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.

Blessed John Paul II, in his 1979 apostolic exhortation On Catechesis in Our Time (Catechesi Tradendae), expressed similar concerns that the essential content of catechesis was not being communicated. He criticized catechetical efforts that minimized the divinity of Christ, the supernatural mystery of the Church, and the personal moral commitments that come with our new life in Christ (CT 29).

There are countless explanations as to why such shortcomings existed and continue to exist, but here I’d just like to mention one perennial cause: human respect (aka pride). We care too much about what others think of us, and not enough about what they think of Christ and His Church.

Let’s face it, Catholics can be very difficult to teach. St. Paul’s words to Timothy ring very true today: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). 

I usually cite that passage in the context of dissident Catholics who stop listening to the truth and instead look for teachers who say what they want to hear. But really there’s a co-dependent relationship here: those with itching ears and teachers who are all too willing to scratch. 

St. Paul is clear in the next verse as to how all teachers of the faith should approach their task: “But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

This is a call to all of us–especially pastors, teachers, catechists, and parents–to cultivate virtues such as meekness, humility, patience, and zeal for souls. Otherwise, we too will be “ear-scratchers” rather than compassionate ambassadors for Christ.

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