift of free choice?”

The answer?

Choosing to do good actions is a type of prayer. When we act in good ways, we praise God. We thank God for the gift of free choice.

Celebrate making good choices.
Pray this prayer together.

Dear God,

Thank you for the gift of free choice.

Help us to use this gift to choose what is good.

First, choosing to do good actions CAN be a type of prayer but it isn’t automatically. We have to WILL our actions to be a prayer. An athiest can do good without praying. And again, the annoying replacement of “free will” with “free choice”.


A Call For Volunteers – Review Your Religious Education Material!

November 25, 2006

Over the past couple of weeks I have exchanged letters with a bishop who did not like my religious education critiques or my reference to the USCCB’s Catechetical list (The List) as a magic eight ball. He took my comments as an insult directed at the bishops’ wisdom and teaching. To avoid any misunderstandings, I won’t be using that reference to The List anymore.

He also had the following comment about The List which I think is a very important point that just about everyone, including the National Catholic Register which has been running a long series on dioceses being in compliance with The List, has missed.

Placing a text or series on the approved list does not constitute an endorsement. Similar to an imprimatur, it means only that the series is in conformity with the Catechism and does not contradict it. This is a negative statement and should be understood that way.

Since I know of at least one parish that has banned the use of the Baltimore Catechism because it is not on The List and since I have never talked to anyone about The List who didn’t think that The List was either a recommendation list by the bishops or the only texts allowed for use in the Church, I thought quoting the bishop here was important.

Catholic Catechetical ReviewBecause The List is the lowest possible bar on which to choose a text and really doesn’t give any indication of the quality of a series, we have started a new project – Catholic Catechetical Review (www.catecheticalreview.com) This website is a wiki, meaning that anyone can add and edit the content of the site. We thought that such an open, colaborative project would be the best way to build up a body of helpful information about the various religious education programs on the market. This site is meant to point out both the good and bad points within programs and we hope will become a main stopping point for educators and parents before making a decision about the programs they choose.

If you want to help with the project, simply create an acount and start reviewing the program you are currently using.

We are in the process of building up some help files to assist you, as wiki editing is different than your standard blog or website. We are also looking for donations so that we can purchase different series and mail them to people who would like to review them. This project is part of our commitment to providing you with the best in Catholic products to assist you on your journey to Heaven.

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Part IV: Why we only carry Faith and Life and Image of God Religion Series or…

November 5, 2006

Why the USCCB’s approved religious education book list is only slightly more useful than a magic eight ball.

Week four has come and gone (as well as five and six). Boy am I behind!

Week four is entitled “We Praise and Thank God.”

The closest corresponding chapter in F&L is chapter 15 “Let Us Pray”.

BAW starts off by talking about reasons why people give thanks using holidays like birthdays, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day as examples. The bottom of the page asks “Why do God’s People give thanks?” and points the reader to the next page. Today’s story is actually a surprise in that it gives an answer to the question. Not only that, it gives a partially CORRECT answer to the question. The story talks about King David praising God for His goodness and for the gifts that God had given the people.

The next page reinforces these two reasons for prayer but neglects the other reasons for prayer. Alright, all you Baltimore Catechism fans, which one of you can name the four reasons to pray? Not surprisingly, F&L includes all four reasons in its chapter. According to the Baltimore Catechism “Prayer is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God, to adore Him, to thank Him for His benefits, to ask His forgiveness, and to beg of Him all the graces we need whether for soul or body.”

F&L starts off its chapter on prayer with the story about the Apostles asking Christ how to pray. The chapter then goes through the Our Father explaining each part. The chapter also explains that Jesus told his followers to “pray always” and that God will answer prayers for things that are good for us. It also says that prayer must be patient and sometimes persistent. The chapter ends with a definition of prayer from the Catechism along with several references for more detail and finally with the Morning Offering.

The page after the deficient explanation of prayer in BAW has the “Glory to God” on it along with children holding various instruments including a bell, a triangle and the stalwart hippie instrument, the tambourine.

