Magazine article U.S. Catholic

It's Not What You Know: The Disciples Who Met Jesus on the Road to Emmaus Got beyond Q&As to Real Religion. (Testaments)

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

It's Not What You Know: The Disciples Who Met Jesus on the Road to Emmaus Got beyond Q&As to Real Religion. (Testaments)

Article excerpt

EDUCATION IS A FUNNY THING. SOME OF US emerge from years of formal schooling with a lifelong passion for learning and growing. But too many others survive the system with one gross misconception: that life is mainly about knowing the right answer to the question. After all, that's the only way to get an A, isn't it? Not to mention that sense of public approval a good grade implies.

For too many of us, the goal through the years remains fixated on acquiring the information needed to answer life's questions, as if the answers are out there tidily arranged in some sourcebook. Some of us are doggedly convinced that getting the facts straight is the point, whether the realm involves science, history, politics, or religion. Meanwhile, wisdom gathers cobwebs on the long road of real learning, traveled by the few.

So here's the stumbling block with the religious instruction many of us received in parochial schools and parish programs. Religious ed is hung on the framework of catechetics, which is largely about incorporating the Catholic answer to a set of predetermined questions. The old Baltimore Catechism is of course the classic example: "Who made me?" "God made me." "Why did God make me?" And all that jazz.

Truthfully, any previous or subsequent catechetical tool follows the same format of readily supplied questions or themes along with suitable, even dogmatic answers. And so generations of children memorize the questions they should be asking about God and the answers they should be arriving at in the same monotone they recite the periodic table and the opening lines of the Gettysburg Address. It doesn't seem to concern generations of educators that we are never asked to recite the majority of these items again. Nor will many of these "right answers" assist us in facing the real unfathomable events of our lives as they unfold.

I have been waiting for four decades for an event to surface to which the proper response will be "the Trinity."

It's not that memorization is useless, or that definitions and lists are not helpful in the process of education. But what good does it serve to create legions of catechized children who grow up to be lethargic, uninvolved, or "retired" Catholics? It is clear that the catechism is not enough. What is vital to sustaining the spiritual life is to embark on the journey of faith itself. Because faith is a movement, a pilgrimage, a "way" that is also a personal encounter with Jesus. If Jesus is to be known on the way--as the Way--then we cannot afford to sit still with our prefab Q&A and consider our obligations to religion fulfilled.

Anyone who's been involved in adult religious formation knows that people do not come to the church (or return to the church) on the basis of intellectual argument. Aspiring, returning, or reenergized Christians are formed by passing through the crucible of life and running smack into the irrefutable presence of the Holy One. Sometimes the experience is one of joy and triumph. At other times, we travel fearfully along the borders of sin, suffering, and dying. Whatever shape the encounter takes, a movement into the heart of life's mysteries is standard. Because Christianity isn't about being right, in the end; it's about discipleship, and disciples are people who follow a "walking God," as the song reminds us.

THE STORY OF EMMAUS UNDERSCORES THE URGENCY OF THE journey for believers. Here are two people who seemingly have it made, church-wise, and yet they don't get it at all. Imagine: They were in Jerusalem when it all came down--the final teachings, the sham trial, the Crucifixion, even the reports of the Resurrection. Wouldn't any of us love to be in their shoes? Heck, it's Easter Sunday, "that very day," as Luke records it, and these folks call themselves disciples--and yet they wouldn't know Jesus if they ran into him on the street! What's the matter with these two? They enjoy one of the greatest advantages in Christian history, and they nearly blow it to smithereens. …

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