Tag Archives: catechesis

Reasons to Believe

6 Apr

aaaa“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

“We must obey God rather than men.” St. Peter boldly proclaimed these words as he was questioned by the authorities 2,000 years ago. In a certain sense, not much has changed. Modern popes and faithful Catholics are asked frequently to deny Jesus or the teachings of His Church on so many issues, but especially when it comes to matters of marriage and family life, and we also have to say, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Mostly, confusion arises because the “why” of the Church’s teaching has never been explained well. Many are often unaware of the beauty that stands at the foundations of “controversial teachings” such as same-sex “marriage,” contraception, pornography, and divorce. It is important for us to understand the “why” of the Church’s teachings as much as the “what.”

For common sense explanations on Church teachings regarding marriage and family life, go to www.archkck.org/family. Then click on “defending marriage.”

Lift up Your Hearts!

18 Mar

cyril of jerusalemSandwiched between the more popular feast days of St. Patrick (yesterday) and St. Joseph (tomorrow), we celebrate the feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. This 4th-century Church Father and Doctor of the Church could be considered the “patron saint” of RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), as he has left us in his “Catechetical Lectures” instructions for new Christians in the days immediately before and after their initiation into the life of the Church at the Easter Vigil. In these catechetical instructions, we find very strong insistence on the value and efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism as well as a clear affirmation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

St. Cyril died in 386, just a few years after participating, as Bishop of Jerusalem, at the First Council of Constantinople. This Council is known for completing the Creed commonly known as the Nicene Creed.

Here is a short sampling from one of St. Cyril’s catechetical lectures, in which he unpacks part of the Preface (prayers) that are said immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. As you will readily see, this message is just as applicable to us as it was to Christians in St. Cyril’s time:

“The Priest cries aloud, Lift up your hearts. For truly ought we in that most awful hour to have our heart on high with God, and not below, thinking of earth and earthly things. In effect therefore the Priest bids all in that hour to dismiss all cares of this life, or household anxieties, and to have their heart in heaven with the merciful God. Then you answer, We lift them up unto the Lord: assenting to it, by your avowal. But let no one come here, who could say with his mouth, We lift up our hearts unto the Lord, but in his thoughts have his mind concerned with the cares of this life. At all times, rather, God should be in our memory but if this is impossible by reason of human infirmity, in that hour above all this should be our earnest endeavor.”

Son of Encouragement

13 May

A significant figure in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is St. Barnabas.

This saint is of particular significance to my family, as we named a child whom we miscarried 15 years ago Barnabas, and every year on his feast day (June 11) we especially remember the gift of this precious child, even though we never got to hold him in this life.

It’s intriguing that St. Barnabas, the companion of St. Paul, is honored by the Church as an “apostle,” even though he was not one of the Twelve (nor an official “substitute” like Matthias, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow). Surely as a first-generation Christian leader who was sent on missionary journeys to Cyprus, Perga, Iconium, and Lystria, and possibly even to Rome and Alexandria, among other places, his title is well-deserved (cf. Acts 14:14).

In Acts 4:36 we learn that he was given his name by the apostles, and that it means “son of encouragement.” Later, in the portion of Acts chosen for today’s Mass, we read that when St. Barnabas arrived in Antioch and found the faith alive among the people, he rejoiced and then, true to his name, he “encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:23-24).

We who are catechists, who strive to be good men and women, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith, do well to imitate St. Barnabas as we encourage our students and families to “remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart.”

We then hear that St. Barnabas went and tracked down Saul (St. Paul) and the two of them “for a whole year” devoted themselves to teaching “a large number of people”–presumably those who had already been “added to the Lord.” In other words, they devoted themselves to the noble work of catechesis. And their work bore great fruit: In Antioch the disciples were called “Christians” for the first time!

St. Barnabas, pray for us!

Going Deeper

7 Jan

Pope as CatechistAfter a Christmas hiatus, it is time to continue our overview of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter on the new evangelization (Evangelii Gaudium, or “GE”).

When most people think of “evangelization,” they think of the initial proclamation of the Gospel (the technical term is “kerygma”), that invites people to a new relationship with Christ.

Yet, as Pope Francis points out, when Christ sent out His apostles as missionaries, He gave them this instruction: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). The Holy Father sees in this instruction the need for ongoing formation and maturation, what we traditionally call “catechesis” (GE 160), which is part of the larger process of evangelization.

For those of us familiar with CCD and School of Religion programs, we must admit that sometimes we think of catechesis as primarily intellectual formation—a “class” that one has to attend. Yet the Holy Father is clear that catechesis is not primarily doctrinal, but about growing in grace and virtue (GE 161), recognizing that it is always the Lord who initiates the process (GE 162).

