As children many of us were brought up to pray to our guardian angels. Somehow our parents would invoke our angels to protect us and guide us in our daily life. It almost became synonymous that when we dared to defy our parents rule they would say; “you better pray that your guardian angel will protect you.”
Other than calling upon our guardian angels to protect us, there is something more important, more distinct in following and applying the angelic model in our daily walk with Christ. When we take the time to really study the lives of the Angels throughout salvation history one cannot help but see that they are truly models of evangelization.
Who and What are the Angels
St. Augustine explains that the name “Angel” defines their office not their nature. The true name of their nature is “Spirit” (CCC 329). They are spirits which make up their nature; they are Angels for what they do as servants and messengers of God (CCC 329). Angels possess certain qualities such as extreme intelligence, a will and surpass perfection. Another distinctive quality of Angels is that they are at the service of Christ Himself. Christ is the center of the angelic world (CCC 331) and thus Angels were created through and for him, they are His (Mt 25:31; Col 1:16).
Messengers of God
When one reads Sacred Scripture you cannot help but see the role Angels have played in spreading the Word of God. Because the Angels belong to Christ they are ministers to Christ’s covenant, He has made them messengers of His saving plan for all humanity. Some of the examples we have from Sacred Scripture reveal a unique evangelistic role the Angels have had throughout salvation history e.g.
- They announced Salvation (Job 3:8-7)
- Closed earthly Paradise (Gen 3:24, 29, 21:17, 22:11)
- Stayed Abraham’s Hand (Ex 23:20-23)
- Led the people of God (Jdgs 6:11-24)
- The archangel Gabriel announces the birth of Christ (Lk 1:11; 2:14; 26)
The Catechism tells us from the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels from his birth (Heb 1:6); praise of his birth (Lk 2:14); protect at his infancy (Mt 1:20; 2:13). (CCC 333)
How Do They Evangelize?
The archangels (Michael, Gabriel and Raphael) as with all the angels evangelize by proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. This involves the proclamation of the Paschal Mystery which would place them at the very beginning of the Incarnation and the climax of His Resurrection. In other words they are perpetually proclaiming the Kerygma, the Gospel of Christ to the whole world on his behalf.
In keeping with the angelic model of evangelization our evangelistic efforts should start with the presentation of God’s plan a pre-evangelization or period of inquiry of sorts where our intent as evangelists is to engage the person to see outside their own religious box and begin to place themselves within Christ’s plan for all humanity which is eternal rest in Heaven. Part of our calculated engagement is to draw the person into the mysteries of Christ one mystery at a time beginning with why we are created in His image and likeness and why this likeness was further revealed through Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The Catechism beautifully describes the role of the angels this way; from its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC 336)
Let us call upon the intercessory prayers of the archangels on this their Feast day for their continued guidance and protection. St. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael; pray for us!
There’s a general rule of thumb all teachers hear at least once in their career and that is: never pretend to teach your students. Contrary to popular belief a student can sense a teacher’s false attitude towards him right away. Jesus reminded us that; “my teaching is not mine but his who sent me” (Jn 7:17). The catechist serves as a mediator of sorts between Christ and those whom we teach. Our missionary outreach is literally to hand on what Christ has taught.
If we say we are catechists then we place ourselves in the position to speak nothing other than Christ. Acts of the Apostle reminds us of this where “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (4:20). It’s quite clear what are aim should be; to provide a continual and gradual opportunity for a conversion of heart to Christ.
The role of catechist is one of the most significant ministries one can be involved in the Church. Why, because we are consistently dealing with the teeter-tottering effect of the human soul either believing in God or simply seeing Him as a passing fancy. But what if we can’t seem to teach about Christ with joy? What if our spiritual tank is empty and the seeds of despair, discontent or doubt creep in? I’ve seen this happen to many good catechists and the results can be deadly. Our spiritual aim should always be Christ in everything we do.
Addressing Spiritual Dryness
What are some ways we as catechist’s can address the spiritual dryness that may hit us from time to time?
- Establish an active prayer life through the Lectio Divina mediating and contemplating on the Word of God.
