Classic Literature: Coming to Know Ourselves

“There is a very good reason for every Catholic to know the great works of literature — and that is because the great works of literature help us to know ourselves.” This wonderful insight serves as the opening line of a recent book by Joseph Pearce, Literature: What Every Catholic Should Know (published by Ignatius Press and the Augustine Institute). In recent years, there has been somewhat of a resurgence in interest in the great works of literature, and Pearce has been one of the great promoters of this cause.

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“The great works of literature show us the folly of homo superbus as well as the wisdom of homo viator by contrasting the viciousness of the prideful villain with the virtuous humility and humanity of the noble hero,” Pearce writes. “They show us that the good man is inspired in all that he does by the desire to serve his God and his neighbour, while the bad man is inspired by his desire to please himself. They show us that man is always oscillating between the two poles of his very nature. He is either falling into the folly of the idolatrous love of himself above all others, or he is edified by his selfless love for the other.”

Many of the great works of literature can be hard nuts to crack, so to speak. Just about anyone with a high school education or higher can read William Shakespeare, for example — but how many of us can understand or grasp Shakespeare without a good deal of assistance? The bard is said to have invented hundreds of words, either by changing their part of speech (using “elbow” as a verb, for example), adding prefixes or suffixes (as in “dauntless” or “admirable”), or combining words (as in “bloodstained” or “cruelhearted”).

Understanding Shakespeare goes far beyond knowing what his words mean. The themes of his plays, the context in which they were written and which shades every stroke of his pen, the necessary knowledge of history or mythology for a given play — there are few who can fully grasp the import of these great works on a first reading with no assistance!

It is the same for any great work of literature. The works of Shakespeare are a terrific example, but the same can be said for the works of Jane Austen and Mark Twain; for Frankenstein and Dracula; for Wuthering Heights and Augustine’s Confessions; for Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities. Certainly these works can be enjoyed when taken at face value. They are incomparable works of literary genius, crafted by artists with insights into how we can “know ourselves”. But when studied in depth, they can tell us much about the human condition, about our place in God’s creation, and more. But in many cases, the assistance of the experts can be of incomparable value in digging deeply into these wonderful works.

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In this vein, there is a series published here at Ignatius Press called the Ignatius Critical Editions (www.ignatiuscriticaleditions.com). At this time, the series has produced 27 volumes, with two more on the way next year. Each volume features the full, unabridged text of the given classic, as well as several critical essays written by experts. The essays are academic, but without the stain of modernism or secularism that is rampant in academe today. As a matter of fact, the textual abuse that is par for the course in academic circles today is what prompted Ignatius Press and Joseph Pearce to launch this series in the first place. Mr. Pearce details this story in a recent article for the National Catholic Register.

The classics are deemed so because they have stood the test of time. Something about a particular work is recognized as worthy of study, and has something to say to every generation. It doesn’t need to be relatable, we don’t all need to be “represented.” Dracula is seen as one of the great works of 19th century fiction, but I doubt many of us can relate to Jonathan Harker or Count Dracula. Pearce writes, “The great works of literature are works of enchantment which have the power to re-enchant the most weary of souls. They are the inheritance of all of us, all of us who want them. …[G]reat literature is manna for the mind and food for the soul.”

Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time (Part 8)

Today we reach the end of our look at Pope St. John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time. We have been looking at this document for some time now, taking it piece by piece, paragraph by paragraph, to see what insights into the catechetical calling the Holy Father can offer us.

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As I said in the last post, I think it is particularly appropriate to look at this document now, as we are beginning a new school year, and have begun (or are about to begin) another year of catechetical instruction at schools and parishes all around the country. Please feel free to go back and read the previous posts in this series if you missed any.

We pick up as John Paul looks at the context of catechesis in the parish, where most formal catechesis takes place. While acknowledging that catechesis can be given anywhere, he stresses that “the parish community must continue to be the prime mover and pre-eminent place for catechesis” (67). In many places the parish is considered old-fashioned, and has been “shaken by the phenomenon of urbanization.” But it remains an ecclesial reality, and should be restored and rejuvenated. The parish must “rediscover its vocation, which is to be a fraternal and welcoming family home, where those who have been baptized and confirmed become aware of forming the People of God.” (67) And “from that home they are sent out day by day to their apostolic mission in all the centers of activity of the life of the world.”

Next, the pope considers the family’s role in catechesis. Put simply, the “family’s catechetical activity has a special character, which is in a sense irreplaceable.” (68) Education in the faith can and should be given even in the witness of a Christian life, a life lived in accordance with the Gospel. “This catechesis is more incisive when, in the course of family events (such as the reception of the sacraments, the celebration of great liturgical feasts, the birth of a child, a bereavement) care is taken to explain in the home the Christian or religious content of these events.” (68) But parents must also give more methodical teaching. In fact, “family catechesis therefore precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis.” The family is the domestic church, the “church of the home,” and the catechetical service they provide is “beyond price.” (68)

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School is treated next, and this is a somewhat complicated scenario. The pope points out that the number of countries in which it is possible to give education in the faith in the context of school is decreasing. There is, of course, the exception of private Catholic schools, but many children are unable to attend such schools, for various reasons. However, where it is possible to educate children in the faith at school, the “Church has the duty to do so as well as possible.” (69) As a matter of fact, “The special character of the Catholic school, the underlying reason for it, the reason why Catholic parents should prefer it, is precisely the quality of the religious instruction integrated into the education of the pupils.” (69) The Holy Father considers public and non-confessional schools, as well. Even in these places, he expresses the importance of children being instructed in the faith, either by the school or in the school setting, as possible. “Those who study are bound to bear the stamp of their studies,” he writes, “to be introduced to cultural or moral values within the atmosphere of the establishment in which they are taught, and to be faced with many ideas met with in school.” (69)

After briefly considering lay associations and training institutes, and the importance of the laity in catechesis (in concert with bishops and pastors), the pope concludes with a reflection on the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother.

He calls the Holy Spirit “the teacher within.” Jesus promised the Holy Spirit “to the Church and to each Christian as a teacher within, who, in the secret of the conscience and the heart, makes one understand what one has heard but was not capable of grasping.” (72)  The Holy Spirit also “transforms the disciples into witnesses to Christ.” He “enables us to say to God, ‘Abba, Father.'” Catechesis is a work of the Holy Spirit, a “growth in faith and the maturing of Christian life.”

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Mary obtains for us a renewal of catechetical dynamism through her intercession. Mary played a unique and incredible role in the life of Our Lord. “As He sat on her lap and later as He listened to her throughout the hidden life at Nazareth, this Son, who was ‘the only Son from the Father,’ ‘full of grace and truth,’ was formed by her in human knowledge of the Scriptures and of the history of God’s plan for His people, and in adoration of the Father.” (73) How remarkable! She is the mother and model of catechists, as well as of disciples. Through her intercession the Church’s catechetical mission continues to bear great fruit.

This brings an end to our reflections on Catechesi Tradendae. This great document of St. John Paul II gives wonderful insight into the catechetical mission of the Church. St. John Paul II, pray for us!

Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time (Part 7)

As the summer winds to a close, and we begin a new school year, in schools and parishes around the country catechesis is kicking into high gear once more. This is a fitting time to finish exploring Pope St. John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time. We will finish the document between this week and next week’s blog entries. And please, feel free to go back and look at the other entries in this series.

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The ninth and penultimate section of the document is titled “The Task Concerns Us All.” The Holy Father expresses his desire that his words will “set your hearts aflame, like the letters of St. Paul to his companions in the Gospel, Titus and Timothy, or like St. Augustine writing for the deacon Deogratias, when the latter lost heart before his task as a catechist, a real little treatise on the joy of catechizing.” (62) Recognizing that catechesis is the task of all Christians, as we are all called to spread the Gospel, the pope wanted to sow “courage, hope and enthusiasm” in the hearts of those who give religious instruction.

He takes several groups one by one: bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay catechists. He reminds bishops of their solemn and special place in the task of catechesis: “You are beyond all others the ones primarily responsible for catechesis, the catechists par excellence. Together with the Pope, in the spirit of episcopal collegiality, you too have charge of catechesis throughout the Church.” (63) Acknowledging the increasing complexity of episcopal ministry in today’s world, that “a thousand duties call you,” the pope emphatically reminds bishops of the importance of their catechetical responsibility: “But let the concern to foster active and effective catechesis yield to no other care whatever in any way.” The principal role, he says, should be to bring about and maintain in the diocese a “real passion for catechesis.” The bishop also has the responsibility, not only of transmitting the truth, but denouncing error. “Although your zeal must sometimes impose upon you the thankless task of denouncing deviations and correcting errors, it will much more often win for you the joy and consolation of seeing your Churches flourishing because catechesis is given in them as the Lord wishes.”

