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The Moral Of The Story

This past weekend my seven year old son had his first confession. Unfortunately, along with this important occasion was the usual abuse of my sensibilities.

A few weeks ago I had to endure an hour of the DRE lecturing us parents in preparation for first confession and communion. She went on, and on, and on about how the religious education team was always careful never to use the word sin during their lessons about reconciliation. She insisted that the children were too young to understand the concept of sin. The idea that you cannot really ask for forgiveness without understanding sin seems to have been missed.

No, no sin here. The nuns in her childhood school, she told us, constantly talked about sin. Worse, in her mind, is that the nuns called things sin that weren't really sins. Fortunately she did not go into detail here or I might have lost it. Teaching seven year olds about sin in preparation for confession is too traumatic, she went on. Therefore, they told the kids that they were to tell the priest about their bad choices. Bad choices. Swinging at a high fastball is a bad choice, not a sin. Wearing white after labor day is a bad choice, not a sin. Voting for Megan Joy Corkery on American Idol is a bad choice, well that isn't a good example. Anyway, there is a big difference between a bad choice and a sin.

I left that meeting very frustrated. Of course, I do not leave my children's religious education entirely subject to the abstract religious stylings of the average DRE. I teach my kids what they have to know. So when I picked my kids up from their catechism classes after the meeting and on the drive home, I asked my son if his teacher ever mentioned sin. He told me that she had. It turned out that, regardless of the DRE's silly direction, she had taught them about sin anyway.

So Saturday we arrived for first confession. Fortunately the DRE, while present, was not the MC for this particular event. Unfortunately her influence was seen when we had to sit through Shine, Jesus, Shine and other such painful little diddies. Then a group of five children read a dumbed down version of the prodigal son. Why do they have to do that? Why can't they just leave well enough alone?

After the reading, Fr. Tom approached the children seated in the front rows. "What lesson did we learn from the Prodigal Son? What do you think it is that Jesus is trying to teach us?"

Pint size paws flew up from every corner. It seemed that every child had an answer at the ready. I thought to myself that they must have taught them all about the prodigal son during classes. Taught them about sin, about misusing the gifts of the Father, about repentance, and ultimately about forgiveness. I thought for a moment that I had been a little too hard (in my mind) on the religious education program, after all my son's teacher had told them all about sin. I thought this for a moment. A moment. Then came the answers.

"Jesus was trying to teach us that we should spend our money on good stuff!"

Fr. Tom, "Well yes we should but I think Jesus was trying to teach us something else. Anyone?"

"The older brother was mean."

"Yes, I mean no. Sometimes we act like the older brother too. But what else was Jesus trying to teach us?"

"That we should never move out of our Mom and Dad's house!"

"No no. It is ok to move out of the house when we grow up. After the son was sorry for what he had done. He decided to come home. When he came home, what did the Father do?"

"They had a party!"

"Yes, they had a party. Why did the Father throw a party? Was he still mad at the son for wasting all the money or was he glad to see him?"

Tentative voices offered, "Glad?"

"Yes, he was glad. The son was sorry for what he had done and the Father took him back and threw a party for him. What do you think Jesus was trying to tell us in this story? What was he trying to tell us about God?"

After a moments pause there came the lone and timid voice of a little girl. "God will forgive anything if we are sorry."

And there it was. More catechism is a few short minutes than it seems than the children had received up until that point.

"God will forgive anything if we are sorry." I hope DRE's everywhere learn this lesson.

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Adoro said...

I am so, so sorry. While I am not a DRE, I work for one and I am in charge of the sacramental program.

Just this last fall I had an argument with the new school principal who thinks that sin is apparently never personal, but only social, and she couldn't believe that we teach about mortal and venial sin.


We have a home component and at the parent meeting I give them the theology of the Sacraments, I tell them about sin, God's mercy, WHY this sacrament is scriptural, and of course, they get a synopsis on the Mass and learn that it's a mortal sin to deliberately miss Mass.

And that really ticks people off!

The fact is, we're all doing damage control because of the DRE's you cite. But please know that there ARE good DRE's out there, and good religious ed people who are just as frustrated as you are...and maybe even more so. Because too many parents have not been correctly formed.

Actually...will you please come to the parish where I work and HELP us with damage control? Please?

Janelle said...

This post reminded me that I need to be more active in my Church.

Elizabeth M said...

