Apostles began their ministry by teaching catechism. It is rudiments of faith instructed in a simple way for one to know, understand and live. Among them St. Paul was an ardent teacher of faith. He was willing to be cursed if he failed in his duty to catechise (catechesis, meaning education to faith) for he said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” His letters are in fact lengthy lessons instructing the faith-seeker in faith and it continues to instruct us down through the centuries.
The Church is always challenged in the task of teaching the faith. It is a patient job that requires constant innovation and renewed enthusiasm amidst various changes in the society and world. The apostles give us few lessons on catechesis. We are required to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast” (Colossians 1:23). We need to mature in faith and are urged to “attain to the unity of the… knowledge of the Son of God…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:13-14). We are warned of false teachers and distorters of faith. “There are many deceivers” (1 John 2:26). We are cautioned on difficult doctrines, “which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). We are admonished on leadership who must be raised up who can “give instruction in sound doctrine and also confute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
Often times the need for catechism is felt by the flock even more than the shepherds. A few days ago I happen to read a letter to the priests of a parish in Kampala Archdiocese on the need to teach catechism. The concerned writer is a young person, an ardent Faithful who is practices faith ardently. This person complains of “not enough” pastoral activity in the parish, inadequate pastoral work and above all the ignorance faith and doctrine by the people, especially the young. In a polite and loving manner the writer requests for better ministry. It is worth mentioning a few sentences from the letter.
“By observing the participation of Catholic Christians today, I have several times realised that we still do not know much beyond attending the Mass; in any case why do we attend it at all. Sometimes I wonder if when the “storm” comes, how many would remain firm? This fact doesn’t seem to bother most clergy. When the Holy Father visited us in November last year, he passed on a number of serious messages. It seems like just the basics have been implemented, but the rest ignored.”
The writer quotes from Saint Athanasius “…The more violently they (pastors) try to occupy the places of worship, the more they separate themselves from the Church. They claim that they represent the Church; but in reality, they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray. Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ.”
There is another quote from St. John Vianney, “…The need to build awareness of the values of the teachings of the Catholic Church…. Yes, my dear brethren, we shall see at the judgement that the largest section of Christians practiced a religion of whim or caprice only – that is to say, the greatest number of them practiced their religion merely from motives of routine and very few sought God alone in what they did.” The writer says, it ought to be the worry of the Church.
“God gave us skill. We can always be creative, instead of remaining on the constant pumping of the same information the same way into a busy adult’s mind. These minds must be receptive and we must find them at the appropriate moment. How can we ever know if we do not look and try….? This is open to any suggestions or criticism if you like, but my prayer is that all take a positive turn to building a better Christian community.”
The writer also suggests to have well prepared lessons at a suitable time for the learners to learn. It ought to be given also to adults who have not instructed enough. The parish should set aside a suitable place for teaching and priests should be available for this important pastoral duty and do it as priority.
Why Catechism or rather Catechesis is important?
Jesus taught using parables, though some remained ambiguous to disciples. Among his parables he explained only the Parable of the Sower. He told them, “When anyone hears the words of the Kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart. This is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path” (Matthew 13:10, 18-19).
As Catholics we are normally baptised as infants. It becomes a tragic if we are not instructed in faith as we grow up. The seed of the gospel has been sown into our hearts at Baptism. But that was only the beginning. We must do everything in our power to grasp the meaning of what we believe. Otherwise the devil will come along and steal the faith from our hearts. We will also be lured into secularism and its related vices. Then we become weak to withstand against the world.
Catechesis also helps us to shape our morals. Through it we are introduced to Christian way of living moral lives. We will also be instructed to live our ordinary lives fruitfully and godly. Through catechesis we are assisted to handle issues, such as family life, sexuality, making informed decisions on various life events.
It is only through catechesis we are taught the greatness of Catholic faith which makes us proud of being a part of a global faith. Above all we are made to realize that there is a God who become like us, shared his life with us and he continues to walk with us in our life. This realization is indeed our salvation. Catechism of the Catholic Church, art. 1868 says, “The Catholic wisdom of the people… provides reasons for joy and humour even in the midst of a very hard life.”
(Themes: Religious Education, Catechists)