Skip to comments."To Hell with Hell!": The Spiritual Dumbing Down of the Generations
Posted on 01/07/2006 7:35:09 AM PST by Desdemona
I am the product of a dumbed down" generation. During my Catholic instruction in the late 1960s, I cant recall having ever seen a monstrance, prayed a novena, heard Gregorian chant, taken part in a May crowning or prayed a benediction prayer.
In This Article... The Affective Shift The Pertinent Questions Up, Up and Away
The Affective Shift
When Rome recently asked for churches to again start the Forty Hours devotion, I found myself asking people exactly what that entailed. So I struggle even in adulthood, reaching back like an orphaned child searching for her parental roots. At one time in history, the roots of traditional Catholic prayers and truths might have been easy to find. But that is no longer true. Sadly, one can no longer simply walk into any Catholic church and find all those universal things that are part of true Catholicism.
The loss of authentic truth is also reflected in some academic institutions. In the book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves but Cant Read, Write or Add, Charles J. Sykes discusses the shift in teaching over recent years to a focus on feelings and attitudes:
Even as evidence mounts that American students are lacking in basic academic skills such as writing, reading and mathematics, schools are increasingly emphasizing so-called "affective" learning that deals with the feelings, attitudes, and beliefs of the students, rather than addressing what they know or can do. (p. 10)
The Pertinent Questions
Similar to the affective shift in academia, one might note a parallel shift that occurred in Catholic religious education. Such a shift took children away from learning standard Catholic prayers and catechism questions, and moved them toward a soft mentality about God. Lacking balance, this shift included a heavy focus on heaven, and a suspicious omission of hell. It is a shift designed to have children feeling very good about themselves; a shift that leaves great uncertainty that these children who we want to feel so good about themselves understand even the basics of Catholic catechetical teaching. Try asking Catholic children to answer the question of why God made them. Ask them if they can name the four reasons we pray (to adore God, to thank God, to tell Him we are sorry and to ask for graces or blessings). See if they can define the three theological virtues, the four cardinal virtues, the seven deadly sins or the meaning of a sacrament. (Catholic homeschooling religious instruction typically includes this formation, so questioning a homeschooler does not count.)
As I continue the struggle to learn what our faith really teaches, and what Catholic prayer means, I try to keep the connection alive for our children. I dont want them one day to be forced to struggle as I have to learn the truth of all that it means to be Catholic. But even that is hard. For example, many children are consistently taught post-1960 Acts of Contrition. The problem with these prayers is that all but the original Act of Contrition excludes "the pains of hell." If children do not learn the full Act of Contrition, including "the pains of hell," for their first penance, then when will they learn it? Is there any connection between the pains of hell being purged from the modern-day Act of Contrition prayers, from Sunday homilies, and from many catechism books, and the fact that so many children nonchalantly wander off into mortal sin, acting as though heaven was real place, but hell was not?
It is as if someone with too much time on his hands, and not sure which battle to fight, raised a booming voice, flicked a mighty switch and said To hell with hell. In so doing the lights were turned off and the rooms were left dark. Why would the words the pains of hell be removed from the Act of Contrition? Father Richard Rego, Pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Ajo, Arizona, offers his insights. When the Act of Contrition was revised some years ago, it was part of an effort by many to see change as a separation from the past. The thinking was that anything that smacked of the past was not good. The exclusion of "the pains of hell" has been, in effect, very detrimental. It has fed the mentality that heaven is automatic. Therefore sin, which is now called inappropriate behavior, is not so bad .
Up, Up and Away
I visited a Catholic school kindergarten class a while ago, and the experience was so odd that it hasnt left my mind. On this particular day they had scheduled a special part of the agenda for childrens prayer. Being somewhat of a sap for Catholic school kindergarteners who pray, I envisioned their sweetly bowed heads as they reverently recited the rosary, or perhaps a decade of it, before a crucifix and a statue of Our Lady. In my mind I could see the cute little boys with the fresh hair cuts and neat ties, and the sweet little girls with white polo shirts, and Catholic school jumpers. I thought perhaps the children might stand from their seats for the prayers, or perhaps even kneel for parts of it. I was in for a shock.