- Reestablish our sacramental life centered on the Holy Eucharist (Jn 6:34).
- Engage in praying the Divine Office the prayer of the Church.
- Establish a process of Lectio Divina with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
- Make it a habit to spend twenty minutes a day in spiritual reading and reflection.
- Marian devotion e.g. Consecration to Mary.
- Frequent reception of the sacrament of penance.
- Weekly participation in Eucharistic Adoration (where available).
- Go on retreat.
- Seek Spiritual Direction
Prayer for Catechists
This Sunday marks the annual celebration of Catechetical Sunday in the United States. Catechists across every Diocese are affirmed for their sacrifice and dedication in handing on the faith with joy. This year’s theme: “Teaching About God’s Gift of Forgiveness” reminds us of Christ sacrificial love as the ultimate sign of forgiveness and reminds us of the need to live out our sacramental life especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. The Second Letter to St. Peter provides us with a great biblical meditation that we can pray for all catechists: “His Divine power has granted all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to be his own glory and excellence by which he was granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape the corruption that is in the world because of passion and become partakers of the divine nature” (1:3-4).
Are crayons an effective tool of evangelization? Does the use of these sticks of color foster an intimate relationship with Christ? If the answer is no to both of these questions, one has to wonder why a crayon would even be used to determine our relationship with Christ. But yet this is what many catechists do when it comes to an initial evangelization of the faith.
The great evangelist Frank Sheed in his short classic: Are We Really Teaching Religion once commented that “a child must see the faith come alive from the teacher. . . This is turn requires the teacher to give of himself toward the truth and adhering to it. . . There must be an actual self-donation of oneself (pg. 5-6).
One of the great realities of the catechetical movement of the last forty years was and at times still is its infatuation with crayons as a tool for evangelization and catechesis. Instead of utilizing the perennial sacred works of art that have been present to us over the centuries e.g. Caravaggio’s the Calling of St. Matthew it seemed as if whenever someone was going to make a point about the Church it involved the use of crayons, felt and poster board; can everyone say “banners!”
The joy of expressing and revealing the natural beauty of the Church was replaced with the lure of colored faith images that didn’t necessarily exude sacred beauty nor look like anything remotely Catholic in nature. Is this how we are called to evangelize others? Would Jesus have used crayons to convey the faith to others? I’ll venture to say that the answers to these questions are probably not, but you never know, the Transfiguration did involve an array of bright colors.
Evangelizing Beauty in the Classroom
As catechists, one of the most significant steps we can take in the journey of evangelization is the revelation of the evidential beauty that exists in the Church. People respond to things that are true, beautiful and good. In the liturgy, the foremost example of evidential beauty of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of the need man has for signs and symbols expressing spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols (1146).
An important step to consider in the evangelization process within the classroom is making the sacred tangible. This requires transforming the teaching environment into an opportunity for conversion and formation rather than strictly information. Regardless of the group you are teaching, the process of evangelizing beauty rests on the genuine posture and presence of the catechist i.e. his or her demeanor or reverence towards Christ and His Church. The great philosopher Joseph Pieper commented that a sacred action requires a “celebration” . . . carrying out an action . . . a physical event manifested in visible forms, in the audible language of call and response, in bodily movements and symbolic gestures, in proclamation and song . . . (In Search of the Sacred pg. 26). Thus, before a child can truly grasp the significance of the Crucifix in the classroom, we should lead them toward the development of the sign of the Cross, what each movement signifies and where it leads you prior to any significant formal catechesis. In other words, you are establishing the building blocks to an intentional disciple. A great catechetical model that exudes this form of instruction is found in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Would Jesus Use Crayons?
I ask again; Would Jesus use crayons? It depends if He thought they would be useful. Then again we will never know. Are crayons incompatible with sound catechesis? It really depends on how the instrument is used. There is a value in coloring an image of our Blessed Mother when it’s part of an overall lesson plan. The problem is when all you do is have the student color a picture with no formal preparation, inquiry or pre-evangelization taking place about the Mother of God, thus you are left with a significant void about our Blessed Mother. In other words, the students’ knowledge of Mary amounts to a colored picture.
