Gaudete et Exsultate — Pope Francis’ new call to holiness


As many of you may know, yesterday saw the release of a new apostolic exhortation from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, called Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad!).

The document is subtitled “On the call to holiness in today’s world,” and that is certainly the crux of the matter. The Church teaches a universal call to holiness, and this is expounded upon in the Holy Father’s exhortation.

Many of the commentaries which have been published in the last couple of days give focus to a couple of points that are more “newsworthy” or controversial. For example, in light of the pope’s recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari wherein he purportedly denied the existence of hell (he did not, in fact, do any such thing), the document explicitly affirms the existence of hell and of the devil as not merely symbolic images, but realities we must face. It certainly makes sense that a document on the pursuit of holiness would address the diabolic forces that strive to keep us from being holy!

Jesus “wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” the pope writes. He continues that the document is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and the like, but rather his goal is to “repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities.”


Here is the text of the document:

And here are several commentaries on the document:

A collection of “key quotes” compiled by the UK’s Catholic Herald:

Christopher Altieri on what Gaudete et Exsultate means for the Church:

JD Flynn, Editor-in-Chief of Catholic News Agency, on “Reading Pope Francis in love”:

Catholic World Report‘s Carl Olson’s take on the document:

A Zenit report on Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s assessment of the document: (Cardinal DiNardo is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register

And lastly, from the great Italian vaticanista, Sandro Magister:

These commentaries bring out a lot of the more salient points of the apostolic exhortation, but as in all things, the best way to familiarize yourself with a document is to sit down and read it. It will be well worth your time!

Gaudete et Exsultate is a reminder, in the truest sense of an exhortation, that we are all called to holiness.

Keeping catechesis invigorated

As we approach the end of Lent, and the beginning of the Easter season, the thoughts of pastors, teachers, and catechists naturally begin to turn to those lovely days of sunshine in the spring and summer. In many places, catechetical classes, bible studies, faith formation groups, and other such activities begin to wind down, fade away, for a summer hiatus.

This need not be the case!

We are all called to continue nurturing our faith at all times, not only during the school year. There are many ways to go about this, and this blog will be an encouragement to do just that! It will also provide several ideas on ways to continue to invigorate parish faith life, even during the spring and summer slowdown.

Faith formation groups and classes are meant to be so much more than “something to do,” or a way to foster community. While they certainly are positive ways to build a sense of community and faith-sharing, it is really about nurturing each individual’s faith.

Reading groups and book clubs

After 2,000 years, the Christian tradition (and particularly the Catholic Church) has accumulated an unimaginably vast and rich intellectual patrimony. Some of the foremost men and women thinkers of all time served the Church founded by Jesus Christ, and we would do well to continue reading their words and prayerfully reflecting on them.

You might consider organizing reading groups or book clubs to prayerfully read and reflect on these great works from throughout the history of the Church. There are many dozens of beautiful encyclicals and other writings from the popes; writings of the saints, like the Confessions of St. Augustine, the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the Story of a Soul of St. Therese of Lisieux, or even Eusebeius’ Ecclesiastical History; more recent theologians such as Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and Adrienne von Speyr, who wrote monumentally profound and moving works, that are available in beautiful and easily readable English translations; British Catholic writers such as Ronald Knox (The Hidden Stream, to take one example), Robert Hugh Benson (novels including Lord of the World and Come Rack! Come Rope!), and G.K. Chesterton (OrthodoxyThe Everlasting Man, and everything else to flow from his pen); American fiction writers, like Flannery O’Connor (Wise Blood and a mountain of short stories) and Walker Percy (Love in the RuinsThe Thanatos Syndrome, and others); and current figures such as Robert Cardinal Sarah (The Power of Silence and God or Nothing) or Carl Olson (Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?).

Read the Bible. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read the documents of the Second Vatican Council. There is no shortage of beautiful and profound texts to read, and this is a terrific way to continue nurturing the faith.


