The more the Church, whether on the local or the universal level, gives catechesis priority over other works and undertakings the results of which would be more spectacular, the more she finds in catechesis a strengthening of her internal life as a community of believers and of her external activity as a missionary Church.
Bl. Pope John Paul II (Catechesi tradendae)
Talking with friends, about the recently launched Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Toronto, the conversation keeps reverting to the crisis of faith and the need for catechesis. Indeed, one friend asked a poignant question: what is the point about discussing the subtleties (indeed hairsplitting) over the usus antiquoir Mass, when the vast majority of Catholics are confused with the basics of the Faith: e.g. confused about the Real Presence, what the Mass actually is, why the Catholic Faith is the one, true religion, why contraception is intrinsically evil and so on. Before a person will obey, they must understand; so that - again, for example - the Holy Father will not be rejected as "that old man in Rome telling me how to live my life"; rather, " the Holy Father is the Vicar of Christ, he speaks for Christ, he loves me..."
My concern about the lack of catechesis is a long standing one. The Pastoral Plan does not read or flow well, well, and raises many, many questions due to its incoherency. Are the points under the five main headings in order of importance? This is not mentioned, and if so, we have a very serious problem with the theme "Parish Life". Here, catechesis is buried near the bottom; outweighed in importance (it would seem) by the need for lay pastoral involvement in running parishes! Further, the mention of the "New Evangelization" is inaccurate. The New Evangelization refers explicitly to the re-proposal of the Faith to those Catholics who have left it.
Catechesis was dear to the heart of Pope John Paul II. In his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesis trandendae, he emphasized that the knowledge and study and then living of the faith will then lead into a natural extension into missionary activity. This was accomplished by the Apostles and early Christians who believed, knew and lived the Faith during the Roman Empire. It was catechesis that enabled the fledgling Japanese Christian community to survive hundreds of years of persecution.
Pope Benedict, in 2012, in a talk to priests of the Archdiocese of Rome spoke these words of catechesis:
Therefore “The Year of Faith”, the Year of Catechism — to be very practical — are linked inseparably.... A serious problem for the Church today is the lack of knowledge of the faith, “religious illiteracy”... with this illiteracy we are unable to grow, unity is unable to grow. We ourselves must therefore recover this content, as a wealth of unity, not a packet of dogmas and orders but a unique reality which is revealed in its depths and beauty.
We must do our utmost for a catechetical renewal, so that the faith may be known and in this way God may be known, Christ may be known, the truth may be known, so that unity may develop in truth.
... One last point. St Paul speaks of the growth of the perfect man, who reaches the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. We will no longer be children at the mercy of the waves, tossed to and fro and carried about by any wind of doctrine (cf. Eph 4:13-14). “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him” (Eph 4:15). It is not possible to live in spiritual infancy, in an infantile faith: unfortunately, in this world of ours we see this infancy. Many have made no further progress after the first catechesis; perhaps the nucleus has remained, or perhaps it too has been destroyed. And, moreover, they are on the waves of the world and nothing else; they cannot, as adults, with skill and with profound conviction, explain and make present the philosophy of faith — so to speak — the great wisdom, the rationality of faith which also opens the eyes of others, which actually opens eyes to what is good and true in the world. Adulthood in faith is lacking and what remains is infancy in faith.
Of course in recent decades we have also experienced another use of the term, “adult faith”. People speak of an “adult faith”, namely, emancipated from the Magisterium of the Church. As long as I am under the mother I am a child, I must emancipate myself; emancipated from the Magisterium, I have finally reached adulthood. But the result is not an adult faith, the result is dependence on the waves of the world, on the opinion of the world, on the dictatorship of the media, of the opinion which is in all minds and which all want. This is not true emancipation, emancipation from the communion of the Body of Christ!
On the contrary, it is falling under the dictatorship of the wind and waves of the world. True emancipation is, precisely, freeing oneself from this dictatorship, in the freedom of God’s children who believe together in the Body of Christ, with the Risen Christ, and thus see reality and are able to respond to the challenges of our time.
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