Jesus’ call in the Gospels to “come follow me” is as meaningful today as it was when Christ walked the earth. The goal of Christian formation is inexorably tied up with the person of Jesus Christ and his summons to discipleship. Because of this, Catholic schools bear the responsibility of not only equipping students engaged thinkers with knowledge, skills, and attitudes, but also helping students respond to the Good News as disciples and ethical citizens who will contribute to their communities and the world.
Religion courses necessarily call students into this type of relationship with God. Through these courses, students are invited to deepen their relationship with Christ through knowledge of His Revelation and become Christ-like in their words, thoughts and actions.
· encouraged to become engaged in examining Catholic dogmas, doctrines, disciplines and devotions
· challenged to engage the world as ethical citizens, seeking to make it a more just and loving place for all peoples
· encouraged to reflect on and explore the great philosophical and existential questions that have always inspired humankind in the light of Christ and his Church
· drawn into a deep respect for and a greater understanding of their neighbours and the faiths that guide their worship, moral life and celebrations
All religious education in Catholic schools is seen as a partnership, involving the student, the school, family, parish and the wider community. At our best we are supporting student learning and their entrepreneurial goals by accessing all of these resources, honouring each in their respective role. Students will develop their own understanding and entrepreneurial spirit as we guide them along the path of inquiry, knowledge acquisition, and experience of what it means for people to live a life rooted in faith.
In our attempt to encourage students to grow in discipleship, there are some important considerations. First, we must recognize as stated in Nostra Aetate, that the Church does not reject any natural truth (moral or metaphysical) that other religions may have as they may be a reflection of a ray of truth from Jesus, who is Truth Incarnate. Second, in order to understand the question, one must know oneself, that is, the one who asks the question. And third, we want to lead students to appreciate that Catholics teach and believe that we belong to God as beloved children. Indeed, it is our belief that God loved us first and has called all people into friendship with Him through His Son Jesus. This is the essence of our faith and the focus of the Religious Education Program in Alberta Catholic Schools.
The Student in Need of Evangelization and Catechesis
Students attend Catholic secondary schools for a variety of reasons. Religious education, though foremost in the intentions of some of them, does not constitute a primary motivation for many of our students. The reality in Alberta is that most of our students come from families whose attachment and commitment to the Church is relatively fragile. They do not attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis and their knowledge of Scripture, in spite of the best of efforts at the elementary level, remains inadequate. Their understanding of the moral teaching of the Church is often fragmentary and does not penetrate deeply into major areas of their lives and relationships. The first need of most of our students is for evangelization.
They belong to a world that is secularized, in which faith and religion tend to be relegated to the private sphere. Such a culture can often see all truth as relative: a servant to modern sensibilities and conveniences. Though Canadian culture continues to manifest some aspects of its Christian heritage through an interest in the common good and a respect of individual freedom and dignity, it is becoming more and more shaped by the forces of technological resources, the mass media, of peer groups and of the free market. Not only do our children and our young people face a world without ethical absolutes or clear beliefs, they are often led to believe that such absolutes and beliefs are dangerous to human society and obstacles to critical thought.
The challenges faced by the educators in the typical Catholic secondary school are enormous. Catholic schools exist to foster in their students not only an understanding of the connection between faith and life, but a commitment to establishing, nourishing and strengthening that connection. Yet students have difficulty expressing the basic contents and structures of the Christian, Catholic faith, as do some teachers. They have difficulty stepping back from their busy lives to reflect on the importance of that faith for their lives. Their interest in devoting precious time and energy to courses dealing with these issues is often minimal.
Students come to us from various cultural frameworks, backgrounds, family structures, value systems, intellectual stories and limitations. This prior experience or participation in life is the starting point for new learning; it is what the General Directory for Catechesis refers to as “the soil of the believer.” The naming and exploration of this prior experience can occur explicitly or can be assumed but it must be addressed as part of the process of transformation and growth.