The next page asks the children to write a prayer of thanks and another of praise that will be used in their weekly “Prayer Celebration.” Oh goody.

This week’s Prayer Celebration page is as follows:

Singing is an important part of Mass. It is also an important way to pray. When we join with our church community to sing, we give thanks and praise to God.

Leader: Heavenly God, we give you thanks. We praise you in song.

All (sing): “Glory to God…”

Leader: Let us now share our prayers of thanks and praise.

The kids now share their prayers that they wrote on the previous page.

Leader: Heavenly God, we give you thanks. We praise you in song.

All (sing): “Glory to God…”

Apart from the consistent refusal to use the word “Father” when referring to God, this activity is pretty harmless.

The next six pages of BAW are a review of Unit 1 that reinforce the same doctrinal errors found throughout the unit.

Unit 2 “We Ask God’s Forgiveness” is coming up! I can’t wait!


Part III: Why we only carry Faith and Life and Image of God Religion Series or…

October 17, 2006

Why the USCCB’s approved religious education book list is only slightly more useful than a magic eight ball.

It’s week three and we have another doctrine-packed week of handouts to go through. Unfortunately, Faith and Life (F&L) only devotes a couple of paragraphs to the study of heroes aka saints instead of a whole chapter so the comparison will almost be fair this week.

This week’s lesson in Blest are We (BAW) is called “Our Church Shows Us How to Live”. Before I go any farther, I need to pick a bone with the title of this series. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, “Blest” has two meanings: 1)Worthy of worship and 2)Held in veneration. Doesn’t it seem a little presumptuous for a religious education series to be called “Blest are We”? But I digress.

This chapter starts of with a verse based on John 13:35.

Love one another. Then everyone will know that you are my followers.

Time to pull out the trusty RSV and find out what the verse REALLY says.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Once again, it is just too much for these folks to use the actual Bible. They have to make the verse pc to avoid offending their sensibilities.

The rest of the page has pictures of heroes including firefighters, EMTs and a girl reading to a blind man. The page says

Some people are heroes. They help others. They show us how to live. Find the heroes in these pictures. Draw circles around them. Who is your favorite real-life hero? Why?

As an aside, my daughter drew a circle around the seeing-eye dog instead of the girl reading to the blind man. There are no wrong answers here!

At the bottom of the page with an arrow pointing to the next page is the question “Who are the Church’s heroes?”

And the answer is… the Good Samaritan. Remember him? He was last week’s Catholic literary heritage tidbit. Now, I admit that the Good Samaritan was good but he isn’t a hero of the Church – he isn’t even real. To use him as the first example of Church heroes blurs the line between saints and other people who do good things. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention. 😉

The next page talks about “Heroes of Our Church”.

The Church has many heroes who are like the good man from Samaria. The Church has Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the saints. From these church heroes we learn how to be holy. We learn how to be good followers of Jesus.

Notice that emphasis so far on heroes and saints is focused entirely on social justice issues. Helping the downtrodden, helping the handicapped and being emergency response people.

In the sidebar are two boxes – “We Believe” and “Faith Words”. The “We Believe” box contains the following:

We grow in holiness by living in love. We grow in love for God and others through constant practice.

I don’t know about you, but I would have a hard time explaining the phrase “living in love”. Maybe second graders are smarter.

The “Faith Words” are “saint” and “holy”. A saint is:

a person who shows great love for other people and for God.

Holy means

to be like God. Holy people act like Jesus.

The definition given of being a saint is completely generic and could include the Dali Lama, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna. It also fails to point out that saints are DEAD. Chapter six of F&L defines a saint as

someone who lives with God in Heaven. A saint is someone who loved God very much while on earth.

The bottom of the page asks “How can we imitate Mary and the saints?” If you are expecting anything more than what came before, you are mistaken.

