Vincible Ignorance




courtesy of Thomas L. McDonald)

Alphonse Ratisbonne, a French Jew and devout hater of Catholicism and religion in general, converted more or less without warning, and apparently without effort.  He happened to travel to Rome in 1842, where Our Lady herself appeared to him.  He says:

All I can say is that the moment when the Blessed Virgin made a sign with her hand, the veil fell from my eyes; not one veil only, but all the veils which were wrapped around me disappeared, just as snow melts beneath the rays of the sun. . . I am asked how I attained a knowledge of these truths, since it is well known that I never opened a religious book, had never read a page of the Bible, and that the dogma of original sin, which is either denied or utterly forgotten by the modern Jews, had never for a single moment occupied my thoughts—indeed, I doubt whether I had ever heard the words which express it. How, then, did I arrive at a knowledge of it? I know not. All that I know is that when I entered that church I was profoundly ignorant of everything, and that when I came out I saw everything clearly and distinctly.

Nice!  A dream come true for exhausted catechists everywhere, who have discovered that most of us sweat a little more when acquiring all that knowledge accumulated by Mother Church over the centuries.

Happily, we have mnemonic devices and other memory aids to help us along.  I always remembered the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust) by recalling what seemed to me a handy and memorable word:  PEWSAGL (rhymes with “glue toggle”).  Then one day, someone said, “How about “WASP LEG?”  Yeah, that’ll work.  (I’ve also heard that, if you’re trying to remember the deadly sins and there’s one that always escapes you . . .  well, that’s your sin.)

My mother helped my little brother remember how we are to love the Lord our God (with all our HEART, MIND, SOUL and STRENGTH) with the phrase “He Sets Me Straight.”

The indefatigable Suzanne Greydanus, wife of Steven and homeschooling mother of many well-catechized scholars, is said to have invented this handy device for remembering that “Thou shalt not kill” is the fifth commandment:  you simply wrap your five fingers around someone’s neck, and there you have it—fifth commandment, five fingers, dead man.  You’ll never forget it again.

Thomas L. McDonald, who writes for the Register and Catholic News Service, is also an editor for GAMES magazine, and he says that he lets his confirmation students make up their own associations so they’re more memorable.  A recent class yielded this “odd but wildly successful” device for remembering the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are wisdom, wonder & awe, piety (reverence), fortitude, council, understanding, and knowledge.  He says:

I decided to use the ancient “method of loci” and see if it worked. Basically, you have someone imagine a familiar location (usually their home), and place unusual images or actions within that locations. . .  I encouraged them to come up with their own images or associations.

So, they might enter the house and encounter Wonder Woman (Wonder and Awe) giving them a piece of their favorite pie (Piety/Reverence) when suddenly an owl (Wisdom) swoops in and flies away with it. As they enter their living room, they see a parent standing under a ladder (Understanding), while a sibling plays with a toy fort (Fortitude) nearby. They head to their bedroom, where the door is covered with a poster printed with the word LEDGE with a giant “X” through it (Knowledge). Upon entering their bedroom, they find a cow (Council) eating their socks.

Lest you imagine a roomful of bright and eager faces as the little scholars soaked up knowledge, he adds:

Two students got in argument because one didn’t recognize that the owl was Hedwig, and the other thought this was just a sign of his invincible ignorance.


So, what are your favorite devices for remembering your catechism or other important nuggets of Catholic knowledge?  I have a feeling Dorian Speed of Scrutinies has a few up her sleeve, and maybe Lisa Mladninch or Lisa Hendey or the other writers at Catholic Mom have some ideas to share. 

If you hit upon something that works, let’s hear from you!