Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Level 4 Catechism: Introduction to Catholicism

General Editor: Rev. James Socias
The Didache Series
(We have the revised first edition. Here's the second edition.)

This book is recommended for Catechism in Level 4 (eighth grade) of Mater Amabilis™. It's also on the list for additional or alternate texts for Level 5 (beta plans available in the Mater Amabilis™ for High School Facebook group).

The suggested schedule is three times a week, reading and narrating each day. After a few weeks, I needed to shift our schedule a little and decreased it to twice a week. First Son read about half of the chapter each week, including the supplementary reading, which most of the time shared the life of a saint relevant to the theme of the chapter. The sections at the end of each chapter include study questions (which I intended to use in addition to narrations but eliminated when we dropped to scheduling only twice a week), some application suggestions, and a list of Catechism references on the chapter's theme. Some of these were more useful than others.

The very first page of every chapter attempted to provide a real-life example of the chapter's theme in a real-life situation, but most just seemed contrived.

The book touches on just about every aspect of the Catholic faith. Here's the table of contents (again, this is for the first edition; the second edition has at least one entirely new chapter):

  1. The Call to Holiness
  2. Prayer
  3. The Trinity
  4. The Church
  5. The Blessed Virgin Mary
  6. Revelation
  7. The Old Testament - This mainly covers the first five books. The remainder are summed up in one or two sentences at the end of the chapter.
  8. The New Testament
  9. The Sacraments
  10. Baptism
  11. Confirmation
  12. The Eucharist
  13. Penance
  14. Anointing of the Sick
  15. Matrimony
  16. Holy Orders
  17. Freedom
  18. The Moral Virtues
  19. The First Commandment
  20. The Second Commandment
  21. The Third Commandment
  22. The Fourth Commandment
  23. The Fifth Commandment
  24. The Sixth and Ninth Commandments
  25. The Seventh and Tenth Commandments
  26. The Eighth Commandment
  27. The Beatitudes

There are a few small mistakes and times when I thought to myself...."not quite right." For example, in the third chapter, the book describes adoptionsim and wrongly calls it Arianism. Kansas Dad noticed it right away when he overheard First Son's narration. Later, in chapter thirteen on Penance, within a discussion of the Prodigal Son, this paragraph appears:
God often permits man to sink deeper into sin like this, forcing man to face up to his dismal condition. Some people only return to God when they are faced with tragedy caused by repeated serious sin in their lives. An example would be a person who regularly abuses alcohol: One night he drives while drunk and kills an innocent person. The shock of having killed another person forces him to come to terms with the sin of getting drunk. 
I'm not an expert on carefully explaining what God permits in contrast to what we do against his desires, but I would never suggest that God "allows" the death of an innocent person to "shock" someone "to come to terms with...sin." If someone dies because I have sinned, that is very much against His will.

In the last chapter (chapter 27) on the Beatitudes, I read this weird sentence:
Those who are poor in spirit desire only the goods necessary to ensure a healthy standard of living in accordance with their particular state of life. 
How do we know what is excess? It goes on:
For the rest of us, the phrase indicates that there are different levels of need for goods. For example, those whose professions require that they present themselves as successful, such as lawyers or stockbrokers, have a greater need to show off personal wealth than those whose job doesn't have such an emphasis.
I'm not really sure what they mean here. It would make more sense to me to say that people need to be able to perform their jobs well and for some, that requires dressing in a particular professional way, whether that be suits or work boots and overalls. I was recently reading a papal encyclical that talked about the necessity of providing insurance for times of old age, illness, and unemployment, so some savings are appropriate, more if you are providing for a family. This statement makes it seem like lawyers and stockbrokers need to buy expensive homes and cars, but I can't tell if they mean it ironically. I think the phrase "show off" was ill chosen.