John Paul refers to priests as the “immediate assistants” of their bishops in catechesis. (64) They are called to devote their “best efforts to the growth of your communities in the faith.” As with bishops, priests (particularly those who are pastors of parishes) are pulled in a thousand directions, and it is tempting to be overcome by administrative tasks, financial concerns, and the like. These are certainly important, and affect the ability of the parish to operate in the first place. But we must not lose sight of the primary task of the salvation of souls, and the role that effective catechesis plays in this. “All believers have a right to catechesis; all pastors have the duty to provide it.” He continues, hammering the point home: “[W]ith all my strength I beg you, ministers of Jesus Christ: Do not, for lack of zeal or because of some unfortunate preconceived idea, leave the faithful without catechesis. Let it not be said that ‘the children beg for food, but no one gives to them.'” (64)

Men and women religious communities are often founded for the express purpose of the education and catechesis of young people. “Throughout history, men and women religious have been deeply committed to the Church’s catechetical activity, doing particularly apposite and effective work.” (65) Such communities are critical to the Church’s catechetical mission. “Let the communities dedicate as much as possible of what ability and means they have to the specific work of catechesis.” (65)

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Lay catechists earn great praise from the pope. “Your work is often lowly and hidden,” he says, “but it is carried out with ardent and generous zeal, and it is an eminent form of the lay apostolate, a form that is particularly important where for various reasons children and young people do not receive suitable religious training in the home.” (66) Particularly in the context of preparation for the sacraments of Penance, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation, lay catechists play a major and invaluable role.

Next, the Holy Father examines catechesis in different contexts: in the parish; in schools; in the family; and in organizations. We will look at these next week, and conclude our look at this exhortation.

Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time (Part 6)

For the last several months, we have been looking closely at Pope St. John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time. We are nearing the end of this document, and today we look at section VIII: “The Joy of Faith in a Troubled World.”

The word “joy” being in this section’s title speaks to the importance of joy that the Holy Father sees in catechesis. “We live in a difficult world in which the anguish of seeing the best creations of man slip away from him and turn against him creates a climate of uncertainty,” the pope writes. “In this world catechesis should help Christians to be, for their own joy and the service of all, ‘light’ and ‘salt.'” (56)

We are called to this joy in spite of many difficulties and challenges that face us. Several of these are addressed by the Holy Father, in the hopes of providing suggestions to assist catechesis in overcoming the difficulties.

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The first is the indifference of the world. There is an increase in secularization, but while “Fashion changes, [a] profound reality remains.” (57) We must acknowledge that the world largely ignores God or, when it does acknowledge him, is indifferent about the variety of religions and where actual Truth is to be found. “To hold on in this world, to offer to all a dialogue of salvation in which each person feels respected in his or her most basic dignity, the dignity of one who is seeking God, we need a catechesis which trains the  young people and adults of our communities to remain clear and consistent in their faith, to affirm serenely their Christian and Catholic identity, to see him who is invisible and to adhere so firmly to the absoluteness of God that they can be witnesses to Him in a materialistic civilization that denies Him.” (57)

There is also a difficulty in the pedagogy of the faith, the Holy Father writes. “The irreducible originality of Christian identity has for corollary and condition no less original a pedagogy of the faith.” (58) There have been improvements in the science of education and the art of teaching, he says, but there is a particular pedagogy of faith, “and the good that it can do for catechesis cannot be overstated.” (58) Because transmitting the faith means teaching about God’s revelation rather than simply human knowledge, we must always take this originality into account. “Throughout sacred history, especially in the Gospel, God Himself used a pedagogy that must continue to be a model for the pedagogy of faith.” (58)

There is also a problem of language, that is related closely to the question of pedagogy. The pope’s comments here are of particular importance in today’s world, as well: “It is paradoxical to see that, while modern studies, for instance in the field of communication, semantics and symbology, attribute extraordinary importance to language, nevertheless language is being misused today for ideological mystification, for mass conformity in thought and for reducing man to the level of an object.” (59) When it comes to catechesis, this tendency must be rooted out and only the Truth must be spoken. “For catechesis has a pressing obligation to speak a language suited to today’s children and young people in general and to many other categories of people — the language of students, intellectuals and scientists; the language of the illiterate or of people of simple culture; the language of the handicapped, and so on.” (59) But catechesis certainly must not equivocate when it comes to precision of language and clarity of expression. “[C]atechesis cannot admit any language that would result in altering the substance of the content of the Creed, under any pretext whatever, even a pretended scientific one.” (59) Language is at the service of catechesis and communication of the faith.

