Archive for July, 2011

 

Catechesis: Handing on the Person of Christ

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the St. John Bosco Catechetical Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  It was a fantastic week of networking and collaborating with catechists and catechetical leaders from literally around the world who are working tirelessly in the vinyard of the Lord in handing on the faith to those the Lord has entrusted to them.  The ministry of catechesis is one of the most crucial ministries in the Church and is part of the Lord”s commisioning to the Chuch to “baptize all the nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)   I thought that this would be a great opportunity to reflect upon what exactly is catechesis, and that in reality, we are all catechists and are called to hand on the very Person of Christ.

What is catechesis?  Catechesis comes from the Greek meaning “to echo.”  It is the mission entrusted to the Church by Christ to “echo” or to faithfully hand on what Jesus has revealed to us through his Incarnation, his life and mission, and the Paschal mystery of his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.  In fact, through catechesis, it is not so much what we hand on but Whom.  As John Paul II simply but profoundly states in his letter on catechesis Catechesi Tradendae:   “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘the only Son from the Father…full of grace and truth.’”  (CT, 5)  Here we see the essence of what catechesis is:  the handing on of the person of Christ, and truth he reveals and the life of grace he offers to us.  First and foremost, catechesis must hand on the truth of Christ and who he is; the full revelation of the Father and the full revelation of our own humanity destined for eternal glory.  For it is only in the truth of Christ that we can come to know true freedom and the fullness of human life:   “For I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)  This truth about Christ in turn leads us to his life, a life of abundant grace found especially in the celebration of the sacraments and most profoundly in his real presence in the Eucharist.  As catechists, we are the instruments the Lord uses to echo this truth so that others may come first to know him and then have communion and life through Him.  “[Catechesis] is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him…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.”  (CT, 5)

Thus as catechists, we hand on not our own teaching, but Christ’s teaching.  What a profound gift it is to be the instrument Christ chooses to use to bring his grace and truth to those entrusted to us!   In order to be true and effective catechists we must have the humility to know and understand our role of instrumentality.  With this precisely in mind, Pope John Paul beautifully and powerfully lays forth the role of the catechist:

Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me”.  Saint Paul did this when he was dealing with a question of prime importance: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you”.  What assiduous study of the word of God transmitted by the Church”s Magisterium, what profound familiarity with Christ and with the Father, what a spirit of prayer, what detachment from self must a catechist have in order that he can say: “My teaching is not mine”! (CT, 6)

This indeed is a tall order and we don’t do it perfectly!  But, if we as catechists are to more faithfully echo the person and teaching of Christ, then we ourselves must see that we are immersed into his mystery in our own lives by contemplating and pondering the mystery of Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and our own personal study and ongoing “faith seeking understanding” and conversion of heart.   The more we are rooted in Christ, the more perfect and clear will be our echoing of Christ and his truth.  We see in Mary, who was the first catechist, the first to echo Christ and his truth, a profound living example for us who catechize.  For often in the gospel do we see Mary “pondering these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:19)   She allowed the mystery and truth of Christ to so penetrate her being that she was able to perfectly reflect the light of her Son.  As John Paul explains:

Christ is the supreme Teacher, the revealer and the one revealed. It is not just a question of learning what he taught but of “learning him”. In this regard could we have any better teacher than Mary? From the divine standpoint, the Spirit is the interior teacher who leads us to the full truth of Christ (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). But among creatures no one knows Christ better than Mary; no one can introduce us to a profound knowledge of his mystery better than his Mother.  (RVM, 14)

Thus, it especially when we ponder with Mary the mystery of her Son through the rosary that we sit at the “school of Mary” and come to a deeper knowledge and communion with her Son.  Through the rosary we join with her in pondering in our own hearts the saving truth of Jesus Christ and come into a more intimate communion with him.  This is why the rosary is above all a Christ-centered prayer in which we learn Christ with and through the intercession of his Mother.  Therefore, devotion to the rosary can be a powerful spiritual tool in helping us come to a deeper knowledge of Christ so that we may be ever more faithful in “echoing” Christ through our ministry of catechesis.

May we all entrust ourselves to the maternal intercession of Mary who was for us the model catechist, and the first to hand on the Person of Christ.  As Pope John Paul II powerfully prays:

May the Virgin of Pentecost obtain this for us through her intercession. By a unique vocation, she saw her Son Jesus “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor.” As He sat on her lap and later as He listened to her throughout the hidden life at Nazareth, this Son, who was “the only Son from the Father,” “full of grace and truth,” was formed by her in human knowledge of the Scriptures and of the history of God”s plan for His people, and in adoration of the Father. She in turn was the first of His disciples. She was the first in time, because even when she found her adolescent Son in the temple she received from Him lessons that she kept in her heart.  She was the first disciple above all else because no one has been “taught by God” to such depth. She was “both mother and disciple,” as St. Augustine said of her, venturing to add that her discipleship was more important for her than her motherhood.  There are good grounds for the statement made in the synod hall that Mary is “a living catechism” and “the mother and model of catechists.”

