Skip to comments."To Hell with Hell!": The Spiritual Dumbing Down of the Generations
Posted on 01/07/2006 7:35:09 AM PST by Desdemona
I am the product of a dumbed down" generation. During my Catholic instruction in the late 1960s, I cant recall having ever seen a monstrance, prayed a novena, heard Gregorian chant, taken part in a May crowning or prayed a benediction prayer.
In This Article... The Affective Shift The Pertinent Questions Up, Up and Away
The Affective Shift
When Rome recently asked for churches to again start the Forty Hours devotion, I found myself asking people exactly what that entailed. So I struggle even in adulthood, reaching back like an orphaned child searching for her parental roots. At one time in history, the roots of traditional Catholic prayers and truths might have been easy to find. But that is no longer true. Sadly, one can no longer simply walk into any Catholic church and find all those universal things that are part of true Catholicism.
The loss of authentic truth is also reflected in some academic institutions. In the book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves but Cant Read, Write or Add, Charles J. Sykes discusses the shift in teaching over recent years to a focus on feelings and attitudes:
Even as evidence mounts that American students are lacking in basic academic skills such as writing, reading and mathematics, schools are increasingly emphasizing so-called "affective" learning that deals with the feelings, attitudes, and beliefs of the students, rather than addressing what they know or can do. (p. 10)
The Pertinent Questions
Similar to the affective shift in academia, one might note a parallel shift that occurred in Catholic religious education. Such a shift took children away from learning standard Catholic prayers and catechism questions, and moved them toward a soft mentality about God. Lacking balance, this shift included a heavy focus on heaven, and a suspicious omission of hell. It is a shift designed to have children feeling very good about themselves; a shift that leaves great uncertainty that these children who we want to feel so good about themselves understand even the basics of Catholic catechetical teaching. Try asking Catholic children to answer the question of why God made them. Ask them if they can name the four reasons we pray (to adore God, to thank God, to tell Him we are sorry and to ask for graces or blessings). See if they can define the three theological virtues, the four cardinal virtues, the seven deadly sins or the meaning of a sacrament. (Catholic homeschooling religious instruction typically includes this formation, so questioning a homeschooler does not count.)
As I continue the struggle to learn what our faith really teaches, and what Catholic prayer means, I try to keep the connection alive for our children. I dont want them one day to be forced to struggle as I have to learn the truth of all that it means to be Catholic. But even that is hard. For example, many children are consistently taught post-1960 Acts of Contrition. The problem with these prayers is that all but the original Act of Contrition excludes "the pains of hell." If children do not learn the full Act of Contrition, including "the pains of hell," for their first penance, then when will they learn it? Is there any connection between the pains of hell being purged from the modern-day Act of Contrition prayers, from Sunday homilies, and from many catechism books, and the fact that so many children nonchalantly wander off into mortal sin, acting as though heaven was real place, but hell was not?
It is as if someone with too much time on his hands, and not sure which battle to fight, raised a booming voice, flicked a mighty switch and said To hell with hell. In so doing the lights were turned off and the rooms were left dark. Why would the words the pains of hell be removed from the Act of Contrition? Father Richard Rego, Pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Ajo, Arizona, offers his insights. When the Act of Contrition was revised some years ago, it was part of an effort by many to see change as a separation from the past. The thinking was that anything that smacked of the past was not good. The exclusion of "the pains of hell" has been, in effect, very detrimental. It has fed the mentality that heaven is automatic. Therefore sin, which is now called inappropriate behavior, is not so bad .
Up, Up and Away
I visited a Catholic school kindergarten class a while ago, and the experience was so odd that it hasnt left my mind. On this particular day they had scheduled a special part of the agenda for childrens prayer. Being somewhat of a sap for Catholic school kindergarteners who pray, I envisioned their sweetly bowed heads as they reverently recited the rosary, or perhaps a decade of it, before a crucifix and a statue of Our Lady. In my mind I could see the cute little boys with the fresh hair cuts and neat ties, and the sweet little girls with white polo shirts, and Catholic school jumpers. I thought perhaps the children might stand from their seats for the prayers, or perhaps even kneel for parts of it. I was in for a shock.
There were no instructions to stand, kneel or fold their hands. The prayer did not start, as traditional Catholic payers do: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy spirit. Instead the children sat and were told to close their eyes. Things spiraled down from there. The teacher then read a reading that went something like this: Now children, pretend that you are going up in a hot air balloon. There you go, higher and higher, you feel yourself floating higher. Now you are floating over your back yard. Now you are floating over your neighbors back yard, and there you see Jesus . Dont get me wrong. I am all for children being able to go directly to Jesus to talk to Him. But this is not what happened here. This was something of a meditation; perhaps it was a New Age meditation at that. How strange to see Catholic children pretending to be in hot air balloons, looking down, rather than looking up at Christ on the crucifix when they prayed. Rosaries have protected families and ended wars. When one day crosses come into the lives of these children, will they be saved by a ride in a hot air balloon?
My people perish for want of knowledge, says Hosea 4:6. Knowledge is necessary to keep us on the path to heaven and off the path to hell. Knowing that, one might think it of the utmost importance to arm our children from a young age with certain fundamental truths. For all the "progress" and novelty we have seen in recent years, has there ever been more of a need to return to the basics? While we have bent over backwards to assure children of God's love, isnt it time to ensure that they understand what is authentically Catholic? The Church has provided so many means for us to receive graces. Is any one of us not in need of more grace? Isnt there a need to bring back novenas, May crownings, benediction, statues of saints, Gregorian chant, Stations of the Cross, rosaries, scapulars, confession, first Friday and first Saturday devotions, catechism memorization and Eucharistic adoration? Cant we take the interior steps toward prayer prescribed by the Catechism and teach them to our children? And finally, since "the pains of hell" are real, shouldnt we face that truth and, with our children, return to the hell-inclusive act of contrition which reminds us of that?
ACT OF CONTRITION O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen. And while we are at it:
Why did God make us?
God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.
What are the seven deadly sins?
The seven deadly sins are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth.
What are the three theological virtues?
The three theological virtues are faith, hope and charity.
What are the four cardinal virtues?
The four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude
What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.
I can honestly say that where I grew up we had May Crowning (and it still happens) and Friday afternoon Benediction complete with Monstrance and incense, but there are so many things described here that reflect my childhood. Would that this could be repaired.
And even more vital - would that the people about my age would care enough to learn about it.
Funny you should bring this up. My wife and I are reading the Mother Angelica biography together. We had a good discussion about the post-Vactican II changes this morning. While we were both born after V-II, we were in different parts of the country.
My rural Minnesota parish responded to V-II by using English and turning the Altar around -- but changed nothing else. We experienced the post-Vatican II changes in the late 70s/early 80s. I had a very traditional experience, she had a very "modern" one.
So often when a topic like this one comes up, she cannot identify with why people have a problem with the "new" language and practices.
So many people don't know what they've lost...
Father Rego used to be in Connecticut where he said some Tridentine Masses. Terrific preacher!
Must have been even earlier than that. I have always said "because of your just punishments" and my first Confession was in 1955.
Of course, being taught in the Baltimore Catechism method, I understood exactly what that meant. That would be Hell. Which, if God gave us what was just, would be the final end for everyone. It's only through His mercy that we have any hope of Heaven.
They are still failing. But, that is old news. It has almost always been thus. It is easy to fault others;the Prelates and Clerics,but, the Christian truth is it is Christian parents who have the initial and primary duty to Catechize their children
One MAJOR failing of the Church in America is the way it became Clericalized to the point of destruction; from lack of Catechetical Instruction to the introduction and acceptance of queerdom, to the feminization of Christian men. The "greatest generation" failed in their Christian Catholic duties every bit as much as did the Clerics and Prelates of that generation but we have all been raised to be good liberals and so we blame others.