Movie nights

While it may not seem like it when looking at the usual Hollywood fare, there truly are many wonderful, well-made, and thoroughly-enjoyable movies suitable for an explicitly Catholic viewing. Some of these come from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood; others are foreign films that come out of a more strongly Catholic milieu. Hosting family movie nights to view some of these films continues that faith nurturing to which we keep referring, and is also a pleasant social gathering for the parish.

Consider classic films such as The Song of Bernadette, Going My Way (with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Academy Award-winning performances), Jesus of Nazareth, The Ten Commandments, Becket, A Man for All Seasons (a marvelous film about St. Thomas More, which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards), or The Scarlet and the Black (with Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer). Alternatively, if it is more recent productions you are looking for, try The 13th Day, Ignatius of Loyola, Restless Heart, or Pope John Paul II (starring Jon Voigt and Cary Elwes as the old and young Karol Wojtyla, respectively). All of these make for great viewing, and all are beautifully edifying.

There is also the series called Footprints of God, by Stephen K. Ray. This is a documentary series in which the host/author takes viewers to the Holy Land, to the real places where Jesus walked and taught, where the saints prayed and preached and gave their lives. The series consists of several episodes, each of which would make for a fine night of community viewing.


Bible studies

Above all, parishes should encourage and foster prayerful reading of the Bible, and this can be emphasized during the spring and summer slowdown. Bible studies do not have to close down during the summer; if there is a volunteer to lead the Bible study, people will come.

There are many Bible study resources that can be utilized to help in this effort. Ignatius Press’ Study Bible series consists of commentaries that can easily be used to lead such classes; the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology also has many resources available. Jeff Cavins, Father Mitch Pacwa, and many others have made resources available to help communities break open Sacred Scripture, to fall in love with the Word of God. There is no better time than the present to do so.


While many parishes may struggle to find the resources necessary for much activity during the spring and summer, it is important to keep up the availability of catechesis, as the formation of hearts and souls is the primary task. God willing, holy habits have been cultivated during these last weeks of Lent, so let’s keep the momentum going through Easter and into summer!

25 Years of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Earlier this month, the Church marked a pair of historic and important landmarks: the 55th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the 25th anniversary of the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Both of these landmarks are truly impressive, but in this post I want to briefly explore the incredible effect that the Catechism has had on the life of the Church.

The Catechism is largely a passion project of Pope St. John Paul II and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who spent 24 years as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. In 1985, John Paul convoked an Extraordinary Synod to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. During the Synod, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston called for a new universal catechism. The following year, a commission was founded to begin work on this monumental task.


There were some who did not think this would come to fruition. There had not been a universal catechism produced since the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. While there were many local and regional catechisms produced during the intervening centuries (including, memorably, the famous Baltimore Catechism here in the United States), this would be the first attempt at a catechism for the whole Church since that council.

The general editor of the Catechism was Bishop Christoph Schönborn, OP, who would later be named cardinal and Archbishop of Vienna. One of the most prominent and articulate theological minds of the last 30 years, Cardinal Schönborn proved an able editor who helped guide the Catechism through a relatively swift 6-year process to its publication.

I don’t think it can be easily overstated what an impact the Catechism has had on the Church all over the world. Frankly, it may be many years, or many decades, before we can adequately assess the effect it has had. The tenets of the faith have been articulated carefully, and beautifully, with incessant reference to Sacred Scripture, the Church fathers, official Church documents, and great theological minds. A summary in almost 3,000 paragraphs, it is truly a masterful work of art.


Here are a number of recent pieces celebrating this jubilee of the Catechism:

Matthew Bunson writing for the National Catholic Register:

Luke Coppen writing for the UK’s Catholic Herald:

Fr. William P. Saunders writing for the Arlington Catholic Herald:

Junno Arocho Esteves writing for Crux:

Carl E. Olson writing for Catholic World Report:

George Weigel writing for First Things:

A new year for Catholic education

We’ve reached the beginning of yet another school year. The beginning of school, the beginning of religious education classes, the beginning of sacramental prep. Most of the readers of this blog are teachers and catechists and parents; so many of you are likely considering just how you are going to cover all the material you would like to this year.

