The Perilous Realm of Catechesis
It is an amazing thing to contemplate that we who might call ourselves “catechists” are successors in a long line of teachers going back to the Apostles. One of the greatest Catholic teachers of all time, St. Paul, was catechized by Christ Himself over three years. St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.” What St. Paul received from Christ he passed onto us, and as such, every Catholic teacher is called to do the same. All great teachers over the centuries, particularly the Church Doctors, would implore us to do this: to pass onto others what has been faithfully passed onto us. This is a very challenging call for all of us today. We are faced with unique catechetical difficulties in these tumultuous times.
Teaching is a noble calling
First of all we ought to recover the fact that the vocation to teach is a high and demanding calling. St. James warns us in 3:1, “let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” It is a little disconcerting to know that we who dare to teach will be held to higher account for our work. This is a reminder of our call to faithful vigilance but it also arms us with a truth that can help lead us to Christian perfection, for to be diligent in our own formation not only prepares us for heaven but to faithfully carry out the great commission as we catechize our communities.
As we set out to impart the universal truths of the Faith, especially to children, the gravity of our calling is given full expression in Mathew 18:6 when Christ Himself warns us that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” In these times when we catechists can be given questionable techniques and materials, it is vital that we cultivate a proper discernment to find and use sources unwaveringly faithful to the Magisterium of Holy Mother Church. We are encouraged to be extra diligent to ensure that no souls are led astray.
The Dangers presented by the pull of the world
These are perilous times for the “teacher” partly because in this spiritually and intellectually perplexing age the world puts a very high emphasis on radical individuality, self-reference and originality. There is nothing inherently wrong with individuality and originality when the intellect and will are ordered to Christ, but when ordered to the values of the world they can be problematic. Although we strive to maintain fidelity to sound Catholic teaching, the ways of the world have had a way of slithering into our programs. While we ask our students to “put on the mind of Christ,” the world is asking those same students to “put on the mind of the world!” It is a struggle to go against the prevailing pedagogies of the day as we ask our students not to think in concert with the world, but to think correctly and to see things as they are. It is an ironic truth that those who think with the mind of the world end in becoming, not individual, but an indistinguishable member of modern society, while those who “put on the mind of Christ” become truly who they are meant to become and are as diverse, original and individual as is possible, just like the saints.
The world would lead our children to the wide and easy path that leads to perdition and our struggle is to put the world in a proper perspective as we try to lead our children to the narrow path of salvation. It is difficult to deny that the last 50 years of catechesis in the United States has been problematic, other than small pockets of solid fidelity to the Magisterium and Tradition. For some time it seems the whole world has been drawn into the modern errors of thinking and teaching. Christ said we will “know them by their fruits” and the fruits of catechesis in the last several decades has been scant. Yet as can be witnessed on these pages, there is growing movement of faithful and diligent catechists who are taking the arduous labor in the vineyard of the Lord seriously. As we continue to recognize the pull of the world and to opt instead for the pull of the Lord, we can expect an increasingly abundant harvest in proportion to our faithful efforts augmented by God’s plentiful graces.
Where do we go from here?
The confusion today being sown by those “prowling around the world seeking the ruination of souls” has been prolific. Sometimes it is helpful to step outside of an age to see more clearly what is problematic about it. Every age has its problems and difficulties, but different ages have different problems and to see one age through the eyes of another age can be very helpful. In my next post I will introduce you to a Church Doctor who has the potential to put things in a proper perspective. If we accept his teachings, he may be able to elucidate our current disorders of pedagogical misperception. There is much valuable insight to be gained by the Church Doctors of old when it comes to the labor in the vineyard of our Lord. Next we will learn that there is but one true teacher, the real sower in the vineyard and He is the Christ.