May 15, 2015

Catholic Education Outreach / Ken Ogorek

What if the pope declared a ‘Year of Permission’?

Imagine this news release:

“The Holy Father recently announced a Year of Permission. During this year, everyone will be allowed to do whatever he or she wants to, with no moral implications or consequences related to receiving the sacraments. The pope’s announcement is in keeping with recent Church developments whereby timeless truths have been reversed, discarded and exposed as mean, nasty and intolerant.”

Such a news release would be false, of course. But its content reflects a tone in our culture that can make the work of catechists quite challenging.

Does mercy equal permission?

Our culture tends to be permissive, to say the least. Moral relativism rules the day. “If it feels good, do it.”

Catechists are called to proclaim that God is both merciful and has expectations about our behavior. God permits us to use the free will he’s given us, but nothing in sacred Scripture or sacred tradition indicates that God approves of every decision we make. He forgives us when we lay our sinful decisions at his feet—sacramentally in the parish confessional or wherever we celebrate the sacrament of penance.

In a culture where folks seek permission—whole-hearted approval—for anything and everything their hearts, minds and bodies desire, catechists need your prayers to be effective proclaimers of authentic mercy.

Does tough love equal intolerance?

The word tolerance is much misused of late. Meant to refer to people as well as belief systems that don’t violate basic moral norms, tolerance in our culture is often misapplied in ways implying that all behaviors are to be accepted as beyond reproach.

Like a loving parent, holy Mother Church does not tolerate all human decisions and actions as morally equal—any more than did her divine spouse and intentional founder, Jesus. Catechists often start with God’s love in proclaiming his word of truth to hearers of all ages and abilities. Helping folks understand and appreciate that sometimes the love of God is tough love can be a tough sell these days.

Does ancient equal obsolete?

An obsession with novelty permeates our culture. New and improved! We’re guilty at times of generationism, meaning “Those poor dumb folks who lived long ago. They just weren’t as bright as we are today.” Surely we know best in all cases what’s really good, true and beautiful.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (cf. Heb13:8). And while matters of preference as well as traditions with small t’s might change from time to time, timeless truths and basic matters of moral principal withstand the test of time because they’re eternal—just as Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life is glorified in the beginning, now and forever. Like St. Augustine, catechists proclaim a beauty ever ancient and yet so new! (cf. Confessions, Book 10).  In short, authenticity never goes out of style.

Catechists are called to share God’s mercy, love and truth with young and old alike in each of our 133 parishes. Please pray for each catechist in your parish faith formation program.

Amidst a culture that can easily confuse mercy and permission, teaching the faith can be a tough—yet profoundly rewarding—endeavor!

(Ken Ogorek is archdiocesan director of catechesis. He can be reached by e-mail at If you think God is calling you to be a catechist, please contact your parish administrator of religious education.)

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