Evangelii Nuntiandi: Evangelization in the Modern World (Part 2)

Today we continue our look at Pope St. Paul VI’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World). Since its release in 1975, this document has become one of the chief organizing principles of the Catholic approach to catechesis, and has been praised by popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, lay catechists, and catechetical leaders.

Paul VI 20

There are three questions the pope presents as framing the discussion to follow: 1) “In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man’s conscience?” 2) “To what extent and in what way is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century?” 3) “What methods should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effect?”

This is really the crux of the whole matter. These questions present, in sum, the challenges of evangelization in the modern world, the challenges presented to the Church by modernity and secularism, and even examining the apparent lack of energy and enthusiasm in the evangelical pursuit which necessitated the synod in the first place.

Let’s briefly take a look at each of these questions in turn.

The first question is particularly interesting to me, because it displays an awareness of a certain lack of fervor in spreading the Good News. The Holy Father refers to the “hidden energy of the Good News,” and asked what has happened to it. Certainly, there were missionaries and evangelists and apologists who continued to spread the faith, within parish communities and without, in Christian cultures and non-Christian cultures. But the pope is here acknowledging that the enthusiasm and fervor with which the Gospel had been spread for so many centuries was lacking, and the Church needed to find out why and where it had gone. The first step to solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem to be solved.

The second question brings the modern context into the conversation, asking how the evangelical force can transform people of this century. We know that the faith does not change — Truth is immutable, unchanging, evergreen. The era of public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle. But in all times and in all places, the way the faith is presented can change, can be adapted to suit the greater context. The 20th century was a very different world from the 16th. When the Council of Trent was combating the errors of the Protestant Reformation, the most effective methods for evangelization were much different than they were in the 1970s, or in 2020. We need to always be asking ourselves how the power of the Good News can transform people in our own day, age, and culture.

1219graves323jp_00000000706

The third question is the most practical, tackling the logistics of how to evangelize, asking about the methods that should be employed to give the Gospel message its full effect.

Pope Paul writes that these questions are another way of looking at the fundamental evangelical question facing the Church in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council: “after the Council and thanks to the Council, which was a time given her by God, at this turning-point in history, does the Church or does she not find herself better equipped to proclaim the Gospel and to put it into people’s hearts with conviction, freedom of spirit and effectiveness?” (4)

The purpose of this post-synodal apostolic exhortation is to help the universal Church to respond to these questions, and to form the Church’s mind and heart in the evangelical pursuit in the current day. “Such an exhortation seems to use to be of capital importance,” Paul writes, “for the presentation of the Gospel is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people’s salvation.” (5)

ignatius-books

The Holy Father continues by emphasizing once more how important the whole evangelical endeavor is, and how it should be pursued with every fiber of our being. “It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world. It is able to stir up by itself faith — faith that rests on the power of God. It is truth. It merits having the apostle consecrate to it all his time and all his energies, and to sacrifice for it, if necessary, his own life.” (5)

Next time we will continue our in-depth look at Evangelii Nuntiandi.

Evangelii Nuntiandi: Evangelization in the Modern World (Part 1)

In today’s post, we are going to start a read-through and analysis of Evangelii Nuntiandi, the apostolic exhortation of Pope St. Paul VI, which Pope Francis has called “the greatest pastoral document written to date,” and has encouraged bishops and cardinals to read it over and over again.

Paul VI 16

Before we dive into the text, allow me to give a little bit of contextEvangelii Nuntiandi was officially issued on December 8, 1975, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. As with most Church documents, the official Latin title refers to the opening words of the document itself. In this case, the phrase means “in proclaiming the Gospel,” referring to every Christian’s vocation to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The descriptive title given by the Vatican is “Evangelization in the Modern World.”

