Can Catechists Be Too Reliant on the Catechism? (Bosco RoundUp Part 3)

catechisms

My experience attending the St. John Bosco Conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville did leave me with one lingering question prompted both by the content and methodology employed in some of the presentations. Namely, I went home wondering if there isn’t a danger in becoming overly reliant on the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a source of the Church’s teachings.

To give an example: I attended a session on liturgy and catechesis given by a well-respected catechist. He outlined the Church’s understanding of liturgy, beginning with the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi. But in his presentation and handouts, every reference was to what the Catechism had to say about liturgy. He did not reference the Roman MissalSacrosanctum concilium, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, or any of the Church’s many documents on the nature and practice of the liturgy. The implication — intentional or not — was that everything we need to know about liturgy can be found in the Catechism. There was little “liturgy” to be found in the presentation.

Contrast this approach with that taken by Bishop Richard Malone at the start of his Saturday keynote. His topic, God the Father, was not explicitly tied to the liturgy. Indeed, one might have expected him to use as his starting point the Catechism‘s teaching on the first person of the Trinity. Instead Bishop Malone turned to the Roman Missal and the prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayers to show what they teach us, through our common prayer, about the Father. He didn’t talk about lex orandi, lex credendi — he practiced it by showing how our prayer leads to and informs our doctrine.

Reflecting on these contrasting approaches led me to wonder if focusing too intently on the Catechism leads to didacticism — a tendency towards excessive teaching (narrowly defined) that fails to reflect the fullness of catechesis (c.f. Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults no. 75). In its most extreme form this didacticism elevates the Catechism to a status it neither claims nor was designed for. As Bl. Pope John Paul II states in his apostolic constitution promulgating the Catechism,

The Catechism of the Catholic Church… is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illuminated by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradtition, and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and this a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.

In other words the Catechism is not the last word on the content and expression of the Catholic faith. It is a statement and a norm, not the sole source. That is one reason John Paul II stresses the continued importance and prominence of local catechisms such as the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults and the YouCat. These local catechisms enculturate the content of the Catechism by giving it new expression in local language and form.

This isn’t to say (it should go without saying) that the Catechism isn’t helpful or shouldn’t be used in catechesis. Indeed, a universal catechism should have a place of prominence in the handing on of the faith. But there does seem to be an overly didactic tendency in some catechists that a fixation on the Catechism feeds into. This tendency manifests in claims that the Catechism is the only authentic source of Catholic teaching, rather than a summary of it, and an insistence that the language used in the Catechism is the only authentic expression of the Catholic faith (an insistence that neglects both Church history and the rich tradition of the Eastern churches).

That this question was prompted by the conference is ironic since on at least two occasions I heard different speakers warn against didacticism in catechesis. Indeed, I don’t want to give the impression that the conference or any presenter specifically endorsed sole reliance on the Catechism. But the fact that the only document quoted by a good number of presenters was the Catechism does give me pause and makes me think that we are not giving our catechists the full range of tools they need to pass on the faith.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts in the comments. Do you sense this same creeping didacticism? How can we help catechists embrace a wide range of sources of Catholic teaching?

“This is what education is all about…”

I have been told that most of you come from Catholic high schools. For this reason I would like to say something about Catholic education, to tell you why the Church considers it so important and expends so much energy in order to provide you and millions of other young people with a Catholic education. The answer can be summarized in one word, in one person, Jesus Christ. The Church wants to communicate Christ to you.

This is what education is all about, this is the meaning of life: to know Christ. To know Christ as a friend: as someone who cares about you and the person next to you, and all the people here and everywhere ”no matter what language they speak, or what clothes they wear, or what color their skin is.

And so the purpose of Catholic education is to communicate Christ to you, so that your attitude toward others will be that of Christ. You are approaching that stage in your life when you must take personal responsibility for your own destiny. Soon you will be making major decisions which will affect the whole course of your life. If these decisions reflect Christ’s attitude, then your education will be a success. We have to learn to meet challenges and even crises in the light of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection. Part of our Catholic education is to learn to see the needs of others, to have the courage to practice what we believe in. With the support of a Catholic education we try to meet every circumstance of life with the attitude of Christ. Yes, the Church wants to communicate Christ to you so that you will come to full maturity in him who is the perfect human being, and, at the same time, the Son of God.