Unfortunately, this form of catechesis is still taking place today. It is tempting to simply have a child color a picture and be done with it. What’s the danger in this you may ask, for starters, you have no pre-evangelization, no stirring of the heart for Christ. There is simply no active engagement with the crayon method of evangelization. You leave a child by themselves in trying to “connect the dots” when all you do is color an image.
In the end, a practical way to off-set the crayon method of evangelization is by exposing a child to simple pieces of sacred art around your parish, home, or finding a magazine with various Catholic images that you can cut out and frame inexpensively. Here’s a helpful link that will get you started and hopefully inspire others to share the evidential beauty of Christ and the Church to those they evangelize.
What do you suppose is the primary intent of a parent when they send their child through a religious education program? Whether through the parish religious education program or a catholic school the hope would be that the intent of the parent is for their child to continue to develop an awareness of God and an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that has already been established at home. You would think this would be the primary purpose of religious formation.
G.K. Chesterton once remarked that: “One of the chief uses of religion is that it makes us remember our coming from darkness, the simple fact that we are created.” And here lays an important point to consider when we bring the notion of discipleship into this equation.
The basic tenet of a school of religion is to assist in the ongoing formation of not just a child but anyone young and old toward an active and living proclamation of the Gospel. This tenet in turn results in the person having a genuine an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Hence the question, “is discipleship possible within the classroom?” St. John Paul II wrote that the proclamation of the Gospel must bring an initial conversion that leads toward a maturation and education of the human being in the person and message of Jesus Christ (Catechesis In Our Time, 19).
Is Discipleship Possible In the Classroom?
In short, yes. Prior to any formal catechetical formation taking place, the classroom must be situated in a way where an invitation to know God and His Son Jesus Christ is established. Merely sitting someone down behind a desk and having them take out their religion book for example will not suffice if the intent is authentic discipleship. Any student young or old within a classroom setting deserves to be brought from an institutional format of instruction toward and systematic presentation of the Gospel where questions are answered about the faith and curiosity of the faith is established.
Children for example should be asked and exposed to the question of where do they see themselves in relation to God? And depending on the age provide living witnesses i.e. active disciples who can effectively share how they have walked with Christ. Frank Sheed once said that the “special object of religious education is to prepare the pupils for life in Christ.”
Discipleship is possible if:
- Our intention is to form disciples in the faith and not just regurgitate information the student may or may not comprehend.
- The classroom invokes an opportunity for prayer especially towards Christ.
- The teacher is truly interested in Jesus. Note: A student can immediately tell if a teacher is interested in and is living a life in Christ. Putting on a false face doesn’t help.
- There is an authentic joy is presenting the Gospel and active Gospel living e.g. the sacramental life.
- The teacher truly values the development of the student’s soul.
The Catechism reminds us that all the baptized (us) are called to conversion (CCC 1427). By its very nature the sacrament of baptism is the principal place for the first and fundamental conversion (1427). In other words our evangelistic efforts should be directed towards helping all young and old exercise their baptismal call to seek in Christ and in turn become disciples.
One of the great realities that we as the body of Christ often times neglect to see is that we are created by God to freely and openly speak about Him if we so choose. Discipleship is possible if we choose to exercise this reality and communicate who Christ is instead of ignoring it. In communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ we begin to illuminate the mind of the student to something other than themselves. Instead we gradually and continually draw them into a sense of discipleship e.g. a sense and desire of belonging with and in Christ. At the heart of authentic discipleship is revealing the identity of our Lord and the hope displayed through the offering of His Son Jesus Christ to humanity. Our efforts should naturally reflect this desire in that we want God accessible not distant.
St. Paul provides us with an exhortation on discipleship to St. Timothy that could very easily be directed toward us to “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords . . .” (1 Tim 6:14-16).
At what point do you consider abandoning the evangelization process for a person who adamantly refuses to seek Christ in his life?” You may want to ask yourself; what have I done to form a genuine relationship with the person in the first place?” The journey towards discipleship is not an instant process. In many ways it is a gradual journey towards conversion. And, when part of our ministry involves forming disciples in Christ, we should first look toward the dignity of the person versus just the person.
