Catholicism as a viable religion is an objective reality that owes its identity in the Trinity. More specifically, it is Jesus Christ who instituted the Catholic Church as His direct representation on earth to carry on His salvific mission. As a universal truth, Catholicism is a very important educational concept for anyone involved in the religious development of God’s children especially the young. The development of faith requires a visible and applicable association to something this is real and true. Jesus Christ serves as the visible and applicable reality by virtue of His Incarnation as Divinely revealed by God the Father who desires to save and care for His children from sin and death through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ.
St. Paul understood the importance of transmitting a physical and applicable reality of who Jesus Christ was, is, and continues to be.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Jesus as friend
A significant misconception in the religious development of children is the introduction of Jesus as a sociological friend. This concept proposes that Jesus Christ is better understood as a faithful friend, counselor, confidant, or life coach. When these descriptions of Jesus Christ are introduced early on in the pedagogical development of a child it creates, I argue a misconception of Christ as nothing more than a man who can only ever be understood as a friend. The void created under this process distances a child’s understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, and King. Even further a pedagogical disengagement develops in understanding Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine-Hypostatic Union, or Jesus Christ as the Word of God who assumed human form-Incarnation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes that at the heart of catechetical-religious education instruction:
We find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father . . . who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever. To catechize is to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and word and the signs worked for by him.
What’s interesting about this particular article is that it does not place emphasis on evoking Jesus as a sociological friend in religious instruction. Authentic religious education-catechesis is concerned with the soul of the person; hence, proper religious education involves revealing the Person of Christ who is fully human, but also revealing Christ the Divine Son and second person of the blessed Trinity. All formal religious instruction I argue should apparently be taught in conjunction with Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word and Son of God.
The notion that a religion educator would strictly emphasize Jesus Christ as a friend and nothing else initiates a fallacy that Jesus Christ can only be understood as a friend and not as the Son of God and Savior of the world. This unfortunate catechetical and doctrinal methodology proposes a rejection of the Crucifix-the death of Jesus who conquers sin and death and brings salvation to humanity. From another perspective evoking Jesus as strictly, a sociological friend develops a utilitarian mindset where the child is conditioned to only call upon Jesus when he needs something. These unfortunate pedagogical developments distance a child’s opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, and King. It also displaces Jesus Christ from the sacramental life because if Jesus is your friend, there is nothing else you will ever need. And lastly, the notion of Heaven as our final and eternal reward is either ignored or forgotten altogether.
Jesus as Savior
St. John Henry Newman in his infamous quote: “Cor ad cor liquitor” heart speaks to the heart describes how the heart is reached through the imagination by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events by history by description. St. Newman places great emphasis on the development and maturation of the intellect and will in union with the soul. Jesus came to recover and reestablish our anthropological identity with God our Father. This, as I have already mentioned is centered on the Incarnation.
When you bring a child to God it is important that you focus on their own physical being-body, their soul-heart and their mind-intellect and will. The brilliant Catholic educator Dr. Gerard O’Shea emphasizes the importance of Catholic instruction rooted in the body, heart, and mind. This pivotal educational schema is further highlighted through his reference of Sophia Covaletti who emphasized first the body, then the heart, then the mind.
In order to properly understand Jesus as friend it is important to know and understand what our friend Jesus actually did in the first place that would help us see Him as both Savior, Lord, and friend. Jesus in Hebrew means the one who saves, Christ in the Greek means Messiah or anointed. Jesus was born to save us from our sins and to guide us toward the Father. In other words, Christ came to lead us to Heaven he “has our back” because he came to destroy the works of the devil. From the moment a child can begin to understand why he was baptized into the Church he should be exposed to Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and Lord as expressed in the Creed and the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.
If a child is exposed to the works of Christ such as the beatitudes, the healing of the paralytic, the last supper and ultimately his Crucifixion for the sins of humanity, then the identity of Jesus as friend would make more sense and provide clearer context as to why it is very important to have a personal and intimate relationship with Him. The Catechism summarizes the authentic friendship of Jesus in the following way:
By embracing in his human heart, the Father’s love for me, Jesus “loved them to the end” for “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In suffering and death his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men. Indeed, out of love for His Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” Hence the sovereign freedom of God’s Son as he went out to his death.
A true friend is someone who freely wills to lay down his life for his friend. This is the concept of friendship Jesus Christ represents that every child should be exposed to and taught from a very early age. Children possess a natural need and desire to know that their parents will protect, nurture, and nourish them. In other words; “do you have my back.” Jesus came to protect us from sin and guide us to participate in God’s divine nature, He came to nurture us through the sacramental life, and He came to nourish us through His body and blood in the Eucharist.
If Jesus is taught in relation to his Paschal Mystery as revealed in Divine Revelation, then Jesus Christ as friend I argue would make more sense. This catechetical concept will provide any child with a distinct and tangible reality of who Jesus Christ really is and thus guide the religious maturation of a child the desire to have a personal, intimate, and lasting relationship with Jesus Christ. Simply put, a child will more often than naught desire a friendship with someone he knows truly loves and cares for him; someone who has his back.
And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”