– Pope John Paul II, Address to High School Students at Madison Square Gardens (October , 1979)

Man and Machine

While it may seem that in the industrial process it is the machine that “works” and man merely supervises it, making it function and keeping it going in various ways, it is also true that for this very reason industrial development provides grounds for reproposing in new ways the question of human work. Both the original industrialization that gave rise to what is called the worker question and the subsequent industrial and post-industrial changes show in an eloquent manner that, even in the age of ever more mechanized “work”, the proper subject of work continues to be man.

– Bl. Pope John Paul II, Laborem exercens (n. 4)

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part IV – The Kingly Ministry of Christ

Christ Driving the Money Changers Out of the Temple (Valentin de Boulogne, 1618)

(Looking for the start of this series? Go to Part I, Part II, or Part III.)

Of the kingly ministry, Pope John Paul II says

Because the lay faithful belong to Christ, Lord and King of the Universe, they share in his kingly mission and are called by him to spread that Kingdom in history. They exercise their kingship as Christians, above all in the spiritual combat in which they seek to overcome in themselves the kingdom of sin (cf. Rom 6:12), and then to make a gift of themselves so as to serve, in justice and in charity, Jesus who is himself present in all his brothers and sisters, above all in the very least (cf. Mt 25:40). (Christifideles Laici, 14)

Through the kingly ministry, then, we are called to overcome sin and Satan — through prayer and participation in the sacraments — and, through the life of holiness thus gained, to give that life as gift to others.

This is the “servant leadership” end of administration — our responsibility for overseeing that the organizations we lead carry out there missions. On the surface this may seem like the least interesting ministry we engage in — but in truth it is one of the most vital, for it is the bedrock on which a well-functioning organization rests.

Indeed, the most important job of an administrator is making sure that the right people are in place to carry out the work that needs doing. Hiring the wrong person derails your momentum, demoralizes good employees, and costs more time and money.

As a result, we need to take our time to make sure that we are hiring the right individuals. This includes knowing what qualifications, education, and experience the job requires “ not just hiring the pious mother who always attends daily Mass because “she obviously has an interest in churchy stuff.” Unfortunately I think we have many parishes where faithfulness is confused with qualification. While we certainly want the people working in our parishes and schools to be faithful Catholics, we also want them to have the qualifications necessary for the job.

Sometimes this will mean waiting to hire until the right person comes along. As I alluded to above, hiring the wrong person will ultimately cost more in the long run. Patience in the hiring process is a virtue and ensures that the right people are “on the bus” as Jim Collins puts it.

Exercising the kingly ministry also means ensuring that resources are properly allocated. This means budgeting! I know a lot of people hate filling out annual budgets (I do too!) but, as a vice-president of finance I worked with was find of saying: “Budgets are moral documents.” By that he meant that budgets tell us where our real priorities and values lie. If we say we want a robust youth ministry in our parish, are we giving the youth minister the resources necessary to carry out that vision? If we want to bring in new members, is there a line item for evangelization and the RCIA? These are hard questions, but necessary if we are honest about what it is we want to accomplish in our parishes.

Finally, the role of the kingly ministry means that we need to call a royal feast every once in a while! Celebrating our accomplishments and acknowledging successes demonstrates the virtue of hope. It is very easy to get bogged down by everything that is wrong in the Church — difficult parishioners, low Mass attendance, dwindling school enrollment. By celebrating the good that we do we remind ourselves that, with Christ’s help, we are bring about the Kingdom of God — and it’s not a fruitless struggle.

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part III – The Prophetic Ministry of Christ

No Communication | Photo by Leonard John Matthews/flickerCC

(Missed the beginning of this series? Check out Part I and Part II.)

