“What is the difference between a friar and a monk?” asked Sister one day in catechism. Several hands shot up enthusiastically. “The difference is,” answered one child somewhat naively but honestly, “that a monk has the back of his head shaved and a friar does not.”
“How many people do you think converted when the Holy Ghost first descended on the Apostles at Pentecost?”
“Three! And they were all pirates with eye patches!” came the answer from one very earnest seven-year-old.
Catechism, with the older primary children at St Benedict’s, takes the form of questions, memorisation and repetition – not without amusing anecdotes. Every week the children memorise several short extracts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, linked to the topic of the week, to be tested at the beginning of each class. During the break before the class the children can all be seen eagerly clutching their textbooks for last-minute revision. It is impressive just how much they are able to memorise; in the end-of-year test several quoted passages they had memorised during the year. Some passages will be forgotten, but it will be revisited in future lessons. One day, a pupil seemed very worried: “Sister, I didn’t find any Catechism extracts to memorise.” We had finished the book! “Sister, will we have the blue boxes next year? I like learning the Catechism extracts.”
This year, most of the work in the books has been done at home, leaving the class at school for questions – an attempt to lift Catechism out of the textbook and apply it to everyday situations. As the children already have a good grasp of the basics, it has been an opportunity to present problems or less obvious situations to which the children have to find solutions. It is also an occasion for them to ask (often very profound) questions, something they enjoy: if the Child Jesus was perfect and Our Lady was conceived without original sin, how could St Joseph (as just a normal man) be part of the Holy Family? How could Our Lord, aged 12, disobey His parents in staying behind in the Temple in Jerusalem? Interestingly, this question had already come up the previous year: those that had been there the first time remembered some of the answers that had been given. Why should we fear God? Why did it have to be Jesus who died on the Cross for our sins and not just any man?
In early Spring, the children had to repeat, over several weeks, the definition of a sacrament. How edifying that, in the end-of-year exams months later, every child gave the same answer, “a sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, that gives us grace.” Deo gratias!