Following are excerpts of Bishop Rhoades’ speech at Catechetical Institute Day on November 6, 2010.
The Christocentric nature of catechesis
I would like to center my address today … on the Word made flesh, the Incarnate Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The focus of my address is the Christocentric nature of Catholic catechesis.
The Church’s catechesis, the teaching each one of us imparts, must be focused on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, and the mystery of His incarnation, life, passion, death, and resurrection. Why is this? Because in Him, who is true man and true Son of God, God is fully revealed to us and in Him we discover the meaning and destiny of our lives. If we are convinced with all our being that Jesus truly is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that He is the center of the universe and of history, we must embrace the Christocentric nature of our catechetical mission. The great John Paul II affirmed this when he defined the definitive aim of catechesis as putting “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” (“Catechesi Tradendae”).
In all we say and do as catechists, Christ must be our focus. The Lord Jesus is the one Mediator between God and humanity, the Lord of the cosmos and the Lord of history. He is the one Savior of the world, the same yesterday, today, and forever. This message is at the center of our Catholic faith and thus the core of all catechesis in the Church.
Pope John Paul called for a Christocentric catechesis in the 1997 General Directory for Catechesis. He explained that “at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Christocentricity means that we present with vigor and conviction in all our catechesis that Christ is the center of salvation history, indeed “the key, the center and end of all human history.” Christocentricity in catechesis also means that we transmit the teaching of Jesus, the truth that He communicates about God, man, happiness, the moral life, death, etc., without changing or diluting His teaching which comes to us through His Body, the Church. This Christocentricity means also that the four Gospels have pride of place in our texts for reading and reflection.
The trinitarian nature of catechesis
Catechesis, centered in Christ, has an intrinsically trinitarian dimension since Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father and the One anointed by the Holy Spirit. His identity is not an isolated one for He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, in eternal communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. All catechesis therefore is both Christocentric and Trinitarian. One of the most important and exciting truths we are to communicate to our students is that through Christ we enter into the life and communion and love of the Most Holy Trinity. We must always be cognizant that the mystery of “the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life.” We begin to teach this awesome truth to our youngest children when we teach them the Trinitarian invocation as they learn to make the sign of the cross. And we teach our students who we are as a Church, as a Catholic community: most fundamentally we are a people gathered together in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The ecclesial dimension of catechesis
The Christocentric nature of catechesis is also deeply ecclesial. If we center our teaching on Christ, it is impossible not to emphasize that He has a Bride, the Church. He is the Bridegroom of His beloved people and He gave His life out of love for His Bride. We cannot teach Christ without teaching about His Body, the Church. The faith we teach is not some individualistic interpretation or secret personal wisdom, like that of the fanciful and popular gnostic gospels. It is the faith preserved in its integrity, guarded and protected, received by the Apostles from Christ Himself and transmitted through the centuries under the action of the Holy Spirit by the apostolic Church. It is the faith of Peter and the apostles kept intact and proclaimed authoritatively by their successors, the Pope and bishops.
Spiritual formation in catechesis
When I think of the Christocentric nature of catechesis, I cannot help recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his first papal encyclical, “God Is Love.” “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The Holy Father goes on to quote Saint John’s Gospel in describing that event: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16). Pope Benedict also cites words from Saint John’s first letter: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.” I ask you an extremely important question today: Do our children and young people and adults in our schools and parish catechetical programs come to know and believe in God’s love for them? Do they encounter the Lord Jesus in a personal and not merely abstract way? Do they come to know Him and to love Him and thus become motivated to follow Him and to live according to His teaching? Do they truly discover Christ, not only in their heads, but in their hearts? Do they experience Jesus as their friend, their best friend? If they do, the moral and ethical dimensions of life in Christ will more naturally follow.
Another way to put this is in terms of spiritual formation in catechesis. If the aim of catechesis is to put the baptized in deeper communion and intimacy with Jesus, then catechesis necessarily takes on a strong spiritual dimension. Yes, we must be vitally concerned about our students’ deep and comprehensive knowledge of our Catholic faith, but it is not complete without the spiritual dimension. Catechesis should be a school of prayer as well as a school of knowledge. Pope John Paul exclaimed to young people: “Open wide the doors to Christ.”
That should be our cry, our invitation to all whom we are privileged to teach. Another way to put it: are our schools and catechetical programs “schools of holiness”? Catechesis is about forming disciples and friends of Jesus Christ. It is about educating others (and ourselves) in holiness, in authentic discipleship.
Our catechetical labors should lead those we teach to conversion, to love, to friendship, and to worship. Let me say a word about worship. Are our students, in coming to know more fully the mystery of Jesus Christ, moved to praise Him and give Him glory through prayer and worship? One who truly knows and loves the Lord Jesus is led to follow the star, like the Magi, and to say with them: “We have come to worship Him.” If knowledge of Christ does not lead to love, worship, and prayer, the knowledge we impart is reduced to passive intellectualism. And worship or liturgy without good prior catechesis is impoverished and can become mere ritualism.
May all whom we teach be moved to follow Jesus Christ, to worship God in spirit and in truth, to give glory and adoration to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to grow in holiness in their journey to heaven!
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