The next page gives us four examples of saints under the sentence “Mary and the saints teach us how to live as Christians.” : Mary, St. Peter Claver, St. Brigid and St. Jerome. Mary ” teaches us to trust God and to care for others.” St. Peter Claver “cared for people nobody else cared about. He teaches us to reach out in love to everyone in need.” St. Brigid “sold her belongings and gave the money to poor people. She teaches us to share our blessings with others.” St. Jerome “loved to teach people how to read and understand the Bible. He teaches us to share the word of God with others.”

From this page we learn that to live as a Christian we need to

  1. trust God and care for others
  2. Care for others
  3. Care for others
  4. Share the word of God

Now, caring for others is certainly important but that is pretty much all that has been mentioned in this entire lesson. Also, I am pretty sure that St. Jerome had little interest in teaching people anything since he lived as a hermit and was known for being a grumpy old man. I also wonder how he was able to teach people to read the Bible when a) hardly anyone owned any books and b) he was spending his time translating the Bible into Latin in seclusion.

The next page asks the children to draw a picture of a hero or a picture of the child acting as a hero. My daughter drew someone sweeping the kitchen and someone else preparing a meal (I think). At the bottom of the page we find another page-turner of a question: “How can we ask holy people to pray for us?”

Notice that throughout this chapter there is a concerted attempt to blur the distinction between everyday heroes, heroes in parables and the saints. This isn’t by accident as the next page shows.

The next page has a “Litany of Saints and Heroes”.

A litany is a prayer that is said aloud.

A leader names different saints or other holy people. (emph. mine)

After each name we ask the saint or person to pray for us. (emph. mine)

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
Saint Peter Claver, pray for us.
Saint Brigid, pray for us.
Saint Jerome, pray for us.
All who help the poor and the hungry, pray for us.
All who care for the weak and the sick, pray for us.
All holy men and women, pray for us.

Heavenly God (not Father), may we follow the example of your saints and other holy people. May we always try to help people in need. Amen.

First of all, a litany is always prayed to God or the saints. There is no such thing as a litany to “holy people”. In fact, this litany doesn’t even require that the person be dead! Notice also that everyone and everything specifically mentioned in the litany is mentioned for social justice reasons. No one is mentioned as a confessor, or someone devoted to prayer, or someone who was a martyr. Notice also that because of the blurring between saints and heroes, you are basically free to decide who is a saint.

Okay, now that we have covered (or not) what a sainthero thing is, it’s time to move on preparing for next week’s lesson with Family Time! Chapter four is called “We Praise and Thank God”. I can’t wait.

The page starts off by mis-quoting Saint Augustine. “Saint Augustine said that those who sing pray twice.” Actually Saint Augustine said that “Those who sing WELL pray twice.” But no matter, we shouldn’t be sticklers for things like this when doctrine is treated in such a vague and misleading way.

Things to do this week include 1) making a list of things to praise your family members for. 2) Singing grace and 3) playing “Name that hymn”.

In line with last week’s “make a family member blest” activity comes an activity where in the unit called “We Praise and Thank God” we praise and thank each other. I am starting to wonder if this is intentional.

Number two caught my attention because it suggests the following as a grace before meals:

Evening has come, the board is spread. Thanks be to God, who gives us bread.

It then asks the parents to explain the meaning of “board” and “spread”. If words can be defined during family time, why can’t they be defined during class time? For example “special oil” could really have been called “Chrism oil” in last week’s lesson. Never mind that there actually exists a Catholic prayer before meals. We don’t want to offend any non-Catholic students who are in this class preparing to receive First Holy Communion. Oops! I mean First Eucharist.
The next page suggests the following activities. 1) join in the singing at Mass this week 2) think of something each day to be grateful for 3) visit http://www.blestarewe.com

Just out of curiosity I went to the website (BAW recommends this every week) and found that there wasn’t any more substance there than in the workbook.

The chapter ends with “Something to Know About…Our Heritage in Music”

Since the seventh century the Church has been expressing its praise of God musically through Gregorian chant. Named after Pope Gregory I, chant is a solemn form of singing that creates a harmony between words and melody. Because in some pagan religions music was used to stir up people, Christians were encouraged to have a kind of music that was prayerful. Gregorian chant met that standard. There were other kinds of chant before Gregorian chant, but it was more beautiful and developed than some of the others.