The great doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo was no stranger to the conversion process that leads to discipleship in Christ. In many ways he wrote the book on it e.g. Confessions. One of the most telling aspects of his Confessions was the importance of the virtue of charity. It was in charity where he came to the realization of God’s love for him and that he was entering into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. It was an eternal light of truth that he came to see the reality of Christ.
Authentic discipleship is rooted in the ability to love and show mercy to your fellow human being. It reflects an understanding of recognizing the dignity of the human person for who he is as a child of God. The great evangelist St. Paul echoed the importance of charity when he extolled his followers to embrace the failing of the weak so as to not please ourselves, let each of us please his neighbor for his good and edify him (Rom 15:1-3).
St. Paul’s words are very important for us to hear because when we begin the process of forming disciples the result is not a point of self-fulfillment, instead it’s the realization that hope reigns because of Christ and His Church. It’s the journey of walking and living in Christ not against Him. This was in many ways the same realization St. Augustine came to when he finally saw the light of eternal truth.
St. Augustine’s Methodology
At the heart of this great Doctor’s methodology as found in his First Catechetical Instruction was the Kerygma i.e. the proclamation of the Gospel. This involved introducing to the person that he is indeed part of God’s plan by the very nature of his creation in God’s image and likeness. This method would involve revealing the reality of the Church and providing ample examples of how we can live this life with joy. And this leads to a second point of St. Augustine’s methodology;
The disciple must possess joy. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that it is impossible to please God without faith since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who try to find him (Heb 11:6). Thus, when forming disciples those involved in the formation process are called to have a joyful spirit and actually live a life rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If the premise of discipleship is joy, then those we form will witness the virtue lived out authentically.
The content of forming disciples must establish a way of life that leads to God. One of the many dangers in this step of the journey is that we tend to be strangled by the process of discipleship versus the journey of faith. What I mean by process is the steps leading up to forming disciples. At times we can preoccupy ourselves with the logistical steps towards forming disciples without ever arriving at the journey of discipleship which leads to conversion and results in joy.
Pope Paul VI understood the value of authentic joy when exclaiming that modern man is more willing to listen to an authentic witness of the Gospel (Evangelization In the Modern World, 41). The content of discipleship involves a genuine love for the Word of God, a willingness to live out the Word and a desire to hand it on to others. Some elements regarding the content of forming disciples are as follows:
One: Preach the Gospel, especially Christ Crucified (1 Cor 1:23; Gal 1:4)
Two: Ask the question: What do you believe? This question serves as good Segway to the Creed.
Three: Root discipleship in joy and hope (1 Pt 3:15) A holy disposition goes a long way.
Four: Evangelization is the greatest act of love. (Rom 5:5-8) Our evangelistic aim is an exposition of the truth of Jesus Christ not an imposition.
These elements set the stage to encounter the reality of Christ that St. Augustine expressed when he realized that his journey was not complete until he embraced Christ as the way, the truth and light (Jn 14:5-6;Lib, 7, 10, 18; 10, 27). It is imperative that the aim of our evangelistic efforts is the maturation of the soul to unveil the beauty of Christ’s light.
Pope Francis has made it quite clear as to our mission in this world. We are called to proclaim the Gospel with authentic joy. Thus our aim is to move from the process of conversion to the actual journey of conversion which results in the gift of joy. History has dictated, and St. Augustine has revealed that the most effective means of evangelization and catechesis rest with the gift of joy.
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good to edify him.
A gentleman once asked me; “how can we effectively proclaim the Gospel to those who won’t listen.” The tone by which he asked the question was one of frustration, anger, and fear. How could I or anyone for that matter involved in evangelization and catechesis not relate to this person as we have often asked that question ourselves.
