Remember When We Used to Memorize Things?
A warning you can't afford to forget from the grand old man of Catholic catechisms
by Robert Holton
If Jesuit Father John A.Hardon has his way, Catholic children and adults will
return to learning the basics of their faith by memorizing catechism questions
and answers word for word, as they did until the 1950s, when the Baltimore Catechism
was the standard instructional tool.
At 80, Father Hardon is the grand old man of Catholic catechisms. In addition
to writing the respected "The Catholic Catechism" (Doubleday, 1975),
he played a major role in the seven years of writing and rewriting that went
into preparation of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was
approved by Pope John Paul II in 1992.
"We have, in many ways, defaulted the use of our memories over the years,"
Father Hardon complained in a recent interview. "And this includes all
types of teaching not just in the teaching of religion." Modern educators,
he contends, have "sold out the practice of memorizing in learning at a
great cost to students at all levels of schooling." The result of this
modern reluctance to memorize, as Father Hardon sees it, is that "the minds
of many of our young people today are literally empty.
Catholics should commit the basic teachings and the reasons behind those teachings
to memory, Father Hardon believes. But he blames, at least partly, the development
With so many different ways we now have to save things for future reference
things like duplicators, fax machines and other devices why bother memorizing
anything today? he explained. All you have to do is feed it into some device
and store it in a memory bank and call it back up on a screen when you need
it with the press of a button.
For many years, Father Hardon has been warning people about the dangers of
wasting the memory process in learning.
What is memorized becomes part of the mind, he pointed out. And, unless
something is memorized and I really mean this it does not become part of
Without sound memories, people are at the mercy of accepting the latest idea
or concept that comes to mind no matter how faulty or silly it might be
because there is no memorized, solid truth to fall back on.
Anything a person commits to memory, he said, will remain with the person for
the rest of his or her life not as part of the mind's comprehension process,
but actually part of what Father Hardon calls "the mind's material."
"Whatever thoughts I have for the rest of my life are somehow fed by,
dependent on and nurtured by what it is I have memorized, he said.
In the introduction to his latest work, "The Faith: A Popular Guide Based
on the Catechism of the Catholic Church" (Servant publications, 1994, see
below), Father Hardon cautions against considering the new Catechism as a mere
reference work to be "consulted occasionally." It should instead be
looked upon "as an indispensable arm of instruction on every level of the
Father Hardon disagrees with those who say the new Catechism is designed for
use only by the bishops and top catechists in the Church.
"On the contrary, it is designed to be used by anyone who can read,"
he said. He did concede, however, that it "is not an easy book to read."
He admitted that one needs "a pretty good background in the faith"
to read and appreciate the Catechism. And individuals also need "an openness"
to being taught by the Church.
"Many Catholics these days are quite innocent of what the Church really
teaches because they have not been fed the full truth, the whole truth and nothing
but the truth about our Catholic teaching for many years.
Father Hardon even admits that not everyone is happy with the Catechism.
There are critics who say it is too loose and too open for example, not
mentioning limbo at all, he said.
On the other side, there are those who call it uncompromising on essentials
both in doctrine and in morals because it states that Christ is divine, the
pope is head of the Church and homosexual acts are sinful.
He likens his own recent catechism to the early Baltimore Catechism.
The Baltimore Catechism was mandated in 1885 by the Baltimore Council of Bishops
[Third Plenary Council of bishops, meeting in that city] as a synthesis of basic
Catholic doctrine based on the Roman Catechism that came out of the Council
of Trent, he said. So, I did about the same thing with the present new Catechism
by writing a compendium catechism of questions and answers.
During his travels throughout the world, he finds a lot of Catholics who go
to church and all the rest, but when I ask them a few things about the basics
of their faith, they cant give me a proper answer.
He blamed that condition on what he called a preoccupation with secular issues,
in which religion has been given a back seat in the classroom.
The religious dimension of education has been in large measure neglected,
even in our Catholic institutions, he charged.
The Catechetical Man: Father John Hardon
A Catechism compendium
Jesuit Father John Hardons latest catechism, The Faith (Servant Publications,
P.O.Box 8617, Ann Arbor, MI 48107, $10.99) is, as the subhead states, a popular
guide based on the official Catechism of the Catholic Church the first such
universally approved work since the Roman Catechism that came out of the Council
of Trent in the 16th century.
Father Hardon describes his latest work as a compendium of the new Catechism,
which concentrates all the essentials of the new Catechisms 700 pages in clear
and concise question-and-answer form.
In the book, as in his three earlier catechisms (The Catholic Catechism,
1975; A Question & Answer Catechism, 1981; and Pocket Catholic Catechism,
1989; all published by Doubleday), the reader finds many questions and answers
reminiscent of those in the old Baltimore Catechism, such as:
Q: Why did God create us?
A: God Created us to know and love Him with our whole heart and thus come
to share in His own divine happiness for all eternity.
Q: Can we know God by reason alone?
A: Yes, we can. In fact, we must know Him by reason. Otherwise we would lack
the necessary foundation for a credible faith in His revealed Word.
Q: How did Christ become sin for us?
A: He did so by freely assuming the penalty of death for the original sin
of our first parents. That is why the Second Person of the Trinity assumed a
human nature, in order to expiate the sins of the human race.: - Robert Holton
March 5, 1995 (Catechesis) Our Sunday Visitor