In recent years a group of monks put out a recording called Chant that proved to be very popular. It revived interest in Gregorian chant.

The section also has a picture of a chant for “Feria Tertia” in actual chant notation. The workbook gets several points of extra credit for even mentioning that chant exists and for not degrading it. On the other hand, the book manages to completely overlook the elephant in the room by avoiding any mention that chant is supposed to be used in church even today and crediting a revival in interest to a cd recording from more than 12 years ago.

Since F&L doesn’t have a saint section, I can only put in the paragraphs that are part of other chapters:

From chapter 6: Many Catholic children are given a saint’s name. It may be your first name, or it may be your middle name. A saint is someone who lives with God in Heaven. A saint is someone who loved God very much while on earth.

Ask your parents or teacher about the saint whose name you have. Maybe they know a story about him or her. Ask your saint to help you to be a saint someday too!

From chapter 34: We all die someday. Our souls and our bodies will be separated. If we have loved God in this life, we will be ready to love God forever. God will welcome us into Heaven. We will be happy there forever. We will see Jesus and Mary and people in our family who have died. The souls in Heaven are called saints.

Did you notice that BAW managed to get through a whole unit on the saints without using the word “Heaven” once?


Part II: Why we only carry Faith and Life and Image of God Religion Series or…

October 9, 2006

Why the USCCB’s approved religious education book list is only slightly more useful than a magic eight ball.

Okay, week 2 of First Communion prep has come and gone and a new round of worksheets is available.

Before I start, I must say that the teacher is supplementing the text with her own knowledge and they watched a video from the Oblates of Mary on the Sacraments which seemed quite good.
Week 2 from BAW (Blest are We) is titled “We Belong to the Church”. The section starts off with “We are children of the light. We are children of the day. – Based on 1 Thessalonians 5:5 “.

Whenever a book prints two sentences and says it is based on one verse in the Bible, it’s probably a good idea to go see why it was too difficult to print the actual Bible text. In this case, the text reads “for you are all sons of light and sons of day” (NAB) Oh, the anguish! Only sons are mentioned and all your little daughters are going to Hell! Thank goodness the authors saw fit to improve on the Bible.

The rest of the page is taken up with an activity about belonging which involves drawing lines from items to people involved in activities (the choir sign goes to the girl in a choir robe).

The next page starts off with “There are three sacraments of belonging. In Baptism we become new members of the Church. In Confirmation we receive strength to follow Jesus. In Eucharist we share a special meal with Jesus.”

Okay…I have never heard the sacraments of initiation referred to as sacraments of “belonging” before. The chapter does mention this later but implies that the term “initiation” is an optional way of referring to these sacraments by only using it in sidebars or after “belonging”.

Second, the description of Confirmation is pretty darn vague. Is this a vitamin pill? Is it a set of weights? What kind of strength is this?

Finally, the Eucharist or simply “Eucharist” as is currently in vogue is not a meal we share with Jesus. It’s the sacrifice of Calvary where Jesus gives Himself to us. I’m sure that’s what they meant to say.

The page ends with a walkthrough of the Baptism ceremony using the one-year-old baby and the Granite Box of Death mentioned in part one. The second picture has the following caption “The priest or deacon makes the Sign of the Cross on the child’s forehead. He does this with blessed oil.” Why, oh, why couldn’t they have added “This oil is called Chrism Oil”? Little kids are great at memorizing things and Chrism Oil is a distinctive oil used at Baptism. There are many other kinds of blessed oils including “St. Joseph Oil” which one of the Cistercian priests at my college used to bless people with. Fortunately, the teacher did tell the kids the proper name for the oil.

The next page gives us a definition of sacraments: “A sacrament is a special celebration of the Church. The sacraments are signs that God is here with us now.” So, does this mean that the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a sacrament?