Pope Francis acknowledges the normative role of Church teaching on catechesis (GE 163), but offers further reflections that are significant for our time. One point of emphasis is the heart of the Gospel, the kerygma, which is both Trinitarian and Christ-centered. Just because it comes “first” doesn’t mean it can be forgotten later (GE 164). Rather, all catechesis must continually circle back to the heart of the message, which means that God’s saving love must be stressed ahead of religious and moral obligations (GE 165).

Pope Francis emphasizes the role of mystagogic catechesis, which is catechesis that is liturgical and involves the entire community (EG 166). This is just one more way that the Pope is emphasizing the need for catechetical formation that affects the entire person (not just a “head trip”) and one’s environment or culture. Like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis emphasizes the role of beauty in catechesis, including new forms or modes of beauty that are meaningful to today’s seekers (cf. EG 167). Catechesis also has a moral component, and the Holy Father decidedly prefers a joyful, positive approach that presents the moral life as the quest for authentic wisdom, self-fulfillment, and enrichment (EG 168)

Perhaps the most striking insight that the Holy Father gives us in this section is his call that all members of the Church be initiated in the “art of accompaniment” (EG 169), which in some ways reminds me of some of the writings of Blessed John Paul II, especially Crossing the Threshold of Hope.  This simply means that the Church needs people who can help lead others closer to God (EG 170). Those who serve as spiritual mentors must be good listeners (EG 171), fostering spiritual growth and the development of virtues in a spirit of patience and compassion (EG 171-72). Also, spiritual accompaniment isn’t an end in itself, but is part of the Church’s never-ending mission to bring the Gospel to the world. As the Holy Father says, “Missionary disciples accompany missionary disciples” (EG 173).

Pope Francis ends this section of the apostolic exhortation by stressing that Sacred Scripture is at the heart of all Church activity (EG 174). The Church evangelizes only to the extent she continually allows herself to be evangelized through the ministry of the Word. For that reason, the Pope invites all believers to become intimately familiar with Scripture, which he calls a “sublime treasure” (EG 175).

Digesting the Content

27 Jun

Catechesi TradendaeChurch documents can seem a bit daunting at first, especially to lay people who have not studied Catholic theology for any length of time. Yet the writings of the Popes and other Church authorities are far too important to be left merely to scholars or so-called “experts.”

I received a tip many years ago that I have found very helpful: Most Church documents, including Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals, are divided into numbered sections. Each section is bite-sized, usually 1-4 paragraphs in length. The tip is to read the document one numbered section at a time, and then try to summarize the content in one sentence. This may be a little challenging at first, but eventually you will get the hang of it and quickly zero in on the main point of the section.

One of Blessed John Paul II’s longest documents is Catechesi Tradendae, a 1979 apostolic exhortation on Catechesis in Our Time. Below you will find my summary of this document, with a few memory verses thrown in at no extra charge. Especially during this “Year of Faith,” you might want to try this method with one of the documents of Vatican II or an encyclical on a topic you find most interesting. Continue reading

Dare to Discipline

22 Apr

Christian disciplineI used to listen to a talk radio host who would say, “In the department store of life, sports is, after all, the toy department.” Surely that’s a useful message for us “weekend warriors.”

But let’s take that comment a step further. In the department store of life, is our faith merely a department–and a “boring” one at that, such as housewares or women’s clothing? If so, then what about the rest of the store? Are there parts of our life that our faith doesn’t affect?

I think it’s very easy to compartmentalize our day. If we’re not careful, however, this could lead to our assessing our spiritual development based mostly on religious observance. In other words, we might look to whether we “got in” our Rosary, chaplet, holy hour, or whatever other devotion(s) we set out to do each day, as if these admittedly good things were ends in themselves.

Or we might pride ourselves on our “orthodoxy,” but then check our faith at the door in certain areas of our lives, such as in our business dealings or even our highway driving. Yet deep down we know that religious observance and doctrinal orthodoxy, to be authentic, must inform the totality of our lives.

Our Lord instructed His Apostles to go “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). This call goes in a special way to bishops as the legitimate successors of the Apostles. Yet the call goes out to all of us. And when it comes to the family, parents are, in the words of Pope Pius XI, “vicars of Christ” within the home, the “domestic Church.” The various duties of parents described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2221-31) all point to the vocation of Catholic parents to make disciples of their children. “Disciple” comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means “learner.” But just as being a disciple is more than mere “learning,” making disciples is more than mere “teaching.”