My response to the gentleman was in the form of a question. “Have you asked the person in question if they have ever heard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ let alone tried to establish a personal intimate relationship with Him?” The gentleman sat silent and thought for a minute. He had a surprised look on his face and proceeded to ask me, “We’re supposed to ask these questions?” I informed him not only are we supposed to ask these questions, were also called to authentically witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our very lives. In other words, you have to provide a morsel of Catholic evidence for the person to acknowledge some aspect of Catholic truth pertinent to their lives.
The foundation of this approach is two-fold:
- Be Kerygmatic in your approach, i.e. a deliberate, intentional disciple where you proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a clear unmutilated way where Christ is visible in Word and Deed.
- Be Christocentric in your catechetical instruction making sure everything is rooted in Christ and His Church and not in yourself.
My Teaching Is Not My Own
One of the most important aspects of the life of Christ revealed in Sacred Scripture is the rightful position Jesus took as Rabbi when teaching in the Temple. Even though the Jews did not recognize it at the time, Jesus took his rightful place as the Divine Teacher. We see this very clearly in St. John’s Gospel where he writes:
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking in my own authority. He who speaks in his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” (7:13-16)
Christ clearly demonstrated to everyone in the Temple that He is handing on something to everyone present. The very fact that he deflects his own position of teaching authority and directs everyone toward the one whom we are called to echo and reflect reveals the importance of handing on God’s instruction versus our own. With the gentleman I mentioned earlier, his frustration as it turned out was generated more from an attempt to teach his own brand of catechesis per se rather than what has been revealed and taught. The irony was that he did not realize he was actively doing this until it was brought to his attention.
The Motives of Credibility
A very important aspect of sound Kerygmatic Catechesis is teaching with credibility. The Catechism echoes this point where the person being witnessed and instructed will render his will to our Father in Heaven because he visibly witnesses the revelation of God. This is why the Word became flesh, so that we might become partakers of the Divine nature of God (CCC 456-460).
The Motives of Credibility are intertwined with the submission of our faith to be in accordance with reason and the external proofs of His Revelation God has provided for us. Examples of these proofs are:
- The Miracles of Christ and the Saints
- The Church’s growth and holiness
- The Church’s fruitfulness and stability (CCC 156)
These examples aid our own assent of faith and help us to pass these proofs on to those whom we teach. If this is the bare minimum required to effectively witness and teach the faith then we should heed these motives. St. Paul reminds us that in order to gain everything we most lose everything in Christ (Phil 3:8). This reflects our own ability to effectively evangelize the masses. Our mission is not for people to hear us; our mission is for people to hear Christ in us.
Our Wayward Journey
Effective catechesis is both Kerygmatic i.e. proclaiming and immersing the person in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Catechetical a systematic presentation of the faith rooted in Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture encompassed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, both must be intentional in that our aim is to bring the faithful into an intimate and active relationship with JESUS CHRIST.
The great Evangelist G.K. Chesterton in his typical wit and charm sums up everything with this simple perspective:
“The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.”
Have you ever asked yourself; “what is the final cause of everything that I do?” The answer can be summed up in the virtue of love. Truthfully, this is what drives our Lenten observance and the anticipation of the Resurrection (Easter) of our Lord. Christ offered Himself out of love to bring us into full communion with Him.
St. Paul tells us:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-11)
When we truly reflect on the unique catechetical character of our Baptismal promises, several things come into play. First we are first asked if we will reject Satan, and all his empty works, and all his empty promises. After this, we are asked if we freely submit ourselves to a “Credo of belief” i.e. the Creed or Profession of Faith. The premise behind these requests is four-fold:
First: Will you and I forgo the temptations the Devil has subtlety placed in front of us over the past year?
Second: Will you and I seek the promise of redemption instead of the promise of desolation?
Third: Will you and I believe in the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and the salvific acts of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried?
Fourth: Will you and I recognize the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Christ on earth to prepare us for our final eternal rest in Heaven?
One of the most important aspects of renewing our baptismal promises is the free desire to enter into a more intimate communion with Jesus Christ. The basic premise is to reject Satan and his fallacies and embrace Christ.
Why Renew Our Baptismal Promises at Easter?
