The aim of learning involves an attraction that appeals to the senses of the person. Whether its children, adolescents or adults, a charism if you will of effective teaching involves an attraction of the persons senses. Like the aroma of a fine wine or well-prepared steak, a person’s senses aid in his or her ability to understand and learn what he or she is about to receive. When it comes to the student-teacher relationship, the method of instruction the teacher uses is not what enables a student to learn. What assists a student’s ability to learn is the actual learning style the teacher applies in the classroom. Learning style refers to the environment, the age-appropriateness of the material, the opportunity for the student to engage the classroom environment through art, music, books, figures, images and so forth.
The Catholic faith is not static, it was never meant to be sedentary because it owes its origins to the Son of God Jesus Christ. Christ is the Divine Teacher who the set of anyone who engages religious instruction to demonstrate, experience, investigate and learn the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith. St. John Henry Newman describes the importance of environment in religious formation in the following way:
. . . until we account for the knowledge which an infant has of his mother . . ., what reason have we to take exception at the doctrine, as strange and difficult, that in the dictate of conscience, without previous experiences or analogical reasoning, he is able gradually to perceive the voice, or the echoes of the voice, of a Master, living, personal, and sovereign. .? But still, if a child of five or six years old, when reason is at length fully awake, has already mastered and appropriated thoughts and beliefs, in consequence of their teaching, in such sort as to be able to handle and apply them familiarly, according to the occasion, as principles of intellectual action, those beliefs at the very least must be singularly congenial to his mind, if not connatural with its initial action. . . The child keenly understands that there is a difference between right and wrong, he is conscious that he is offending One to whom he is amenable, who he does not see, who sees him. His mind reaches forward with a strong presentiment to the thought of a Moral Governor, sovereign over him, mindful, and just. It comes to him like an impulse of nature to entertain it.
God gave us our Senses to learn about Him
St. Newman places emphasis on the development of the learning environment and a person’s senses dependent upon it. Because we are created in God’s image and likeness our senses are drawn to natural truth, beauty and goodness. The image of a crucifix for example can be very striking and reverential to someone or draw unprovoked fear from another. The teaching of the sacrament of baptism may draw curiosity by some and question why an infant child would be baptized without his or her personal consent. Underlying all these scenarios is that the environment the Catholic Church represents was created for the sole purpose of guiding God’s children to Heaven through the Profession of Faith in the Trinity, the reception of the sacraments of initiation, and the continual doctrinal, sacramental, moral and prayerful preparation for our final end in Heaven. We experience a foretaste of these sensory gifts in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass especially through the process of witnessing the consecration and reception of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Our Primary Aim in teaching Doctrine
When teaching a child, the first principle of instruction involves an exposure to their own visible relationship with Jesus Christ. It is important that the primary sense of living and bearing the image of God be the first doctrinal sense a child or anyone receives in religious instruction. Effective catechesis both proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then demonstrates the Gospel, this is where Church doctrine rooted in Sacred Scripture comes into play. Thus, the most importance sense we can teach is the recognition of a student’s identity as a child of God. Once this is developed, the environment around the student whether a child, adolescent or and adult is assimilated with their identity for example; child of God-water-baptism-entrance into the Kingdom of God. We encounter Christ teaching through the senses in the following scripture passages:
- Jesus turns water into wine – Jn 2:1-11
- Healing of the paralytic man – Mt 9:1-8
- Jesus feeds the five thousand – Mk 6:32-44
- The Demand for a sign – Mt 16:1-4
- The Transfiguration – Mt 17:1-8
How do we teach during COVID?
St. John Paul II reminds us that the specific character of catechesis has the two-fold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. But how is this possible during a time which a video screen or plexiglass appears to inhibit a teacher-catechist’s ability to teach the Catholic faith effectively. First and foremost, a student must not see your own faith waver-avoid the inclination toward despair. Reflect on the visible Incarnate nature of Christ as both fully human and fully divine. This is very important because in the Incarnation we are able to see God through His Son Jesus Christ especially through the Mass. Proclaim the truth, beauty and goodness of the Gospel, Christ’s Words offer a penetrating spiritual ointment for all to hear. Reading the Gospel of the day with an opportunity to pray and mediate on the Word of God does go a long way in our religious formation. It is important that student know that the teacher actually believes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is not afraid to teach it.
What are some practical things we can do to combat our current catechetical state? Here are a couple of practical examples that may help:
- The use of Sacred Art - the Crucifix, Blessed Mother, the Last Supper, saints.
- Sacred Music such as Gregorian chant or if you are inclined Contemporary Christian music.
- The exposition and proper use of sacramentals such as Holy Oil, Holy Water, the Rosary, religious saints’ medals, scapulars.
- Lectio Divina – praying and meditating on Sacred Scripture. The use of Sacred Scripture in a holy prominent way e.g. sacred space in the home.
- Examples of intercessory prayer i.e. petition, adoration, contemplation, thanksgiving.
- Stories of the Lives of the Saints.
- The Catechist’s authentic witness of living the Catholic faith.
- Eucharistic Adoration.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:
The Church, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth", faithfully guards "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints". She guards the memory of Christ's words; it is she who from generation to generation hands on the apostles' confession of faith. As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate, the Church our Mother teaches us the language of faith in order to introduce us to the understanding and the life of faith.