Our overriding choice for Christ. The congregation well attuned to the Church: Evangelization and catechesis; Salesians evangelizer of the young. Rome 24 February Dear confreres From last October your Rector Major and his councilors have had a heavy schedule of meetings with Provincials and their councils, and these will continue for some time: so far, the Provinces of India, Germany and Holland; and in April, Poland and Yugoslavia; and others are being planned. The main theme of these meetings has been the broad and practical guidelines and policies for renewal as laid down in the last two General Chapters. Our joint aim was a realistic examination of conscience and a review of life in the Provinces to see how it squared with the Gospel-project of Don Bosco as outlined authoritatively and authentically in the Constitutions. After all, in every Province we Salesians need to ask ourselves whether we are really and truly evangelizers of the young.
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The Church has always considered catechesis one of her primary tasks, for, before Christ ascended to His Father after His resurrection, He gave the apostles a final command - to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to observe all that He had commanded. And He gave them the Spirit to fulfill this mission. Very soon the name of catechesis was given to the whole of the efforts within the Church to make disciples, to help people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so that believing they might have life in His name, 3 and to educate and instruct them in this life and thus build up the Body of Christ.
The Church has not ceased to devote her energy to this task. The most recent Popes gave catechesis a place of eminence in their pastoral solicitude. Through his gestures, his preaching, his authoritative interpretation of the Second Vatican Council considered by him the great catechism of modern times , and through the whole of his life, my venerated predecessor Paul VI served the Church's catechesis in a particularly exemplary fashion.
On March 18, , he approved the General Catechetical Directory prepared by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, a directory that is still the basic document for encouraging and guiding catechetical renewal throughout the Church. He set up the International Council for Catechesis in He defined in masterly fashion the role and significance of catechesis in the life and mission of the Church when he addressed the participants in the first International Catechetical Congress on September 25, , 4 and he returned explicitly to the subject in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi.
At the end of that synod the fathers presented the Pope with a very rich documentation, consisting of the various interventions during the assembly, the conclusions of the working groups, the message that they had with his consent sent to the People of God, 7 and especially the imposing list of "propositions' in which they expressed their views on a very large number of aspects of present-day catechesis.
The Synod worked in an exceptional atmosphere of thanksgiving and hope. It saw in catechetical renewal a precious gift from the Holy Spirit to the Church of today, a gift to which the Christian communities at all levels throughout the world are responding with a generosity and inventive dedication that win admiration. The requisite discernment could then be brought to bear on a reality that is very much alive and it could benefit from great openness among the People of God to the grace of the Lord and the directives of the magisterium.
It is in the same climate of faith and hope that I am today addressing this apostolic exhortation to you, venerable brothers and dear sons and daughters. The theme is extremely vast and the exhortation will keep to only a few of the most topical and decisive aspects of it, as an affirmation of the happy results of the synod. In essence, the exhortation takes up again the reflections that were prepared by Pope Paul VI, making abundant use of the documents left by the synod.
Pope John Paul I, whose zeal and gifts as a catechist amazed us all, had taken them in hand and was preparing to publish them when he was suddenly called to God. To all of us he gave an example of catechesis at once popular and concentrated on the essential, one made up of simple words and actions that were able to touch the heart. I am therefore taking up the inheritance of these two Popes in response to the request which was expressly formulated by the Bishops at the end of the fourth general assembly of the synod and which was welcomed by Pope Paul VI in his closing speech.
Catechesis has always been a central care in my ministry as a priest and as a Bishop. I ardently desire that this apostolic exhortation to the whole Church should strengthen the solidity of the faith and of Christian living, should give fresh vigor to the initiatives in hand, should stimulate creativity - with the required vigilance - and should help to spread among the communities the joy of bringing the mystery of Christ to the world.
The fourth general assembly of the synod of Bishops often stressed the Christocentricity of all authentic catechesis. We can here use the word "Christocentricity" in both its meanings, which are not opposed to each other or mutually exclusive, but each of which rather demands and completes the other. In the first place, it is intended to stress that at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, "the only Son from the Father It is Jesus who is "the way, and the truth, and the life," 10 and Christian living consists in following Christ, the sequela Christi.