I teach First Reconciliation and First Communion in my parish. We DO teach sin. If the Church says that 7 is the age of reason and they are ready to confess, then they are certainly ready to recognize sin! I think it is very important not to underestimate children with their religious education. We teach them to understand that sin is something you do when you know it's wrong and you do it anyway, OR when you don't do something good when you know you should. They can get that.
I also had to correct a mom who said (in front of the kids) "When I was in Catholic school they used to teach us that missing Mass was a sin. But not anymore." That was an interesting moment to correct politely but accurately!
All of the children were ready for their first confessions and the priests said they were prepared. Many parents are surprised when I suggest they take the kids back again before First Communion (2 months later). We can try at least. My husband teaches Confirmation and many of his students haven't made a confession since their own First Reconciliation!

NancyP said...

Oh, dear. I guess this falls into the category of Why I Homeschool and Skip CCD, Part 798.

Or, Why We Should Teach Personal Responsibility So Our Children Won't Waffle While Testifying or Being Interviewed, Part 246.

In the end, though, Truth wins out. God really will forgive anything. If we are sorry. Amen.

Mitch said...

You should buy your DRE a Baltimore Catechism as a thank you for her education your son. ;-P

I'm sure she will appreciate it.

Mack said...

It's always someone else's fault, isn't it.

Darn that President Bush.

And public-school teachers.

Anonymous said...

Too bad it wasn't your son who gave the "God will forgive anything if we are sorry." answer.

Hope his first confession was a holy and healing experience!


Kimberly said...

Jiminy!! I always wondered what happened to the former DRE from our parish in Kentucky...apparently she's taken residence at your Church!

God bless you, Patrick! I wanted to believe there could be only one like her...maybe she has a sister?

Thank God for Fr. Tom!

Scott W. said...

"I teach my kids what they have to know. So when I picked my kids up from their catechism classes after the meeting and on the drive home, I asked my son if his teacher ever mentioned sin. He told me that she had. It turned out that, regardless of the DRE's silly direction, she had taught them about sin anyway."

I think perhaps more people on board with the tick-tock solution. That is, let the fluffy DRE say her fluffy stuff, nod your head and act like she's in charge an do what is right anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 007 catechist myself. My DRE is very solid (and barely holding on to his job), it's the pastor of the parish where I teach that would have a coronary if he knew the kids knew all about... Purgatory! But since he never sets foot in the Wed. night class building, I'm pretty safe teaching the Good Stuff. And I'm not the only young catechist teaching a far more solid faith than the kids hear in the pulpit--or the only catechist who teaches in one parish but attends a different one. On bad days I think of myself as an internal missionary, but 007 catechist sounds so much snazzier.

Would you be a DRE, Patrick? 'Though it doesn't excuse the situation you describe, most pastors have a terrible time getting a DRE of any kind because very often no one wants the job.

David said...

On bad days I think of myself as an internal missionary

I wonder just how many of us are out there trying to teach children the orthodox faith whilst trying to stay off the radar of the Modernist Politburo?

Catechists of the world unite!

Red Cardigan said...

Amen, Nancy P.

No offense to the good catechists out there, but this is one of those reasons why I think homeschooled kids should *not* be required to attend parish religious ed. classes. Unless the parish wants pint-sized guest lecturers...

Sarah (JOT) said...

Our current DRE means well, but said the Baltimore Catechism is obsolete and not okay to use. Back when I was priveledged to teach First Reconciliation class, I asked the Priest if he wanted me to teach the kids the Truth or the hippie version our chapel provided. He said, "The Truth". I showed him the B.C. and he said, "Amen!" I used the good bits out of the book they gave me, and incorporated the B.C. I told the parents I would be teaching them about The Body, The Blood and Sin. Problem? Ask the priest, whom I have already cleared it with. Every now and again I see kids from that class and I ask them if they are availing themselves of the Sacraments. Most do - I still pray for them.

Jeannette said...

Is anyone else getting charged for First Communion? There's a $25 fee, video included. Methinks someone's good buddy is getting a bundle off the video "apostolate".

What's the going rate for Confessions, anyway? I usually go to the neighboring parish...

RobK said...

Patrick, I used to complain about how poorly catechized people in the Church are, and I lay the feet at years of the soft-headed thinking that you are talking about. I too make sure my kids learn differently. But as I ranted once, my sister asked what I specifically was doing about it.

Now I teach Confirmation classes where they here all that I can teach about sin (mortal and venial), the Eucharist, the sacraments, the commandments, all of it. I sometimes feel like I am shouting into the wind, but now I am doing something.

Is it time to volunteer?

Anonymous said...