Pulling out my handy First Communion Baltimore Catechism I found that “A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace.” The Faith and Life book defines a sacrament as “a sign given by Jesus that brings us grace.”

Does anyone notice a problem with the BAW definition? Hint: The BAW definition doesn’t actually define what a sacrament is.

The rest of the page gives a partial definition of Original Sin and reinforces the notion that “Eucharist” is a special meal we share with Jesus. The definition of Original Sin fails to mention that one effect is that it keeps you out of Heaven.

At the bottom of the page is the question “How can we show others we belong to the Church?” Are you ready? No, wait, the suspense is building! And the answer on the next page is…a story about a Baptism and how one of the kids is planning on telling her siblings about the Baptism someday. Once again, the answers to these questions are far beyond my comprehension. Hopefully, second graders can figure them out.

The next page has a crossword puzzle that emphasizes the main points of the chapter. One of the points being the incorrect definition of a sacrament.

The next page has a “Prayer Celebration” which actually has good things for the children to pray for such as keeping the flame of Confirmation alive. The picture that covers the entire page behind the prayer is of a Gothic church interior at the Easter Vigil with (Warning! Liturgical Gestapo Alert!) a woman in the congregation wearing a veil. I don’t know how that slipped through, but there it is.

Now we get to the fun part – Family Time for getting ready for Chapter 3!

The first paragraph under “Our Church Shows Us How to Live” contains the following gem: “The saints were men and women of various social and economic circumstances who lived extraordinary lives.” I can almost hear “social justice”, “Liberation Theology” and “Che Guevara” echoing in the background as I read this.

The next paragraph suggests the following activity:

Name the Saints

Together, pick out an admirable quality or virtue possessed by each family member, and then have a “saint-making” ceremony. Someone might be the saint of car repairs, and someone else might be the saint of kindness. Make a badge for each family saint with the person’s name and “saintly” quality. Then present the badges at your ceremony.

I realize that to some, the ability and willingness to fix a car may be considered holy, but why couldn’t the activity have focused on, oh, I don’t know, the virtues? the gifts of the Holy Spirit? or even the virtues exhibited by real saints? Oh, and while we’re at it, maybe the title of the activity could actually suggest what the activity is about.

The other two activities are actually good. The first is a research project to go figure out which saints your family members are named after and what dates the saints’ feasts are on. The second explains how to make a shrine to a saint.

The final page includes two activities: finding out what saints are pictured in the windows in your church (if you are so lucky as to have a church with identifiable art) and also to see where saints’ names come up outside of church (New Orleans Saints, St. Louis, MO, etc.)

However, just when you though things were actually pretty decent, you are presented with the following:

Something to Know About…Our Heritage in Literature

The story of the Good Samaritan is famous. Many people know about the kind man who stopped to help the hurt stranger. The story is so famous that a good samaritan law has been enacted. This law requires people who have medical training to stop and help when they see an accident.

There was a time when those who had medical training wouldn’t stop because they were afraid of being sued. This law protects the “Good Samaritan” from being sued, while requiring them to use their training to help the injured.

And there you have it – the Church’s heritage in literature.

The Faith and Life (FL) comparison this week is taken from chapter 6 – Becoming a Child of God.

The FL chapter is only four pages long but somehow manages to cover in one page an infinitely larger amount of substance than BAW does in six.

FL also starts with a Bible passage but assumes that children can handle text from the ACTUAL Bible instead of distilled, pc Bible-like quotes.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – John 3:5

Notice that this passage only applies to males, you women are off the hook.

The first page explains original sin:

When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost the gift of God’s life in their souls, called grace. They could not get to Heaven. Their children were born with Original Sin, too. They had no grace in their souls.

We call Adam and Eve our first parents because all people came from them. So do you. We were all born with Original Sin on our souls.

Remember, some of the biggest problems with most religious education texts is not what they contain, it’s what they omit. BAW doesn’t use the word grace once in its explanation of the sacraments. It also fails to mention that Original Sin keeps us out of Heaven.

Here is the BAW explanation of Baptism:

Baptism takes away original sin and all other sin. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are the children of God.