As St. Paul alluded to earlier, we are not only baptized into Christ’s life but also into his death. Easter alludes to the fact that Christ’s resurrection brings us into a new life with Him. It marks our journey of faith where Christ has conquered sin and death. In Baptism, we are new creatures brought forth for the kingdom of God. Our mission upon our Baptism is to proclaim the Gospel faithfully (2 Cor 5:17; CCC 1265). Renewing our Baptismal promises affirms our desire to remove ourselves from the near occasion of sin and understand that Baptism signifies the first redemptive act of Christ for all humanity.
These promises call us to publicly affirm that we do indeed believe in Jesus Christ and that we also agree to live according to the teachings of the Church. In other words whether we realize it or not, we freely attest not to subvert Christ or His Church privately or publicly.
Why Take Our Renewal Seriously?
Why not? Man was created with dignity. God would not have it any other way. However, when this dignity was bruised as a result of the sin of our first parents, there was an immediate need for a series of redemptive acts to occur culminating in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God Jesus Christ. Our Christian trait bears this mark since we are created in the image of God. God’s creation was not just going to be left to wallow and deteriorate. Because God so loved the world He created, He offered His only-begotten Son so that we may not perish to sin but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). This is part of what our Christian trait signifies i.e. love. If God chose to offer His Son to grant us the opportunity for salvation out of love then all of our actions should be directed to a final cause rooted in love. This is why.
“By faith man completely submits his intellect and his will to God.”
Dei Verbum, 5
Our Screwtape Tendency
You may be wondering how the “Screwtape Letters” can possibly help us to become better disciples. If we take the time to carefully dissect what Screwtape’s intent is with the “Patient”, we see the very thing Screwtape is afraid of; the patient developing a relationship with the enemy (God) and actually enjoying it.
When a person denies their faith outright it’s usually due to many things, one in particular is feeling constrained to practice their faith because the person feels incarcerated. They convince themselves that a faith life is not really a necessity in life. This is the very premise by which Wormwood tries to convince the patient in Book One of the Screwtape Letters. The view is that any man can be satisfied with the ways of the world without being constrained to a belief system. In many ways this position reflects the art of relativism where everything is basically anything to anybody regardless if it has moral meaning or action.
When contemplating our own faith life in relation to Jesus Christ, many fail to see how un-balanced we are when it comes to placing Christ first in our lives. One of the first areas of our faith-life we tend to lose balance in is our communication with God. Our intellect and will become affected so to speak with a sense of communicating with ourselves versus someone greater than us. In turn this mode of communication tends to set the stage for a disregard of our basic belief system (the Creed). Hence if we disregard any truth of the faith then our attention is turned towards ourselves rather than Christ.
The Catechism reminds us that to obey means to “hear or listen to,” “to submit freely to the word that has been heard.” (CCC 144) One of the most prudent things we can practice during Lent is distancing ourselves from those distractions that take us away from our communication with God. Our genuine desire to practice our faith reflects a “personal adherence to God.” (CCC 150)
“But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
The Apostles Creed offers us a multitude of propositions from the “first profession” to belief in God (Heb 11:8) to acknowledging that we are created in His image and likeness. This is where relevance takes hold seen when we see the connection between God the Father and ourselves. Meditation on the Creed creates an opportunity to embrace someone other than ourselves. It rightly positions our devotion to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Acts of Discipleship
Jesus reminds us that if we continue in His Word we are truly his disciples (Jn 8:31) One of the many acts of discipleship is to seek the truth in everything especially in ourselves. Christ mentions the importance of coming to know the truth (vs. 32-32). This important point sets the stage with Christ proclaiming to the Apostles that he is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6).
As I mentioned earlier, Screwtape would like to see us view faith as a constraint in our daily lives. This feeds into his notion of distancing us from the enemy (God). Our discipleship rests in an openness to seek the will of God. Being a disciple need not be that hard if we truly see ourselves as living witnesses of the Gospel.
Here are some practical points to consider on being an effective disciple:
- Establish a practical time to pray with our Lord (morning, midday, evening, night).
- Seek the intercessory prayers of your patron saint to guide you in your daily walk with Christ.
