Can You Imagine Jesus Using a Word Like Catechesis?

Can You Imagine Jesus Using a Word Like Catechesis? November 2, 2013


Can you imagine Jesus using a word like catechesis?

Me neither.

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.

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12 responses to “Can You Imagine Jesus Using a Word Like Catechesis?”

  1. Rebecca, I agree with you. I think the purpose of the survey is to find out what the needs of parishioners are, and how the teachings of the Church can be taught more effectively.

    I haven’t seen the survey which will be distributed in the US, however the bishops of England and Wales have posted their survey online.

    The questions are obviously aimed at leaders in the Church (both clergy and laity) These questions would flummox the average Catholic in the pews. I am not sure iff the US survey will be more grassroots or whether it will also be aimed at leaders. However, I think the England and Wales survey gives an idea of the issues currently being discussed in Rome.

  2. I hope they extend it beyond the clergy. A large part of the problem is that they spend too much of their effort on one another.

  3. Speaking as one who is currently coming into the Catholic faith, I have found the catechism, the Catholic literature and especially the homilies during mass to be simple and concise. Words like catechesis and consubstantial are used for the purpose of clarity! It is my understanding that the creed was previously confessed, “one in being”, but it caused misunderstandingBesides, did Christ always speak unequivocally or with extreme sensitivity? Remember, he said ‘Eat my flesh, Drink my blood!’ And the crowds walked away gagging…

  4. I disagree. There is a reason why such words as “consubstantial” were invented, and it is a reason which, if you stop and think about it, can be very spiritually fruitful. If you just say “Jesus is one with God”, you bring about all sorts of problems and potential heresies, which only further discussion and sharpening of positions – and, I’m afraid, technical language – can properly exclude. I would add that most potential converts are not only adult but argumentative, and that to use simplified language may well be perceived as patronizing.

  5. Speaking as one who is currently coming into the Catholic faith, I have found the catechism, the catholic literature, and especially the homilies during mass to be simple and concise. Words like catechesis and consubstantial are used for the purpose of clarity! ‘Consubstantial’ was chosen over the phrase ‘of one being’…

    Did Christ always speak unequivocally or with regard to the peoples’ sensitivities? Remember, he said ‘Eat my flesh, Drink my blood!’ And the crowds walked away gagging…

  6. 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.

    Also, there are traditionalists who cling to the Latin mass, reject Vatican II and do not recognize any of the popes after Pius XII. There are people who think that using NFP to control the size of one’s family is just another form of contraception and therefore sinful. They’re out there. They need to get a life.

  7. It is possible for laity to excoriate the Pope, in certain circumstances. People like St. Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Sienna and many others did. The issue with modern day dissents either conservative or liberal is that they do not hold a candle to these people.

  8. I first learned the Mass in Spanish. Even though they might not be able to explain what engendrado or consubstancial mean, the Spanish speakers I know had no problems with elevated language. It seems to be an American affinity for slang that oversimplifies the language. More important, I think, would be to teach the significance of the terms as the Baltimore Catechism does. That also might influence some politicians who weasel Catholic teaching by saying merely symbolic, personally opposed and “I have to obey my conscience,” when they are in flagrant opposition to Church teaching. That also drags down the people. Not you, obviously, Rebecca.
    I never heard anyone complain about the word, “purgatory” which is not in general use. Maybe we need to work at learning our faith.

  9. Anne, I think he use of elevated, theological terms tends to confuse understanding, rather than clarify it. Obscure and abstract language may be important for abstruse reasoning, but it is too high-flown to be helpful to ordinary people. You mentioned that the Spanish speakers at Mass may not be able to explain what “consubstancial” means. If so, how does the word help them?

    In the case of politicians, or others, who weasel Catholic teachings, they need private counseling and, if necessary, additional teaching. However, if they are truly being weaselly, then a lack of understanding is not the real problem.

  10. There are just too many more traditional Catholics who seem to be embarrassed and even scandalized when the Pope talks to the media. The media hungers for anything new from the Church. They think a new pope might overrule the establishment and forge a path of reconciliation with the modern world. We all know that’s not going to happen.

  11. Dale, maybe we need to work at learning our faith. We have lost our connections in English such as Shakespeare, forget Middle English. We are rapidly losing ability to read and understand works written even 100 years ago. Dumbing down the language does not help anybody. So, learn what the word means. When I said Spanish speakers might not be able to define consubstancial, if you asked they would say, “quiere decir consubstancial.” In other words, it means consubstantial.

  12. I wish the pastors would just preach the clear Catholic teachings. I only hear homilies about being close to Jesus, and loving before all else, and reaching out to the less fortunate … all very good, and all very easy to rationalize away in our easy middle-class world. Where is the teaching on HOW to do these wonderful-sounding things? Where is the clear concise teaching on any of the issues of our day? Where is the teaching about WHY the Church teaches what She teaches? It’s not being done in the parishes I have attended.