This weekend is Catechetical Sunday, the day we recognize and commission those who assist parents in the important task of handing on the faith.
While the primary duty of handing on the faith belongs to parents, it’s such a monumental task that it’s good to have some assistance. That’s why Catholic schools and religious education programs exist. It takes an entire community working together in Christ to build the Kingdom of God.
And in the work of catechesis, there are three teaching strategies that are particularly helpful: asking good questions, repetition, and practice.
Good questions are the foundation of a solid education. The best lessons begin with questions. There are science questions like “Why is the sky blue?” and “What makes the tides?” There are math questions like “How can we determine the area of a circle?” and history questions like “Who invented the alphabet?”
The Letter of James today asks a question, a powerful question. “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?”
After two thousand years of Christianity, the question is still relevant. War is still here. It exists not only between nations, but between communities, social groups, and neighbors.
Why do we wage war? Why can we not live in peace?
It’s a question that begs to be asked over and over, by each generation, until war no longer exists.
We teachers here at All Saints recently studied the book Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina. One of the things we learned about brain research and learning is summarized in his rule “Repeat to remember.”
Dr. Medina writes that “The capacity of the memory is initially less than 30 seconds. If we don’t repeat the information it disappears.”
Never is that more clear than with the issue of war and peace. How soon we forget the terror of war. How easily it seems so distant to us.
50 years ago, on October 4, 1965, Pope Paul VI came to the United States and spoke to the United Nations. He told the nations of the world,
“No more war, war never again! It is peace, peace which must guide the destinies of peoples and of all [humanity]…Peace, as you know, is not built solely by means of politics and the balance of forces and of interests. It is constructed with the mind, with ideas, with works of peace…”
Ideas and works.
And then thirty-six years ago, on October 2, 1979, Pope St. John Paul II spoke to that same body, the United Nations. He said,
“Paul VI was a tireless servant of the cause of peace. I wish to follow him with all my strength and continue his service. The Catholic Church in every place on earth proclaims a message of peace, prays for peace, educates for peace…”
Twenty years ago, on October 4, 1995, Pope St. John Paul II returned once more to the United Nations to tell them again,
“When millions of people are suffering from a poverty which means hunger, malnutrition, sickness, illiteracy, and degradation, we must…remind ourselves that no one has a right to exploit another for his own advantage…”
And it was only just seven years ago, in April of 2008, that Pope Benedict came and spoke to the United Nations.
“…questions of security,” he said, “…protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate, require all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law, and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet.”
Pope Francis arrives in our country in just a few days. He touches down in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday he will be welcomed by President Obama, will pray with all the bishops of the United States at noon, and that evening he will canonize a new saint.
On Thursday he will address congress and on Friday he will address the United Nations. What will he say to those political bodies? What we will he say to us?
If history is any indication, we probably already know.
He will talk about
distribution of material goods;
protection of the environment;
Will anyone listen this time?
But our faith is about more than listening and remembering. It is also about doing. Several weeks ago, when we first started reading from the Letter of James here at Mass, we heard “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
To do anything well takes practice. Practicing skills is the third essential teaching strategy.
One effective way to teach skills is the “I do, we do, you do” strategy.
It’s the way most of us learned math.
The teacher stood at the chalkboard and said
“Watch while I do long division.”
And then he or she turned to the class and said,
“Now we will do some problems together.”
And finally, the teacher said, “Now you do these problems.”
“I do, we do, you do.”
It’s is a good way to teach skills.
Peacemaking is a skill. It’s an active, deliberate set of actions.
It takes practice.
The Church has been teaching it for a long time.
In our day, it is Pope Francis who is standing at the chalkboard now.
Like the teacher who demonstrates the math problem,
he says, “Watch, while I do peacemaking,”
and he invites the leaders of Israel and Palestine to the Vatican to meet.
He takes in two families of war refugees from Syria.
Now he comes to the United Nations, and like the popes that have come before, I imagine he will say something along these lines:
“Let us do peace together.
Let us show the world that we can resolve differences without war.”
And after that it will be up to us to do peace on our own,
in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and families.
“I do peace, we do peace, you do peace.”
Asking good questions,
repeating to remember,
practicing with “I do, we do, you do.”
These are hallmarks of good teaching.
And Jesus was the greatest teacher of them all.
He knew how to ask powerful questions:
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
“Who do people say that I am?”
“Simon, do you love me more than these?”
He also understood the importance of repetition.
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
“Love your enemies.” “Remain in my love.”
And he practiced “I do, we do, you do.”
He accepted the cross himself;
he taught his disciples to take up their crosses and preach the good news;
he sends his Holy Spirit to each of us individually at Baptism and Confirmation and he feeds us here at this Eucharist so that we can take up our crosses and preach the good news, so that we can be peacemakers.
But as any teacher will tell you, the best teaching strategies only go so far. All the questions, all the repetition, all the demonstration of skills mean nothing if the students do not engage, if they refuse to learn.
Today’s liturgy is an invitation to be a lifelong learner.
It is a challenge to go from here today
and spend some time in silence contemplating the question,
“Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among [us] come from?”
It is a call to find those places of conflict in our own lives
and practice the skills of peacemaking,
and to continually repeat the words of Pope Paul VI
in order to remember them for longer than thirty seconds,
“No more war, war never again!”