One problem that many parish catechists, religion teachers, and parents have is finishing the book. So much effort is put into choosing the texts that will be used, and planning out the year. The instructor wants to make sure certain topics are covered in a limited amount of time, and sometimes even at certain times of year.

Time is at a premium — but it is, of course, recognized that this is important material! So it is a balancing act. How can we cover all the material, without having to speed through it and sacrifice the opportunity to really delve deep?


This is the perennial question!

Many textbooks, including Ignatius Press’s Faith & Life series, have teacher’s manuals with detailed lesson plans. Each chapter provides a full week of detailed color-coded lesson plans, with four days for presenting new material and one day for review and assessment. These lesson plans are designed to be guides in teaching even the most complex truths of the Catholic Faith with age-appropriate examples. The plans can be adjusted as needed to fit the context of the classroom and how often the class meets.

For parish catechists and CCD programs, Ignatius Press has developed once-a-week lesson plans which can be found at These lesson plans cover the essential material and doctrines of each chapter in a one-hour format.

Using methods such as this, it becomes easier for teachers, catechists, and others to work through an entire text in a given year. These texts are developed with a careful eye towards age-appropriate materials, and gradually learning the truths of the Catholic Faith in greater detail. You can trust that pedagogy was a top priority!

As we begin the school year, let us pray that our hearts and intellects be blessed and enlightened.

St. Albert the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas, patrons of students, pray for us!

The blog is risen!

As regular readers of the Ignatius Press Religious Education Blog will have noticed, these pages have been dormant for some time now — almost two years. However, in the last few months there have been some changes, and we’ve decided it is time to bring the blog back from the dead!

I want to use this first post for two purposes. The first of these is to introduce myself. My name is Paul Senz, and I am a new Ignatius Press employee as of June 2017. My role is twofold: I am the Sales Manager and jack-of-all-trades for the Ignatius Pew Missal (, and the Diocesan Consultant for Ignatius Press Religious Education. It has been a whirlwind couple of months so far, and there is no shortage of things to do. One of the most important things to me, however, was to get this blog up and running again, with regular posts meant to edify and educate Ignatius Press customers, and all those who may find themselves on these pages.

I will be writing most of the posts myself. In addition to my work with Ignatius Press, I frequently write for many Catholic sites and publications, and am a regular contributor to Catholic World Report (which is an Ignatius Press publication), Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, the UK’s Catholic HeraldCatholic News Service, the National Catholic RegisterThe Priest Magazine, and others. I am excited about the opportunity to bring my gifts as a writer to this blog, and I will be inviting a number of talented guest writers to provide their own insights on this page.


St. Gregory the Great, writing with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (by Jusepe de Ribera)

We have some great content lined up for the coming weeks, months, and years. We will be looking into the world of religious education and catechesis; mining the Church’s rich patrimony of writings and teachings; exploring tips for effective catechesis; and much more.

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It seemed like a fitting date for the Ignatius Press Religious Education blog to begin its new life, and we will take Our Blessed Mother as our patroness.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

What can St. John Bosco teach us about Mercy?

by Marlon De La Torre, Department Director for Catechesis, Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth

Imagine for a moment that you’re a catechist in a parish religious education program or Catholic school and you suddenly realize that all of your students have a very high value of themselves.


And, upon realizing this fascinating phenomenon you also realize that the majority of your students do not associate their high value as children created in the image and likeness of God.


Gasp! Your first reaction may be to put your students in their place and set aside any semblance of a merciful act. If this is the case, St. John Bosco developed a profound educational system called the Preventive System. In short, this system provides us with a clear path toward incorporating a genuine atmosphere of mercy that at times is sorely needed within the life of a child.

