Harcourt religion series: “Walking By Faith”

Harcourt Religion Publishers “Walking by Faith”
Second and Fifth Grade Religion Texts
Principal Program Consultants:
Rev. Terry M Odien, MA
Rev. Michael D. Place, STD
Dr. Addie Lorraine Walker, SSND

Critique done by Robert E. Peszynski, Ph.D
July 2004

The Harcourt “Walking by Faith” fifth grade religion text’s cover is a real puzzle. I don’t know if the picture is of a Baptism, a Mass, if it is Easter time. The symbolisms are a confusing mix which seem to me to be more an image of a priest joining the people in some celebration than anything of a sacramental nature. In this text Jesus is acknowledged as God and man but this is not explained satisfactorily and the pattern became rather obvious: teach a little doctrine and then bring it into the ‘real world’ by making the message secondary to community relations. The community is what these texts are foremost emphasizing. This is disappointing and misleading. Jesus is portrayed as kind of a divine figure from the past who pointed out who God the Father was by means of his teaching about the importance of how we relate to one another in the ‘community.’

Example: on page 45 in the section “To Honor God” we find the key to the mystery of this sad depiction of our faith; “There is a time and place for individual acts of worship in the Catholic Church. At the heart of our worship, however, is the community ‘of faith. When we pray and worship as a body, or group, we multiply our response. There is more love and more faith to go around.” On page 167 under the section Breaking and Sharing, we read, “You know that we share in Christ’s Body by breaking and sharing the Bread of Life. In much the same way, we break open and share the word of God in the Scriptures. The way the Church uses the Bible helps us do this.”

The books infer that Jesus and His agonizing atonement for our sins is something that happened a long time ago. In our modern culture the pressing issues are not sin and sacrifice and prayer but concern for the health of the ‘community’ and proper utilization of natural resources. Jesus seems to be taken out of the picture as far as the goal of our faith and hope and devotion. Since He now seems to be only pointing the way to our sharing with our neighbors, we sharpen our focus on the pressing issue of how to ensure the health of our community. We can even share in God’s creating as co-creators (page 26).

I would not recommend these books. They present the Catholic faith in new age, modernist dress and destroy any sense of the real ‘community’ of believers.

“Walking by Faith” Five / The Sacraments

Cover of text is a confusing mix of symbols without any contextual aids to help the reader understand what he/she is looking at.

Page 7 – Catholics Believe “Catholics believe that creation…came to be through God.” This passage suggests there are other, maybe equal ‘beliefs’ about the origin of the universe. Sidebars, make reference to the CCC but the way this is presented leaves me wonder not so much about what Catholics believe but if there are other, maybe even more credible stories of creation.

Page 8 – “The authors of Genesis…” I think the Catholic Church teaches that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Why does the text tell us that there was more than one author and not bother to mention Moses or suggest who the ‘authors’ might be?

Page 14 – “Each sign is a revelation – that is, each is a part of the gradual process through which we come to know God.” Confusion of meaning of the word revelation as it refers to Divine Revelation and our natural law understanding (the world as it is reveals itself to us) in our experiences.

Page 38 – “Jesus came from God.” I get the feeling what is really being said is that Jesus is not God incarnate. Is this Arianism?

Page 42 – “Holy Spirit shapes a parish community.” The Mass is not really the same sacrifice as Calvary but an opportunity where we gather to relish and cultivate our relationships with one another; “The faithful come together at the Mass, a sacred meal of sacrifice and praise to God. In the Mass God welcomes us with the words of the Scriptures and is with us in the Eucharist. Through the different parts of the Mass, the Holy Spirit shapes a parish community in the image of Christ’s Body, the Church. No matter who we are, poor or rich, young or old, our presence is important in that gathering.”

Again and again we are treated to the ‘real message’ of this book: we aren’t to focus our entire being on becoming more like Jesus in an all-out effort to know, love and serve Him, but rather our main interest is to fulfill our need to belong to a community of believers (who do not know what they believe).

“Walking by Faith” Two / Jesus Christ

At least, when compared to the fifth grade book, the cover of this book is discernable. We see a chalice filed with red and a plate with large and small hosts. However, as we turn the book over to see the back cover we notice that there is a basket with round loaves of bread. So we are presented with a picture that illustrates Jesus’ most holy and sacred body and blood to be naturalistic manifestations of the products of the earth. Basing my opinion on some familiarity with the text, I would even suggest that this picture teaches something that is contrary to our faith; that the bread and wine in the Liturgy (note I do not say here Jesus’ Body and Blood) is representative of a divinized natural world. In other words, it is not that our hearts groan to be free of the limitations of matter in order to praise our Lord informed with the beatific vision, but that Jesus’ most awesome miracle of transubstantiation is in essence indicative of the holy reality of the natural world. Can the authors really be suggesting, although in a subtle way, that it is the fruit of the earth that is really sacred? Can they really be intimating that Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and wine used at Mass are the effects of the community’s ability to create for itself. This is transubstantiation turned backwards. In essence it is the earth that has made Jesus holy.

Page 9 – Emphasis repeatedly that Jesus is just like us. “Mary and Joseph taught Jesus about God, his Father.”