It was $25 per 4 x 6 photo at my parish. You could view the proofs online. But would a cheaper photo be worthy of all the expensive First Communion dresses? I don't think so.

RobK said...

In noticing the faithful families, particularly regarding home schooling, I see that we who are faithful take seriously our obligation to teach our children.

I would caution, however, an us-them mentality referring not the the scandalous teachers, but those poor saps who send their children to them.

As Christians, we are our brothers keepers. Now that we are sure that our kids are learning well, what are we doing to improve ALL of the Church?

Jennie C. said...

We homeschool and teach the catechism right along with everything else. We recently moved, though, to a place we plan to stay and I thought I'd enroll the kids in CCD so they at least could meet some new people. I've been here long enough now and heard enough now to have changed my mind. There's no guidance for the instructors on what to teach at all. It's every class for itself and a lot of personal opinion gets mixed up with the theology. There is likely much more of the former than the latter. Which is why we homeschool religious training in the first place. And I guess we'll keep right on. I don't want to have to spend that much time undoing bad teaching, assuming I ever found out about it in the first place.

I was feeling a little badly about this decision until another parent quietly approached me after Mass this week. I think we are the only homeschooling family in our parish, and she wanted to know what sorts of materials she might use with her own daughter. :-)

jpieters said...

I agree with Rob K.'s sentiments: what are WE doing to make sure the faith is handed on accurately?

As a former DRE faithful to the Magisterium, it also has been my unfortunate experience to witness good, solid homeschooling families withdraw their children from programs often with a condescending attitude.

Faith is always a gift. "To whom much has been given, much will be expected."

Teach your children at home, by all means. But bring them into the wider community as well. Otherwise you risk your children never being able to defend their beliefs, and worse, the failure to share what you've been given to others.

God bless.

Amy Giglio said...

Jeannette, I'm a DRE and the parish asks the families for a fee of $35 in the 2nd grade year for the following costs: copies of the handouts I prepare schooling the parents on where in the Bible they can find the institution of the Eucharist, magazines for the Parent meetings (how to prepare your child for First Reconciliation and First Eucharist by Our Sunday Visitor -- $2 each), First Holy Communion candles for the Candle Mass we do on February 2, the Worship aids we produce for the first reconciliation Penance service and the First Communion Masses, and the certificates we print up for each child. The $35 does not cover all of our expenses. Could we cut back on some of this? Probably yes. Will we have to in the future as the number of families paying the fee drops off as the economy goes further in the crapper? Probably yes. Your child cannot be denied receiving the sacrament if you cannot pay the small fee they ask for. And let's face it, we all pay much more than that to sign our kids up for baseball, soccer, or dance. Not trying to be snarky; if I come off that way, well, I was up at 3 AM to catch a plane this morning and I offer you my most sincere apologies.

eulogos said...

Just as an aside, Around here, baseball and soccer during the regular season, for elementary school age kids, are free. Local businesses sponsor the teams and pay for all the equipment and T shirts for the kids. The coaches are all volunteers. If this had not been the case, my children would not have been able to participate.

There was a fee for religious education, which one year I absolutely could not pay. I spoke to the priest and was told to register them anyway. Maybe he paid it himself; I know he paid the fees for some of the activities the church took the kids on. I only wish the education they got was a good as his generosity, but it wasn't. The texts were poor and the volunteer teachers were not equipped to supply the difference. Yes, I did volunteer to teach, and it went well one year, but then they gave me 7th graders and that did not go well.

I cannot believe what i am reading about paying a fee for a video of first communions...or about $25 for one picture. Our priest at that time did not allow ANY photography during ANY church services, and good for him. People used their own cameras to snap photos on the church steps..there was one with all the first communicants and the priest in front of the altar, taken AFTER mass was over. And what was that about lesser pictures not being good enough for the expensive dresses?
My mother made made my daughter's dresses, and I don't think the most expensive dress you could find would have been nicer; poor as we were, I have to brag that my daughter's dresses were the nicest.
But the other girls looked fine also, and I am sure no one spent more than $25 or $30 for a dress. (Which would have been way way too much for me to afford at that time.)
I suppose this talk of expensive pictures and expensive dresses upsets me because I think of what it would be like to be poor in such a community. I also don't like the idea of a sacrament being the occasion for conspicuous consumption.

This is really all off topic for this thread. So let me just commend those of you who make the effort to teach the faith, especially in adverse environments.
And I do think homeschooling parents have a right to avoid exposing their children to less than faithful religious education. Although if my experience is a guide, the classes were not so much heretical as simply contentless.

Susan Peterson

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