Monday, March 27

It's Over

Religious education is by far the greatest weakness--and greatest need--of the American Church. Why our leaders expect to continue needing priests or buildings when they so frequently fail to form new Christians, I have no idea. Anyway, for this reason, I usually teach CCD somewhere.

This year I led a small group of 10 confirmation candidates. Everyone who ran the program was hardworking and well-intentioned, but we met a total of about 10 times for the year, with 30 minutes of lesson time per meeting. I was (and generally am) very pessimistic that anyone's life can be changed drastically in the course of 6 hours spread over 6 months. This assumes, of course, that one (1) know what one's talking about, and (2) isn't using a very insulting catechetical text which does nothing but superimpose sacchrine "personal stories" with pictures of waterfalls and, "to conform with the CCC," bolded Catholic buzzwords.

But something went wrong yesterday, at our last class: almost all of them listened to the lesson. They heard the jokes, they shared some banter, and--this really surprised me--answered almost every question I put to them. And it wasn't just one or two of the students, but the majority--some of whom dozed through our first sessions.

Here was the lesson. I gave it as a discussion instead of a lecture, but these were my notes. With apologies to De Trinitate...


In the beginning, there was nothing but God. (How many Gods?) God exists forever in a certain way; just as we are one person, but with a body, a mind with which we know our body, and a spirit with which we can think and love in the way that only humans can think and love, so God exists forever (the Father) with a mind that knows himself (the Son) and a perfect love (the Holy Spirit). (What is this called? The Trinity). This is what we mean when we say that God is Love.

We read from the book of Genesis. God created the whole world from nothing, and called it good; then he made humanity, and called it very good. Humans are unique, because we can know and love in a way which the animals cannot—because we have... (What? A Soul). Because the soul is immaterial, it can't decay; it's eternal. However, in the story, Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, and in disobeying God they twisted their ability to love (Also called what? Original sin.)

We saw, in Genesis, that sinful humanity became different than original humanity. (What were the effects?) Adam and Eve became ashamed, their children sinned very easily and very seriously, killing each other, and all became ignorant of God. We discussed hell: hell is the inability to love God properly. We are always in the presence of God, because God is everywhere; God is in hell. But if we are not in friendship with God, if we love wrongly/commit sin, we cannot enjoy his presence. Just like how C.S. Lewis descibed those dwarves who were sitting, miserable, in a circle, even after Aslan created a perfect world, souls who are not in friendship with God will not enjoy heaven: the afterlife will be hellish.

Because God is Love, however, God wanted to bring us into a friendship with him. Therefore, because we had become ignorant of him, he needed to reveal himself to us again (What is this called? Divine Revelation). God revealed himself first to the Isrealites (What is that part of the Bible called? Old Testament). The must important lesson from the Old Testament for us is when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. One night, to save his people, God entered the world, passed through it, destroyed the first-born sons of their enemies, and the Egyptians let them free (This was called what? The Passover And? Paschal Mystery). To be saved, the Israelites had to kill a lamb, and mark their households with its blood. They passed through the Red Sea, and ever year they had to remember the Passover with a meal of flat bread and wine. That is how God saved Israel.

Hundreds of years later, God saved all the world. He repeated the Paschal Mystery in a new way. An angel appeared to the Virgin Mary, asking her to become the Mother of God (What do we call this? The Annunciation). Sin distracts us from God, it makes it difficult to say “yes” to God; therefore, Mary was prepared from the beginning of her life to say “yes” to God because God saved her from sin at her conception; Mary never sinned (What is this called? The Immaculate Conception). Fortunately, Mary said yes.