Here is the FL explanation:

At Baptism, Original Sin was washed away, and your soul was filled with God’s life of grace. Now you are able to go to Heaven and be with God.

Baptism is like being born again. The first time we were born into the family of our mothers and fathers. At Baptism we are born into God’s family, the Church. Then the Blessed Trinity comes to live in us.

Notice that the BAW explanation doesn’t mention “grace” or membership in the Church, leaving it to sound very much closer to a Protestant understanding of Baptism than a Catholic one.

The next page in FL is a full color, full page picture of a Baptism with a baby that does not look newborn. Aren’t there any pictures available or even prop babies available that actually look like newborns? What kind of message do these pictures send?

Okay, so this week in BAW we learned that there are three sacraments of “belonging” and that a sacrament is a special celebration that shows God is with us. We learned that original sin makes it hard to do what is right. We also learned that Baptism takes away all sin and fills us with the Holy Spirit. In the parents’ section we learned that saints came from “various social and economic circumstances” and that equating car repair talent with saintly virtues is okay. We also learned that the Catholic contribution to literature is a law that keeps people from getting sued for helping accident victims.

In FL we learned the actual definition of a sacrament (grace is involved), we learned that Original Sin keeps us out of heaven, and we learned that Baptism removes Original Sin, fills us with grace and makes us part of the Church.

BONUS MATERIAL: While trying to match up content this week, I found that chapter 31 in FL is devoted to the concept of the Body of Christ, a topic covered in last week’s BAW lesson.

The chapter, called “God’s Family – the Church” explains the hierarchy of the Church and how we are all part of the Church with our own responsibilities. It describes the pope, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity. It then tells that:

The Church makes us holy. It brings the grace of God to everyone. Each of us can receive that grace and become holy. We can also bring God’s grace and love to others.

The section ends with the Apostle’s Creed which is prefaced by “Everything we believe is in a prayer called the Apostles’ Creed. The word “creed” means what we believe.” This is a very poor way to preface the prayer since it only contains the fundamental beliefs of the Church and certainly not everything we believe.

Again, the take away in this section is what BAW doesn’t mention – the hierarchy of the Body of Christ and the fact that the Body of Christ is actually visible in the Catholic Church.

Question for discussion – How come BAW doesn’t capitalize words like “original sin” and “faith”?

Extra credit – Explain the development of the use of the word “Eucharist” apart from “the”.

Till next week…


Part I: Why we only carry Faith and Life and Image of God Religion Series or…

October 1, 2006

Why the USCCB’s approved religious education book list is only slightly more useful than a magic eight ball.

My oldest daughter started First Communion religious education today at an undisclosed location. She was given twelve pages from the Blest are We series by Silver Burdett Ginn book to take home from the class. Having been to several catechetical conferences, I can say that the content is representative of every series out there except Faith and Life and Image of God.

As each week goes by, I will be doing a comparison of this series with Faith and Life to show just how useless most religious ed material is and also to show that just because something is on the approved list by the bishops doesn’t mean that it actually teaches the Faith.

Overall impressions.

Blest Are We (BAW) – The pages are full-color and some of the art is actually good. The pictures are professional but questionable in content (more later). Each page is broken down into bits of information that reads more like a bulletin board than a text book. Each page is very heavy on pictures and graphics with very little actual content. Each paragraph seems to be an arbitrary collection of sentences that may or may not follow one train of thought.

Faith and Life (FL) – The book is meant for an entire 2nd grade year so I am trying to match up content between the two series. This series has a full-page color picture in each chapter but the quality isn’t always great. The rest of the pages are text broken up by tables, charts questions and prayers. This series is definitely not as pretty to look at and it is unfortunate that instead of using classical works of art to illustrate the series, most of the pictures look like they were done by amateur pastel artists.

BAW starts out with this sentence: “Our parish church community comes together each week. We give praise and thanks to God and we celebrate our faith.”

