In our last post, we looked at the first section of Pope St. John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, On Catechesis in Our Time. Today we are continuing our closer look at this important exhortation from the Holy Father.
The third section of the exhortation is entitled “Catechesis in the Church’s Pastoral and Missionary Activity,” and focuses a great deal on catechesis within the context of evangelization. As the readers of this blog will likely recall, St. John Paul II was a great proponent of the Church going into the world in the context of a New Evangelization — and he saw catechesis as a critical part of this. “Catechesis cannot be dissociated from the Church’s pastoral and missionary activity as a whole,” he wrote (18).
There follows a marvelous basic definition of catechesis: “All in all, it can be taken here that catechesis is an education of children, young people and adults in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life. Accordingly, while not being formally identified with them, catechesis is built on a certain number of elements of the Church’s pastoral mission that have a catechetical aspect, that prepare for catechesis, or that spring from it. These elements are: the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching through the kerygma to arouse faith, apologetics or examination of the reasons for belief, experience of Christian living, celebration of the sacraments, integration into the ecclesial community, and apostolic and missionary witness” (18)
Catechesis is not purely an end in itself. It is not an intellectual exercise, a memorization challenge. “The specific aim of catechesis is to develop, with God’s help, an as yet initial faith, and to advance in fullness and to nourish day by day the Christian life of the faithful, young and old.” (20) Nourishing the Christian life, growing in relationship with Jesus Christ — this is the aim of catechesis. We are all called to know and love God, and to serve him, and you truly come to love someone the more you get to know Him.
The Holy Father goes on to make the point that catechesis, while not being a purely intellectual endeavor, also is not to be solely based on “life experience.” He says that no opposition is “to be set up between a catechesis taking life as its point of departure and a traditional doctrinal and systematic catechesis.” (22) He continues, “Authentic catechesis is always an orderly and systematic initiation into the revelation that God has given of Himself to humanity in Christ Jesus, a revelation stored in the depths of the Church’s memory and in Sacred Scripture, and constantly communicated from one generation to the next by a living, active traditio.” (22)
In the Catholic Church, all ecclesial life centers around the Sacraments. This absolutely goes for catechesis, and this does not escape the notice of the pope writing in Catechesi Tradendae: “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of human beings.” (23) Through catechesis we nourish the Christian life, the life which subsists in the Sacraments.
We will continue our discussion of this important exhortation in the next post, with the fourth section.