The primary and essential object of catechesis is, to use an expression dear to St. Paul and also to contemporary theology, "the mystery of Christ. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ's actions and words and of the signs worked by Him, for they simultaneously hide and reveal His mystery. Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.
Christocentricity in catechesis also means the intention to transmit not one's own teaching or that of some other master, but the teaching of Jesus Christ, the Truth that He communicates or, to put it more precisely, the Truth that He is. Whatever be the level of his responsibility in the Church, every catechist must constantly endeavor to transmit by his teaching and behavior the teaching and life of Jesus.
He will not seek to keep directed towards himself and his personal opinions and attitudes the attention and the consent of the mind and heart of the person he is catechizing.
Above all, he will not try to inculcate his personal opinions and options as if they expressed Christ's teaching and the lessons of His life. Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. Paul did this when he was dealing with a question of prime importance: "I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.
This teaching is not a body of abstract truths. It is the communication of the living mystery of God. The Person teaching it in the Gospel is altogether superior in excellence to the "masters" in Israel, and the nature of His doctrine surpasses theirs in every way because of the unique link between what He says, what He does and what He is.
Nevertheless, the Gospels clearly relate occasions when Jesus "taught. Luke links and at the same time distinguishes two poles in Christ's mission. Jesus taught. It is the witness that He gives of Himself: "Day after day I sat in the temple teaching. One who teaches in this way has a unique title to the name of "Teacher.
One can understand why people of every kind, race and nation have for 2, years in all the languages of the earth given Him this title with veneration, repeating in their own ways the exclamation of Nicodemus: "We know that you are a teacher come from God.
This image of Christ the Teacher is at once majestic and familiar, impressive and reassuring. It comes from the pen of the evangelists and it has often been evoked subsequently in iconography since earliest Christian times, 27 so captivating is it. And I am pleased to evoke it in my turn at the beginning of these considerations on catechesis in the modern world.
In doing so, I am not forgetful that the majesty of Christ the Teacher and the unique consistency and persuasiveness of His teaching can only be explained by the fact that His words, His parables and His arguments are never separable from His life and His very being.
Accordingly, the whole of Christ's life was a continual teaching: His silences, His miracles, His gestures, His prayer, His love for people, His special affection for the little and the poor, His acceptance of the total sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of the world, and His resurrection are the actualization of His word and the fulfillment of revelation. Hence for Christians the crucifix is one of the most sublime and popular images of Christ the Teacher.
These considerations follow in the wake of the great traditions of the Church and they all strengthen our fervor with regard to Christ, the Teacher who reveals God to man and man to himself, the Teacher who saves, sanctifies and guides, who lives, who speaks, rouses, moves, redresses, judges, forgives, and goes with us day by day on the path of history, the Teacher who comes and will come in glory. Only in deep communion with Him will catechists find light and strength for an authentic, desirable renewal of catechesis.
The image of Christ the Teacher was stamped on the spirit of the Twelve and of the first disciples, and the command "Go John bears witness to this in his Gospel when he reports the words of Jesus: "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. The whole of the book of the Acts of the Apostles is a witness that they were faithful to their vocation and to the mission they had received.
The members of the first Christian community are seen in it as "devoted to the apostles" teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. When those who opposed the apostles took offense at their activity, it was because they were "annoyed because the apostles were teaching the people" 32 and the order they gave them was not to teach at all in the name of Jesus.
The apostles were not slow to share with others the ministry of apostleship. They entrusted it also to the deacons from the moment of their institution: Stephen, "full of grace and power," taught unceasingly, moved by the wisdom of the Spirit. Paul was in a pre-eminent way the herald of this preaching, from Antioch to Rome, where the last picture of him that we have in Acts is that of a person "teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly.
The letters of Peter, John, James and Jude are also, in every case, evidence of catechesis in the apostolic age. Before being written down, the Gospels were the expression of an oral teaching passed on to the Christian communities, and they display with varying degrees of clarity a catechetical structure.