There were, however, some excellent parts where the book drew clear lines between the theoretical virtue or commandment in the chapter and the actions we are called to perform. It even described how to behave in particular circumstances that might be awkward or difficult. For example, the chapter on Anointing of the Sick included visiting the sick.
Some of us may find it difficult or depressing to visit those who are sick. We should remind ourselves, though, that caring for the suffering is not an option but a requirement. We may often feel awkward when trying to make conversation, yet we must keep in mind that our presence alone is a sign of support to someone who is ill. The best rule for conversation is to permit the sick person to lead the way. If he wishes to discuss his illness, then be willing to follow that lead. Many sick persons find it makes things easier if they are able to discuss their problem and their feelings during this time. Sometimes, the sick person may wish to say nothing, in which case we have to accept that our presence is all the support that is wanted.
Chapters 23 and 24 cover sensitive but important topics such as abortion, euthanasia, suicide, war, chastity, purity, and modesty. For the most part, I thought these were handled well, but if you were only going to pre-read a few chapters, these are probably the most important ones.

There is a list of sins against chastity in chapter 24. While none of these are incorrectly listed as sins, I would encourage families to expand on these limited definitions. For example, divorce is listed as a sin against chastity, but there are occasions in which a woman (or a man, I suppose) needs to separate herself and her children from a dangerous situation. In those instances, the sin is not one of divorce. These kinds of discussions are difficult and probably work best as natural conversations as instances are encountered in life or in the news. In my own family, I try to cultivate an environment of charity that presents the truth of the Gospel and the Church as how God has designed humans to live the most fulfilling life, but that sometimes people fail to follow his laws and then we must turn always to compassion and the sacrament of Reconciliation.

The saint for this chapter is St. Maria Goretti. At first I was concerned because she isn't a saint due to her fight for purity (no girl who is unable to fight off her attacker is a sinner), but because of her forgiveness of her attacker. The description does a good job of telling the story and including his story of redemption by her prayers and actions.

The virtue of chastity requires a delicate balance between those who many struggle more with scrupulosity and those who are more attuned to the culture. The chapter seems to be written more for the latter, but some homeschooled children may fall more into the former. It may be a good idea to arrange for a private and quiet discussion of this chapter rather than a straightforward narration.

As a side note, our parish eighth grade PSR class, using the new Sophia Institute books, covers many of these sensitive topics near the end of the year. It was comforting to know they were being addressed by someone other than us, so First Son would realize these are essential topics and that our parish is reiterating what he's heard from us, but at the same time, it was important to me that he heard them from us first. This book gave us the opportunity we needed to frame those discussions.

The list of sins against the seventh commandment (in chapter 25) could be updated to include both plagiarism and using or downloading electronic programs, games, movies, music, or resources without paying for them, both sins that are probably likely to be encountered by teenagers in our contemporary culture. I talked about these issues with First Son to explain why these are immoral and it led to a good discussion. (These issues may be addressed in the second edition.)

I appreciated how the book handled the application of the these commandments (the seventh and the tenth) in business.
Man has been made by God to be the author, center, and goal of all economic life. Business is not to have profit as its highest goal. Though profit must be a consideration if the business is to survive, the main goals of economic activity should be the support and development of individuals through work and service of human beings[.]
It also complemented nicely what First Son is learning about communism in his history readings.
True development of society concerns not just a more efficient economic system but the whole person. Societies should strive to increase each person's ability to respond to the call of God to save his soul. If a person is reduced to nothing but his "productivity," this call is being ignored. 
At the end of the year, I asked First Son what he thought of the book as a whole. He liked the chapters on the sacraments, saying they explained exactly what the sacraments were well. He also appreciated the lists of sins in some of the chapters because they helped him understand how the commandments and doctrines translated into real life.

It's not a particularly exciting book, but First Son found it to be clear and was able to narrate well the main concepts in the chapters. For us, I think it's a good general book that covers a lot of material in preparation for more in-depth explorations of the faith in the high school years. I think it could certainly be used in high school if it is not read in Level 4.

There were a few instances, pretty much all mentioned above, where I felt qualification was necessary. To be honest, I'm not sure a book other than the actual Catechism (which the beta Mater Amabilis™plans, available in the Facebook group, recommend for high school) would completely satisfy me. Between my own compunction for non-generalized truth and accuracy and Kansas Dad's theological knowledge (because he's a theology professor), we're annoyingly particular. I don't have plans to seek out anything different for the other kids because I think this is a good option.

I bought this book used from a mom in our local homeschool group. Links to Amazon above are affiliate links. These opinions are my own.

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