In September 1974, the Holy Father convened a synod to discuss evangelization, what it means to evangelize in today’s world, and how evangelization can be done effectively so as to bring people to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (at the time Archbishop of Krakow, and later Pope John Paul II) was instrumental in the drafting of Evangelii Nuntiandi. This is not surprising, especially when one considers that the document could be considered to epitomize the goals of the papacy of John Paul II just a few years later. The universal call of all Christians — clergy, religious, lay, everyone — to announce the Gospel to the whole world is something that he emphasized throughout his papacy. The “New Evangelization”, so greatly emphasized by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis,

 

Paul VI 8

Evangelii Nuntiandi opens with the pope proclaiming that the proclamation of the Gospel is “a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity.” (1) Right off the bat, this gets at the heart of the matter: the Gospel is for everyone, the entire human race, and not just something to be discussed at church, or in Bible study, or even in RCIA classes. The whole of humanity: we are sent to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth! And the Holy Father is enthusiastic in his role, including the part he plays in encouraging others to do so.

The document was officially released on the 10th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. The council is how the pope explicitly frames the document, and his approach to the question of evangelization. He summarizes the objectives of the council: “to make the Church of the twentieth century ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the twentieth century.” (2) The council was not meant to “update” the Church, or to “bring the Church in line with the modern world.” Rather, it was about preparing the Church to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ out to all the world in a very different global context than she had ever seen before.

The synod fathers had asked the pope to write this document, requesting “a fresh forward impulse, capable of creating within a Church still more firmly rooted in the undying power and strength of Pentecost a new period of evangelization.” (2)

We can consider this document a culmination of sorts, a summation of the analysis that had been taking place for years, attempting to “revise methods, to seek by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message to modern man.” (3) To do so, and to do so validly and comprehensively, the rich patrimony of the Church’s evangelical traditions should be considered; “it is absolutely necessary for us to take into account a heritage of faith that the Church has the duty of preserving in its untouchable purity, and of presenting it to the people of our time, in a way that is as understandable and persuasive as possible.” (3)

We will continue our exploration of this monumentally important document in the coming weeks and months.

Religious education while quarantined or locked down?

As the reader must surely know, the world is battling a new and insidious virus right now, referred to a COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, which has taken hold all over the globe. To combat this virus, many countries (including these United States) are implementing strict lockdown measures, intended to prevent as much mingling as possible, and limit opportunities for transmission from one person to another, in order to slow (and ultimately end) the disease’s spread.

In most places (and more each day), this has caused quite a disruption in daily life. Restaurants are offering to-go only services; shopping malls and most other recreational institutions are closing down; people are encouraged to avoid any unnecessary contact with anyone apart from their immediate family; offices and businesses are either closed or switching to telecommute-only, when possible. Dioceses and archdioceses throughout the country have suspended public Masses, and cancelled religious instruction, youth groups, and other events; schools are closed, leaving children and parents across the country to adapt to a modified homeschool approach, in order to ensure that children continue to learn, in spite of the limitations at hand.

Spiritual-Family-Time

The current situation is unlike anything in living memory. It has been so long since such drastic measures have been taken that they seem virtually unprecedented. Not since the Spanish Influenza pandemic in 1918 has public life been turned so dramatically upside down to combat a public health crisis.

There is a question that arises out of the current situation that can be appropriately addressed by the present blog: how can children continue to receive solid religious instruction now that they are not in school or parish religious education classes?

This is a very good question, and indeed an important one.

It also does highlight a very important point that has gotten lost in recent decades: parents are the primary educators of their children. They should not rely on the school or catechist to teach their child — particularly when it comes to the faith, and how to live as a Christian, parents should set the example and impart the Truth in Love to their children. The large scale quarantines, lockdowns, etc. brought about in response to the COVID-19 pandemic provide a unique opportunity for parents to reclaim their role as primary educators of their children.

I want to bring to the reader’s attention several offers from Ignatius Press to help with faith formation, religious instruction, and growth in holiness during this period.