May the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the prayers of Mary, grant the Church unprecedented enthusiasm in the catechetical work that is essential for her. Thus will she effectively carry out, at this moment of grace, her inalienable and universal mission, the mission given her by her Teacher: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (CT, 73)

Peter the Rock

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

     On June 29th, we celebrated the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in which we honor and recognize these two great apostles as the pillars of the Church and great defenders of the truth of Christ.   This feast gives us an opportune time to now reflect upon the role and mission of St. Peter as the head of Christ’s Church, and the profound authority that was given to him by Christ himself that is also handed on to his successors, the Pope, until the end of time.  In a world and culture marred by the great errors of moral relativism and the denial of objective truth, the Papacy, in the role of the successor of St. Peter, stands as the one and true defender of all truth as revealed by Jesus Christ. 

    While all the apostles were given the authority and the mission by Christ to teach, govern, and minister in his name, Peter was set apart and given a unique role by Christ that emphasized his teaching and governing authority over all the apostles and other disciples.  This is seen most profoundly in Matthew 16:

 

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:13-19)

 

      In this very powerful scene, Jesus is asking the apostles who others think he is, but in reality, he is asking them who they think he is.  While the other apostles give many different answers, Peter is the one who sees the real identity of Christ as the Messiah and responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus responds, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”  Jesus is revealing a profound truth.  Peter has been given a unique gift, or charism, by the Father to know and teach the truth, and his knowledge of Jesus’ identity is a result of this special gift.  Jesus recognizes this gift and special role of Peter and bestows on him a unique teaching and governing authority over all the apostles and the entire Church.

      Therefore, Jesus changes Peter’s name from Simon to Peter, which means “Rock” (Greek petros).  This is packed with meaning as the changing of one’s name in the Scriptures means a new identity, mission, and calling.  For example, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham when he responded to God’s invitation of faith, and he became the father of all of God’s people.  In the same way here, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter to show his new identity and mission as the “rock” and head of the Church.

      Jesus calls Peter “rock,” and it is upon “this rock” that Jesus will build his Church.  Why does Jesus build his Church upon Peter?  It is fundamentally in response to Peter already exercising his teaching authority given to him by the Father.  He has received a gift of wisdom to know the truth about Christ, and also a teaching charism to proclaim it with clarity and without error. 

      No mere human revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah.  He had not yet told Peter that he was the Messiah, and many were still seriously grappling with exactly who Jesus was.  But Peter was given the gift to know the truth, and he faithfully proclaimed it to the apostles.  He will be the one who will lead, teach, and strengthen the apostles and the other followers after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. 

      Recognizing Peter’s gift of teaching the truth, Jesus then grants him a unique and profound authority:  “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Jesus entrusts to Peter the keys to the Church!  What does this mean?  In Jesus’ time, when the master was going to leave his estate for a time, he would entrust to his head servant the keys to the estate.  This servant, who possessed the keys, was entrusted with the full authority of his master while he was away.  Thus, the servant does not replace the master, but possesses his authority in his absence.  Peter becomes the “Vicar” of Christ, that is, he has been given the full authority of the Master over his Church until he comes again.  However, with this authority comes great responsibility.  The servant who is given the keys of the master is expected to take care of and run the estate in the way the master desires.  In the same way, Peter’s authority is one of service and obedience to the will and teachings of Christ.  It is the sole responsibility of Peter and his successors to authoritatively and faithfully teach and hand on what Christ has taught and willed.

     This same teaching charism given by the Father and profound authority bestowed upon Peter by Christ himself is also handed on to each and every successor of Peter in the person of the Pope.  By virtue of his office, the Pope is guided by the Holy Spirit to teach and proclaim the truth as it pertains to faith and morals without error.  Thus, it is through the Pope as the visible head of the Church that the sacred Deposit of Faith entrusted by Christ to the Church has remained preserved, intact, and handed on without error for over 2,000 years. 

     The gift of the Papacy has been especially evident in recent history through the great Popes of the 20th century, especially as exemplified in our late Holy Father Blessed Pope John Paul II and continued today through the great leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.  In these times of great moral confusion, and when the basic foundations of the truths of Christianity are being challenged by an increasingly secular culture, it is the Pope as the successor of St. Peter that continues to steer and guide the Church towards the truth of Christ so that the promise of Christ will be fulfilled:  “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld will never prevail against it.”