"Who can name the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?" It was Pentecost, and our pastor was walking up and down the middle aisle with a goofy grin and tone that said, "Bear with me, here." There were a few embarrassed chuckles from the congregants who hadn't already tuned out. Father pressed on, "Come on, anybody?" Again, the people dutifully and lightly snickered. This was supposed to be the funny set up of some point, right? I didn't think it was funny at all. I raised my hand.
I think our pastor was a little put out because he really hadn't intended for anyone to speak up. He made a comical face and then said, "Really?" The people laughed. Still grinning but with his hands on his hips, Father nodded at me, "Okay, let's hear it." So, I answered using the WUCKPuFF formula I had learned back in the third grade from Sr. Mary Randall, RSM. "Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Piety, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord." (Probably because I am a child of the Sixties, I prefer the word "Reverence" to "Fear of the Lord," but WUCKPuFR just doesn't work as well as a mnemonic.)Anklebiters will point out that we are not saved by knowledge. St. Peter will not give us a catechetical quiz when we appear before the pearly gates. I respond that you can't love what you don't know. How are you going to keep the commandments if you don't even know what they are? Who the hell do you think you are putting your child up for confirmation when they don't even know what confirmation is? Is confirmation just a "graduation" from CCD to you?
People gasped. Father approached our pew actually shocked. He was intrigued and, I guess, figured maybe I had gotten lucky. "Stand up and say them again. Slower." So, I did. And then our priest looked around and pointed at me and people applauded. Like I had done something extraordinary. Like I had said something brilliant. Like I was some kind of theological nerd, instead of just a fellow disciple in the pew, delineating something so catechetically pedestrian that seven-year-olds should know it before we ever think of placing the Eucharist in their little mouths. I would have been much more impressive explaining the meaning of all the gifts but Father clearly didn't want to go that far with his little trivia moment.
Faith is the theological virtue specifically aimed at the intellect. Charity is an act of the will. Do not confuse the one for the other. The revolutionaries didn't like the old emphasis on rote learning exemplified by the venerable Baltimore Catechism. Granted, the Baltimore Catechism by itself is not sufficient but it doesn't follow that it is of no use at all. Like much of the other treasures of our patrimony, it was tossed out in the 1970s. The emphasis was placed on the living experience of the faith. This unnecessary separation of knowledge and experience has borne fruits that only the most blinkered ideologue could ignore. Two generations of Catholics went through Catholic schools without learning anything about the faith. Our great-grandfathers could quote more Scripture and more doctrine drunk than we can sober.
I'm not angry at the people. I'm angry at the clergy, religious, and lay catechists who ought to know better. Who should do better. The Church is in the state she's in because we aren't doing better. Granted, parents are the first and best teachers of the faith to their own children. As Nicolosi said though, you can't give what you don't have. That's why religious educators face an even greater responsibility today than they did in times past. Remember the distinction between invincible ignorance and culpable ignorance. Is anyone really prepared to argue that a Westernized, First-World, computer literate SWPL parishioner is invincibly ignorant? We have a binding responsibility to know our faith and to learn the faith. Not everyone is capable of giving learned theological discourses on the subtle distinctions between St. Thomas Aquinas's and St. Anselm's formulations of the justification theory of the atonement. Everyone can and should know the commandments and know the precepts. How can you live them if you don't know them? How can you love what you don't know?