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|The Scalabrinian Congregations|
The Missionary Fathers and Brothers of St. Charles
The Missionary Sisters of St. Charles
Scalabrini A living voice
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c) THE SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
"We must set up Schools of Christian Doctrine everywhere in the Diocese"
We recognize the serious problems and the many efforts needed to achieve this goal. But nothing is impossible when there is love and zeal, for love and zeal are the great inspirers and teachers of all good things. I know of some pastors who, even in very difficult circumstances, were able to do exactly what I proposed, precisely with love and zeal. Some, in fact, went even further. They set up catechetical festivals with examinations and awards. They organized
little retreats for the First Communion children, which they considered very important. They prepared the catechism teachers over a long period of time and used everyone and everything to make this work of the Lord successful.
With St. Augustine I will tell you that with love and zeal one can do great things and do them without much effort because zeal is fruitful, creative, patient, and untiring, while love fears no efforts, nay, loves them and feels blessed by them: "Where there is love there is no effort; and if there is effort, effort itself is loved." With love and zeal, one thinks of everything, tries everything, perseveres at everything; and one initiative follows another. Through it all, one finds strength and encouragement in God's infallible promise: "And those who teach the many in justice shall shine like the stars forever" (Dan 12).
1 hereby decree the full restoration of the Society and the Schools of Christian Doctrine. These Schools, already established by my predecessors and repeatedly restored by diocesan synods, faded away in some parishes to the point of having left no trace. As bishop and shepherd appointed by the Holy Spirit to feed the flock with the salutary food of heavenly doctrine, I HEREBY ERECT AND DECLARE ERECTED THE SOCIETY AND THE SCHOOLS OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE FOR THE ENTIRE DIOCESE for the sake of my conscience, for the greater good of the souls entrusted to us and for the greater glory of God.17
"In every parish there will be four classes"
In every parish there will be four classes:
Class I: The Little Catechism
Class II: First Communion
Class III: The Big Catechism
Class IV: For Adults
1. Class I is for the youngest children who have to learn the main truths of the faith. In large parishes, this class may be subdivided according to the number of teachers available and the youngsters registered.
Separately instructing those who are preparing for First Holy Communion is an excellent thing because children are deeply and beautifully impressed when they are separated from the others for a religious and holy purpose.
2. Class II ‑- the First Communion Class ‑- is for the boys and girls who are scheduled to make their First Communion within the year. Regarding their age, we will follow the teaching of St. Charles and accept those who are more or less ten years old (...).
One whole year and, for those who are slower, even two years is not too much; rather, it is necessary and extremely useful.
3. Class III is for the boys and girls who have made their First Communion. In this Class, which may be subdivided into various classes according to need, the religious instruction must be brought to completion with an explanation that is clear, noble, dignified, always easy, and simple. This instruction should be solid, well prepared and convincing and should develop and strengthen the faith. It should turn a youngster into a sincere Christian with genuine and honest judgments, a youngster who will receive from his faith not fleeting but lasting impressions of deep truths and holy habits, a youngster who can stand up against the raging winds lashing his faith and against the waves roaring all around him.
4. Finally, Class IV is for the adults. This is the class for the people and ordinarily takes place prior to the instruction from the pulpit. Many provincial and diocesan synods prescribe that also the priests who give this instruction must read the questions and answers of the catechism, explaining them with utmost simplicity of words and concepts. The purpose of this instruction and of this Class is to help parents and, generally, all adults to understand the same catechism and explain it faithfully to their children. The success of this goal is so important for the religious future of our families that I am sure everyone, including the priests and pastors who are in charge of Class IV, will abide by these rules for the sake of the instruction.18
"Those who are not aflame with this heavenly fire cannot really call themselves Christians"
Those who have faith, who live by faith not only love God but feel driven to make him loved by others as well because love can never put up with indifference. Hence the thirst of the saints in wanting to sacrifice everything for the salvation of souls. Hence those prodigies of love and zeal that we read about in their biographies and that arouse the admiration and awe of the centuries. Zeal for
God's glory consumed them and never allowed them a moment of rest. Those who are not aflame with this heavenly fire cannot really call themselves Christians or true Catholics. Genuine Christians and Catholics are not those who daily say with their lips: "Lord, thy kingdom come," but those who devise all kinds of strategies, use all conceivable means and employ all their energies so that this kingdom will spread ever more widely and be established on this earth. True Christians and Catholics are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and try to make others know and love it, especially by promoting religious instruction and personally dedicating themselves to it.19
"Jesus Christ, the eternal model"
The ineffable love and tender concern of Jesus Christ for children are the glory and eternal blessing of Christian childhood. Hence the catechism teacher cannot and should not have any exemplar other than Jesus who catechized the whole earth (...).
