Catechesis and Christian Commitment

Author: Cardinal Albino Luciani


Albino Cardinal Luciani


Catechesis must be concerned not only to transmit revealed truths, but to transmit them in such a way that the one who receives them will receive them with faith and be impelled to live them. To narrate and speak, yes, Augustine said, but in such a way that the listener "audiendo credat, credendo speret, sperando amet". Credat: that he may catch a glimpse of God behind the catechist "God's postman". Speret: that he may rejoice, perceiving that he has before him a doctrine which will fulfil him in a noble way both as a man and as a son of God. Amet: that, feeling he is loved by God, he will set out "like a shot" towards the good works to be done for God, for his neighbour, for himself.

To interest and commit the young, particularly, catechesis will don Augustinian "hilaritas". They do not like a life bristling with "no", bolted and padlocked, amid barriers of every kind; do not do this, do not look at that; do not touch here and do not pass there; this is bad, that is worse. They want to live, to grow, to conquer and to be protagonists. In a catechesis in which they are only spectators and listeners, and even worse if it consists only, or practically only, of "you can't" and "you mustn't", they feel suffocated. Catechetical wisdom is to forbid them only what really cannot be permitted and fling them into action. St Catherine of Siena's motto was "Doing is always beneficial". Cardinal Ferrari said: "The most certain way to avoid evil is to 'do' good; if we throw the young headlong into good, evil will end up by taking a reduced place in their lives".

A well-chosen Hagiography may be a great stimulus to the commitment of the young. "The Saints are to the Bible as a piece of music performed by skilful artists is to the written score; they indicate how this or that Bible teaching is expressed in real life, in such circumstances, and they sweep people along with their example" (Fr. of Sales).

Whole Christian Community

In the sense also that faith, especially the faith of the young, prospers — usually — only in the warmth of a milieu of life lived in a Christian way; that the parents — above all — must feel they are the first catechists of their children, the bishops and parish priests, so to speak, of the home.

In the sense also that the young are often the best catechizers of their companions, because the latter seek a counsellor and a model of life close at hand, and want to live the life of the group, to which, and to the "charismatic" leaders of which, they give that obedience which, on the other hand, they are tempted to deny parents and educators. The ideal catechizing community, however, is the parish, if it is a true community; if other catechizing groups refer to it, as to a centre; if in it is breathed the fresh air of a diocese and of a catholicity having a relationship of love, respect, and obedience to the Bishop and to the Pope.

Catechesis and theology

Theologians are of great help to catechesis if, on the one hand, they put at the disposal of the Magisterium the fruit of their toil and, on the other hand, publicize magisterial documents, deepening them and explaining them.. For the drawing up of catechisms, their contribution, alongside the very useful one of pedagogists, is — I would say — necessary, although it is the bishops who have the last word on the text of the catechism. For this reason it is recommended that theologians have a spirit of real ecclesial service and the cult of a theology which is not only talk about God, but of God.

Vice versa, a Professoren-Kirche, opposed in some way to the "Church of Pastors" would be "a Plague of the Church". George May of Mainz University drives this home. A Protestant church that once had a large congregation gradually found itself always empty. "How did it happen?", a priest of Trier asked the sacristan. And the latter replied: "First there came a pastor from Greifswald and he said: "Jesus was the son of God." Then there came one from Rostock and he said: "Jesus was a mere man." Finally the one from Tubingen arrived and he said: "Jesus never existed." Then the people concluded: "If they do not agree among themselves, we might as well stay at home." And they remained at home."

Culture should be understood here not in the classical humanistic sense of notions possessed by a few and at a rather high level, but as meaning the various people's ways of speaking, dressing, enjoying themselves, manifesting joys and sorrows, celebrating feasts, and so on.

Two principles

Faced with this culture, two principles must be asserted and carried out.

1. Catechesis must try to instil faith into all these various cultural manifestations, provided they are not in evident contrast with the Word of God;

2. Catechesis must exploit in favour of the Word of God all the good elements that are in these cultures. It does so out of love for the Word of God itself which must be able to travel with all means; and it does so without fear of facing up to some risks and introducing new things. It does so also with the spirit of Pope John, who in the opening address of the Council (11.X.1962) spoke on the one hand of presenting the truth in new forms, and on the other hand demanded "the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council". It is necessary to reconcile St Vincent of Lérins with De Lubac and with Carnegie. The first said noviter, sed non nova. De Lubac said: "Why insist on teaching the rising sun the colours of sunset?"... Carnegie wrote: "I like strawberries with whipped cream. But if I go fishing, I put on the hook to attract the fish, not strawberries, which I like, but worms, which they like".

Content of catechesis

As a goal, endeavour to arrive at setting forth all the truths of faith. Proceed gradually, however, as regards didactics. Is there a hierarchy among truths? If they are truths of faith, in themselves, they must all be believed in the same way in obedience to God, who revealed them; but explicit knowledge is not necessary of all of them in the same way.

There is a hierarchy, on the other hand, in the fact that some truths are able to illuminate others.

When expressing them, let catechesis stress that the Gospel is the News that makes people joyful; that Christ is at the centre of the plan of salvation; Christ is, as it were, the ridge of a roof composed of two sloping parts. The Old Testament, moves up towards him, preparing the way: the New Testament, the Church — which prolongs him — and the sacraments descend from him, bringing pilgrim men from this fleeting world to the other eternal one.

Let Morality be presented as man's magnanimous response to God's love; a response which cannot be made without God's help and which gives happiness not to him, but to us.

The dominant note must, therefore, be joy; but do not let fear of God be forgotten, however. The Church and the Saints, referring to the Gospel (Mt 25; 31-33; Lk 12:15 ff; Lk 13:22 ff), have laid stress, in the opportune way and times, on the salvation of the soul, the most important matter, on the uncertainty of the hour of death, and on the obligation to avoid occasions of sin.


Present the greatness and the responsibility of their mission; the obligation to make their work authentic by being in communion with the bishop and to acquire the necessary gifts.

Moral gifts: holiness of life and piety (one preaches not only what one knows, but what one is; if I am not good, there comes from me, from my person, a denial of the words of goodness that come from my mouth); love for the Church and for the pupils (Lacordaire: "It is not possible to do good to others unless one loves others").

Intellectual gifts: to know well what one teaches and, in order to know it, to study and keep up-to-date continually. Huet, bishop of Avranches, did not always receive his diocesans because "he had to study". The diocesans wrote to the Pope: "Please, Holiness, another time send us a bishop who "has finished studying". But there is no bishop or catechist who "has finished studying".

Didactic-pedagogical gifts: to be able to adapt oneself, broadening and narrowing the compass of one's discourse according to the capacity of the listeners. And also to adapt oneself as far as possible to their desires and aspirations. If the catechist is able to grasp and understand what are the desires and legitimate expectations of the young, it will then be easier for him to guide the young themselves and direct them towards the interests and the expectations of God.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
12 October 1978, page 3

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