It is through the application of new learning to real-life situations that students move forward in the acquisition of knowledge and proficiency in the skills necessary for living life to its fullest as light and salt for the world. Understanding is not fully realized until the students have been able to appropriate what they have heard, read, researched or discovered in the previous learning step. Story, film, brainstorming, review of knowledge and inquiring questions are just some of the strategies used. Through journals, essays, projects and portfolios, we ask them to apply learning to contemporary events or past history, and so demonstrate learning.
What the student is willing to share about their growth in faith must be respected. Here we are talking about the divine action of God in the life of the person. Here a teacher-catechist must rely on the movement of the Holy Spirit and trust in the catechetical process to help discern and facilitate the transformation of students over time and in culture.
All are loved by God. Many of them, being baptized, have been incorporated into the very Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. They might be unaware of the great dignity bestowed upon them in becoming children of God, yet that dignity remains undiminished. The power of the Spirit abides in them and seeks to free them from the tyranny of fashions and trends to help them become all they are called to be. It is important that students come to know that God has called them into a relationship and it is God who will affect the transformation. Their role is to co-operate out of a humble heart and loving will to be one with God, allowing God to bring them to the fullness of life. To that end, the cultivation of an authentic prayer life is an essential component of our programs.
Students should be [taught how to, and] encouraged to, pray with the same sentiments with which he (Jesus) turned to the Father: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, filial confidence, supplication and awe for his glory. When catechesis is permeated by a climate of prayer, the assimilation of the entire Christian life reaches its summit.
The Religious Education program exists for the sake of all of these students and their ultimate happiness which we believe and teach can only be found in, through, and with Christ.
Religious Education Programs and Delivery
Religious Education enables young people to discover the truth, nurture the attitudes and develop the skills necessary to grow as young Catholics in these changing times. For these reasons, Religious Education is designed to promote a Catholic identity that will assist them in the task of becoming life-long disciples within a multi-religious and sometimes anti-religious society. It is also designed to assist in the process of ethical and moral formation within a culture that all too often fails to recognize the call of God upon men and women, the fundamental dignity of the human person and the existence of absolute ethical norms.
In Catholic secondary schools, Religious Education functions as the academic component within the nexus of activities that seek to evangelize and catechize students. As such, it plays an essential role in the learning experiences of students and complements the various faith-related activities (e.g., chaplaincy services, community outreach, peer ministry, liturgical celebrations) that take place within the instructional setting of these schools.
It is necessary, therefore, that religious instruction in schools appear as a scholastic discipline with the same systematic demands and the same rigour as other disciplines. It must present the Christian message and the Christian event with the same seriousness and the same depth with which other disciplines present their knowledge. Through inter-disciplinary dialogue religious instruction in schools underpins, activates, develops and completes the educational activity of the school. (GDC 73)
It is possible, therefore, to distinguish between Religious Education as a classroom educational activity and Religious Education as a classroom religious activity (prayer, meditation, celebrations). While the two should not be seen as mutually exclusive, this differentiation is important when the subject of assessment is considered. Not all classroom activities need or should be assessed for evaluation purposes. As an educational activity, Religious Education courses provide learning opportunities for the development of students’ knowledge of religious language, concepts, and ideas. In doing so, students are able to gain access to religious literacy as expressed within the Catholic faith as well as to the religious attitudes and life skills related to a religious worldview. Learning takes place within an environment where subject matter and teaching strategies are planned in age-appropriate ways and with sensitivity to the affective and personal dimensions of students’ lived experience.
Catechesis challenges students to explore their lived experiences in light of revelation, encouraging students to deepen their understanding of themselves and their relationship with God, with others and with the world. Information for the student is drawn from a number of resources: Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved textbooks, the sciences, cultural studies, philosophy, the media, and technology. They offer a new way of understanding that confronts and challenges us. We cannot grow in self-understanding unless we are willing to consider a higher viewpoint, a clearer explanation, or a more comprehensive view.
