by Fr. Richard L. Tinker
from The Word, November 1966
A short time ago I was discussing religious education with a Roman Catholic priest. I have always felt that it is a good idea to shop around for ideas, moving on the assumption that someone else may have solved or at least learned to live with a problem that is currently troubling you.
The priest described himself to me as one who was “up to his neck” in religious education. His parish is a large one: over six thousand parishioners attend Sunday Masses, the earliest of which begins at 5: 30 am. His parochial school, a huge complex of three buildings, educate nearly five thousand students, many of whom are not even members of his parish. The priest also directly supervises the Released Time Religious Education Program. Under provisions of the program, hundreds of students are released from the Public Schools in the neighborhood an hour early on a specified day each week in order to attend special religious instruction classes in his school. When they arrive, they are taught by dedicated nuns especially trained for that work. The classes are conducted in modern classrooms, furnished with beautifully illustrated textbooks, and crammed with the latest audio-visual aids. I remarked that he was working under near perfect circumstances, and that his program must be succeeding rather well.
He nodded, sat back, and with a wry smile, said: “I wish it were, Father. The plain fact is that we are not. Oh, the kids come, all right. They learn a lot about the Church, but I’m pretty sure that we are going to lose most of them.”
As we got deeper in conversation, I began to see what he meant. Here was a priest who was telling me that vast expenditures of money, a perfect plant, and qualified teachers are not necessarily answers to quality religious instruction. When I told him that we were a long way from even these things, although we were striving to get them, he suggested that perhaps they weren’t necessary after all. At that point, I became interested in what he really thought was the answer to the whole problem. He told me quite simply that it was a matter of getting the parents of these children involved in the spiritual wellbeing of their offspring’s, because, after all, it is the parents who have the prime responsibility of handing down the faith. He also made another significant remark: “Father, what children need is not so much training in the technicalities of the faith. They can read a book on that. What they need is training in virtue. No book will give you that. Only good example and continual practice will achieve results.”
I left this priest with a deep sense of gratitude, not so much because he had said something new, but because he had succeeded in articulating a few notions which had been swimming about in my mind for some time. His words, and the concrete examples he gave me of his own mistakes and fumblings, set me to thinking. As someone wisely said: “If you can see the problem clearly, you are half-way to the solution.”
The concept of the “Sunday School” as a means of religious instruction in the faith is a relatively new thing. It arose out of pure necessity when the home, as a center of Christian family life, declined. When parents, for one reason or another, began to fail in their obligation to train their children in knowledge of the faith, virtue and piety, the Church had to rush in and fill the vacuum. What the Church did in establishing “Sunday Schools” was only a stop-gap measure. It can never be a substitute for home training, and, in many instances, it is a detriment because it lulls parents into thinking that their obligation to teach and instruct is being satisfied by an outside agency. It can, however, be an adjunct, a supplement, a sort of enrichment source. But it can never be the whole source of instruction, and, unhappily, that is precisely what it is being used as by many parents.
You see it all the time. The children are rousted out of their warm bed and sent to church and Sunday School. Sent, not taken. And the parents, warm in the knowledge that they have fulfilled, their Christian duty, slip cozily back in bed. Later on, when the children grow up and disgrace the parents, if the parents have enough sensitivity left to be disgraced, loud cries are heard, along with the inevitable: “What? Didn’t we send you to Church? Didn’t we do our best to raise you well?
“ . . . It is a matter of getting the parents ... involved in the spiritual well-being of their offspring’s ... ” No program of religious instruct ion, no matter how well planned, how well carried out, or how well endowed, can survive the continuing indifference of parents.
Prophet Samuel - August 20
Thou didst blossom as a scion of righteousness from a barren mother, O great Prophet Samuel. Thou didst reveal beforehand the blessings we should receive; from childhood thou didst serve the Lord in the priestly office. As a prophet thou anointedst kings; ever remember those who acclaim thee.
Kontakion of the Prophet Samuel, Tone 8
Thou wast a precious gift to God before thy conception; thou didst serve Him from infancy like an angel and wast granted to foretell future events, wherefore we cry to thee: Rejoice, O Samuel, thou Prophet of God and great high priest.