Faith and Life Pic

Our flagship catechetical series is Faith and Life. To assist during this time of closures and quarantines, Ignatius Press and Catholic Faith Technologies (My Catholic Faith Delivered) are offering Faith and Life Online free through June 2020. For more information, or to enroll go to: http://faithformation.zohosites.com With any questions, please contact Catholic Faith Techologies at info@catholicfaithtech.com . If you like what you see and are interested in getting Faith and Life for your classroom for next year, please feel free to contact Julie Johnson at julie@ignatius.com or 1-866-431-1531, or Paul Senz at paul@ignatius.com or 971-678-9512.

It should also be noted that none of us are ever done being catechized. There is always more to learn about the faith; we can always grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ; we can always answer the call to discipleship in a more profound way. And this is an opportunity for all of us to engage more deeply with our faith.

Many of you are likely familiar with FORMED.org, the Catholic media platform that has sometimes been referred to as “Catholic Netflix.” The Catholic Faith, on demand: thousands of movies, documentaries, Bible studies, catechetical series, sacramental instruction, audio, radio dramas, and eBooks, available instantly. FORMED is powered by Ignatius Press and the Augustine Institute, and is a phenomenal and massive repository of resources for growing in the faith. For a limited time, FORMED is offering 40-day free trials. More information and registration here: https://formed.org/faithathome

Faith at Home | FORMED Leader Resources

In addition to this, many other publishers are offering special discounts on their books at this time. A simple search on YouTube will yield countless phenomenal videos of talks, television episodes, reflections, and classes from just about every Catholic luminary of the last half century; parishes, cathedrals, priories, monasteries all across the country and the world are making available livestreams of their Masses, communal Divine Office, rosaries, Chaplets of Divine Mercy, and more; EWTN and CatholicTV have massive archival libraries of audio and video; and much, much more.

ya-advent

This is a unique time, and a singular opportunity. This can be a time of fruitful growth in holiness and in devotion to Jesus Christ. Let us grow in love for the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; let us appreciate the Sacraments with greater fervor. Let us use this time wisely, praying for the Church and the world, placing ourselves into the embrace of Our Lord, our Blessed Mother, and St. Joseph, Protector of the Church.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!

Guardian Angels, pray for us!

Breaking open the Word of God

A few weeks back, on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the global Church for the first time commemorated Word of God Sunday, instituted by Pope Francis in the motu proprio apostolic letter Aperuit Illis in September 2019.

The Bible, Pope Frances writes, belongs “to those called to hear its message and to recognize themselves in its words.” But it is fair to say that many Catholics are not as steeped in Scripture as we should be.

I think it’s fair to say that Bible Studies may be one of the most common ministries in Catholic parishes in the United States. There are many wonderful resources out there for Catholic Bible studies.

Ignatius Press publishes the Ignatius Study Bible, with commentaries and notes written by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. The Bible translation used is the Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition, which is a beautiful and authentic and faithful translation of Sacred Scripture into English. The commentaries and notes are insightful, informative, and really open up the text of Scripture for the average reader. While Hahn and Mitch could certainly be described as scholars, the Ignatius Study Bible is accessible and illuminating for readers of any (or no) familiarity with Scripture. There are many individual volumes featuring one or a few books of the Bible; there is also available the entire New Testament in one volume; and the complete Old Testament is on its way in the near future.

For those who prefer video series, the Augustine Institute has produced many Bible studies in its Lectio series, led by distinguished professors and scripture scholars. These presenters include Dr. Tim Gray, Dr. Brant Pitre, Dr. Michael Barber, Dr. Mary Healy. Each episode is around 30-40 minutes long, which is perfectly suited to most parish Bible study schedules.

Lectio: Mark with Dr. Tim Gray

The Lectio series is available from Ignatius Press or the Augustine Institute, and on FORMED.org. (If your parish does not have a subscription to FORMED, contact us for more information!

A Catholic Introduction to the Bible

Ignatius Press recently published A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament, by Drs. John Bergsma and Brant Pitre. This is a phenomenal reference for understanding the Old Testament, written by two scholars and wonderful writers. For something that is ostensibly a desk reference, it really is a page-turner, very engaging.