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The way in which we conceive of faith can be another challenge. “Faith concerns things not yet in our possession,” he writes, “since they are hoped for; that as yet we see only ‘in a mirror dimly’; and that God dwells always in inaccessible light.” (60) Faith is a journey, not the result of some arrival or completion. “For all the more reason one must avoid presenting as certain things which are not.” (60) John Paul does caution against going to the opposite extreme, however: “Although we are not in full possession, we do have an assurance and a conviction.” (60) He continues later, “Let us show [children, adolescents, and young people] that the humble yet courageous seeking of the believer, far from having its starting point in nothingness, in plain self-deception, in fallible opinions or in uncertainty, is based on the Word of God who cannot deceive or be deceived, and is unceasingly built on the immovable rock of this Word.” (60)

The final difficulty the Holy Father examines is the connection between catechesis and theology. “Obviously this connection is profound and vital for those who understand the irreplaceable mission of theology in the service of Faith.” (61) He goes on to elaborate: “Aware of the influence that their research and their statements have on catechetical instruction, theologians and exegetes have a duty to take great care that people do not take for a certainty what on the contrary belongs to the area of questions of opinion or of discussion among experts.” (61) Again, the Holy Father cautions that speculation not be mistaken for matters of divine and Catholic faith. Catechists and theologians “must refuse to trouble the minds of the children and young people” with “outlandish theories, useless questions and unproductive discussions.” (61)

In our next post, we will look at the ninth section, “The Task Concerns Us All.”

Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time (Part 5)

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We have been looking at the beautiful post-synodal apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time) by Pope St. John Paul II in our last several posts. Today we continue our look at this document, examining the seventh section: “How to Impart Catechesis”.

We have established, in many ways and contexts, why catechesis is important. It is something that was lost for a long time, something that was downplayed or disregarded in some senses. And in places where the faith was imparted, in some cases there was no personal element; one must have a relationship with the Risen Lord, and catechesis is how this is done. You come to love someone best by truly getting to know them.

The Holy Father considers the diversity of methods that are necessary in imparting catechesis. “The age and the intellectual development of Christians, their degree of ecclesial and spiritual maturity and many other personal circumstances demand that catechesis should adopt widely differing methods for the attainment of its specific aim: education in the faith.” (51) We know that it is of fundamental importance that people are catechized. We know that the faith must be imparted, that people must be evangelized so that they come to know and love God and desire to serve him. Because this is so important, we must be sure to use appropriate methods to do so.

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Most of the readers of this blog are catechists, DREs, Faith Formation directors, or teachers. Whether in a school, a parish, or at home, you know that pedagogical principles help you to instruct people at different ages and grade levels. This is one of the factors to be considered under diversity of methods.

Catechetical series are always developed with pedagogical considerations in mind. Some achieve pedagogical appropriateness more effectively than others, but it is always a factor. There can be different approaches to the same grade level, of course, and this can even be seen in Ignatius Press’ two catechetical series: Faith and Life (www.faithandlifeseries.com) and Image of God (www.imageofgodseries.com). This is also a prime consideration in the NEW catechetical series that is being developed by Ignatius Press and the Augustine Institute: Word of Life (www.wordoflifeseries.org). We will look more at this new series in an upcoming post on this blog.

