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Catholicism and Home Study

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The soul of Catholic education is in the home. This is no pious aphorism. It is the verdict of two millennia of Catholic history. Needless to say, it is not commonly recognized and, until recently, not appreciated.

My plan here is to address myself to the defense of Catholic religious education in the home. I say defense because for two centuries, Catholic Americans have practically identified Catholic schooling with institutions as the bedrock of religious instruction. Some people still do not realize that we are living in a different world. The massive breakdown of once-flourishing Catholic school system is only part of the picture. There has been such widespread secularization in our country that, unless the family becomes the seedbed of religious instruction in our homes, nothing less than the survival of the Catholic Church in the United States is at stake.

We shall cover three principal aspects of “Catholicism and Home Study.” We will ask ourselves what is Catholic Home Study; why is it necessary; and most important, how should it be put into effective practice.

What is Catholic Home Study?

The expression, “Catholic Home Study,” is deceptively simple. It may seem to mean “getting religion at home.” In that sense, every home, and surely every Catholic home should provide a religious atmosphere for the children to live their faith. But something much deeper is involved here.

The very words, “Catholicism” and “Catholic” are on trial in the modern world. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the Catholic Church.” But by now there are almost as many definitions of Catholicism as there are persons who profess to be Catholic. There are Catholic dissenters who deny the most fundamental mysteries of Christianity. There are Catholics for Choice, who will murder unborn children and defend their crime as compatible to the Catholic faith. Only recently, an American university was required by the Holy See to stop funding abortionists because of pressure from critics who insisted that if the institution is to call itself Catholic, it should conform to the basic norms of Catholic morality.

When, then, we speak of Catholic Home Study, we are not playing with words. We mean religious instruction which is unambiguously faithful to the two millennia of the Catholic Church’s teaching. The key word here is “unambiguously.” This is no cheap adverb. The editors of the latest International English Dictionary, after years of research, decided they could no longer publish a dictionary that would define the meaning of words. They could only produce a “dictionary” which describes how English words are used. There is such a massive confusion of ideas in the Anglo-Saxon world, that it would be surprising, if it were possible, if words like “Catholic” and “Catholicism” did not become victims of this cultural ambiguity.

What, then, do we mean by Catholic Home Study? We mean home study that, in the words of Christ, does not confirm to this world but remains loyal to those principles of belief and of human conduct for which, by now, countless thousands have shed their blood rather than deny. It is home study that believes God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ, that He was conceived of the Virgin Mary; that He suffered and died on the cross and historically rose from the dead; that He is really present in the fullness of His physical human nature united with the divinity in the Holy Eucharist; that the Church He founded, whose visible head on earth is the Bishop of Rome, is the Mother and Teacher of the human race.

We are speaking of studying the Catholic faith. To study means to apply one’s self intellectually, systematically, and according to a regular program to the mastery of a carefully predetermined subject. The subject here is the whole spectrum of what the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, teaches believers they must know and do in this life in order to attain the eternal life for which they were created.

This study of the faith may be part of a home study which covers not only religion, but all the standard subjects that are commonly taught in school. Many Catholic parents see no choice. They believe, under God, they have an obligation to teach their children not only religion, but history and literature, geography and arithmetic, and the variety of social sciences that are now part of the standard curriculum of institutional education.

Other parents, for a variety of reasons, will allow an institution to teach their children what are still called “secular subjects.” Catholic Home Study will then concentrate on what are formally religious subjects. They will teach their children what they are to believe, how they are to behave, and how they are to worship God as professed Catholics.

What should be made plain however, is that in practice you can hardly separate religion from what are popularly called “secular subjects,” like history or geography. Every subject in the curriculum has deep religious roots, religious implications and applications. Take a simple subject like history. Everything you touch in recorded history is saturated with religious events and religious issues. There really is no purely “secular history,” no more than there is any “pure” secular literature, biography or secular geography.

I have saved the word “home” for last. Why? Because cohabitation of persons related by blood is not a home. A home, on Catholic premises, is a believing community of father, mother and children who share the same faith and are inspired by the same moral principles. A home presumes a family and, for Christians, a family which is united by the bonds of selfless love.

Given the tragic breakdown of family life in our country, the very term “Home Study” demands the existence of real homes with real families that fulfill the meaning of a family which Christianity introduced into the world of the Roman Empire.

Why Catholic Home Study is Necessary

Most Catholic parents who have undertaken to teach their own children have not, understandably, analyzed their reasons. Sheer parental instinct has prompted them to do what, not many years ago, was a rare exception. However, their parental instinct is founded on the raw facts of contemporary human history.

The modern Popes have been telling the Bishops of the Western World that they must re-evangelize and re-catechize their people. The process of de-Christianization or, as we may say, paganization in once-Christian societies is too deep and too widespread to be ignored.

Our answer to the opening question is not as easy as may seem. This de-Christianization requires a re-Christianization. This is not merely proclaiming the Gospel to people who have never known Jesus Christ. It is reclaiming those who may have been taught the true faith, who had more or less believed, but who have sadly lost their Catholic heritage.

Concretely, we may therefore say that Catholic Home Study is necessary to recover the faith for millions who have, with greater or less culpability, become deprived of the richness of Divine Truth revealed to the world by the Word made flesh who is the Light of the World.

In our day we have become aware of the need for teaching and learning the true faith at home. This awareness is mainly the result of the growing paganism that surrounds us. What should be kept in mind, however, is that being surrounded by paganism is as old as Christianity. Time and again in the Gospels Christ warns His followers not to conform to the world. The world He is speaking of is the world that rejected Him, the Incarnate God. It is the world that crucified Him. This world has been hostile to the Gospel since Calvary and, we may say, will remain hostile until the end of time.

Given these facts of history, how have Christians managed to survive, not to say thrive on the built-in opposition of a pagan mind to the mind of Christ? They have done so by instilling into the minds and hearts of the youngest members of Christ’s flock the knowledge and love of His holy name.

We make a mistake if we think Home Study of religion as mainly an antidote to the prevalent moral crisis in the world. No, from the earliest days of the Church’s history, children were taught and trained at home in their faith from infancy. Educational institutions can be a great asset. They can help immensely in promoting sound Catholic teaching in sound Catholic doctrine and morals. Catholic schools can be powerful auxiliaries in the preservation and advancement of authentic Christianity. But they are only that. They are, even at their best, only auxiliaries. The soul of Catholic education is the home.

We are not answering the question why Catholic Home Study is important. We are asking why it is imperative. If the teaching and training of children from birth, is truly Catholic, we shall have Catholic families. If we have truly Catholic families we shall have, in any part of the world, in any time of history, a truly Catholic Church.

How Catholic Home Study Should Be Done

This is the heart of the matter. We are asking ourselves how Catholic Home Study should be authentic and effective or in one phrase, effectively authentic. In order to do some justice to this immense subject, let us just identify the basic norms of what may be called Catholic domestic pedagogy.

Parent’s Religious Convictions.  The most fundamental need for Catholic Home Study is the deep religious convictions of the parents themselves. We believe with the mind. The minds of the parents must be convinced of the truth of what they believe. Their ability to teach their children will be in direct proportion to their religious convictions.

We are living in a world where doubt has been canonized and dissenters are the heroes of contemporary theology. Change the word dissenter to doubter and you see how indispensable is strong religious consent to the truths of revelation. Convinced parents are courageous parents. To raise one’s children in the Catholic faith today takes nothing less than heroic courage in the parents.

Scope of Home Study.  Once parents have decided that they should provide Home Study for their children, they should also decide the scope of this domestic education. Will it be the whole spectrum of subjects, or only formally religious teaching. By now, tens of thousands of parents have decided on providing Home Study for their children in everything in which the children need to learn at any given age of their mental development.

First a general principle. Catholic parents have no choice regarding religious instruction of their offspring. In this sense mother and father do not have a moral option. Either they give their children a religious upbringing or they are sinning gravely by their neglect. The only question here is how much religious instruction, explicitly, formally, regularly they will give to the children whom they have physically brought into the world.

The issue at stake here is academic. It is doctrinal. Parents are channels of grace to their children. This is part of the providence of God. Their communication of the Catholic faith to their children is necessary if the sons and daughters they have brought into this world are to reach eternal life in the world to come.

All of this being said, we return to the practical question of how extensive Catholic Home Study should be. As experience has shown, the more comprehensive the Home Study, the better. There is no such thing as a purely secular subject to be taught. In fact, the separation between a religious and a so-called non-religious curriculum is not only artificial, it is not true. You cannot remove God from literature, history, geography or any subjects without misguiding and even perverting the minds of the pupils. This is the heart of the crisis in education in countries like the United States. The much publicized separation of Church and State in our country has produced an educational system that removes God from the world that would not even exist without Him and cannot remain civilized without obedience to His divine laws.

The basic question, therefore, that parents have to ask themselves is whether they want to provide Home Study for their children. If they do, the more inclusive the Home Study is, the better it will be. Always assumed is that the Home Study is unqualifyingly Catholic.

Parents as Teachers. Our concern here is what we are calling Home Study. The more common term is Home Schooling. The difference between the two is not semantic. Children must study their Catholic faith at home even long before the dawn of reason. What is new on the horizon is Home Schooling, where parents are professedly and explicitly and avowedly the teachers of their children. By definition, a school is organized; classes are planned and last a predetermined length of time; the students are to concentrate on what they are being taught; the teacher prepares each class carefully; there is accountability for assigned “homework;” there is a schedule and there are tests. All of these elements are of the essence of schooling and require commitment on both sides: from the teacher and from those being taught.

The degree of this commitment on the part of both parents, not the mother alone or the father alone, can approach heroism. It will certainly mean a reassessment of priorities. It will always mean a depth of commitment that was already described. What must be emphasized is that Home Study for Catholic parents and their children demands a clear understanding of the meaning of education. It is, without qualification, a preparation for knowing, loving and serving God in this life as a condition for possessing God in the life to come.

For some people, Home Schooling is mainly a temporary substitute for institutional schooling that so many people find satisfactory. In reality, Catholic Home Schooling is part of the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage. Christ instituted this sacrament for the procreation and education of children. As Catholics, we believe that children are born and to be nourished in body and soul. The feeding of their bodies is secondary to the nourishment of their souls. It is the divinely ordained duty of parents to provide for this spiritual nourishment at home, in the home and by the home. All other agencies are secondary to this primordial educational institution established by the divine Teacher of the human race.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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