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.
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.
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.”