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)
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)
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).