May my exploration of faith be a blessing to others.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cathechism: Prologue II What is catechesis?

In honor of today's celebration of 

King: stained glass from 
San Sebastian 

hurch in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

By Eugenio Hansen via Wikimedia Commons
One thing you will quickly learn about the Catholic Church is that is still likes to hang on to its Latin and Greek roots. So, it is not surprising to encounter words that you may never have seen or heard anywhere else. One of these is, perhaps, "catechesis." It is a Greek word adopted into Late Latin and then later adapted into Middle English. Today, it basically means religious instruction, particularly of people before they are initiated into the faith. As with most ancient terms that are still in use, it originally meant something related, but more specific: to speak or even more specifically to teach orally.

Fortunately for us, we have more learning modes at our disposal, so we don't have to sit for hours and days and weeks learning by listening. However, our ability to listen closely and pay attention to what we are learning is likely less sharp. Nevertheless, the purpose of the Catechism, therefore, is to teach us everything we need to know about Catholic teachings. And, I do mean EVERYTHING. If you can't find the answer to your Catholic question in the Catechism, you probably have not spent much time looking for it.

Section II of the Prologue explains that "Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church's life. Not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more her inner growth and correspondence with God's plan..." It states that although the following are not formally identified with catechesis, it is tied to the Church's mission to:

  • proclaim the Gospel and to arouse faith,
  • examine the reasons for our beliefs,
  • experience Christian living,
  • celebrate the sacraments,
  • integrate members into the ecclesial community, and
  • carry out apostolic and missionary witness.
Section II also allows that the Catechism is not wholly inflexible. Although it draws strongly upon scripture, it also welcomes learned and inspired thought over time. "Periods of renewal," it states, expand our understanding and provide "intense moments" of learning. To this end, it mentions the writings of the various church "fathers" and specifically names four of the declared "Doctors of the Church": St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambroise and St. Augustine, who added to our understanding during the early centuries following the life of Christ. The Prologue, also states that the councils of the Church have also added to this learning. specifically citing the 16th century Council of Trent and the 20th century Second Vatican Council.

For me, all of this means that we have had (and likely will continue to have) an imperfect understanding of God and scripture. God is unchanging, but our understanding of him has continued to grow in fullness. To borrow the common anti-Church phrase of a few centuries ago, we become more enlightened, the more we study, the more we pray, the more we attempt to live as Christ told us to live. 

Many of our saints, including both those formally sanctified by the Church and many who are unknown to us, have come closer to a full and complete understanding than others of us. As imperfect people, however, the best we can do is to strive to learn and to grow in understanding and mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the work of 21 centuries of the brightest minds, the most inspired saints, serious scholars, prayerful priests and religious devotees. Throughout these millennia they have worked collaboratively across time and geography to bring us the best understanding that we can have at this moment. The Catechism brings all of it together for us. So, if you are sincere in your faith, you must, of course, read the Bible, but you should also study the Catechism and read the wisdom gathered through the ages. 

The Church fathers and mothers of yesterday and today are speaking to us; it is our duty then to listen and to learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment