Can you imagine Jesus using a word like catechesis?
How many blank stares would He have gotten if He had announced, “The Father and I are consubstantial?”
That might have ended His mission right there. No one would have been able to charge Him with heresy since they wouldn’t have had the first clue what He was talking about. Think about it: No Calvary, no redemption and no salvation for humankind, all because of the obscurity of the word “consubstantial.”
Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening to a lot of individual people in the world today. People are by-passing the Church that has the words that lead to eternal life, or they are shunning its teachings, because they don’t “get” what religious leaders are trying to tell them.
The Vatican plans to survey Catholics around the globe in an attempt to figure out why their message isn’t getting through to the faithful. Since I am a sort of Catholic (there are days when I feel pretty marginal in my worthiness to say that) I am going to give my own completely unsolicited idea as to what might be done to improve the ability of Church teaching to actually teach.
In my humble opinion, our religious leaders need to teach more like Jesus and less like their theology professor.
I’ll wager it was a small group in their theology classroom, and it will be a small group in heaven if the leaders of the Church don’t clear their palates a bit.
Jesus taught people all the truths that all the theology these guys have stuffed into their heads is based on, and He taught it in accessible and simple terms. There really is a difference between being simple and speaking simply. Direct language, used in straight-forward declarative sentences, communicates. Obscure language in sentences that are long strings of dependent clauses hung together with commas, confuses.
It really is as easy as that. Eloquence is not necessary for communication. But clear thinking and direct language are.
The reason I’m focusing on this is twofold:
1. The number one gripe I hear from other pew-sitting Catholics has nothing to do with gay marriage or contraceptives. It is about being forced to say ugly words like consubstantial. I don’t personally hang out with Catholics who actually read the Pope’s encyclicals. I also don’t personally know a Catholic who lies awake nights worrying about the color of the Pope’s shoes.
These people exist, and they make a lot of noise. But they are very small in number compared with the huge Catholic ocean of believers who just want know what they need to do to get to heaven.
2. The fact that Church directives of every sort fail to communicate with the just-tell-me-what-I-need-to-do-to-get-to-heaven crowd leaves these people wide open to be led by those who do bother to read the various communications. In short, it leaves them at the mercy of people like me.
The Catholic blogosphere has become a sort of second magisterium. Sadly, this bogus magisterium of the blogosphere often trumps the true magisterium in terms of the fidelity of its followers. The temptation to become a tin-plated god for a lot of hapless people runs strong in some folk. I lost count a long time ago of the number of things I’ve read in which members of the laity excoriate the pope — the pope! — because he doesn’t live up to their itty bitty interpretation of things.
That is a natural outgrowth of vague, inaccessible teaching from the Church itself. If those who are charged with leadership don’t lead, that creates a vacuum that someone else will step up and fill. We don’t need more demagogues in the blogosphere, but we will get them so long as the Church continues to communicate in such an inaccessible way.
I think that the Church needs to teach its teachings in language that is clear-cut and that communicates.
It can begin by finding a better word than catechesis.