Archive | August, 2011

Catechizing for Conversion

30 Aug

I often hear complaints that many Catholics are ignorant of the faith. We rightly critique the various factors that contribute to this phenomenon, from defective catechetical materials to uninspired teaching and a lack of parental support. There seems to be plenty of blame to go around.

While all of the above may be true, it’s nonetheless fair to say that the problem is not so much a failure of catechesis so much as it’s a lack of evangelization (and thus a lack of faith).

Catechesis is about helping a person mature in the faith. In other words, it’s about “educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the Person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Pope John Paul II, On Catechesis in Our Time, no. 19). 

Notice that the Holy Father assumes here a living faith, that the person being catechized is already a disciple. In practice, that’s an assumption we cannot afford to make, especially in today’s culture. The Holy Father admitted as much, and also said that catechesis not only must nourish and teach the faith, but also unceasingly arouse it.

While all of this is part of  ”evangelization” in a broad sense, arousing one to a personal commitment to Christ is evangelization in the stricter sense, and that’s the sort of evangelization that I think is often lacking, and when it is, catechesis just doesn’t stick. Continue reading

Do You Believe in Miracles?

25 Aug

This weekend is the feast of St. Augustine, though this year it falls on Sunday and will be preempted by the Lord’s Day celebration. St. Augustine, after St. Paul, is probably the most celebrated “convert” in the history of the Church. Yet, we’re all converts, and we all have stories to tell. In that spirit, I’m reprinting here a “testimony” I gave several years ago.

Back in 1984, I was a young lawyer who years before had abandoned the faith of my youth. I had largely cleaned up my act since my wild undergraduate days, but that was more a matter of expedience, not moral conviction. I felt as though I should give my life to something or Someone, but I really didn’t know where to turn.

My sights weren’t set particularly high, so I resolved to help build the earthly city. After all, what else was there to life?

At that time, my mother asked me to start going back to Mass on Sunday so as to set a good example for my nephews and nieces. I was reluctant to do so, as I felt like a hypocrite since I no longer even considered myself a Catholic. I eventually relented, figuring that an hour a week wouldn’t kill me.

As it turned out, some of the Sunday homilies that I heard gradually drew me in, and I became increasingly receptive to what the Church had to say, especially in social justice matters. Soon, I no longer had to be asked to go to Mass, even though I was still on the fence.

Attending weekly Mass opened an unexpected door for me. One of the secretaries at my law office saw me one Sunday at Mass, so she invited me to a weekly young-adult Bible study. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I said I would go with her to check it out. Here’s what happened. Continue reading

Temporary Amnesia

23 Aug

In the decades immediately following the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we witnessed an alarming de-emphasis of doctrinal teaching in religious education in favor of an overly experiential approach. The result of this catechetical malfeasance was a generation–make that two generations–of poorly formed Catholics.

So while the feminists burned their bras and draft-dodgers burned their flags, catechists and pastors burned their Baltimore Catechisms, proclaiming their liberation from the rote memorization of doctrinal formulas and the old, “pre-Vatican II” Church. But were we better off because of it? What were the fruits of the catechetical novelties of the 60s and 70s? Surely not an increase of practicing Catholics who know and love the Catholic faith.

Now, memorization without a personal relationship with Our Lord and without understanding and internalizing what one has memorized is highly problematic. Yet the pendulum swung way too far in the other direction during my own childhood in the late 60s and 70s, perhaps as an overreaction to a dry, lifeless approach to catechesis during the prior generation. 

Now I think we’re finally finding a firm middle ground when it comes to memorization. Continue reading

Woman Clothed with the Sun

18 Aug

St. John wrote five books of the New Testament: his Gospel, three epistles, and the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 12, he uses rich imagery to describe the epic battle between the offspring of Satan and the offspring of Eve foretold way back in Genesis 3:15. The child of Revelation, who rules all nations with an iron rod (Revelation 12:5; see also Psalm 2:9; Revelation 19:15), is Christ Himself, and the woman clothed with the sun who gives birth to the child is the Blessed Virgin Mary. That’s why on several Marian feast days, including last week’s solemnity of the Assumption, the Church in her wisdom selects a Mass reading from Revelation 12.

