Monday, April 2, 2018

Bp Barron On Catechesis

I was watching some YouTube videos from Bp Barron and came across this one, covering the case for canonization of Nicholas Black Elk, a "Lakota Indian medicine man who converted to Catholicism and eagerly took up the task of catechesis within his community". Bp Barron speaks of his nephew's experience in having a good catechist in the sixth grade who made intellectual demands on him.

Catholic catechesis wasn't my issue. Looking back, I think the secular educational structure was by and large disgraceful, making exceptions for Mrs Wirsz and Messrs Foley and Doyle in the ninth and tenth grades, who I believe were all Catholic, probably not a coincidence. Mrs Wirsz taught Latin, Mr Foley taught English and was probably the only teacher who thought I was good enough at it to try to make a career as a writer (he called me in and gave me a serious talk). Mr Doyle taught geometry and introduced me to proofs.

But I never had good or bad Catholic catechesis as an adolescent, since I was raised Presbyterian, and Presbyterian confirmaton class stressed how we aren't saved by works, and the Church made horrible misunderstandings and errors until Wycliffe, Hus, Luther, and Calvin fixed things. Something besides just catechesis is needed to overcome that, as well as the great numbers who get no religious instruction at all.

This brought me back to the early 2000s, when I got involved in the elected alumni trustee movement at one of the elite schools. I now agree with Fr ____, who says there are lots of ways to waste your time, but I learned a few things from it. At the time, I had an idea that curriculum reform might involve something that looked a lot like Hillsdale College, but more recently I realize that Hillsdale, in concentrating on the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, is essentially promoting a Freemason agenda, which misses the mark at best, however effective the founding principles may be in executing secular government.

Instead, I pose a question I asked a while ago here: when I went to college, Emerson and William James, lightweights, were required reading. Aquinas, one of the smartest people ever, was not. I took Greek, and like all beginning Greek students, I read Plato's Apology of Socrates. One of the great philosophical works, to be sure -- but I also took Latin, and I'm pretty sure you couldn't study Summa Contra Gentiles in any department, Latin, Philosophy, or Religion. I did get a certain amount of Madame Blavatsky dressed in academic robes, though, from a Chicago PhD.

Even a "great books"program from this perspective isn't much help, and pushing it is a waste of time. A better question might be how concerned members of the Catholic hierarchy might develop a curriculum that is a genuine intellectual challenge. We have laws of physics, geometry, logic, harmony, and arithmetic, just for a start. Where did they come from? I got in a lot of trouble in the comment section of a curriculum-reform blog back when I was wasting time on that. The blogger, an economics prof, was giving some example of mathematical proof. I asked, quite innocently, how mathematical proofs evolved from pond scum. (I was still an Episcopalian at the time.)

Interestingly, the prof's attitude was that he could get away with proposing this or that "reform" to the university system, but if I was going to raise questions about Darwinian theory, that would utterly destroy his professional reputation and could not be addressed on a blog like his.

I hope Bp Barron will give issues like these some thought.