- Immerse yourself in Sacred Scripture on a daily basis. Select a specific book of the bible that has always intrigued you and meditate on each chapter.
- Immerse yourself in reading an article from the Catechism each day.
- Incorporate one spiritual and corporal work of mercy in your daily routine.
- Listen to others intently before speaking about yourself.
- Share your walk with Christ to others when the appropriate opportunity arises.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
It’s funny when the topic of catechesis takes center stage every perceivable angle is taken on the good, the bad, and the ugly of catechesis. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from G.K Chesterton:
“We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. We want a religion that is right where we are wrong. We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world.”
Chesterton in his usual insightful and witty self knew the basic necessity of the human soul. The aim of Religion is not a set of rules or guideline meant to hamper the soul, quite contrary, the premise of religion is to assist man in gauging or better yet openly confirming his soul with Christ. We’ve recently seen how a society without sound catechesis can quickly turn on very basic moral human tenets such as the sanctity of marriage and the sacredness of human sexuality which is part of The Catechetical Dilemma of our day.
However, with this backdrop I read with amusement Joanne McPortland’s perspective on the status of religious education in the United States. In many ways her position is quite accurate regarding the status of religious education in our country. We do face a challenge of transmitting authentic instruction not to children first but to the parents. Joanne makes the case that the reason we have failed to properly catechize is not because of “the methods of our teachers and or our educational philosophy . . . but because we have been catechizing the wrong damn people.” She is partially correct on this front. It is true that part of our catechetical dilemma is a tail wagging the dog catechetical directive of emphasizing the child over the adult. We have to ask the question if the parent or parish catechist is not equipped to teach the faith, will the child be able to learn his or her faith well?
One of the primary basis of catechesis rests with the adult catechetical model which is primarily seen through the Catechumenal model of instruction i.e. RCIA. St. Augustine realized the necessity of catechizing adults and bringing them into a fuller understanding of Christ and His Church. Another point to remember is that proper method matters! If the person doesn’t know the faith then it probably means they have the furthest clue on how to convey it to begin with. Part of the problem has been the need to fill a child with information instead of offering an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Blessed John Paul II echoed this in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae where the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ; only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity (5).
Bad Catechesis Does Exist
St. Luke reminds us:
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. . . The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil . . . (6:43-45).
Christ’s words regarding good and bad fruit are predicated on the parable of the blind man leading the blind man (Lk 6:39-40). The end result is that both will fall into the pit. This sums up the bad catechetical platform many are still falling into. It should come to no ones’ surprise that the push for a modified form of the act of contrition to stray away from actually calling sin “sin” is a direct result of catechetical ignorance which leads to an unwillingness to embrace and present “right and proper instruction.” Whenever we fail to present what the Catechism (156) refers to as the “motives of credibility” signs of Divine Revelation, we allow “motives of incredibility” to take form validating the development of false doctrines that simply make no sense but to the poorly catechized appear to be perfectly normal and within their right to live and profess. Does this sound familiar in your parish programs?
Should We Stop Catechizing Children?
The obvious answer is no, but we do need to change our methodological approach and understanding of catechesis in general. Catechesis is not about embracing the sinner and forgetting about the sin. Catechesis is about embracing the sinner and leading him to a life of holiness in communion with Christ and His Church in order to sin no more. It’s about “authentic intentional discipleship.” I can attest to where Joanne is coming from due the various catechetical programs I have witnessed over the years where I wouldn’t let my own children set foot in. But we can’t forget about the fruits that have developed over the last twenty years especially the introduction of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) as the definitive synthesis of our Catholic faith.
Part of our new methodology should stress in providing opportunities to encounter Christ before force feeding any written material upon the adult or child. The “classroom” per se should not be looked upon as a classroom instead, it should be carefully constructed as an opportunity for prayer and conversion with uniquely positioned motives of credibility e.g. Crucifix, sacred space, sacramentals, saints etc. This model applies to both adults and children. This is what I refer to as our catechetical disengagement of dissecting the false pretenses a person has about the faith and starting from Heaven to earth (see: Col 3:1-3).