Beyond these considerations, the Holy Father cautions against mixing catechetical teaching with “overt or masked ideological views, especially political and social ones, or with personal political opinions.” (52) Catechesis can become “distorted,” he says, when such trends or personal views are infused into the imparting of catechesis. “It is on the basis of revelation that catechesis will try to set its course, revelation as transmitted by the universal magisterium of the Church, in its solemn or ordinary form.” (52) The truth of revelation certainly includes moral elements, which have application in the social and political realm; but “[C]atechesis goes beyond every form of formalistic moralism, although it will include true Christian moral teaching. Chiefly, it goes beyond any kind of temporal, social or political ‘messianism.’ It seeks to arrive at man’s innermost being.” (52)

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Another consideration in the imparting of catechesis is the role that difference of cultures plays. Because catechesis, and evangelization in general, can be said to be called to bring the Gospel into the very heart of cultures, “catechesis will seek to know these cultures and their essential components; it will learn their most significant expressions; it will respect their particular values and riches.” (53) The faith must not be altered or diminished for the sake of inculturation; rather, the culture must be enriched by the faith. Catechesis should “help them to bring forth from their own living tradition original expressions of Christian life, celebration and thought.” (53) That being said, we must insist that the Gospel be transmitted in the context of the culture in which it originated, that of Jesus and the biblical world.

The pope also considers the role that memorization can play in effective catechesis. This is a somewhat controversial question, as the pedagogical role of memorization has been fiercely debated for some time. Coming from a mainly oral tradition, as Christian catechesis does, memorization has historically played a crucial role in catechesis. John Paul recognizes that sometimes memorization can lend itself to insufficient assimilation, “reducing all knowledge to formulas that are repeated without being properly understood.” (55) But he calls for a restoration of “a judicious balance between reflection and spontaneity, between dialogue and silence, between written work and memory work.” Just because something is memorized does not mean it should only be memorized. In fact, it certainly shouldn’t! A formula can be memorized to facilitate assimilation and deeper reflection. Being able to recall that “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven” allows one to reflect on that important fact at any time. This is certainly laudable!

Now that we have looked at the imparting of catechesis, next time we will discuss part eight: “The Joy of Faith in a Troubled World,” and will conclude with how “The Task Concerns Us All.”

Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time (Part 4)

Today we continue our look at Pope St. John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, on Catechesis in Our Time. We now move to the fifth section of the document, titled: “Everybody Needs to be Catechized.”

The Holy Father begins this section of the document with a reflection on “The Importance of Children and the Young.” He makes special reference to the theme designated by Pope St. Paul VI for the fourth general assembly of the synod of Bishops, which was “Catechesis in our time, with special reference to the catechesis of children and young people.” With a rapid increase in world population, and thus a rapid increase in the number of children throughout the world, the importance of catechizing the young as they prepare for their adult future is very important. “And there is more than just the factor numbers,” the pope writes: “recent events, as well as the daily news, tell us that, although this countless multitude of young people is here and there dominated by uncertainty and fear, seduced by the escapism of indifference or drugs, or tempted by nihilism and violence, nevertheless it constitutes in its major part the great force that amid many hazards is set on building the civilization of the future.” (35)

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The question arises: how are we to reveal Jesus Christ to children and young people, not just in a fleeting encounter, but growing in deep relationship with Him? The Holy Father then addresses separately the question in regard to infants, children, adolescents, the young, the handicapped, young people without religious support, adults, and quasi-catechumens. Each of these has a well-elaborated reflection on catechizing that given group, and should be read in full.

One common question that can arise when considering the matter of effective catechesis is how to catechize. How can we communicate these truths? The Holy Father looks into this question in the next section, titled “Some Ways and Mean of Catechesis.”

“From the oral teaching by the apostles and the letters circulating among the churches down to the most modern means,” he writes, “catechesis has not ceased to look for the most suitable ways and means for its mission, with active participation of the communities and at the urging of the pastors. This effort must continue.” (46) The advent of new means of communication during the 19th and 20th centuries has drastically changed our ability to spread the faith. Even just taking one prime example, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen used all available media — books, newspaper, radio, and television — and spread the Gospel more effectively than anyone since St. Paul! In our own day, Bishop Robert Barron uses YouTube, podcasts, books, television, and more to preach the Truth.

There are various places, occasions and gatherings, according to the pope, which “gain from being centered on some judiciously chosen theme based on the life of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin or of the saints.” (47) These can be pilgrimages, conferences, traditional missions, Bible study groups, and much more. The Holy Father implores and exhorts those involved in such groups to not allow them “to lack serious study of Christian doctrine.” (47)

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Additionally, the “homily takes up again the journey of faith put forward by catechesis, and brings it to its natural fulfillment. At the same time it encourages the Lord’s disciples to begin anew each day their spiritual journey in truth, adoration and thanksgiving.” (48) The proper role of the homily is evangelical and catechetical, as “Preaching, centered upon the Bible texts, must then in its own way make it possible to familiarize the faithful with the whole of the mysteries of the faith and with the norms of Christian living.” (48) This is something that, in many — if not most — places, needs to be recaptured. The homily is a prime opportunity for evangelization and catechesis from the priest.