Matthew's account has indeed been called the catechist's Gospel, and St. Mark's the catechumen's Gospel. This mission of teaching that belonged to the apostles and their first fellow workers was continued by the Church. Making herself day after day a disciple of the Lord, she earned the title of "Mother and Teacher. Next we see a striking fact: Some of the most impressive Bishops and pastors, especially in the third and fourth centuries considered it an important part of their espiscopal ministry to deliver catechetical instructions and write treatises.
It was the age of Cyril of Jerusalem and John Chrysostom, of Ambrose and Augustine, the age that saw the flowering, from the pen of numerous Fathers of the Church, of works that are still models for us. It would be impossible here to recall, even very briefly the catechesis that gave support to the spread and advance of the Church in the various periods of history, in every continent, and in the widest variety of social and cultural contexts. There was indeed no lack of difficulties.
But the word of the Lord completed its course down the centuries; it sped on and triumphed, to use the words of the Apostle Paul. The ministry of catechesis draws ever fresh energy from the councils.
The Council of Trent is a noteworthy example of this. It gave catechesis priority in its constitutions and decrees. It lies at the origin of the Roman Catechism, which is also known by the name of that council and which is a work of the first rank as a summary of Christian teaching and traditional theology for use by priests.
It gave rise to a remarkable organization of catechesis in the Church. It aroused the clergy to their duty of giving catechetical instruction. Thanks to the work of holy theologians such as St. Charles Borromeo, St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Peter Canisius, it involved the publication of catechisms that were real models for that period.
May the Second Vatican Council stir up in our time a like enthusiasm and similar activity. The missions are also a special area for the application of catechesis. The People of God have thus continued for almost 2, years to educate themselves in the faith in ways adapted to the various situations of believers and the many different circumstances in which the Church finds herself.
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 depend essentially on catechesis. It is worthwhile pointing out some of the many lessons to be drawn from the experiences in Church history that we have just recalled. To begin with, it is clear that the Church has always looked on catechesis as a sacred duty and an inalienable right.
On the one hand, it is certainly a duty springing from a command given by the Lord and resting above all on those who in the new covenant receive the call to the ministry of being pastors. On the other hand, one can likewise speak of a right: from the theological point of view every baptized person, precisely the reason of being baptized, has the right to receive from the Church instruction and education enabling him or her to enter on a truly Christian life; and from the viewpoint of human rights, every human being has the right to seek religious truth and adhere to it freely, that is to say, "without coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and any human power," in such a way that in this matter of religion, "no one is to be forced to act against his or her conscience or prevented from acting in conformity to it.
That is why catechetical activity should be able to be carried out in favorable circumstances of time and place, and should have access to the mass media and suitable equipment, without discrimination against parents, those receiving catechesis or those imparting it. At present this right is admittedly being given growing recognition, at least on the level of its main principles, as is shown by international declarations and conventions in which, whatever their limitations, one can recognize the desires of the consciences of many people today.
I vigorously raise my voice in union with the synod fathers against all discrimination in the field of catechesis, and at the same time I again make a pressing appeal to those in authority to put a complete end to these constraints on human freedom in general and on religious freedom in particular. The second lesson concerns the place of catechesis in the Church's pastoral programs. The more the Church, whether on the local or the universal level, gives catechesis priority over other works and undertakings the results of which would be more spectacular, the more she finds in catechesis a strengthening of her internal life as a community of believers and of her external activity as a missionary Church.
As the 20th century draws to a close, the Church is bidden by God and by events - each of them a call from Him - to renew her trust in catechetical activity as a prime aspect of her mission. She is bidden to offer catechesis her best resources in people and energy, without sparing effort, toil or material means, in order to organize it better and to train qualified personnel.
This is no mere human calculation; it is an attitude of faith. And an attitude of faith always has reference to the faithfulness of God, who never fails to respond.
Catechesi Tradendae : Catechesis in our Time
This course provides catechists with a foundation in the basic tenets of the Catholic Faith, and is a good starting point leading to further study. The required curriculum for the Master Catechist certificate is granted through the Office of Parish Religious Education. Classes are offered in both English and Spanish. All formation programs of the Institute for Catechesis and Formation are intended for the lay faithful who have been delegated by their pastors to serve, or asked by their pastors to consider serving, their parish community. Participation in a program does not imply permission to serve in the parish.