Page 14 – “Jesus remembered the stories that Mary had told him. He told stories, too… The stories were about things people could see all around them. Jesus’ stories helped people see God’s love in their lives. Jesus shared God’s love in other ways, too. He healed sick people. He fed hungry people. He made people who were left out feel welcome. In all his actions Jesus used signs of creation, like water and bread and sweet-smelling oil. He helped people look at creation in a new way.”

This section of the book does not tell us that Jesus was God but that Jesus shared the stories his mother and human father told to him in his youth and then it suggests His unimaginable and miraculous powers of healing were simply additional signs of the goodness of creation that was the point of the stories he heard as a baby. This is confusing. The book does not teach us definitively that Jesus is God. It instead emphasizes that Jesus, like us, is part of creation; Jesus however “used signs of creation.”

Page 21 – Sidebar, “You will often see a crucifix near the altar in church.” This is not alarming in itself but given the way the Catholic faith is portrayed in this book, I think this more likely suggests the lack of necessity of the Crucifix and the meaning of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice or that our church is not the place where we encounter the sacred and divine Body and Blood of Jesus.

Page 59 – “In the sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus offers, or gives, himself to the Father. We offer ourselves to God, too.” Nothing is said about how Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary and at every holy Mass is the same as our offering of ourselves. We are to wonder what a sacrifice is and are not told about the existence of sin and the atonement gained by Jesus’ bloody sacrifice of Himself on our behalf. The book downplays Jesus’ giving of Himself to God the Father to atone for our sinfulness; by our doing something good for our neighbor-our efforts are depicted as equal to Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself.

Page 91 – “We are proud of Jesus because he sacrificed his life to set us free from sin.” We are “proud” of Jesus? This is nonsense.

Page 92 – “The words and actions of the Mass are very important. They bring us closer to God and to one another. At Mass we gather with other followers of Jesus. We sing and pray together. We listen to readings from the Bible. We remember and give thanks. We receive Jesus in Holy Communion.” I wonder why we do this. Nothing is explained as to the significance and real meaning of the Liturgy of the Mass. “Every person shares in Jesus’ holy meal.” The “holy meal” is Jesus but this doesn’t come through this book’s rendition of the essence of our Catholic faith. Again it is the community that takes precedence. And as always, the idea is that this is all about us and the focus is quite other than Jesus. We read on page 93 that when we are at Mass, we are to receive Jesus, “when you are able.” What is this supposed to mean? Isn’t the very essence of the Mass our reception of Jesus’ body and blood into our own?

Page 95 – During the Eucharistic Prayer, “we remember Jesus’ sacrifice.” Accordingly, in our community gathering (the Mass) we are reminded of this long-past event.

Page 110 – Mortal and venial sin is not explained.

Page 134-135 – “When it is your turn, you can receive the host, or Communion bread, in your hand or on your tongue.” This “host” or “communion bread” is not Jesus. The message is clear. At the bottom of the page we are told, “Practicing these steps will help you feel comfortable about receiving Holy Communion often.” It seems this is only about getting over any self-consciousness when standing in front of people. Surely the indisputable fact that the “host” and “communion bread” no longer exists but is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus is never mentioned once. If all we are receiving is the ‘communion’ bread how can it be holy? This is typical of the confusing message presented by these books.

Page 147 – “Two other men were crucified with Jesus. One of them asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus promised this man that he would be welcome in heaven.” This ‘explanation’ misses the most important point, that Jesus’ sacrifice makes our entry into heaven possible and that we will each meet Jesus Himself when we die. We will not simply be “welcome in heaven” but if we have lived a life of love for Jesus, we will be given the beatific vision of God Himself.

Page 153 – “God invites us to share in the great feast of heaven…In the meantime, we live in God’s grace on this earth. God has given us the great gift of the Eucharist. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we have a preview of heaven. In the Eucharist we receive God’s blessings and graces. These are like the blessings and graces we will have forever in heaven.” This link between the feast on earth that is the Eucharist (the communion bread) and the unimaginable wonders of heaven is a downplaying of the magnificence of both. The communion bread, or host, while mysteriously being Jesus, (we are never told that the bread has been changed into Jesus’ Himself and that the accidents are the only things that indicate the former existence of the bread and wine) is now a model of what heaven is like. The message here, as always, is mixed and leaves the reader of faith uneasy more about what hasn’t been said than what has. The bread and wine can’t really be Jesus’ Body and Blood. Jesus was a holy man who lived a long time ago. Being kind to our neighbor and going to Church on Sunday to share in the community is how we become like Him. The products of the earth, bread and wine (symbolically incorporated into liturgical celebration) and feelings of connectedness with our neighbor, this is what constitutes the real focus of ‘our faith’.

Page 153 – “The Eucharist is a sign of what heaven will be like. Receiving the Eucharist helps us look forward to when we will be with God in heaven.” So Jesus is just a sign of God. The Eucharist is not Jesus’ flesh and blood but a sign of something (heaven) we can’t see.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In 1999, Harcourt published A Clinician’s Guide to Medical and Surgical Abortion — a book that was hailed by the New England Journal of Medicine as “the first clinical reference on abortion practice to be published in the United States in over fifteen years.” Harcourt subsidiaries have recently published such titles as Contraception: Your Questions Answered; Handbook of Contraception and Family Planning; Contraception and Office Gynecology, and The Lives of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals—this last title being marketed as a college textbook for use in homosexual-studies programs.