May 6, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Proper catechesis helps us
live our call to holiness

It is important to keep in the forefront of our minds that everyone who is baptized is called to holiness—a call to be transformed in Christ, to live our faith in service to others and in the acceptance of Christ’s way of living until we go home to God.

It is important that we understand this focus for our mission of Catholic education and faith formation. Catechesis in our schools and in our parishes is to assist our youth, young adults and adults to live our call to holiness by motivating us to embrace the truth of Christ’s revelation and the wisdom of the Church’s teaching. A basic knowledge of our faith is a pressing need of every age group, especially of our youth and young adults. I am sorry that some of you who are parents today did not get that basic knowledge. In our culture, we all need help in facing important questions about our faith and the practices of our Church.

How we provide for this growth in faith is important. No one is helped, especially our youth, if what we believe is perceived simply as a matter of personal choice. Nor do we assist anyone if they are left with the impression that “one Church is as good as another.”

During the Second Vatican Council, a document on the pastoral office of bishops called for a directory for the catechetical instruction of the Christian people. It was the only catechetical text to be published for the whole world since the Roman Catechism issued in 1569. The General Catechetical Directory was published in 1971. The text addressed errors frequently encountered in catechesis. The bishops of the world were encouraged to develop national directories in order to apply the principles and directives for catechesis and faith formation to their own cultures. After a lengthy process of consultation, a National Catechetical Directory was published for the United States and approved by the Holy See in 1978.

Many religious educators in the United States began to move away from the classical approach of religious instruction, placing greater stress on experience-based catechesis with an emphasis on living the faith. There was an emphasis on formation, not just instruction.

However, these efforts were accompanied by less and less focus on the specific content of Christian doctrine just as the culture was beginning to view authority, tradition and the existence of absolute truth in a negative light. “Right living” began to be championed in contrast to “right believing”—as if the two were somehow mutually exclusive. Those of us who were taught with the Baltimore Catechism approach had at least been exposed to the basic contents of our faith. That can no longer be presumed for more recent generations.

In October 1992, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The English edition of the catechism was published in 1994. It provides the normative teaching of the Catholic faith for our contemporary life.

In 1994, an Ad Hoc Committee for the Use of the Catechism was established by the bishops of our country. The major task of the ad hoc committee was to review religion textbooks with an eye to conformity with the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The review process revealed a pattern of unwitting but considerable deficiencies in textbooks then in use: e.g., teaching on the Trinity and Christology was not always in accord with Revelation. Teaching of ecclesiology and sacramental theology lacked completeness and balance. To some degree, the deficiencies of the textbooks resulted from an overcorrection intended to establish more effective teaching methodologies.

In 1997, the Holy See published a revised General Directory for Catechesis that focused on how the faith should be taught as a companion piece to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This May, the bishops of our country will publish a revised National Directory for Catechesis, which seeks to achieve a proper balance between content of faith and how it is taught. We are also about to publish a United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

In 2002, the bishops of the United States voted to establish a standing Committee on Catechesis that was charged with developing instructional guidelines for high school-level religious education. This month, a draft of the doctrinal guidelines is being released for broad consultation with the U.S. bishops, administrators, and teachers of high school and parish religious education programs. The draft proposes a Christ-centered catechetical curriculum to help students encounter Christ as he is found in the Church, in the Word of God and in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist.

A lot is being done to address the needs for effective catechesis for all of us—youth, young adults and adults. †

Local site Links: