Friday, June 22, 2018

the Baltimore catechism

Most of the people that I know went to Catholic schools, at least through the end of 8th grade. My sister and I both attended Catholic high schools, and she also went on to graduate from a Catholic university (St. Katherine’s, in St. Paul, Minnesota). As a result, we are all familiar with a document called the Baltimore catechism, a publication that is still in print today. Today’s revised version, published in 2004,  is titled “the United States Catholic catechism for Adults. 

The first official Baltimore catechism was used from 1885 until the late 1960’s, and it is still used even today in a few Catholic schools. However, the origins of the catechism go back even  further, since it was based on Robert Ballarmine’s 1614 Small  Catechism.

Over the years, it has been refined a few times. The original version contained 421 questions, but an abridged version emerged early on with a more manageable 208 questions. The first book was essentially written by one man over a period of ten days. The revised version published in the 1950’s was the work of numerous bishops, theologians, scholars and teachers, and took a lot longer to produce. 

The catechism was actually produced in 4 volumes, each of which was intended for a specific age group. 

Volume 1 presented the basics of the Catholid faith, and was aimed at children from first communion through 5th grade. 

Volume 2 was designed for students in the 6th through 9th grade, and for those preparing for confirmation.

Volume 3 was designed for students who have received confirmation and high school students.  

Volume 4 is intended to be a reference book,  or as a teacher’s manual for the original Baltimore catechism. 

If you wanted to refresh your memory of what was in the Baltimore catechism of your youth, Amazon has a wide variety of options for you, ranging from  10 volume set for $36.87 to a Kindle version that is absolutely free. 

By now you are probably wondering, “why is this crazy guy writing about the Baltimore catechism?. The answer is easy. 

It was in the news this morning. 

 The current administration has been using the Bible to justify the inhumane practice of separating children from their parents at our Southern border – and a Catholic nun named Sister Simone Campbell is calling them out for their hypocrisy. She is the executive director for a Catholic social justice lobby called Network, and this is what she had to say:

“It is very biblical to love one another, support families, welcome the stranger, Hunger and thirst for justice. It is NOT biblical to create bad orders and force ICE to tear families apart. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS SCANDALOUS BEHAVIOR AND OUTRAGEOUS JUSTIFICATION!”

 Many religious leaders raised objections to Trump administration justifications for policies that were so unjustifiable that the president eventually overturned some of the cruelest elements with an executive order.

“It is not biblical to take children away from their parents. It is not biblical to ignore the needs of the stranger. It is not biblical to enforce unjust laws. Do not use the Bible to justify sin.”

Sister Helen Prejean, the anti–death penalty activist, asked: “Why is the Attorney General of the United States quoting the Bible to justify an immoral law?”

While all of these critiques were vital, and instructive, Sister Simone settled the debate by pulling out the 1903 Catechism and pointing to the section that reads: “If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience.

As you might suspect, the website for Sister Simone’s organization, Network, has a decidedly liberal slant to it, but it is still worth reviewing.

I’m not sure what the my former pastor Father John V. Ryan would think about all this. Somehow, though, I think he would be pleased to know that at least SOME of his former students are still thinking about the Baltimore catechism.


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