There are many reasons to engage more deeply with the Word of God, and there are many resources out there that can help in doing just that.

Preparing for the Sacrament of Baptism

This blog is a space for discussing topics related to religious education. I think, for many people, the term “religious education” conjures up images of gradeschoolers learning about the Ten Commandments or the Trinity, or particularly second-graders preparing to receive their First Reconciliation and their First Holy Communion. Certainly, such images do reflect the vast majority of formal religious instruction. But it is important that we not neglect all of the other facets of religious education, all of the other people undergoing instruction in the faith, and how we can better serve them.

Today I’d like to talk, in particular, about the Sacrament of Baptism, and how we can prepare people for that sacrament.

POPE BAPTIZES ONE OF 16 INFANTS DURING MASS AT VATICAN

My wife recently gave birth to our fourth child (Deo gratias!), and we were blessed to have the opportunity to have her baptized less than a week later. Even with our fourth child, we had to prepare ourselves for the sacrament, as we were about to undertake the great responsibility of leading another soul to God.

Baptism is one of the most profoundly important things that can happen in one’s life. Think about it: it is so much more than just a ritual, a rite of passage, a photo-op at the church. This is a sacrament, instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ during his time on the earth, a visible sign of an invisible reality, which effects an ontological change, fundamentally and permanently affecting the soul, cleansing from original sin (and any personal sin), infusing with grace and the Holy Spirit, joining the individual to the Body of Christ. What an incredible gift!

Whether it is an infant being baptized, a young child, a young adult, or an adult, it is imperative that all those involved are catechized as much as possible. I would say there is no question that many parents and godparents do not fully grasp the gravity of what they are undertaking, when it is an infant being baptized, and many who receive baptism later in life do not understand that what they are doing is so much more than a rite of passage.

Missouri1425

Ignatius Press publishes a number of books for children with Magnificat. Many of them are board books, perfect for toddlers and younger. These books have beautiful artwork, simple catechesis on the topic at hand, and prayers for children. One of these is called Baptism Day. A beautiful gift for children being baptized, or their young siblings who would like to learn more about the sacrament.

 

 

6BDH_r

Many young children are baptized well after infancy, at older and older ages. When they have reached an age where they can take religious instruction, it is important to prepare them as much as possible for reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. Another great catechetical resource for young children is the animated series Brother Francis. This series presents the faith for children without sacrificing the truth; nothing is diminished or downplayed. The Truth is presented unabashedly, in a very kid-friendly and engaging manner. There is an episode called “Born into the Kingdom” that teaches about the Sacrament of Baptism.

 

sacrament1

The Augustine Institute has produced many wonderful video series on the sacraments: Presence on the Holy Eucharist; Forgiven on Reconciliation; Beloved on Matrimony; and Reborn on Baptism. Reborn does a terrific job of preparing for reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. Whether preparing the parents for their child’s reception of the sacrament, or preparing an individual for their own baptism, the series is approachable and engaging, and beautifully put together. The Augustine Institute has a knack for such video series, and they present the fullness of the faith without sacrificing a jot or tittle of the Truth. My own parish utilizes this series for baptism preparation, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

5REBPM_r

As catechists, as those who are instructing people in the faith, we need to do our best to leave no stone unturned. We are talking about the salvation of souls, the most important work we could ever do. Baptism so often marks the beginning of the journey of faith; it is the entrance into the Christian life; it is important to build a firm foundation upon which a life of grace can be built.

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.

Joseph-Pearce-150x150

“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.

7KLP_r

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.

DoLWebBanners

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)

catholic_school

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.”

IMG_20190824_224428

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.

7212121278_16f9b2ebb5_b

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)

pope-1CATECHESIS

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.

130703111008-01-jp2-horizontal-large-gallery

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.

catholic_school

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)

1219graves323jp_00000000706

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.

1003453_669687483045422_1693730200_n

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)

0954309b29a70dde76c394630f5cd302

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.”