My cousin Patricia Schultze (Patsy) passed away on New Year’s Day. She was 73 years old and I can’t think of anyone in my family who had more hard knocks in their lives than Patsy. The last of these was the long bout with cancer that finally took her life. Nevertheless, with the help of a decent, loving, hard-working husband, Patsy seemed to transcend all the difficulties that life threw in her way.
I can honestly say that in the 70 odd years that I knew her I don’t think I ever met a cheerier or more optimistic person. Last summer she threw a kind of farewell party where I saw her children and grandchildren gather around her with heartfelt love and devotion. At the funeral Mass last Saturday l don’t think I ever saw so many people openly sobbing.
During the Mass the elderly pastor gave a very perceptive homily. He mentioned that he and Patsy were of the same generation, and that as children they learned the rudiments of their religious faith from the Baltimore Catechism.
This catechism drew its name from the third Plenary council of the American Catholic bishops held in 1891 in Baltimore. The Bishops of that time were aware that the great numbers of Catholic immigrants flooding into America at that time were woefully ignorant of their faith. Actually, most of them were unable to even read or write in their own native language.
But their children all had brains and quickly picked up the language of their parent’s adopted country. Still, the American bishops believed that an easy to read American catechism was needed in the growing parochial school system. As a result, the Baltimore catechism used a brief question and answer format to drill basic truths into children’s memory banks.
Children of Patsy’s generation and mine memorized many of the questions and answers in the catechism. By the time our children went to school memorization had gone out of fashion, but we had to memorize practically everything. We memorized the times tables in arithmetic. While my grandchildren count on their fingers or go through complex mental gymnastics, I can still instantly say that 9 times 9 equals 81, or 11 times 11 is 121. In geography we memorized the States and their capitols. I still know that Boise is the capitol of Idaho. In history we memorized the names of the Presidents as well as significant dates like 1492 and 1776. In High School we even memorized complicated geometric theorems. I still think we lost a lot when we gave up on memorization. Now we have to rely on Siri and Alexa while our own memory banks are filled with trivia.
Anyway, when memorization went out of fashion so too did the Baltimore catechism. However, in his homily the priest said something very profound that I had never thought of before. Anybody from our generation knows that the first question was “Why did God make you?” The answer that we all committed to memory was: “God made me to know, love, and serve him in this life…” The priest admitted that when he had memorized those words as a child, he had no idea what they meant. How could we? He said that you would have to lead a life before you could begin to understand the meaning of such a question.
Through all her trials my cousin Patsy led a life that would leave her surrounded by a loving husband, children, grand-children, family, and friends as she departed to be with her maker whom she had known, loved and served in so many ways.