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)
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)
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.”