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.
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)
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.”
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!