Okay, this rather vague statement could apply to any religious group or even to your parish youth group. There is nothing here that gives any indication that this is the Mass they are referring too. In fact, the word Mass is used once in the entire lesson.

Note also the lower-case use of the word “faith”. The lowercase use of “faith” implies that the faith being celebrated is each individual’s personal faith, not the Faith of the Church.

The page also has a picture of King David, a Hebrew Plaque in the middle of the page which is never translated and a picture of children clapping at Mass. A word about pictures in books. The pictures chosen for a book are always chosen for a reason. Cardinal Ratzinger personally chose and arranged the placement of the art in the Compendium of the Catholic Church. Keep that in mind next time you flip through the book. Now why would a religious education book about the Mass put a picture in it of children clapping at Mass? Because the authors want your children to think that clapping at Mass is normal.

FL starts off with a pastel painting of… well, I was going to say Abraham getting ready to offer Isaac as a sacrifice but there is an extra person in the picture. The picture is not identified anywhere and the text on the facing page doesn’t seem to relate either. Grrr.

This unit is called “The Holy Mass” and starts with a scripture verse from Luke narrating the institution of the Eucharist. The page then goes on to explain that “Every Sunday we go to church to do what Jesus told the disciples to do when He said, ‘Do this in memory of Me.’ You see, the Last Supper was the very first Mass.” On a side note, FL uses the word “Mass” 16 times in four pages while BAW uses it once in 12. However, to its credit, BAW does manage to use the word “Welcome” or “Welcoming” 17 times over 10 pages.

Page two of BAW has a brief song called “You Have Put on Christ” and a picture of a baptism of what looks like a one-year-old baby in the Granite Box of Death. Page three and four are things we are supposed to do at home to get our kids ready to learn that “This first chapter explains being welcomed into the community of believers and being a small part of something larger.” The main emphasis here is to get your kids to be welcoming and hospitable.

Page four has the following statement under the heading “Something to know about our heritage”:

“In the early Church the Eucharist was celebrated around a table, usually as a shared meal. During the great persecutions (should this be in scary capital letters in quotes?), the Eucharist was often celebrated using the tombs of martyrs as altar tables.

During the Middle Ages, permanent altars became quite ornate and eventually looked more like monuments than tables for a sacred meal.

Inspired by the Second Vatican Council, twentieth-century reforms in the liturgy called for the celebrant to face the community and for the altar to take the form of a table around which the people of God could gather for the eucharistic feast.”

I counted at least eight errors in this section alone.

  1. The Eucharist wasn’t celebrated “as a shared meal” at any time. In the early Church it was sometimes done in conjunction with a meal but it never WAS the meal.
  2. The second sentence implies that the Middle Ages did something wrong in making altars ornate. I doubt that those in the Middle Ages and later would have made the mistake of thinking that the altar was a monument.
  3. The second sentence says that altars really should look like tables (I can’t find any reference to back this up anywhere in Church documents) and
  4. that the sacrifice of the Mass is just a sacred meal.
  5. The final sentence implies that Vatican II was somehow responsible for the changes mentioned here even though neither thing mentioned can be found anywhere in the documents.
  6. The reforms following Vatican II made it an OPTION for the priest to face the people, they didn’t call for it.
  7. Nor does any document call for the altar to look like a table that the congregation can gather around.
  8. Notice again the complete lack of the word sacrifice in the section. The word “meal” is used twice and “feast” once.

Also, the picture of an altar accompanying this paragraph looks like a giant cymbal being supported by demons or bats (I am not exaggerating).

Pages two and three of FL give the following reasons for going to Mass:

  1. To offer the same sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross.
  2. To celebrate the Resurrection as each Sunday is a “little Easter”.
  3. To praise God.
  4. To thank God for the good things he gives us.
  5. To tell God we are sorry for our sins and to ask His assistance in avoiding them again.
  6. To pray for things we need and for the needs of others.

Pages 5-8 of BAW talk about community and the different types of communities there are (family, neighborhood, classroom, Catholic Church). At the bottom of page five there is an arrow to the next page along with the question “How is the Catholic Church a community?” And the answer is… the story of Levi inviting Jesus to dinner. And how does this explain how the Church is a community?

