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Authors Devin Rose Doctrine Faith Formation Guest Posts Perspective from the Head

“Dogma is the Killer of True Spirituality”

Sometimes a patent falsehood is repeated so often that it needs to be openly rebutted, in spite of its inanity. The title of this post is one such falsehood and is adapted from a blog discussion I had about nature and religion.

The full quote from my interlocutor ran like this:

I think that too often people confuse dogma/doctrine with spirituality….dogma can never compete with true spirituality and indeed is most often the killer of it.

I called the guy out on this bald-faced assertion by quoting Chesterton: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe in dogma and know it, and those who believe dogma and don’t know it.”

This man has a dogma, and the dogma is that other dogmas, ones he rejects, kill “true spirituality.” So his statement is self-defeating, like the saying that “there are no true generalizations” (except of course, the generalization that there are no true generalizations!).

I'm feeling more "spiritual" already! (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1384060)

But let’s step back and understand the intention behind his claim. The idea is that “true spirituality” is one that comes from inside a person, perhaps even something they uniquely have imagined or come to believe, rather than a belief that some religious institution–perhaps the Catholic Church–teaches is true.

Religion is bad; spirituality is good. I heard the same thing the other night on a radio station that plays Delilah’s love songs. Delilah, in all her pop culture wisdom, said something to the effect of: “spirituality unites; religion divides.”

But in fact why should it be more plausible that something I imagined in my own mind is true while something taught by the Catholic Church is false? Have I been given special powers to discern the truth of existence, over and against all others? Why should I believe that I am gifted in such a way so as to trust my own imaginations over a religious institutions claims?

An old teacher of mine, a man I greatly respect, once told me that he believed that when we die, our spirits will all go up into the ether and kind of meld and combine in a big cosmic soup. Rather too bluntly, I asked him: “What makes you think that this idea of yours is more plausible than what Christianity claims will happen when we die?” He was clearly taken aback by my candor and fumbled around for how to respond. I felt bad that I came across rudely, but the point I made still stands.

Dogma is not the killer of true spirituality. It is the protector of it. God has revealed truth to us and made it possible for all men–not just a few gifted ones–to know this truth. He has done this by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, and subsequently through the Church that Christ founded, which subsists in the Catholic Church. Historical evidence and philosophical arguments all support these beliefs, though they cannot demonstrate it through reason alone.

The Catholic Church elevates a doctrine to the level of dogma when it is needed. She draws a line in the sand that says: “Such-and-such is true, or at least, a particular falsehood is not true.” By doing so the faithful are safeguarded from falling into error. Note that there is still tremendous freedom of belief within the bounds of dogma: our Christian faith is mysterious and isn’t defined down to every jot and tittle. But we know that, whatever we believe, we should stay within these bounds set by Christ through His Church.

So while dogma has a negative connotation to most people, one of irrational, fundamentalistic adherence to a crazy religious belief, real dogma is anything but that. Real dogma is supported by reason, even though it goes beyond it.

Hopefully this little mental exploration will be of help to you the next time that you run into someone who denigrates dogma and elevates their own personal spirituality.

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Jesus loves the little children

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But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14

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Recently, I found myself in the midst of an interesting, yet sensitive, conversation among friends.  It was with a group of Catholic Army wives, whom I love dearly and we were discussing a few of their individual feelings of disappointment over the recent decision of the parish priest on post (which my family does not often attend, but many of these particular friends do every week) not to approve childcare services during mass times.  Parish budget reasons aside, Father’s opinion is that the children belong in mass.  And I happen to agree.

To make this particular topic an even more sensitive one, many of these friends currently have husbands that are deployed and the long year of bringing several children to mass alone has worn on them.  My heart aches for them and I can personally relate to their struggles as I have been there before myself.  But I still stand firm in my personal conviction that my children need to be in mass with me.

This lead to a fruitful discussion of “tactics”.   How do you get your kids to behave in mass?  Right now my children are 4 years and 21 months (with our third due to arrive in February) and as I shared my personal strategies, I became aware that depending on age and family size, many different things could (or would not) work for different families.  I love when God blesses me with unexpected conversations such as these, that encourage me and fill me with new ideas and perspective (and a glimpse of what life might be like when my husband and I are finally outnumbered).  So, I thought I would share some of our personal approaches here in the hopes that you dear readers, might do the same.

This is one of our four-year-olds favorite books to bring to mass

1. Quiet distracters.  For my family right now, these are books.  We have a special collection of books for our kids that illustrate the mass or that are filled with photos and stories about the Saints.  Allowing them to choose a few to bring along helps them to sit still and be engaged in something during the parts of mass where we are sitting and listening, especially during the homily.  Our little one (21 months) has a few soft books that we used to bring along when she was more likely to bang them around, but she has been doing better recently with regular books.

2. Practice.  Trying to make it to daily mass at least once during the week is a great way to help familiarize your kids with mass.  Daily masses are usually shorter and in many cases have a smaller, more intimate crowd, which allows us to sit a bit closer to the front so that the kids can really watch what is going on up on the altar.  Even something as simple as kneeling next to bed for nighttime prayers can also be practice for the act of kneeling and praying in mass.

3. Full tummies.  Snacks in mass are a big no-no for my family.  They create noise and mess in mass and although our children are not old enough to receive the Eucharist yet, much less fast, it is still not teaching the regularity of the concept that we are supposed to fast an hour before receiving.  We find it much easier to be sure that everyone has a good meal or at least a good protein-filled snack just before we start dressing for mass.  Avoiding bringing food and drinks along also helps us not to have to make bathroom trips during mass.

4.  Prepare little minds.  When our children know where we are going, how they are expected to behave and what the rewards and consequences of their behavior will be before hand (especially the four-year-old), they are much more likely to be on their best behavior.  The drive to mass always contains a quick “reminder” talk, just so it is fresh in their little minds.  The actual rewards and consequences for our four-year-old change and grow with him and with our family, but they have included things like going for a trip to the frozen yogurt shop as a family after mass full of great behavior or losing access to certain toys or the privilege of watching a movie that night after poor behavior.   Really poor behavior also earns him some quiet time spent with Jesus at the family altar when we return home, asking for forgiveness and saying a few extra prayers. Talking with him about these things before hand and reminding him that it is his choice really takes a burden off of us as parents, because it is easier to remain calm and remind him that he is making poor choices if redirection is needed.

5. Prepare little hearts.  It is equally, if not more important to prepare little hearts for mass.  Talk about what is going on in mass with your kids, explain the beauty of our traditions, prayers, and actions with them at home so that they when they hear them in mass they will be more interested and involved.  Practice saying the Our Father at bedtime each night.  Teach them the sign of the cross.  If possible, hold little ones during the Eucharistic prayers and direct their eyes towards Jesus.  I know it is nice to be able to have personal peace and focus during these prayers, but if you share these moments with your children, they will learn to love Jesus and to cherish Him in the Eucharist as you do.

I know this list sounds quite wonderful and idealistic, but trust me, most masses these days see one of us out pacing in the narthex with our lively 21-month old daughter.  Our strategies don’t always work, but I have confidence that they are still helping our children to learn and grow.  God created the spirit of a child beautifully wild – full of curiosity, adventure and movement and all we can really do is embrace them with love, patience and gratitude to teach them about this faith we so love.

So now it’s your turn to share.  What are some of your thoughts and strategies to encourage good behavior in your children during mass?