There is Definitive Hope in Catechesis
Christ embodies Hope (Col 1:27). We can only blind ourselves so much until a realization sets in that there is something greater at work than ourselves. Bad catechesis established its precedent on the notion that everything depended on man i.e. his emotions, feelings, thoughts. This idea led to a concerted effort to eliminate any notion of a creed-rule of faith hence many of the issues Joanne points out.
When God promised Abraham (Heb 6:19 ff.) that He would bless him and multiply his flock, God assured Abraham of his continual love and guidance. He would never go away. God strengthened this Hope and promise by the birth of His only-begotten Son. Christ became and continues to be the anchor by which we practice a steadfast faith revealed in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Church in her goodness will be steadfast in its continual proclamation of the Gospel. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that:
. . . the Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary, his understanding in unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youth shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they shall mount up with wings like eagles they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (40:27-31).
Is there a problem with religious education? The answer is yes? Has the current approach been skewed for multiple generations, in many ways it has. Part of the answer is a reaffirmation of our own identity as Baptized Christians in the faith i.e. recalling the day of our baptism and the significance of it. It comes down to basics which in turn is a call to understand our own discipleship in Christ. If the person realized what he or she was baptized into, and if this is constantly reaffirmed and taught then there would be a more open disposition to seek a deeper relationship with Christ. It’s not about the puppets, the textbook or the altered act of contrition; it’s about Christ actively in my life.
“We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.”
Blessed Cardinal Newman
Is it better to be Prudent or not? When discussing the infamous educational system of St. John Bosco (Preventive System) one cannot help to see how prudent he was in helping the children of Turin.
The Method of St. John Bosco
A striking characteristic one encounters upon reading about St. John Bosco and his Preventive System is just how direct his methods were in acquiring the attention of a child. His Preventive System of Reason, Religion and Kindness can be said hinged on the virtue of Prudence. How so? When you take the first principle of Reason, the child would be given an opportunity to consent to guidance and instruction. Take note that the first principle does not dictate or mandate anything. On the contrary it offers an opportunity for a child to consider the guidance and instruction St. John Bosco would keenly offer.
Human virtues as the Catechism reminds us are: firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions and guide our conduct according to reason and faith (CCC 1804). This catechetical instruction aptly describes St. John Bosco’s intentional practice to encourage and then draw in a child to live a life in conjunction with faith and reason.
What St. John Bosco wanted to establish with the child was a bridge from where he was to where he could be if open to it. The hope of this bridge was to bring the child toward Christ thus establishing a joyful spirit.
The second principle of Religion stressed the ugliness of sin and the value of living a virtuous life. The purpose of this second principal was to direct the child’s actions toward a greater good. We can say that aim was to help the child practice good things versus bad ones. In other words, holiness is the aim in this second principle. Five simple methods of this principle are as follows:
- Holiness of ordinary life
- The joy and optimism of holiness
- Centrality of Confession
- The Holy Eucharist
- Love of Mary
The third principle of Kindness emphasizes the theological 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 constant for the 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, respect, attention, dedication to service, and personal responsibility.
The Exercise of Virtue and the Value of Prudence
The exercise of virtue lies at the heart of St. John Bosco’s Preventive System. Each child was offered the opportunity to pursue the good and live it through an active sacramental life in Christ. If there was one particular virtue that stood out in the Preventive System, it was the virtue of Prudence. Why, because exercise of this virtue disposes the person to practical reason to discern out true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it (CCC 1806). Our actions should be directed by a right sense of reason and not a wrong one. In other words it means to set a standard of right behavior ordered towards the good who is Christ Himself.
St. John Bosco desired that the children in his oratory both boys and girls make correct and moral choices. This involves making right judgments which in turn would lead toward a Christian moral principle to live by. It guides our discernment in embracing and understanding good and avoiding evil.
St. John Bosco, father an teacher of youth, raised up by God, especially for the salvation of poor and needy children: obtain that we may be enkindled by the same fire of charity as inflamed thee. Thou dist labor unceasingly in search of souls for Christ. May we, with the help of thy prayers, find God as thou didst, and enjoy eternal beatitude with thee.