Monday, October 8, 2012

Blood of the Lamb

[This is part of a series about a catechism (PREP) class that I'm co-teaching.]

My latest light bulb over the head was that I should arrange to do chalk drawings with the kids. We could talk about iconography, and put chalk drawings on the pavement around the church, to be enjoyed by people attending Mass. I wasn't born yesterday, so I knew the first step would be to get permission from everyone who could possibly be in a position to grant it.

Henry Kissinger famously remarked that the reason academic politics are so vicious is because the stakes are so low. Well, the stakes don't get much lower than parish religious education, at least in terms of status or money. My request for permission immediately revealed an ongoing turf war between the director of PREP and the Principal of the parish school.

My co-teacher suggested I bypass everyone and go directly to the pastor and get his permission. Our pastor is a very sweet man; I'll call him Father Magnanimous. In our discussion, it became crystal clear that he doesn't have the foggiest notion what's going on in the PREP program, or what's in the curriculum. For instance, he said that "of course" the kids would all know Psalm 23 ("The Lord is my shepherd ..."). I would bet legal tender these kids wouldn't know Psalm 23 if it walked up and bit them in the ear.

But the part of our discussion that I remember best went like this:

Fr. Magnanimous: "Your role as catechist is to serve as a model of charity [i.e., perfect love]."

My thought balloon: "wow, I'm even less qualified for this job than I thought."

What I said: "I'd better bring more than that, or the kids will start a riot."

In the end, Fr. Magnanimous gave his permission, but said he'd have to check with the business director.

Next, I got an e-mail from the director of PREP (let's call her "Ms. Charge"), explaining that she had consulted with the parish business director and the parish director (let's call her "Attila the Nun"), and they were concerned that people might walk on the chalk drawings and track chalk into the church, the kids might make noise, etc. Their counteroffer was that we could draw on a remote portion of the parking lot, and that Ms. Charge could bring her personal collection of religious objects to show to the class.

We said OK to the terms of the counteroffer on the theory that we might as well take what we can get. Ms. Charge came to our class this morning and showed the kids her collection; miniatures of items used for saying Mass, a priest's traveling kit, icons, rosaries, etc. This went extremely well. The kids were interested, and glad of the chance to get up out of their seats and look at and handle the various objects.

I'm hoping to draw symbolic animals for the chalk drawings, so I introduced the symbols of the dove and the lamb.  I showed a couple of videos containing doves behaving unpredictably;

Next, we talked about the lamb.  I told them about the use of lambs for a sacrifice; this got a little graphic.

Kid (sardonically): "that's pleasant!"

"It's not pretty", I said.  That's why their curriculum never mentions it.  But if you don't know that lambs got sacrificed, you don't know why Jesus was called the Lamb of God.  It wasn't because of his sweet fluffiness, that's for sure.

I wanted to tell the kids about the Sacrifice of the Mass, part of the dark, mystical, difficult tradition of the Catholic Church, or what I consider the good stuff.

Me:  "does the Church still perform sacrifices today?"

Kids:  "No!"

Me: "Actually, the Church performs sacrifices every day, many times a day."

Kid (raising hand):  " ... but where do they get all the lambs?"

I told them that the Mass is both a sacrifice and a banquet; an important if mind-boggling point.

We still had a few minutes left, so I had time for this:

Me: "So I talked to Fr. Magnanimous earlier this week. He says my job is to serve as a model of charity. Charity is the highest form of love, higher than romantic love. It's the kind of love that God has; it's the kind of love that God is. Do you think it would be easy for me to be a model of charity?"

Kids and co-teacher, as one: "No!"

Me: "I think it's practically impossible."

And with that, the class ended. Next week, chalk drawings, I hope!


  1. I'll bookmark an interesting article about post-Vatican II catechesis:

    Coming Soon to Your Parish

    a few quotes:

    Speaker after speaker acknowledged that no one in their programs today knows anything about the basic doctrines of the faith.

    But at the level of the students, this discussion of community was a secondary matter; far more obvious was the fact that content simply vanished overnight. Almost nothing was taught anymore but indeterminate kindness ...

    Beliefs and attitudes can be changed with astonishing speed by a changed curriculum.

  2. My mother did some quote-checking for the Henry Kissinger reference and came up with this:

    This is an excerpt from The Quote Verifier, by Ralph Keyes.

    Ralph Keyes's books include The Post-Truth Era, The Courage to Write, and Is There Life After High School? He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
    Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
    "ACADEMIC politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small" This observation is routinely attributed to former Harvard professor Henry Kissinger. Well before Kissinger got credit for that thought in the mid-1970s, however, Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt told a reporter, "Academic politics is much more vicious than real politics. We think it's because the stakes are so small." Others believe this quip originated with political scientist Wallace Sayre, Neustadt's onetime colleague at Columbia University. A 1973 book gave as "Sayre's Law," "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue--that is why academic politics are so bitter." Sayre's colleague and coauthor Herbert Kaufman said his usual wording was "The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low." In his 1979 book Peter's People, Laurence Peter wrote, "Competition in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small." He called this "Peter's Theory of Entrepreneurial Aggressiveness in Higher Education." Variations on that thought have also been attributed to scientist-author C. P. Snow, professor-politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and politician Jesse Unruh (among others). According to the onetime editor of Woodrow Wilson's papers, however, long before any of them strode the academic-political scene, Wilson observed often that the intensity of academic squabbles he witnessed while president of Princeton University was a function of the "triviality" of the issues being considered.

    Verdict: An old academic saw that may have originated with Woodrow Wilson but was put in modern play by Wallace Sayre.

    Oh well, maybe Henry Kissinger didn't invent the idea, but it's a good one, and it sounds right for him. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!