“Levi invited Jesus and his friends to dinner. Levi made his guests feel very welcome. Our Church invites us to celebrate a special meal, too. Our Church community welcomes. The special meal we celebrate is the Mass. It celebrates God’s love for us. We are God’s People.”

Well, that sure cleared it up for me. Now I know that we celebrate a special meal called the Mass and that the Mass celebrates God’s love for us.

First, the Mass is not a “special meal”. The Mass contains the Eucharistic sacrifice but that is not the entirety of the Mass. Second “It” doesn’t celebrate God’s love for us.

Page four of FL gives an explanation of the third Commandment and gives some ideas for how to keep it as the Lord’s Day including:

  • not doing any work that can be done another day
  • wearing our best clothes to church
  • not going shopping
  • having a special meal with our family
  • spending time together with our family
  • spending more time thinking and talking about God

The page also lists three words to know: “Mass”, “sacrifice”, “praise”.

Pages 9 and 10 of BAW describe how a parish helped refugees from another country feel welcome by providing them with housing, food and education, and has an activity where the student draws a picture of people caring for others and a second activity where students can talk about how to make people feel welcome. At the bottom of the page is an arrow to the next page with the following question: “How can we celebrate being God’s People?” Oh, I can’t wait to turn the page!

“We celebrate being God’s People by praying together. We welcome others by holding hands.”

Whew! And I thought that we weren’t going to get to hold hands during this lesson.

FL ends its chapter with two questions: “What is the Mass?” and “Why is the Mass offered to God?”. The answers are condensed from the Catechism and provide references back to it.

As an added bonus, we received the home-prep work for Chapter two of BAW “We Belong to the Church”. Some activities include

  • drinking water with a meal and talking about how water tastes and how we use water
  • discussing the signs of Baptism
  • discussing different kinds of activities that are done alone and in groups

The second page actually has some good content. First, it reminds everyone to bless themselves with water from the font as a reminder of Baptism. Second, there is a classical work of art by Priero della Francesca of the Baptism of Christ with a brief description of the piece’s history and symbolism.

The page ends with a prime example of why most religious ed books are a waste of time and trees. The final two paragraphs (two, because that is where the authors arbitrarily decided to make a break) are so vague that almost everything in them could apply to any religion.

“Jesus gathered others around him (notice the lack of capitalization) to form a community. (I thought he gathered people around him to teach them the Truth to get to Heaven). As time went on, they realized who Jesus was and what they were called to do as his (no capital) followers. As others joined these original disciples, the Church was formed. (Actually, the Church was founded on Pentecost, not in some gradual process). Each new member was initiated into this community of faith (little “f” so it isn’t any specific faith.)

Our membership in the Church is both an honor and a responsibility. We have been given faith by God so that others will come to see in us the reflection of God’s unconditional love for all. (I thought we were given faith to help us get to Heaven.) Our model is Jesus, who is the very Word of God made flesh. In all his (capital) words and actions, Jesus was a sign of God’s love.

Okay, so what’s the take-away from each book this week?

From BAW, I have learned that being welcoming is pretty darned important and that the Mass (if I happened to catch the single use of the word) is a sacred meal that celebrates God’s love for us. I have also learned that welcoming is important. I also learned that celebrating being God’s people involves prayer and holding hands. Welcoming also seems to be of importance in this lesson. I also learned that the Middle Ages were bad because tables turned into monuments and it wasn’t until the reforms of Vatican Two that things were made more welcoming by turning these monuments back into tables that we can all gather around to share a meal. Did I mention hospitality?

From FL I learned that the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper. I also learned that the Mass is the same sacrifice that Jesus made on Calvary and that there are several reasons for going to Mass, primarily to worship God. I also learned what the 3rd Commandment is and ways to observe it.

Now, it is possible that there will be greater substance and less distortion in the upcoming chapters of BAW. To find out, check back next week.