Religious education: parents’ responsibility or school’s?

FR PAT STRATFORD

In an article in the October issue of AD2000, entitled New Perspectives in Catholic Education, we read that a group of Catholic parents have written to the Catholic bishops of Australia urging urgent action on deficiencies in religion education in Catholic schools.

In an article in the October issue of AD2000, entitled New Perspectives in Catholic Education, we read that a group of Catholic parents have written to the Catholic bishops of Australia urging urgent action on deficiencies in religion education in Catholic schools.

They focus on the small percentage of children from Catholic schools who attend Mass regularly on Sunday, during their years at school and after they leave school.

They quote statistics from the Sydney archdiocese. I am sure that similar results would be found in other parts of Australia.

As a priest for over fifty years in the archdiocese of Brisbane, I understand their concern.

Before discussing the role of the school in educating children in the practice of the faith, it is important to recognise, firstly, that it is the responsibility of the parents.

The school can and should build on the education in the faith that the children receive at home.

When parents have their child baptised, the priest asks them: “You have asked to have your child baptised. In doing so, you are accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” Parents: “We do.”

And I know of many parents who have tried to do that.

They have practised the faith, and encouraged their children to do that, including going to Mass each Sunday. In some cases, they believe that the Catholic school has not supported their efforts, as it should.

Over the years I have seen many excellent teachers, who have been great teachers of religion, by their words, example and enthusiasm.

There have also been teachers, entrusted with a religion class – especially at Secondary level – who were incompetent to teach the religion class.

They lacked the necessary knowledge, and interest and enthusiasm, and were not attending Sunday Mass themselves.

The Catholic school exists, not only to teach about religion, but also to teach and encourage students to live the faith.

I believe that this situation could be improved a great deal, by the school authorities.

They could make a greater effort to arrange that religion classes are taught by practising Catholics who attend Mass on Sunday, and can provide a reliable reference to show that they do.

Perhaps there could be specialist teachers for religious education – not simply the class teacher who may have very little interest in the subject.

In some schools there is a high percentage of non Catholic students – sometimes over thirty percent.

This can make it more difficult for the teacher, to encourage the students to respond enthusiastically, and to live the faith.

Parents have every right to expect that a Catholic school will teach the Catholic faith as expressed in the Catholic Catechism.

The Catechism has a very clear teaching on the importance of Sunday Mass.

The Church believes and teaches:

God is our creator. God created the universe, and holds in in existence all the time.

God created each person. We can say, he loves me. It is a personal choice. Of all the millions of people he could have created, he created me, and wants me to be eternally happy with him in heaven.

God wants that so much, that he came down on earth, to suffer and die on the cross for my salvation.

God has given me a share in his own life, through Baptism. Jesus Christ, God the Son, demonstrates his personal love for me, by coming to me, in person in Communion.

He has given me the good news of his teaching, to guide and help me, and lead me to eternal peace and happiness in heaven.

Objectively speaking, to say that we sincerely believe these things, and then to say that it is too much to give one hour a week (one in 168 hours) to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, through the Mass, shows a serious failure to honour God as we should.

This is expressed in the Catholic Catechism 2181-2182.

The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit serious sin.

Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his church.

The faithful give witness by this, to their communion in faith and charity. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If parents become aware that their child is not receiving the correct teaching in the Catholic faith, or that important aspects of the practice of the faith are being passed over in silence, they should certainly contact the school principal.

(Fr Pat Stratford is a priest of the Brisbane Archdiocese.)

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