St john bosco

St. John Bosco was one of the greatest teachers of the Catholic faith, especially in reaching the young men of his day. His proving ground was the very difficult streets of Turin, Italy where the theological virtue of charity was more hoped for than seen; any genuine display mercy, spiritual or corporal was non-existent on a daily basis. Knowing the environment he had to work with Don Bosco made it his aim for “his boys” to see themselves as children of God. He desired to “save their souls.”

There was no miscommunication on St. John Bosco’s part on his intent to reach the souls of these boys. Because of his direct, stern, yet merciful loving approach many children were taken aback on how direct he was towards them: a “fight fire with fire” approach but, with Christ at the center. This aspect of his approach was essential in reaching these children because he showed them a profound love of forgiveness and at the same time held them accountable for their actions.

The Preventive System is an approach based on three core principles: Reason, Religion, and Kindness. Each principle has a specific point to bring the child closer to Christ.


The Principle of Reason provides a reasonable atmosphere where the child would be given the opportunity to consent to instruction and guidance. The goal of this first principle is to develop good Christians and useful citizens. The teacher must be the bridge to a child’s discovery of the world through patience, diligence, and prayer.

Grunge rubber stamp with word Reason,vector illustration

The Principle of Religion stressed the ugliness of sin and the value of living a virtuous life. The aim is to develop the intellectual and physical gifts the child possesses and how he can be directed toward a greater good. There are five steps within this principle to help youth attain personal holiness:

  1. Holiness of ordinary life
  2. The joy and optimism of holiness
  3. Centrality of Confession
  4. The Holy Eucharist
  5. Love of Mary


The Principle of Kindness emphasizes the virtue of love. St. John Bosco would stress: “Let us make ourselves loved, and we shall possess their hearts.” In other words, our Christian witness must be genuine, merciful and constant for spiritual development of the child. The learning environment should be warm and inviting, not cold. The family spirit reigned; he did this through rapport, friendliness, presence, mercy, respect, attention, dedication to service, and personal responsibility.


The core of all three principles of the Preventive System is to draw the child away from an individualistic view. As the last principle stressed: “the family spirit reigned.” St. John Bosco’s premise is that the child should know that he is part of God’s plan by the very fact he was created in His image and likeness. This in turn will help the child view that everyone is made in the image of God.


What made St. John Bosco’s methods so effective was his willingness to go into the heart of the child regardless of his state in life and see Christ in him. Wisdom tells us these methods not only served St. John Bosco well; they can also reawaken a child’s relationship with Christ. The essential goal of the Preventive System is to foster productive Catholic citizens who seek to assist others before themselves. When teaching his students about his Preventive System St. John Bosco would always remind them: “Get them to love you and they’ll follow you anywhere.”


St. John Bosco, pray for us!

Let us hear from you!

-In one way or another we have all implemented all or parts of the Preventive System.  Please share with us how you have implemented any or all of this system in your parish or school.

-What is your school or parish doing for the Year of Mercy?

Want more information about the Preventive System? Go to:

Movie about St. John Bosco:




Injecting the Kerygma Into Your Curriculum

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By Jamin Herold, Associate Director – New Evangelization, Diocese of Kalamazoo

kerygma  noun ke·ryg·ma \kə-ˈrig-mə\

:  the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ

A longstanding debate in the field of Catechesis centers on the idea of solid theological content versus the idea of evangelistic welcoming in the classroom. Often, Americans working in this field have encamped themselves in the either/or of these two camps, reflecting the trend toward polarity in our culture.

In one way it makes sense we would do this. After all, for years the field of catechesis has been wrapped in the dogmatic memorization of the Baltimore Catechism, while the first inklings and basic proclamation of faith had already been fostered in the children at home. It was in the home where they first encountered Church through their families, at the dinner table, at nightly prayer, through the devotions. The lives of the faithful were truly integrated with the life of faith in their homes and with their friends.

