by Father Robert Lauder
Third in a series
SEVERAL YEARS AGO a young lady in a discussion group I moderate told me that though she had attended a Catholic high school, she had never been taught the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I listened politely but silently wondered if what she was saying was accurate. Could it be that the doctrine was taught but that she did not recall the teacher speaking about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist? Could it be that she was absent from class on the days that the Real Presence was taught? I found it incredible that she had never been taught this central doctrine of our faith. I imagined that the doctrine had to come up some time in class.
A few years later, in a conversation with another friend, the topic of teaching religion came up. My friend had taught at a Catholic high school for several years in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He claimed that each year the members of the religion department tried another way to get through to the students, to speak to the students’ experience. He told me that one year the syllabus might be based on songs of the Beatles, another year it might be based on movies and another year it might be based on popular television shows, perhaps shows that presented science fiction stories. He insisted that little or no dogma was taught.
I believe both of my friends. It seems that in the years immediately after the Second Vatican Council, in attempts to be relevant, some teachers neglected teaching some of the central truths of the Catholic faith. I believe that teachers of religion should try to show the relevance of Catholic dogma and should try to relate Church teaching to students’ experience, but it seems that in the past, at least some teachers threw the baby out with the bath water.
I have read some criticism of the video series “Catholicism,” written and narrated by theologian Father Robert Barron, which suggested that the series avoids important topics, such as the different theological perspectives of the four evangelists, the differing opinions of scholars in interpreting scriptural passages and other topics. I can understand the criticism, but I believe that Father Barron wanted to communicate with as many people as possible and so correctly avoided more nuanced theological questions. Those questions might be dealt with if the series and Father Barron’s book Catholicism (New York: Image, 2011, $27.99, pp. 291) were used in a course. In the introduction to his book, Father Barron writes the following:
“Catholicism is a celebration, in words and imagery, of the God who takes infinite delight in bringing human beings to fullness of life.
“I shall commence with Jesus, for he is the constant point of reference, the beginning and the end of the Catholic faith. I will try to show the uniqueness of Jesus, how his claim to speak and act in the very person of God sets him apart from all other philosophers, mystics and religious founders. And I will demonstrate how his resurrection from the dead not only ratifies his divine identity but also establishes him as the Lord of the nations, the one to whom final allegiance is due. Next I shall explore the extraordinary teachings of Jesus, words at once simple and textured, that have, quite literally, changed the world. I will try to show how they constitute the path to joy” (p. 5-6).
That a number of statements that Father Barron makes could be explored more deeply and a number of the ideas that he presents could be developed further are two reasons why I am hoping that wherever the series is shown, it will be used as the basis for a course. In a course, which I think would not be difficult to organize and teach because of the availability of the companion volume, Catholicism, topics mentioned by Father Barron might be discussed more deeply, and questions raised by a viewing of the series might be addressed. The series is so good that I am hoping that it will be used in the best way possible. Just viewing the series would be good, but studying and discussing it would be better. The series is a treasure, and I don’t know of anything quite like it.Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.