At that moment, the eternal God the Son entered into her womb and became a human being (What is that process called? The Incarnation. Did you know we don't believe in Reincarnation? And what was this person named? Jesus Christ, true God and true man). Jesus Christ, because he was God, was able to reveal God to us in a human way; he is the ultimate and perfect Divine Revelation, the final answer to the ignorance about God caused by original sin. Most people in the world believe in God: that is nothing special. But Christians are those who believe what Jesus Christ told us about God. He taught the twelve Apostles all of God’s teaching, and they handed it on to us (In what two forms? Written/New Testament And? Oral tradition. How do we know what is actually oral tradition, what Jesus Christ actually taught? From the historical record. And what is the difference between what we know the Apostles taught and what the Protestant "denominations" believe he taught? They ignore the historical record).

At the end of his life, Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins. We call Jesus “the Lamb of God” at Mass because, like the lambs of old, he allowed himself to be sacrificed to save his people. For Passover, the Jews offered the lamb, killed it, and God accepted the lamb. (When did Jesus offer himself to the Father? the Last Supper, which was a Passover meal; When was he killed? the Crucifixion, which happened as the Passover Lambs were killed; How do we know the Father accepted his sacrifice? the Resurrection).

died for all people, but just like the Israelites needed to be marked with the blood of the Lamb, we also need to be marked by the blood of the Lamb of God to apply this forgiveness to ourselves. The Death of Christ, and the Resurrection, those parts of His sacrifice obviously can never be repeated: they are once and for all. But the Last supper can be repeated, and it is repeated (When? At the Mass). After the passover, the Israelites were confirmed as God's people as they walked through the Red Sea. We are saved when we are also marked as a community through baptism, and when we are marked with the blood of the Lamb. This is why the Bible says that we must receive the Eucharist to have life within us (John 6). If we live our lives faithful to the 10 commandments, if we avoid sin and let our spiritual life be fed in the Eucharist, we will be made holy: whereas the Original Sin made us love poorly, made us likely to sin, a life faithful to prayer and the sacraments will lead us to God’s friendship: it will lead us to love God above all things, to avoid sin, and above all to enjoy his presence, to be able to enjoy heaven.

This transformation is not simply our own accomplishment; trying to do the right things will not be enough. Our hearts are broken--not necessarily in the romantic sense--and so they love poorly; they must be restored, and this is done by God. Remember that I said the Holy Spirit is the love of God. God infuses our broken hearts, which can no longer love Him above all things and love our neighbors as ourselves, he infuses our broken hearts with the Holy Spirit itself, with His Love (What do we call this? [Uncreated] Grace, the life and love of God within us).

This is what makes confirmation so essential. After Jesus rose from the dead, he created a "church"--the Greek word was “community.” This community, the Church, was led by the 12 apostles; they spread throughout the whole world, to France, to Spain, to Egypt, to India. They preached the love of God in the life and death of Jesus Christ, so that the whole world could know and love God. They shared the seven sacraments, the seven ways that Christ gave us to pour grace into our hearts, so that we could love Him. Baptism initiates us into the family; the Eucharist marks us with Christ’s blood and sustains us. In confession, the sins we commit after baptism are forgiven: Jesus told the Apostles, “whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23). He gave the Apostles the ability to pray over people so that they might receive the Holy Spirit, God's love, so if we are dedicated, we will be able to love rightly (Acts): that is confirmation.

The Apostles did their work well, and Christianity spread to 1/3 of the population of earth. We talked about how many centuries ago each one of your families converted to Christianity, and how every single generation of your family has believed that Christianity was so important, they had to pass it on to their children. Is your faith important enough to you that you would pass it to your children? Are you alienated from God by ignorance, or by loving the wrong things—by sinful choices? Do you feel you are in a strong enough friendship with God that you could enjoy his presence forever? There are easy ways to do this: above all, take the Eucharist seriously. For 10 minutes after communion, Jesus Christ is inside of you. That only matters if you take the opportunity to get to know him, to offer him your life, to beg him to make himself real to you. In order to get to know him better, study his life by reading the bible, pray his life by praying the Rosary. Live to be a saint: I can say that I remember the day I realized I knew nothing about God, but I wanted to. That day changed my life; and since then, I can say, with Pope Benedict, that it is a joy to be a Christian.

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