Learning occurs through the skilful use of many learning strategies such as research, comparative essay writing, reading, and presentation, to name but a few. The teacher relies on a variety of learning strategies to address the diversity of students’ lived realities as well as to present them with information in new and innovative ways. Again, we turn to the General Directory for Catechesis and hear echoed once more a need for a respect for the soil of the believer.
Young people need help to put their faith into words. They should be able to express what they believe in language that is common to believers around the world. This need is met through many teaching techniques: addressing multiple intelligences, memorization of key concepts, and journaling. Students should achieve a genuine understanding of Catholic teachings so that their learning is not simply a memorizing of formulae but is an intelligent articulation of their lived, developing faith in a language that is appropriate to both the Catholic tradition and to their age and ability.
The Church, in transmitting the faith, discerns contemporary methods in the light of the pedagogy of God and uses with liberty “everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we live and honour and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). In short she uses those methods which are not contrary to the Gospel and aids her mission of evangelization and catechesis (GDC 148).
The Teacher as Witness, Mentor, and Educator
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Pope Paul VI)
It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus. In the daily life of a teacher this means a personal relationship with the Lord, commitment to prayer, participation in the Mass and sacraments, being a person of the beatitudes, the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.
Catholic educators of any course, embrace for themselves the ministry of catechist within their teaching profession. They are called to be transmitters of the faith as they help prepare young people to be “clothed in Christ” and become “salt for the earth and light for the world”. This mandate is even more specific to those who teach a course in Religious Education, for its purpose is two-fold: teachers impart knowledge about the Catholic Faith Tradition; that is, they bring revelation to bear on their lives, and teachers encourage young people to follow in the footsteps of Christ; that is, to act on God’s behalf for the good of all creation.
The teacher as evangelist and catechist is called to:
· witness to the Gospel and speak on behalf of the faith community
· share with students the divine invitation to encounter the love of God in Jesus Christ
· educate to the faith, to teach not only the content of faith but also its meaning
· mentor young people in their journey, to accompany them as they struggle with this knowledge and seek to integrate it in their daily lives
Religious Education is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community. It is more than teaching life skills or sharing information. It is an on-going invitation to students to participate in the essential mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News, and to recognize the importance and significance of a baptismal commitment. Religious Education seeks to form, inform and transform. The aim of all evangelization and catechesis is the transmission of our Catholic faith. We seek to foster our students’ growth in faith, so that it may be living, conscious and active. We endeavour to assist students to examine how Catholics follow Christ, embrace the truth, contribute to the common good, and build a more just society with and for others.
Our Faith is Communal
While it is very much a personal matter, our Catholic faith is not a private relationship between the individual and God. It is a faith lived out in community – from family to parish and school, to neighbourhood, and to the world community of believers. The Church’s creeds and doctrinal statements bind us together in a community of faith seeking understanding. The communal relationship within the Holy Trinity serves as a foundation and model for all community relationships: God with us, humankind with God, humans with each other and the rest of creation. This communitarian relationship is at the heart of the Church’s commitment to development and peace and service to the world. In Catholic secondary schools therefore, Religious Education courses contribute to the preparation for and understanding of the meaning of moral commitment to beatitude living, communal worship and the social teachings of the Church, especially in relation to the common good of society and the coming of God’s reign. Both our schools and our programs encourage student involvement in works of both charity and justice and an understanding of these actions as a response to the example of Jesus Christ.
The cultural relativism and individualism to which our students are exposed on a daily basis discourages them from acknowledging that there are ethical and moral values given to us by God on which relationships and decisions should be made. Our courses endeavour to offer students development in critical thinking and analytical skills to guide them in developing a Catholic worldview as they work through issues such as respect for life, poverty eradication, violence reduction, lessening of various forms of discrimination, care of the environment and wise stewardship of resources.
Note: Portions of the document Ontario Catholic Secondary Curriculum Policy for Religious Education (2006) are used in our Introductory Materials with permission.