Catechetical texts “acquire a fresh signifiance,” the Holy Father writes (49). There is much more opportunity for the publication of such texts, as all over the world the ability to publish has grown easier and easier, and there are countless Catholic publishers, writers, and other producers of catechetical materials. “Numerous very successful works have been produced and are a real treasure in the service of catechetical instruction.” (49) These have to be done carefully, however, in order to be theologically accurate, as well as pedagogically appropriate. This is the both/and that is necessary for effective catechetical literature, and one that has proven to be a great struggle for many. “In certain places, the desire to find the best forms of expression or to keep up with fashions in pedagogical methods has often enough resulted in certain catechetical works which  bewilder the young and even adults, either by deliberately or unconsciously omitting elements essential to the Church’s faith, or by attributing excessive importance to certain themes at the expense of others, or, chiefly, by a rather horizontalist overall view out of keeping with the teaching of the Church’s magisterium.” (49) Clearly this is something that must be avoided! And as catechists, it is of vital importance to seek out the best catechetical texts.

In our next post, we will look at Section VII of the document, entitled “How to Impart Catechesis.”

Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time (Part 3)

Today we continue our dive into St. John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time). The fourth section of this post-synodel apostolic exhortation is titled “The Whole of the Good News Drawn from its Source”. This section opens with a very important point about catechesis: “Since catechesis is a moment or aspect of evangelization, its content cannot be anything else but the content of evangelization as a whole.” (26)

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There are many catechists who read this blog. Some of our readers have years of experience, others are fresh-faced and new. But I think it is fair to say that every person reading this realizes that the heart of catechesis is evangelization. We do not catechize simply so that Catholics will memorize the Ten Commandments, or even the Precepts of the Church, or learn some “Bible stories,” or memorize certain formulas so they can pass a test. No. Rather, catechesis is, at its heart, meant to bring people to an appreciation of the Good News, a relationship with Jesus Christ and the whole Blessed Trinity, and to desire to spread the Good News themselves, as Jesus commanded us. The deposit of faith is a living thing.

“Catechesis will always raw its content from the living source of the Word of God transmitted in Tradition and the Scriptures, for ‘sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church,’ as was recalled by the Second Vatican Council, which desired that ‘the ministry of the word — pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction… – (should be) healthily nourished and (should) thrive in holiness through the word of Scripture.'” (27)

That being said, we must also be sure not to demean the importance and usefulness of credal formulas in catechesis and evangelization. At many points throughout the Church’s history, creeds have been developed to articulate the faith in a succinct way, typically in response to a particular threat to the integrity of the faith. St. John Paul II describes creeds as “an exceptionally important expression of the living heritage placed in the custody of the pastors,” and says that the creeds “at crucial moments have summed up the Church’s faith in felicitous syntheses.” (28)

The pope specifically refers to the Credo of the People of God composed by Pope St. Paul VI and proclaimed at the close of the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. He calls this a “sure point of reference for the content of catechesis,” in that it contains “the essential elements of the Catholic Faith, especially those that presented greater difficulty or risked being ignored.” (28)

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For Pope St. John Paul II, it is obvious just how important it is to communicate the faith as much as possible; in particular, young people who are just reaching the age of reason. “Anyone can see, for instance, how important it is to make the child, the adolescent, the person advancing in faith understand what can be known about God.” (29) Passing on the deposit of faith, the fidei depositum, is the chief responsibility of the catechist, and it is important to impart the faith to the young so that the faith matures along with them and they are able to grow in deeper understanding of the faith.

In this document, the Holy Father also addresses the ever-important ecumenical question. Is there an ecumenical dimension of Catechesis? “Catechesis cannot remain aloof from this ecumenical dimension, since all the faithful are called to share, according to their capacity and place in the Church, in the movement towards unity.” (32) The pope calls for catechesis to be done with sincere respect for ecclesial communities not in communion with the Catholic Church. These communities must be presented correctly and fairly, and the presentation must foster a true desire for unity among Christians, in union with the will of Jesus “that they may be one” (John 17:21).