Musings on how one ought to approach the teaching of Religion in Catholic Schools will be frequent on this blog, as it is a particular interest of mine. Today I would like to point out what I think has been a major flaw in the entire history of RE in Australia: getting the focus wrong.
Essentially, there have been a number of pedagogical shifts over the last century or so, with respect to the consensus on how the Catholic Faith is best handed on to students. At the turn of the century, a doctrinal approach dominated, in which the focus was to make sure children had memorised all the doctrines of the Church. In reaction to this, the so-called kerygmatic approach was developed, which emphasised one’s personal, subjective experience of the Gospel, often without regard for what the Church actually taught. This in turn gave way to the life-centred approach, which focused on how things could be connected to students’ lives. The shared Christian praxis approach essentially focused on Christian practices. Fianlly, the educational, typological and phenomenological approaches vary slightly but all regard religion as an observable phenomenon, devoid of any element of faith.
I think the first four approaches are commendable in that they are attempting to highlight some aspect of the truth, but they fall over because focusing on anything other than Christ is bound to fail. (I’ll revisit the others another time, they’re another story altogether.)
Our primary focus as RE teachers, who have committed to handing on the Faith to the next generation, is to foster their relationship with Christ.
This doesn’t just mean the kerygmatic approach: all aspects of the life of the Church are important. Students need to know doctrines because it is through them that we know the truth of Who Christ is, the truth about ourselves, and the essence of our relationship with the Trinity. Liturgy is important because it is the public, communal prayer of the Church, the Body of Christ coming together, all those who are in this relationship of love with Love itself coming together to better learn how to love, and to participate in Christ’s ultimate Sacrifice of Love. Personal prayer is important because although we are a community, that community is made up of individuals, and each of us need to learn to use our freedom, for which we are responsible, in accordance with God’s Will by constantly being in communication with Him. Knowledge of Scripture is importnant because it is the written Word of God, namely, Jesus in written form, and therefore, as St Jerome says, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If Christ is to be number one in our lives we certainly cannot afford to be ignorant of Him. The Sacraments are important because they impart grace and thus sustain our relationship with Christ, making this relationship concrete, in accordance with our human nature, that is, a unity of body and soul, so that it is not a purely “intellectual, disembodied spirituality”. And so on.
Every lesson, we should ask ourselves:
- Have you made clear to the students how the content of this lesson contributes to their relationship with Christ?
- Has it been obvious how this has really impacted you, in your relationship with Christ?
- Has Our Lord been at the centre of the lesson?
If not, we are in danger of merely passing on disconnected pieces of knowledge about God-stuff, and the mechanics of Church practices. We have to strive to really make it come alive, and show how all the pieces fit together, forming a beautiful tapestry which, when seen in its proper light, radiates with the love of Christ.