Catholic Family Praying

As time passed, society changed: migration away from the Catholic ethnic neighborhoods, the shift away from Catholic Schools, and the deterioration of the family. These changes led to the evaporation of the first kindling of faith and the basic proclamation of the Gospel away from the setting of the family.

As this change occurred some believed that holding true to the tradition of the memorized texts of the Baltimore Catechism would be the saving grace. Others thought that a new method was needed; one that did not focus on the theological concepts of the Faith, but on minimizing the amount of teaching, and encouraging a focus on “Jesus loves you”. Many believed the stern, absolutism of the teachings of the Church were actually leading the flock away from faith.

Now, we have many who can recite the Baltimore Catechism, and yet have no idea what it means, or how to have relationship with Jesus through those texts. In fact, for many, hearing the words, “personal relationship with Jesus” sounds Protestant. We have a whole new generation of Catholics who still have no relationship with Jesus, but they know of some “idyllic person” named Jesus who loves them, and allows them to do whatever they want. They have encountered a false love, a false mercy, neither tempered with truth and justice.

Both camps have it right, but in having it right, they also have it wrong. The faith is never an “either/or” but a “both/and”.  The theological truths of the Church will never mean anything without a true encounter with Jesus Christ. And, the love invitation has no validity without the knowledge of who Jesus Christ is within the fullness of the theological truths.

So where do we find ourselves today? What does this mean for your classrooms? How do we become a people of both/and?  How can the Kerygma (the basic proclamation) change all that we do with our students?

Look to all the CARA, BARNA, Pew Research, and other similar studies. We are a post-Christian society, and more so every year. We are a Catholic Church that has either no encounter with the risen Christ, or no understanding of who this Christ is. What this means is that the catechist’s job has become that much more difficult.

Catechists are now, not only needing to convey the immense theological truths of the Church and who Jesus Christ is, they must also provide for the lack of the initial kindling of faith, that used to be formed in the family.

As Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi said, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are first witnesses”.


How much more that is true now; most of the faithful and their children have never encountered witnesses of faith. This witness is not being passed on to future generations.

Understanding and encountering the Kerygma is the key solution to these issues. First, you must encounter this yourself. The basic proclamation that:

God created out of love,

We rejected that love,

Sin ruptured our relationship with God,

Sacrificial death of a pure victim was the only way to overcome that rupture,

God supplied Himself (Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity) as the sacrifice,

Jesus rose from the dead, He established the Church to supply the world with His grace, and The Holy Spirit is given to the Church and each of her members,

As Church we live as bride and bridegroom with Jesus Christ,

And we are called to repentance,

To a life of service to God and others,

To worship and prayer,

And to lives of obedience to God.

We must acknowledge that each one of us is broken and in need of a Savior,

Jesus Christ is that Savior,

He has come and healed each of us.

Once we have not just heard this basic proclamation, but also put it into effect in our lives, changed and repented of our old lives, and willing to live a new life in Christ, then and only then can we be witnesses.

Catholic Witness

This message must be entwined throughout the fabric of the strong theological teaching we have in the classroom. Nothing should be taught without looking through the lens of the Kerygma, pointing to and flowing from who Jesus Christ is, and how the Kerygma fits into the lives of the children.

The truths we teach in the classroom will now have meaning, purpose and an encounter with the living God.  When the Kerygma is brought into the classroom we are no longer teaching theological statements to be memorized like multiplication tables, but we are introducing people to the Beloved. Now, when we speak of a God who loves, it is not just empty promises, or a mythological love that is promised, but rather an encounter with the Cross – where justice and mercy meet. That love is a person; all who encounter Him will thirst more and more, they will drink in the beauty of His Truth.

This is truly one of the most vital things we do as catechists, to proclaim the basic Gospel truths, through our own encounter, and to expand on this message with all we teach.

So, how do we integrate the Kerygma into each lesson we teach? Here are some ideas: