Saturday, May 21, 2011

“Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?": Catechesis is a lifelong process of knowing and loving the Lord Jesus

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

As many of you know the world was supposed to end today. It did not make much sense to put a lot of effort into a homily if the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was going to be present to preach in person. But I did manage to throw something together since the world and we are still here and a false been prophet has once again been exposed.

The Lord is always with us. He gives Himself as an inexhaustible source of Faith and life, particularly here in the sacred liturgy through Word and Sacrament. And He is here for us whether or not we are here for Him.

Sometimes those who have been with the Lord the longest, such as Philip in today's Gospel, seem to be the ones who know Him the least. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. To know Jesus Christ, to be with Him, is already to know the Father, to know heaven where God has prepared a place for us. Sometimes, though, we like Philip betray a lack of knowledge of the One who gives Himself so abundantly in the Eucharist, the Scriptures and in the teaching of the Church and who is for us the way to abundant and eternal life. Though He is always so radically and generously available to us we sometimes find ourselves in the same situation as did Philip. The Lord could also rightly turn to us therefore and also say to us, "Have you been with me all this time and still you do not know me?"

Gladly none of us would say we do not love God. We are here because we seek Him and we seek Him because we love Him and this is right and good. Perseverance in seeking the Lord is itself evidence of a loving faith. But even beyond the Sunday liturgy we are called to take the steps necessary to grow in our Faith.

Have you ever met someone who no longer practices the Catholic Faith and who says, "Well, I was raised a Catholic" as if that status has exhausted all the possibilities for them of truth and life and love in God? There is often a presumption that however the Faith has been tried in the past there is no possibility that the Faith could ever hold any value or deeper truth or power for living in the future.

GK Chesterton once said, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." If our Catholic faith is the grace which gives us access to living the Christian ideal, to growing in the love of and in the image of Christ, could not the same be said of growth in the love of and knowledge of the content of our Faith? We could therefore also say, "The Catholic Faith has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

To lack knowledge of the person of Jesus Christ can happen even to those who, like Philip, have been with Him the longest, even some who have been Catholic all their lives.

For many, even lifelong Catholics, there is sometimes a presumption against further study. We all know the stereotype of the Catholic who goes through CCD and stops at Confirmation, as if all knowledge of the Faith stops there. We could also hear from priests of how they prepare very carefully to offer a good RCIA class but find that those who are already Catholic presume they will not learn anything new through such instruction and no amount of cajoling will convince them to take part.

To love Christ is to know Christ. Love must be a growing thing, therefore knowledge must grow together with love. The doctrinal content of the truths of our Faith is an inexhaustible resource. All of us are responsible to care for our Faith by taking the steps necessary to grow in our Faith. Catechesis is necessary for lifelong growth in the Faith, therefore catechesis is necessary throughout life.

What is "catechesis"?

"Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life." (CCC 5)

Catechesis is never about "old information", as perhaps in other areas of knowledge, because the Christ we come to know more fully through the doctrine of the Faith is ever ancient and ever new. When we review some doctrine or aspect of the Faith we grow in the grace of Faith so that it becomes an ever more firm foundation for our lives in order to give us the hope that we need which tells us that God is making a difference in our lives.

Catechesis has various benefits for our faith and life. Some of these are spelled out by the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is the primary tool for catechesis in the Church.

"Catechesis has to reveal in all clarity the joy and the demands of the way of Christ. Catechesis for the 'newness of life' in him should be:

"- a catechesis of the Holy Spirit, the interior Master of life according to Christ, a gentle guest and friend who inspires, guides, corrects, and strengthens this life;

"- a catechesis of grace, for it is by grace that we are saved and again it is by grace that our works can bear fruit for eternal life;

"- a catechesis of the beatitudes, for the way of Christ is summed up in the beatitudes, the only path that leads to the eternal beatitude for which the human heart longs;

"- a catechesis of sin and forgiveness, for unless man acknowledges that he is a sinner he cannot know the truth about himself, which is a condition for acting justly; and without the offer of forgiveness he would not be able to bear this truth;

"- a catechesis of the human virtues which causes one to grasp the beauty and attraction of right dispositions towards goodness;

"- a catechesis of the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity, generously inspired by the example of the saints;

"- a catechesis of the twofold commandment of charity set forth in the Decalogue;

"- an ecclesial catechesis, for it is through the manifold exchanges of 'spiritual goods' in the "communion of saints" that Christian life can grow, develop, and be communicated."
-- CCC 1697

What, practically, are we do? Perhaps we can be more open to adult education opportunities offered by the parish than we might have been in the past. Or we can be more generous with our time at home to assist our children in their studies for religious education. Or we can pick up a good spiritual book for summer reading. Our Holy Father Benedict, the pope, has written very beautifully of the Lord Jesus in a variety of books. One of these would be a good place to start. In these and in many ways we can grow in love of Christ as we grow to know Him more through the gift of our Faith.

Always expect more from Christ than you give to Christ. He will never leave you disappointed.


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