As the Church has emphasized in recent decades, teachers must first and foremost be witnesses. In other words, they must already be disciples themselves. But what are the hallmarks of a disciple, a true follower of Christ? One concise response was given by Our Lord Himself when He said: “Anyone who wishes to be My disciple must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23).

What kind of disciples are we raising if we spoil our children, deny them nothing, and soften the daily requirements of Christian living when they seem inconvenient or burdensome? As far as that goes, what kind of disciples are we?

The word “discipline” comes from the same root as disciple. Discipline is not limited to correcting inappropriate behavior. It’s more about instilling virtue, self-control, and a sense of order in our children’s lives as well as our own. As Scripture says, “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

Discipline is hard work even in the intellectual realm, as sound catechesis requires some memorization. At times it’s easier to give in and let the child do what he or she wants, but such short-sighted solutions in the long run lead to ruin. But we don’t merely discipline–we “disciple” our children as we draw them around Jesus in the Family of God (Catechism, no. 542).

Our children are watching us like hawks. Sure, they watch me when I’m praying with them or explaining Church teaching to them. But they’re also watching to see how I respond to conflict or disappointment, how I treat strangers, how I use “free time,” and where I turn for refreshment and meaning in life. What do they see?

Our children are God’s, not ours. Yet He entrusts these treasures to us for a time. Therefore, making disciples of our children must always be the top priority. We really need to “bring it” when it comes to their religious education, beginning in the home. What excuse could we possible have for doing less?

Catholics Look East!

20 Dec

Eastern Catholic hierarchyToday we continue our series on the sixteen documents of Vatican II with a consideration of the 1964 decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum, on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite.

When we think of the Catholic Church, we tend to think exclusively of the Latin rite. There’s some justification for this, as in the United States there are tens of millions of Latin rite Catholics, and just a few hundred thousand combined in the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches (sometimes called “Uniate” Churches) with ancient liturgies and traditions tracing back to places like Antioch, Alexandria, and Byzantium.

Further, some Latin rite Catholics hear “Eastern Church” and instantly think of the Eastern Orthodox Churches that broke away from the Church in Rome in 1054 and still are not in full communion today, despite ongoing ecumenical efforts.

Make no mistake, Eastern Catholic Churches are in full communion with the Holy Father. They were founded by the apostles and have their own their own rightful existence. They show forth the catholicity of the Church.

As  presently defined, there are 24 Catholic Churches that can be grouped into eight  different rites. A rite is a liturgical, theological, spiritual, and disciplinary  patrimony of a distinct people manifested in a Church. While each Catholic Church  may have its own rite or customs, in general, there are only eight major rites.  History, language, misunderstandings, nationalism, and basic human weakness have  resulted in the current communion of 24 Churches, counting the Latin rite.

With only a few exceptions,  the Eastern Catholic Churches result from incomplete reunions with the Orthodox  Churches. In those instances, large numbers of bishops and faithful of the Orthodox  mother Churches either held back or later rejected union with Rome. One could see how this could create tensions with the Orthodox, who  are fearful of losing their distinct traditions in a world dominated  by the Latin Church.

So in this context, I chose for our consideration the following paragraph from Orientalium Ecclesiarum, which sets forth the equal dignity and legitimacy of the Eastern Churches:

“These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves in rite (to use the current phrase), that is, in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are, nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in primacy over the universal Church. They are consequently of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16:15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff” (no. 3).

One related point:

In her official documents, the Church usually avoids the expression “Roman Catholic.” “Catholic,” yes. “Roman or Latin rite,” yes. “Church of Rome,” as meaning either the Diocese of Rome or that body which submits to the Bishop of Rome, yes. But not “Roman Catholic.” Why? Because the term was coined by 19th-century Anglicans as a term of opprobrium, to assert that those who accepted the authority of the Bishop of Rome were, in fact, not true Englishmen. Further, the Anglo-Catholic party endeavored to advance its “branch theory” of the Church, which erroneously asserts that the Catholic Church exists in three forms: Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican.

Even more, we’ve seen that the Catholic Church is composed of a variety of rites and particular Churches, only one of which is—strictly speaking—Roman—although all acknowledge the Bishop of Rome as their visible head. The indiscriminate, ambiguous use of the term “Roman Catholic” can have the (unwitting) twofold effect of (a) marginalizing all the non-Roman ritual Churches; and (b) making Catholicism much more particular—and thus idiosyncratic—than it truly is.

For more on Eastern Christianity, check out Orientale Lumen (“Light of the East”) by Blessed John Paul II. For what is likely the most authoritative treatment of the fascinating history of Eastern Churches–both Orthodox and Catholic–from the Catholic perspective, check out the books by my friend and former colleague, James Likoudis on the subject, especially Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism and The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church