The greatest catechism teachers, the best ones, became such only because they copied in themselves, better than anybody else, the image of this divine model (...).
So, catechism teachers, you must ignite in yourselves the sacred fire of love that burned in the heart of Jesus for children. Be convinced that you will never be worthy of your ministry if you do not love Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ those little lambs of his mystical flock (...).
Jesus Christ must be adored not only as a model for the way children are to be treated but also for the way they are to be taught. The method used by Jesus Christ in teaching is divine, hence the most adapted to children.
In the immortal pages of the Gospel we see Jesus Christ teaching with all authority but, at the same time, with the greatest simplicity. He uses examples and stories from history. He narrates parables and uses allegories. Jesus asks questions and lets himself be interrogated, gives explanations and brief answers. In the temple, on the banks of the Jordan, in a boat, on the mountain top, he instills the deepest doctrinal and moral truths with down-to-earth instructions. He often interrupts his talks and quietly asks: "Do you understand everything?" Sometimes he starts with a question. Sometimes, in order to impress the truth more vividly on their minds, he engages in animated dialogue with his hearers (...).
We might say that the Gospel is the catechism book of Our Lord Jesus Christ. His instructions are divinely ample, solid, magnificent, and extremely simple. His instructions fill people with light, stir them up, touch them, and attract them with the fullness of truth and authority. Christ's instructions will be the eternal and adorable model for all Christian teaching, just as Jesus Christ is the eternal and adorable model for the tender love catechism teachers must have for children.20
"The school of catechism does not confine itself to teaching but also trains in the faith "
The school of catechism does not confine itself to teaching children the truths of the faith but also trains them in the faith. It not only teaches children catechism but also trains them in Christianity. We must not only teach but also train; we must nurture and develop not only the mind but also the heart. The catechist, whom St. Paul calls father rather than teacher, must bring up those young students for God, for the Church, and for heaven. He does so by developing in them intelligence, heart, character, and conscience by means of exhortations, examples, spiritual practices, and religious devotions.21
The goal is not just to teach the little ones the main truths of the faith but also to form and develop a conscience and a Christian mentality in them. The goal is to prepare them for the major religious practices and for the reception of the sacraments of Penance and Confirmation. The goal is to get them used to speaking the language of faith, as well as fearing God and putting their hope in him.22
It is not enough to instruct. This catechism of perseverance must impart strong and authentic Christian training. This catechism must be not only a good school of religious instruction but also a great religious institution. It must not only teach and inculcate the principles of the faith but also implant them in the heart and make them a part of the everyday habits of life.23
"Teachers must be filled above all with zeal"
St. Bernard wants true zeal to be animated by charity, informed by knowledge, and made invincible by steadfastness. He wants true zeal to be careful in the choice of means but earnest and relentless in applying them. When a teacher is armed with such zeal, he does not follow any particular way of acting. He is calm, strict, flexible, courageous, and kind as long as he can save souls. Driven by this zeal, he teaches everything he can so that the little ones may grow in true piety and disdain the illusory and noisy joys of the world.
