CFC: Sections I and II

In my continuing series on the fourth edition of the Catechism for First Communicants (copyright 1944) I’ll look at sections I and II on pages 6 and 7.

The first section is entitled Why We Are On Earth. Remember that this book is set in a question and answer format. The answers tell us, “We are on earth to be good and to go to heaven. To go to heaven, we must do what God wants us to do. God wants us to know Him, to love Him, and to obey him. If we are good, we shall go to heaven when we die. If we are bad, we shall go to hell when we die.” This all seems pretty straightforward if possibly a little simplistic. This book was written for six-year-olds, though.

My dad loves this beginning section, though; he talks about books like The Purpose Driven Life and laughs that the purpose of life was spelled out to him in this book when he was six years old. I had no such luck in my shoddy religion classes. My husband, who attended a Southern Baptist church as a child, is kind of surprised how little hell was emphasized in my religious education and church. We were aware of what hell was (you’d have to live under a rock not to since the concept permeates society in general), but it wasn’t used to frighten us into obedience a regular basis. I don’t know if that’s just the “kumbaya” Catholicism again or a real difference between Catholicism and some Protestant denominations.

The prayer at the end of section one reads: “Our great work on earth is to be good, so we can go to heaven. Dear Lord, help me to be good!” Some Protestants might misconstrue this prayer, or even this whole section, as meaning that good works equates going to heaven. You’ll note, though, that the work that God wants us to do is “to know Him, to love Him, and to obey Him”. Being saved is often described as “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior”. Is there just a semantic difference between the two? Can you “accept” Jesus if you don’t strive to know Him, love Him, and obey Him?

Section II is entitled God, such a simple title for such a limitless subject. “God is the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things. We cannot see God with the eyes of our bodies. God sees us and watches over us. God knows all things, even our thoughts. God is everywhere. God had no beginning. God will never come to an end. God can do all things. God is all-good. God loves what is good and hates what is evil. God rewards the good and punishes the wicked. God always forgives our sins, if we are sorry for them.”

Prayer: “God knows everything we say, think, and do. He will reward us, if we are good, and He will punish us if we are bad. I will never say, think, or do anything bad.”

Again, most of this seems pretty straightforward. Explaining God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence can be tricky with children who are still thinking in very concrete terms. At least by this age, children understand object permanence, but it can be a little confusing when the object is invisible.

I can see where the whole reward/punishment thing could be confusing for a little kid, though. It’s not uncommon for little kids to be punished for things they say or do, but what about for the things they think? We all think things that we wouldn’t say or do. For kids the punishment needs to happen as soon as possible after the offense. Would it shake a little child’s faith to think a bad thought and not receive any punishment? And what about when they happen to get away with being disobedient other times? Then there is the tricky concept of innocent suffering, which many adults have a problem with. A kid could get a complex thinking that their mom got cancer because of a bad thought they had last week that appeared to go unpunished at first. Maybe I am just over-thinking this one.

At the same time, these passages reminds me of Jimmy Carter’s statement that “I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times”. He was referring to the same concept that our thoughts can be as sinful as our actions. This idea obviously isn’t just a Catholic thing.

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