There were no instructions to stand, kneel or fold their hands. The prayer did not start, as traditional Catholic payers do: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy spirit. Instead the children sat and were told to close their eyes. Things spiraled down from there. The teacher then read a reading that went something like this: Now children, pretend that you are going up in a hot air balloon. There you go, higher and higher, you feel yourself floating higher. Now you are floating over your back yard. Now you are floating over your neighbors back yard, and there you see Jesus . Dont get me wrong. I am all for children being able to go directly to Jesus to talk to Him. But this is not what happened here. This was something of a meditation; perhaps it was a New Age meditation at that. How strange to see Catholic children pretending to be in hot air balloons, looking down, rather than looking up at Christ on the crucifix when they prayed. Rosaries have protected families and ended wars. When one day crosses come into the lives of these children, will they be saved by a ride in a hot air balloon?
My people perish for want of knowledge, says Hosea 4:6. Knowledge is necessary to keep us on the path to heaven and off the path to hell. Knowing that, one might think it of the utmost importance to arm our children from a young age with certain fundamental truths. For all the "progress" and novelty we have seen in recent years, has there ever been more of a need to return to the basics? While we have bent over backwards to assure children of God's love, isnt it time to ensure that they understand what is authentically Catholic? The Church has provided so many means for us to receive graces. Is any one of us not in need of more grace? Isnt there a need to bring back novenas, May crownings, benediction, statues of saints, Gregorian chant, Stations of the Cross, rosaries, scapulars, confession, first Friday and first Saturday devotions, catechism memorization and Eucharistic adoration? Cant we take the interior steps toward prayer prescribed by the Catechism and teach them to our children? And finally, since "the pains of hell" are real, shouldnt we face that truth and, with our children, return to the hell-inclusive act of contrition which reminds us of that?
ACT OF CONTRITION O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen. And while we are at it:
Why did God make us?
God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.
What are the seven deadly sins?
The seven deadly sins are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.
What are the three theological virtues?
The three theological virtues are faith, hope and charity.
What are the four cardinal virtues?
The four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude
What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.
I can honestly say that where I grew up we had May Crowning (and it still happens) and Friday afternoon Benediction complete with Monstrance and incense, but there are so many things described here that reflect my childhood. Would that this could be repaired.
And even more vital - would that the people about my age would care enough to learn about it.
Funny you should bring this up. My wife and I are reading the Mother Angelica biography together. We had a good discussion about the post-Vactican II changes this morning. While we were both born after V-II, we were in different parts of the country.
My rural Minnesota parish responded to V-II by using English and turning the Altar around -- but changed nothing else. We experienced the post-Vatican II changes in the late 70s/early 80s. I had a very traditional experience, she had a very "modern" one.
So often when a topic like this one comes up, she cannot identify with why people have a problem with the "new" language and practices.
So many people don't know what they've lost...
Father Rego used to be in Connecticut where he said some Tridentine Masses. Terrific preacher!
Must have been even earlier than that. I have always said "because of your just punishments" and my first Confession was in 1955.
Of course, being taught in the Baltimore Catechism method, I understood exactly what that meant. That would be Hell. Which, if God gave us what was just, would be the final end for everyone. It's only through His mercy that we have any hope of Heaven.
They are still failing. But, that is old news. It has almost always been thus. It is easy to fault others;the Prelates and Clerics,but, the Christian truth is it is Christian parents who have the initial and primary duty to Catechize their children
One MAJOR failing of the Church in America is the way it became Clericalized to the point of destruction; from lack of Catechetical Instruction to the introduction and acceptance of queerdom, to the feminization of Christian men. The "greatest generation" failed in their Christian Catholic duties every bit as much as did the Clerics and Prelates of that generation but we have all been raised to be good liberals and so we blame others.
Why is she struggling? Doesn't she have a Catechism?
What an excellent article! I was just going to post it!
She can even tell you what the Fruits of the Holy Spirit are.
They found out about 3 days before the Big Event that the new archbishop was coming to our parish to do his Very First Confirmation, and he said he wanted to come early to meet with the kids . . . our parochial vicar and the lady who runs the youth program were beside themselves with anxiety. You could hear the kids muttering the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins to themselves . . . mass consternation!
But it got worse - the archbishop DID come to meet with the kids ahead of time, but didn't catechize them then. Instead, as their sponsors brought them up one by one to the altar, he catechized them individually in front of God and everybody! Fortunately, the kids were all well prepared (he made the mistake of asking my daughter a question about her patron saint, whom she admires greatly, and she probably told him more than he wanted to know . . . ) and I think the folks in charge were relieved.