In Revelation 12:17, we learn the identity of Mary’s other offspring: “those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.” If we are Christ’s disciples, if we bear witness to Christ and keep His commandments, we have Mary as our mother.  As St. Paul says, Christ is the firstborn of many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29). His mother has truly become our spiritual mother.

And of course Scripture tells us that all generations will call Mary “blessed” (Luke 1:48). So it’s altogether fitting that we lovingly call Mary our “Blessed Mother.” Her mission is not to magnify herself, but to magnify or proclaim the greatness of the Lord (Luke 1:46), as she continually beckons us to be faithful disciples, to do whatever Jesus tells us to do (John 2:5).

Putting on Errors: How Pride Corrupts Catechesis

16 Aug

In the 1990s, shortly after the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the United States bishops formed the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism, which subsequently evolved into the “USCCB Subcommittee on the Catechism.” Ever since, the U.S. bishops have helped to ensure that all catechetical materials are in “conformity” with the Catechism. The criteria are minimal standards and not particularly exacting, but the overall effect of this review process has been positive.

The head of the Ad Hoc committee for many years was Archbishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis. As the committee started to review the many inadequate catechetical materials that were being used to teach our children, Archbishop Buechlein famously noted ten recurring errors in contemporary catechesis. For this “top ten” list, and for tips on identifying these errors, see “Where Do We Go Wrong? Top Ten Errors in Catechesis.”

Archbishop Buechlein pointed out that human action, human initiative, and human experience are commonly overemphasized in some catechetical materials, while the power and divinity of God seem to be undermined. Continue reading

Christ the Teacher . . . and Subject!

9 Aug


When it comes to catechesis, Jesus Christ is both the teacher and the subject that is “taught.” We simply cannot understand the Church’s catechetical ministry–that is, her response to the Lord’s call to make disciples of all nations–unless we grasp this fundamental point.

But wait a minute! In the definition of catechesis that we gave last week, we noted that those who do the catechizing are called catechists. Aren’t they the ones who are doing the teaching? Continue reading

Looking for Answers

4 Aug

My algebra textbook in ninth grade had an answer key in the back that enabled me to check my answers upon completing my homework assignment. Most of the time, the answer key simply served to verify that in fact I had arrived at the correct answer.

Sometimes, however, the answer given in the book was different from my answer. What would I do then?

I realized that 99.99 percent of the time the book was right. The book didn’t have to change–I did. I would rework the problem a little more carefully, and usually I would discover and correct my error.

There were still times that I didn’t get the right answer. In those cases I had to admit that maybe I didn’t quite understand the material well enough and needed to consult the teacher. I had a fundamental trust in the reliability of the answer key, as I was humble enough (barely) to recognize that the professional mathematicians who wrote the book were probably right, and I, a cocky adolescent, was probably wrong.

In a very real sense, God’s Word is our answer key, providing answers to our most basic, essential questions. Who made us? What is the purpose of our existence? What good must we do to attain eternal life? Continue reading

Catechetically Speaking

2 Aug

Today we continue our weekly series on the Church’s catechetical mission. The inspiration for this series comes from the Holy Father himself, who desires that we bridge the gap between faith and the everyday lives of believers through sound catechetical formation.

Before going deeper into our series, I think we should define our terms. The glossary at the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, defines catechesis as “an education of children, young people, and adults in the faith of the Church through the teaching of Christian doctrine in an organic and systematic way to make them disciples of Jesus Christ. Those who perform the ministry of catechesis in the Church are called ‘catechists.’”

I think the word “catechesis” can be part of the problem when it comes to embracing the Church’s catechetical efforts. It is the ugly step-sister of “evangelization.” Think about it. Evangelization is hip. According to Blessed John Paul II, it’s “new,” upbeat, and capable of energizing the youth. One will expect a lot of “evangelization” at the World Youth Day festivities this month.

After all, evangelization is about proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Everybody, Catholic and Protestant alike, can get excited about that.

Catechesis, on the other hand, sounds foreign to many people. Continue reading