I was with some ministers yesterday speaking about the nature of the mission of the laity within the context of adult faith formation. At the average parish you have the pastor and their leader of catechesis. In certain parts of the country they still call this CCD, which stands for the Confraternity for Christian Doctrine. Here in the Omaha, we just call it “religious education.” The education of children takes up most of the time and resources for a parish. Adults are often left to fend for themselves to rummage through the resource library or the brochure display at the back of the Church. In the case of RCIA, when adults convert to the faith, there is more formation, but statistics have shown that though we have huge numbers of adults becoming Catholic every year, over 75% of them are gone after three years. Things seem rather grim.

In my presentation, I led everyone back to the 1979 Apostolic Exhortation by Pope John Paul II Catechesi tradendae “On Catechesis in our Time.” In paragraph 29 the Holy Father speaks of those things which we ought not forget in the work of catechesis. I thought it important since the next synod of the Church will be on the New Evangelization and since the opening lines of this paragraph read:

29. In the third chapter of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, the same Pope recalled “the essential content, the living substance” of evangelization. Catechesis, too, must keep in mind each of these factors and also the living synthesis of which they are part.

Catechesis is about evangelization and the transformation of the soul. But what are these things which we cannot neglect in catechizing? The first reads something like this:

The synod fathers were indeed inspired when they asked that care should be taken not to reduce Christ to His humanity alone or His message to a no more than earthly dimension, but that He should be recognized as the Son of God, the Mediator giving us in the Spirit free access to the Father.

Let’s make sure that we maintain the fact that Jesus is God. This would seem a rather basic or modest goal, but you would be surprised (or perhaps you wouldn’t be) at how many wish to either deny His divinity or leave it on the back burner. Is there more we ought not neglect?

It is important to display before the eyes of the intelligence and of the heart, in the light of faith, the sacrament of Christ’s presence constituted by the mystery of the Church, which is an assembly of human beings who are sinners and yet have at the same time been sanctified….

The Church is that body through which we encounter Christ in His fullness. The Catholic thing has never been a “me and Jesus” proposition. We are called to relationship with Him, but relationship in the context of community. Without that community, we have place an obstacle to complete knowledge of Him.

Then there is the last thing we ought not forget in catechesis. The Holy Father writes:

Finally, it is important to reveal frankly the demands – demands that involve self-denial but also joy – made by what the Apostle Paul liked to call “newness of life,” (Rom. 6:4) “a new creation,” (2 Cor. 5:17) being in Christ, (Cf. ibid.) and “eternal life in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 6:23) which is the same thing as life in the world but lived in accordance with the beatitudes and called to an extension and transfiguration hereafter.

Hence the importance in catechesis of personal moral commitments in keeping with the Gospel and of Christian attitudes, whether heroic or very simple, to life and the world – what we call the Christian or evangelical virtues. Hence also, in its endeavor to educate faith, the concern of catechesis not to omit but to clarify properly realities such as man’s activity for his integral liberation, the search for a society with greater solidarity and fraternity, the fight for justice and the building of peace.

Besides, it is not to be thought that this dimension of catechesis is altogether new. As early as the patristic age, St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom – to quote only them – gave prominence to the social consequences of the demands made by the Gospel. Close to our own time, the catechism of St. Pius X explicitly listed oppressing the poor and depriving workers of their just wages among the sins that cry to God for vengeance.(74) Since Rerum novarum especially, social concern has been actively present in the catechetical teaching of the Popes and the Bishops. Many synod fathers rightly insisted that the rich heritage of the Church’s social teaching should, in appropriate forms, find a place in the general catechetical education of the faithful.

The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church is not some optional addendum to the work of catechetics. It is necessary, and it is something which in the patristic age was given “prominence.”

Giving Thanks

When I presented these facts to the good people around the table yesterday, I asked how many of them felt comfortable relating or speaking about the Social Doctrine to the adults they served. None of them did. The failure, I would then posit, to know it ourselves – for those of us who are in ministry – bars us from passing it on to the adults we work with and as a result fails to make charity in truth a reality, fails to connect the spiritual depths of relationship with Christ to our everyday life.

I did not plan this, but apparently this was exactly the same message of the Holy Father Pope Benedict yesterday. Wherein he says,

A profound understanding of the social doctrine of the Church is of fundamental importance, in harmony with all her theological heritage and strongly rooted in affirming the transcendent dignity of man, in defending human life from conception to natural death and in religious freedom. … It is necessary to prepare lay people capable of dedicating themselves to the common good, especially in complex environments such as the world of politics.

This effort is no joke. It is not peripheral to the work of the Church and the mission of the laity. We must know the Social Doctrine well.

But where to turn? The JustFaith program has been around for some time now and is considered one of the more popular programs. It is long and involved, but the commitment it requires does draw forth some transformation from its participants. The problem is that it includes materials that openly and frequently deny the divinity of Christ. Not only are the participants not provided the gorgeous language of the popes in the explanation of the Social Teaching, they are lied to about who Christ is. When I spoke to the people at JustFaith about this, they simply shrugged and said it was just a matter of emphasis. They want to emphasize Jesus’ humanity is all, lest focusing on his divinity distract us from this world and its needs. JustFaith would not reject these portions of its program.

There is little help out there for encountering and understanding the Social Doctrine of the Church. But the teaching needs to happen, and it needs to happen yesterday.

Kris McGregor and I are working on an audio series to help spread the teaching. Pray that we can finish it in a timely manner and that we can get out of our own way and let the Holy Spirit do the talking. Pray that we can meet the Holy Father’s call for this teaching “to prepare lay people capable of dedicating themselves to the common good,” and service to the Church.