Friday, July 10, 2009

The Beauty of Truth

I am Catholic, with a capital C. I taught Catholic Theology at the high school and middle school levels when I was being paid to work. I remember explaining my job to my first group of students: “Faith consists of two main components: Your personal relationship with God and the truths of the Catholic Church passed down through the ages. I can not teach you the first component, nor will I try. I can not give you a grade on your personal relationship with God. What I will do is allow part of our time together to be dedicated to opportunities for you to build that relationship: confession, prayer, talks on aspects of spirituality especially from those with religious vocations. The second component I can teach. The majority of this class will be spent learning Catholic Doctrine. You are welcome to agree or disagree with the church, but you will learn what she has to teach. It will be your understanding not your opinion of the church’s teaching on matters of faith and morals on which you will be graded. I do not even wish to hear your opinion until the end of this semester when you will know enough to give an opinion.”

It was a good first day. Being not that much older than my students and looking about their age, I knew I was going to have trouble establishing my authority. It was a good start. I spent the first few months of class teaching them basic philosophy: Arguments for the existence of God, arguments for the existence of Objective Truth. I taught them basic doctrine they should have learned years before: The Ten Commandments, The matter, form and institution of the Sacraments, The Theological and Cardinal virtues, the Seven deadly sins.

Then I began the subject matter at the heart of the class, Morality. I started to explain the Church’s teaching on abortion. It was a disaster. I spent the entire period defending the church, they attacking her. Like a mad man who expects different results from doing the same thing over and over, I relived first period for the rest of the day. This was not going to work.

I got a copy of A Man for All Seasons from Blockbuster; while they watched it over the course of the next week, I spent every minute of every day and night coming up with a plan.

At the start of the new week, I handed them all the instructions for a project. Each person in the class had been assigned a moral issue. They were to do a ten part research project around their issue: 1) Find 100 published statements about your issue and write them out on index cards with the source. 2) Divide your cards into fact vs. opinion. 3) Find the Ten Commandment that is at the heart of your issue and explain why. 4) Find the virtue or virtues that pertain to your issue and explain why. 5) Find the Seven Deadly Sin which pertains to this issue and explain why. 6) Create a scenario involving this issue and carry out the consequences to the absolute farthest conclusion. 7) Explain the Church’s teaching on this issue. 8) Write an essay on whether or not you agree with the Church basing your opinion on facts, not opinions. 9) Meet with the other students in the class researching the same issue and design a way to teach the Church Doctrine on this issue. 10) As a group, teach the class Church Doctrine on this issue.

The only advice I gave them was this: If Br. James gave you an algebra test with all the answers and asked you simply to show your work, you would work from the assumption that he had given you the correct answers. I suggest you do the same with this project. After all your research, you may prove that the church is wrong just as you may find that Br. James had given you a wrong answer. But it would be wise to start with the assumption that both Brother and the Church know more than you do and go from there.

And they were off. When the time came for the presentations, I was utterly amazed at what they had come up with: A capital punishment trial based on actual transcripts from a real case, a game set up to prove how racism stacks the deck, lessons on abortion and euthanasia where the class sat listening instead of attacking. I got to play the Devil's advocate: "What if I don't believe it is a baby?" To which they responded: "And I suppose if you didn't think it was raining outside you wouldn't get wet?" Or, "And if you didn't believe in the Law of Gravity? Go ahead and jump out the window, Miss Barvick, and see if those laws are affected by your opinion." I have to admit, it was GLORIOUS to watch.

In the written projects, only one student from all the sections tried to make an argument against the church’s teaching. I couldn't help but laugh at his conclusion which stated that his opinion was utterly baseless, but he still couldn't accept Church teaching. At least he was honest.

The beauty of the Catholic Church is that she defends herself. If we approach her teachings with reason and with an open mind, we will not find her in ere. And so I had lied to my students that first day. I had said that I would teach them doctrine but not relationship. I kept my promise to provide them opportunities to build their individual relationships with God, which is for another story. But I had not taught them the Doctrine of the Church passed down through the ages. The doctrine taught itself. And that is the beauty of Truth. It does not really need defenders, just presenters.

1 comment:

  1. This is why I like CGS, the best catechists are those that remove themselves from the equation. The work speaks for itself. We are only presenters.