Why is she struggling? Doesn't she have a Catechism?
What an excellent article! I was just going to post it!
She can even tell you what the Fruits of the Holy Spirit are.
They found out about 3 days before the Big Event that the new archbishop was coming to our parish to do his Very First Confirmation, and he said he wanted to come early to meet with the kids . . . our parochial vicar and the lady who runs the youth program were beside themselves with anxiety. You could hear the kids muttering the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins to themselves . . . mass consternation!
But it got worse - the archbishop DID come to meet with the kids ahead of time, but didn't catechize them then. Instead, as their sponsors brought them up one by one to the altar, he catechized them individually in front of God and everybody! Fortunately, the kids were all well prepared (he made the mistake of asking my daughter a question about her patron saint, whom she admires greatly, and she probably told him more than he wanted to know . . . ) and I think the folks in charge were relieved.
But our parish is run by an old-fashioned rector who makes sure that things are done right.
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But as you correctly state, that DOES mean Hell.
Your parish sounds so wonderful!
And we have so much fun! I mean, it's not a gloomy place, it's as cheerful and happy as it can be. We do a lot of traditional devotions - the Forty Hours and the Two Hearts Vigil and First Fridays, but with joy. Our choirmaster is just a delight - he's so easygoing and optimistic and at the same time such an excellent musician. I love going to choir practice and singing on Sunday - wouldn't miss it for the world. Our new Parochial Vicar is adorable, everybody loves him, he's a HUGE young man, almost as tall as my husband (who's 6'6") and can easily give him a hundred pounds. He's well spoken and funny and just dynamite in the pulpit - I would have sworn he was raised A.M.E. because he preaches just like the best of the downtown black preachers, but turns out he's a cradle Catholic. He makes 'em sit up and open their eyes! Our rector is the Faithful Irish Priest from Central Casting - stocky, ruddy-faced, accent you could cut with a knife, sly sense of humor, no nonsense about him but kind as he can be (I love slightly grouchy old guys, they hold no terrors for me after my father in law who was a bird colonel in the USAF.)
Faith sharing bump.
Are you suggesting that the Bishop should deny the sacraments to students who can't publicly recite on demand?
The catechism doesn't cover much of the Catholic life that has been lost, like the May Crownings and other devotions the author mentions. A good Tridentine missal has filled out those areas for me.
I think parents were in the habit of outsourcing their faith education duties to the parish or the Catholic schools, which exacerbated the problem when those went into catechetical decline.
I was really commenting on the anxiety of the kids (actually, mostly of the program leaders who didn't want to look bad in front of the new guy.) As it turned out though, they had done a good job teaching the kids, and they were able to handle anything the Abp threw at them.
If they've been properly instructed in the essentials of the faith (rather than just handed a bunch of touchy-feely stuff with no content), it shouldn't be a problem. Unless you had a kid who was painfully shy . . . but my daughter is about as shy as they come and she had no difficulty (although I'm sure the archbishop was wishing he hadn't asked "Who was St. Martin of Tours?" because he got a two paragraph answer (and she could have given him ten if he hadn't thanked her.)) Remember these aren't the little kids any more, they're confirming them now as high school sophomores or freshmen. My daughter was one of the older students, because we had come in sideways from the Episcopal Church and the poor kid had to get confirmed AGAIN.
Speaking of which, the Episcopal confirmation class was a joke. They didn't learn much of anything about the history of the church, the liturgy, Scripture, or theology. They just talked about their "feelings" for the entire class. I attended a couple of classes, and my daughter and I started counting the times the facilitator said "Faith Journey". We quit counting at 50 because we were laughing so hard people were looking at us funny.
It was a good thing she got reconfirmed in a Church that actually (1) believes; and (2) teaches it to the kids.
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