Friday, May 31, 2013

Abuelo's Catechism

"Relax and enjoy being a Catholic!" my father-in-law José Antonio joyfully proclaimed after I converted from Episcopalianism to Catholicism. I am so blessed that my in-laws have shared the ebullient Catholic culture of sunny southern Spain with me and my kids. When we are around Abuelo and Abuela (the Spanish words for Grandfather and Grandmother), Catholicism permeates the atmosphere. But on Sundays, Catholic culture turns to outright catechesis in Abuelo's catechism class.

Every Sunday, our kids go to catechism class at their Abuelo and Abuela's house. They gather around the kitchen table with their cousins and listen to whatever topic Abuelo picked for the day. One topic was the glorious bodies we'll receive after Judgment Day. Another was the Apostles' Creed.

Abuelo sits at the head of the table with an old-style, brass mortar and pestle in front of him. He bangs it like a gong whenever the kids get too rambunctious or out of line. Every few weeks he gives them a written test, and then grades it and announces the results to the whole class. Believe me, it makes them study.

Back in Spain, when Abuelo was growing up, he always studied hard, and he loved tests. On one make-up test, he was asked how much material the test should cover -- how much had he studied? "Todo el texto," he replied. All of it, the whole book. It became a nickname of sorts. So, when he teaches catechism, Abuelo expects memorization and an ability to demonstrate understanding, no matter how young the student.

One Sunday recently, our family went to a neighboring parish for Mass. The kids had acted unruly and had totally failed to listen to the Gospel, so my husband made them read it from his smartphone after Mass (yes, there's an app for that). The priest walked by to see what the kids were doing.

Before long, the conversation turned into an impromptu quiz. "You know there is only one God, right, but do you know how many persons?" asked the priest. "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!" the kids answered. As the kids kept giving right answers, the questions persisted. "I bet you don't know the Apostles' Creed!" My 8-year-old daughter Maria nailed it. "In what book of the Bible did God give Moses the Ten Commandments?" came the priest's next question. "Exodus," answered my sixth-grader Lelia. The conversation ended after about an hour, when my husband decided that the kids deserved a big lunch with ice cream at the nearby Portuguese restaurant. We were so proud of our sweeties, and their Abuelo who had taught them so well.

The following Sunday, the priest mentioned our family in his homily. "Do you know where these kids are learning their faith?" he asked rhetorically. "Their Abuelo! So all you abuelos out there should start teaching their grandkids!" I second the priest's recommendation. The kids have learned some things from us, from Mass, and from the parish school, but they've learned so much more from their Abuelo. He is strict, but loving. He challenges them with tough concepts and precise theological terminology. His expectations are high, and the kids meet them.

Unfortunately, many Catholic kids today are not learning their faith from parish catechism classes, where the bar is just set too low, as Barbara Nicolosi recently asserted. According to Barb, "the sad reality of parish-based catechesis in most places is that it's boring, lightweight, irrelevant drivel for the kids, and frustration and embarrassment for the catechists." Ouch! As a solution, she recommended bringing the most knowledgeable and best catechized parishioners in as tutors. This may not work well on a parish level, in my opinion. If these parishioners exist, why aren't they already involved in the religious education program? But this may be a perfect solution in a family setting, as Abuelo's catechism class has proven to us.

Parents are the primary educators of their children, without a doubt, as Pope John Paul II has said. But, speaking from experience, I have to admit that it's difficult for parents to catechize on the fly. Unless parents home-school their kids or severely limit the number of extracurricular activities (not to mention electronic devices), we can barely fit in time for a three-sentence conversation. And that's assuming that we know our faith. But maybe many of us have older relatives who would love to catechize our school-age kids while we parents are feeding the babies or putting the toddlers down for a nap (or napping ourselves). Why not ask these relatives to share their faith with the children? It may be just the chance they've been waiting for.

Has anyone else struggled to find the time and resources to teach the faith to your kids? What solutions have you found? Please share your experiences in the comments!

Spanish version: El Catecismo del Abuelo

The version of this article was listed in Tito Edwards' The Best in Catholic Blogging at the National Catholic Register website.


  1. One of the endearing things about Pope Francis is that he has repeatedly cited his grandmother in his sermons, recalling that she told him money and material things do not matter 'because burial shrouds have no pockets,' and that she would tell the neighborhood kids on Good Friday to look at the image of the dead Jesus during a procession because the next day he would be risen in glory. He has also acknowledged the great evangelizing work that grandparents do. This is particularly meaningful to me because I was instructed in the Faith by my own grandmother with simplicity, rigor, and lots of love.

    1. That's beautiful, Carlos. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. I loved this! You and your children are so blessed! I'm sure Abuelo knows he is able to receive a plenary indulgence for passing on the faith! -Faith