Of Christ’s prophetic ministry, Pope John Paul II says

Through their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, “who proclaimed the kingdom of his Father by the testimony of his life and by the power of his world,” the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil. United to Christ, the “great prophet” (Lk 7:16), and in the Spirit made “witnesses” of the Risen Christ, the lay faithful are made sharers in the appreciation of the Church’s supernatural faith, that “cannot err in matters of belief” and sharers as well in the grace of the word (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rev 19:10). They are also called to allow the newness and the power of the gospel to shine out everyday in their family and social life, as well as to express patiently and courageously in the contradictions of the present age their hope of future glory even “through the framework of their secular life” (Christifideles Laici, 14).

The prophetic ministry calls us to give witness to the Gospel in word and in deed. I don’t think we have much problem accepting the latter. In fact, if anything I think we are too comfortable with the idea of evangelizing through our lives: we tend to over-quote the famous admonition (attributed to St. Francis) to “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.” This can lead to the (false) idea that words are never necessary, which in turns leads to complacency about naming the reason we live as we do in the world.

The role of the prophet is to speak the truth. In the Old Testament, the prophets called the Chosen People, who had turned from the proper worship of God to follow idols and false teachers, to return to a proper relationship with the God of Israel. They did this with a firm love, without watering down God’s call.

So, too, in administration. Our role, as partakers in the prophetic ministry, is to speak truthfully to those who work for us. We do this, first and foremost, by the feedback we give.

Unfortunately, for many people, this probably just means an annual review, but I don’t find them particularly helpful. Annual reviews aren’t frequent enough to allow employees to learn from mistakes, enjoy praise for a job well done, or grow in their roles. Taking a cue from the Manager Tools podcast, I’ve instituted 30-minute one-on-one meetings every other week with the directors who report to me. This allows for better communication, more immediate feedback, and better oversight of what is going on in the department I oversee.

Honest, forthright feedback is how we encourage good employees and help mediocre employees improve. Unfortunately their are times when all the feedback in a world won’t improve someone’s performance or attitude. At those times, as a VP for mission I worked with once said, we need to “invite people to live out their passions elsewhere.” Or, as Jim Collins puts it, we need to get the wrong people off the bus.

The truth is that bad employees are toxic to the work environment. If allowed to remain for too long they will demoralize teams and actually drive good employees to find work elsewhere. By participating in the prophetic ministry of Christ — by speaking truthfully and with authority — we can avoid sabotaging our work by ensuring that people know what the expectations are and that they are consistent across the organization.

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part II “ The Priestly Ministry of Christ

Photo by Prakhar Amba / flickerCC

(Missed the first part of this series? Start at Part I)

The three-fold ministry of Christ is beautifully summarized in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Christifideles Laici. Of the priestly ministry the pontiff says:

The lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (cf. Rom 12:1, 2). Speaking of the lay faithful the Council says: “For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God. (14)

So the faithful participate in the priestly ministry through prayer; offering up their work to God; and through their participation in the Holy Eucharist.

I am convinced that, as administrators, the most important thing we can do for those who work under us is to pray “ first, for ourselves! “ that we may be given the wisdom, discernment, and patience to do our jobs well. But we also need to pray for those who work for us, that they may be given those same gifts. (Especially that they will have the patience to deal with us!)

In the Church we also have the privilege and responsibility to pray with our co-workers. Hopefully we all pray before meetings, but time should also be taken for more extended times of prayer, such as days of reflection and retreat. We must also remember to pray together when significant events occur in the lives of our coworkers, such as the births of children or the deaths of spouses.

In addition to prayer we participate in the priestly ministry of Christ when we engage in and encourage others in their formation as disciples of Christ. This, too, is a type of prayer! (Don’t believe me? The Order of Preachers actually has a tradition of study as prayer, such that a Dominican friar may skip communal prayer if in the middle of studying.)

As our bishop said in his homily during Sunday’s Morning Prayer, faith formation is a life-long process. We didn’t graduate at Confirmation! God is mystery, and the depths of that mystery are never plumbed. We grow in our faith by participating in programs of formation, by readings spiritual works, by studying Sacred Scripture “ all for the purpose of our own sanctification and to better enter into communion with God, his Church, and one anther.

Photo: Prakhar Amba / Flickr