But our parish is run by an old-fashioned rector who makes sure that things are done right.
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But as you correctly state, that DOES mean Hell.
Your parish sounds so wonderful!
And we have so much fun! I mean, it's not a gloomy place, it's as cheerful and happy as it can be. We do a lot of traditional devotions - the Forty Hours and the Two Hearts Vigil and First Fridays, but with joy. Our choirmaster is just a delight - he's so easygoing and optimistic and at the same time such an excellent musician. I love going to choir practice and singing on Sunday - wouldn't miss it for the world. Our new Parochial Vicar is adorable, everybody loves him, he's a HUGE young man, almost as tall as my husband (who's 6'6") and can easily give him a hundred pounds. He's well spoken and funny and just dynamite in the pulpit - I would have sworn he was raised A.M.E. because he preaches just like the best of the downtown black preachers, but turns out he's a cradle Catholic. He makes 'em sit up and open their eyes! Our rector is the Faithful Irish Priest from Central Casting - stocky, ruddy-faced, accent you could cut with a knife, sly sense of humor, no nonsense about him but kind as he can be (I love slightly grouchy old guys, they hold no terrors for me after my father in law who was a bird colonel in the USAF.)
Faith sharing bump.
Are you suggesting that the Bishop should deny the sacraments to students who can't publicly recite on demand?
The catechism doesn't cover much of the Catholic life that has been lost, like the May Crownings and other devotions the author mentions. A good Tridentine missal has filled out those areas for me.
I think parents were in the habit of outsourcing their faith education duties to the parish or the Catholic schools, which exacerbated the problem when those went into catechetical decline.
I was really commenting on the anxiety of the kids (actually, mostly of the program leaders who didn't want to look bad in front of the new guy.) As it turned out though, they had done a good job teaching the kids, and they were able to handle anything the Abp threw at them.
If they've been properly instructed in the essentials of the faith (rather than just handed a bunch of touchy-feely stuff with no content), it shouldn't be a problem. Unless you had a kid who was painfully shy . . . but my daughter is about as shy as they come and she had no difficulty (although I'm sure the archbishop was wishing he hadn't asked "Who was St. Martin of Tours?" because he got a two paragraph answer (and she could have given him ten if he hadn't thanked her.)) Remember these aren't the little kids any more, they're confirming them now as high school sophomores or freshmen. My daughter was one of the older students, because we had come in sideways from the Episcopal Church and the poor kid had to get confirmed AGAIN.
Speaking of which, the Episcopal confirmation class was a joke. They didn't learn much of anything about the history of the church, the liturgy, Scripture, or theology. They just talked about their "feelings" for the entire class. I attended a couple of classes, and my daughter and I started counting the times the facilitator said "Faith Journey". We quit counting at 50 because we were laughing so hard people were looking at us funny.
It was a good thing she got reconfirmed in a Church that actually (1) believes; and (2) teaches it to the kids.
Though that would provoke lots of anger from self-righteous parents, treating the examination as something important(and not a cursory empty ritual) would certainly show some spine and strike fear into the hearts of lazy confirmation instructors. Perhaps some leeway could be made for the shy and the simple, but I kinda like the idea.
The Catechism covers "what the faith really teaches," as the author said. Traditional devotions can be beautiful and valuable, but they are not the Catholic Faith. And, as you point out, information on traditional devotions is also easily available, at a bookstore or library, if one is deprived of Internet access.
Should pastors quiz parishioners about their sins in public before they distribute Communion, too?
Thanks for the additional information. I agree that solid instruction is very important. I learned the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a Presbyterian :-).
(I had stubborn, Scotch Presby maternal grandparents who never really accepted my mom's lateral arabesque into the ECUSA. Of course, given her upbringing, SHE ain't exactly thrilled that we have Gone Over to Rome.)
My mom's from Northern Ireland! She said, "I always knew you'd do something weird ... at least your grandpop is in his grave!"
Sometimes she teases me about still being a Calvinist in my heart :-).
I'm a cradle Catholic raised post VII. It's only in the last 10 years that I began to realize what I had missed. The past year I searched my area and went to a different church almost every weekend until I found one that was trying to be more traditional. I can't stand being out of town on Sundays now.
I homeschool my kids with a very Catholic curriculum (Seton) and they are memorizing catechism questions/answers. I've found that I am learning right along with them on some things. They are only 5 and 7.
I took my son out of one parish Reconciliation program because it was so horrible. We're working with our parish priest and deacon individually to make sure he is ready for first confession and first communion. It's an exciting year!
Thanks for posting this article. So many of us feel the same way!
My folks are in a different ECUSA diocese - their bishop is a live and let live kinda guy who voted against the heretic bishop of N.H. Our former (thank God!) bishop on the other hand is a cheerleader for the homosexual lifestyle who was one of the delegates who showed up uninvited at Nottingham to tell the Anglican conference why they were right and everybody else was benighted and homophobic. It was just so in your face we couldn't tolerate it for another second; besides, why be Catholic Lite when you can be the real thing?
But mom and dad are old and set in their ways and haven't been forced by their bishop to make a decision. Besides, their church owns its own property and has a huge endowment, and they can call the most reactionary Forward In Faith priest in the U.S. if they feel like it.
It's a crazy world out there these days. My mother's Regional Presbytery (Central Florida) discusses ordaining homosexuals every few years, and she insists she'll quit if they do. I'm not sure what her other choices are in that area.
Isn't Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) a lot more orthodox than PCUSA?
It is ... but Mom likes a big church with lots of programs (helps her keep busy in retirement), and I don't know whether there's a large PCA congregation in her area. Around here, the PCA has really big churches, with schools and everything.
Looks like it links to websites, that would tell you pretty quick if there's a good sized PCA church near her.
Thanks, I'll have a look. She doesn't plan to jump ship, at least for the moment, unless the Regional Presbytery crosses her last line.
Hmm, wonder how he ended up in Ajo, AZ. Would be in the Diocese of Tucson. "Quiet little mining town" doesn't quite set the mental picture in describing it. VERY hot during the summers.
Boat? Did somebody say boat?
I think the article clarified this. Now please open your hymnal to number 47 for the entrance antiphon.
Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?
Would you like to glide in my beautiful balloon?
We could flat among the stars together, you and I.
For we can fly.
We can fly!
Up, up and away, my beautiful, my beautiful balloon!
The world's a nicer place in my beautiful balloon.
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon.
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky,
For we can fly.
We can fly!
Up, up and away, my beautiful, my beautiful balloon!
Suspended under a twilight canopy
We'll search the clouds for a star to guide us.
If by some chance you find yourself loving me,
We'll find a cloud to hide us, keep the moon beside us.
Love is waiting there in my beautiful ballon.
Way up in the air in my beautiful balloon.
If you'll hold my hand, we'll chase your dream across the sky,
For we can fly.
We can fly!
Up, up and away, my beautiful, my beautiful balloon!
Ping and an echo:
Yesterday, I heard an NPR blurb about the new Bishop of Camden saying he wanted to make the laity, the religious and all the Priests on equal footing in his diocese and I thought "What about the Princes of the Church, the hierarchy that has been part of the Magisterium and the role of the Pope. How can their be equal footing when there is supposed to be Ordo".
"...the Christian truth is it is Christian parents who have the initial and primary duty to Catechize their children"
Exactly right but Catholic home education is usually thwarted on the parish and diocesan level reflecting teacher's union infiltration in the parochial system and parish life.
That is an excellent point. So many times discussions about the state of the Church these days turn into a bashing of baby boomers (who already get bashed enough in political discussions) and a bashing of Vatican II. But in my experience and from what I've read about the changes in the Church, it really was the WW2 generation and the folks in between them and the boomers that seemed to cause the most destruction in the American church. Baby boomers were just kids when Vatican II was going on. It was older folks who misinterpreted the council, and it was older folks who sat by silently and let so many of our traditions be tossed out in the trash (sometimes literally). Returning to the Tridentine Rite is not a panacea, because these people were born, catechized, and sometimes ordained well before the council. Heresy can hide quite easily under the surface of Tridentine piety.
I visited a Catholic school kindergarten class a while ago, and the experience was so odd that it hasnt left my mind. I envisioned their sweetly bowed heads as they reverently recited the rosary, or perhaps a decade of it, before a crucifix and a statue of Our Lady. I was in for a shock.