St. Charles says that, to preserve and expand a work of such importance day after day, teachers must be particularly zealous. They will achieve this if everyone tries earnestly and eagerly to do his or her duty well, sparing no effort that may be needed for that work.24
"Joining solid piety to one's teaching"
To bear abundant fruit, the teaching of catechism must be imparted with extraordinary piety since neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but it is God alone who causes the growth. True, grace does not destroy nature but perfects it. It does not exclude human efforts but presupposes them, just as form presupposes matter. Still, it is always grace that blesses the labors of the catechist and makes them fruitful. Hence the catechist must join solid piety to his teaching so as to draw down on himself and his pupils heaven's choicest blessings. 25
So you must pray, dear catechism teachers; and he who is rich in mercy will answer your prayers beyond your fondest hopes. Pray with devotion: this is how the saints lived; this is the life hidden with Jesus Christ in God. With piety and prayer you too will become columns in the house of God, the delight of the Church and the salvation of the children, who will find in you a powerful support and a radiant light.26
"Let your pupils know that you love them"
Let your little pupils know that you love them and that, if you are working hard, you are working hard just for them. Then they will readily accept even your admonitions and be happy to listen to you. Remember one thing: more than anything else, children need affection, a godly affection. So, away with that harsh and stern demeanor, that domineering tone of voice that disgusts them so much.27
The catechism teacher must have a very pleasant disposition, which must not degenerate into weakness, which at times may change into prudent severity but never into harshness. It is hard to achieve this delicate balance, but one can achieve it if one considers the great benefits it confers.28
Teachers should always keep in mind that leniency with children is always fairer than excessive severity; that they should not expect too much from the children; that there is such a thing as perfection with moderation, something very hard to attain. Without it, however, every rule, even the wisest, is worth very little. Finally they should know that the nature of a child ‑- who is naughty more on the surface than down deep in his heart ‑- must be guided and helped, never violated. Teachers must aim at their goal with vigor but dispose all things with kindness.29
The teachers should show their solicitude even outside the school of Christian Doctrine. They should keep a watchful eye on their pupils' behavior, remembering that these souls have cost the blood of Jesus Christ and can be molded to the Christian life with little effort and with great benefit to their families. In so doing, the teachers will prepare a crown of glory for themselves. Teachers should inform parents on their pupils' conduct, their progress, and their shortcomings and always display prudent zeal and warm interest in the success of their youngsters.30
"It is easier to train an eloquent orator than a good catechist"
Since, as the saying goes, it is easier to train an eloquent orator than a good catechist, the pastor or whoever takes his place should not hesitate to call the catechists around him and read some lesson to them himself, explaining the meaning of each single word in it (...). He must not do this just once in a while. Rather, he must keep doing it for weeks and even years until the proper teaching method has been learned and well understood.31
"I consider catechetics one of the most necessary sciences
People usually think that teaching catechism to children is the easiest thing in the world. On the contrary! Obviously, to make children repeat the catechism lessons parrot-like is very easy. But the science and the art of catechizing, the gift of making children understand the teachings of the catechism, the ability to mince these teachings and adapt them to those little minds, in a word the capacity to reduce these teachings to milk for the little ones, ah! "this is an accomplishment, this is work." Its success depends, however, on much study, diligence, effort, and a good store of knowledge. Personally, I consider catechetics a science priests most need to cultivate because catechizing is one of the most important duties of their sacred ministry.
What am I trying to say? I am trying to say exactly what my venerable confrere from Ventimiglia alluded to yesterday morning, namely, that to revitalize the teaching of catechism and ensure the abundant fruits required by the present-day needs of our Christian people, a school for qualified catechists is indispensable (...)
There are schools to train elementary school teachers. Why could or should there not be a school to prepare and train teachers of the most sublime of all sciences, of the most difficult of all arts, namely, the art of teaching catechism?
My first proposal, in fact, deals with the establishment of a school for catechetics.32
"A great Association of Catechists"
Among various proposals I plan to submit, there is one which is really the implementation of an idea Your Holiness expressed in such a wise and timely fashion in your memorable encyclical, "Humanum Genus," which remained a dead letter. I propose that a great Association of Catechists be established in Italy with the purpose of promoting religious instruction in parishes, families, and schools; collecting offerings for catechetical celebrations and First Communion Days; and distributing awards. In a word, it would be a means to curb the prevailing Freemasonry (...). For sure, this Association would get off the ground at once if, in the forthcoming Congress, I could announce that you, Most Holy Father, have not simply blessed the idea but also concretely encouraged its implementation. Oh, if I could only close the Congress with this simple announcement: Our great and generous Pontiff, Leo XIII, has donated one hundred thousand lire as seed money for this Association.33