Several years ago, the pastor at my former RC parish asked me to teach one of the Confirmation classes. I was truly humbled by this request and committed myself 100%, by showing up for each and every preparatory meeting. Finally, the Catechist's Guides were distributed and I anxiously sat down hungry to prepare for the first night's class. Turning to Chapter 1, I reviewed the list of items to bring the first night of class. Here it is and in the book's order:
* one or more dice
* newsprint and markers
* stones of similar size and texture, one for each student
* 3 narrow strips of dense fabric to serve as blindfolds
* candidates's handbooks
* pens, one for each candidate
* a large rock to serve as a symbol of Jesus
* two pillar candles and matches
* a Bible
* a tape player or CD player and songs on the themes of loneliness and friendship.
(NB - for those with children preparing for Confirmation, this is the Thomas Zansig, 'Confirmed In A Faithful Community' series from Saint Mary's Press, Christian Brothers Publications, Winona Minnesota).
Like the author of this article, I was shocked! On the first night of class, I brought along the Bible, a Rosary and the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. We progressed from there - without rocks, stones, pillar candles and mood music.
When it came time to selecting a Confirmation name, anticipating that these kids wanted to pick something different or unusual, I pointed them to a web site that lists ALL the catholic saints back to the 1st century. Not only did they appreciate the link, they enjoyed reading up on some of these forgotten saints, especially the martyrs. All of my students chose saint's names whereas many kids in the other classes chose unusual contemporary, even invented names. Ironically, the pastor's nephew was in one of the other classes. He chose some funky name to rile his priest uncle and to express his ability to be different. Even more ironical, the name he chose just happened to be that of some 2nd century saint which eased the qualms of the pastor who never let on to his nephew :-).
To all of you with small children enrolled in Catholic School or Religious Instruction, check and double check the teaching materials being used. If possible, work to have the unseemly materials replaced with more orthodox ones and always fill in the blanks with your children. Be the oasis in the desert!
Very true and very sad. I went to CCD from K-8 grades and parochial schools from 7-12 grades. I learned next to nothing about my faith. Nearly everyone else my age who went to Catholic schools all their lives had the same experience. There were a few exceptions, almost all of them had been homeschooled.
Everything I know about my faith I had to learn on my own. Thank God the internet happened to become widespread when I was in high school. We got a connection in my house when I was about 16 and that's when I started to finally educate myself (as well as un-educate myself from some of the junk I'd heard passed off as Catholicism at school). It was a great way for me to access tons of information from the privacy and comfort of my house. At the time, I would've been too self-conscious, and frankly too lazy as well, to go to a library or buy books on my own.
I wouldn't laugh so much here:
" Speaking of which, the Episcopal confirmation class was a joke. They didn't learn much of anything about the history of the church, the liturgy, Scripture, or theology. They just talked about their "feelings" for the entire class. I attended a couple of classes, and my daughter and I started counting the times the facilitator said "Faith Journey". We quit counting at 50 because we were laughing so hard people were looking at us funny."
My Parish does that. No books, no learning whatsoever of Church history or teachings. It's just a social time for two hours, and nothing integral happens. The only reason I know anything about my faith is my Jesuit HS and self-research (I was confirmed last year).
Ditto that. Guys, you're inspiring me to once again take up a volunteer plan I'd abandoned.
I'd contacted my parish RE office to volunteer myself as one who could instruct junior high school students on the basics of the church. That is...things like why we don't have to genuflect before Mass (as the tabernacle is in an adoration chapel), why we kneel/sit/stand during different parts of Mass and so on. I'd given up on this effort, but I think I may need to just go for it.
Baltimore Catechism, have used it with all my kids. I never found it old fashioned, and the results are children who know their catechism.
Go for it! I wish someone like that had been around when I was in Jr High.
Is the Baltimore Catechism like, current with the teachings? Because I've been trying to find a place to re-learn the basices of the Church. And the Catechism.
Yes, truth doesn't change because God doesn't change.
Why don't you find a better parish? There's a wide variation in our area, there are some kooky clap-hands-for-Jesus enclaves around here too. You might just be in one of those with a nice orthodox parish right down the road.
Hmm... devotions are definitely "Faith in Action." The Catechism is a doctrinal crystalization of the Faith, not a "practical" one.
Should pastors quiz parishioners about their sins in public before they distribute Communion, too?
The confirmation examination is about one's understanding of the faith, not one's sins. Priests traditionally probed the laity's understanding of the faith during their mandated Lenten confessions, but that's rarely practiced anymore, either.