The Problem with Catechesis Is that It’s Been Found Difficult and Not Tried

The Problem with Catechesis Is that It’s Been Found Difficult and Not Tried March 12, 2014

Gilbert Chesterton famously said, “The problem with Christianity is not that it’s been tried and found wanting, it’s been found difficult and not tried.”

If you change the word Christianity for Catechesis, you have a description of the problem with the “unfaithful laity” in many parts of this country, if not the world.

As exhibit A, let me point you toward the mess at Eastside High School in Seattle. This school, which is nominally Catholic, appears to cater to rich little kids and provide them with a full blast of self-actualizing claptrap with a layer of do-gooderism and little c catholicism on top to make them feel good.

When their openly-gay vice principal “married” his partner, the school, in what was probably a stunning display of unexpected fidelity to Church teaching, decided to enforce its school contract and employee guidelines and dismiss him. The student body, which had clearly been catechized more by the vice principal and his supporters than anyone imparting Catholic teaching, reacted by staging a walk out.

Instead of expelling the students for walking out of class, the school pretty much caved on a later problem with another teacher.

Now, for all their what’s-happening-now weak-as-water Catholicism, the school is being sued by said vice principal.

Exhibit B would be the Seattle priest who wrote a column for a national magazine, taking a public stand against the teachings of the Church whose collar he wears.

Exhibit C would be the many Catholic politicians I know whose knowledge of what the Church teaches on issues such as the sanctity of human life and the sacrament of marriage is limited to slogans, and most of them come from the media which is openly hostile to their Church. You can place the parish priests who’ve told them it’s ok to vote against pro life legislation and for gay marriage, even while their bishops are begging them to do the opposite, alongside the politicians on the exhibit table.

What’s wrong with catechesis?

1. It stops at the little-kid-in-Sunday-school level.

2. Despite the fact that most priests are faithful to the Church, nobody with authority in the Church says a word to disagree with those who aren’t. Don’t any of these guys answer to superiors in this hierarchical Church of ours? How, exactly, can the bishops expect the laity to respond to their leadership when their own priests are either ignoring the bishop or flat-out telling their parishioners that their personal ideas trump Church teaching in matters of mortal sin?

3. Nobody seems interested or able to answer the onslaught of attacks from the world at large that the laity is facing. We need leadership, and we’re not getting it. At the very least we need an acknowledgement of what the laity must endure in this post Christian America.

4. Too much catechesis in more liberal parishes preaches a little g social gospel that is almost totally silent on Church teaching about justice. On the other hand, too much catechesis in conservative parishes focuses on sanctity of life and marriage to the exclusion of social issues. Worse, they do this in a political, rather than a moral manner.

The American Church has grown soft. It is no longer the Church Militant. It seems more like the church self-indulgent.

I keep wanting to shake people and paraphrase the line from the movie Aliens, “Maybe you haven’t been keeping up with current events, but we’ve been getting our rear ends kicked.”

There is no reason to panic or sink into depression because of the recent losses in the courts and at the polls on social issues. We can turn that around. All it takes is the will and determination to do it on the part of the laity. 

That is the key, you know: The laity.

We’ve got the task of changing the world. The clergy has the task of catechizing/inspiring/leading us so that we are equipped to do that. Unfortunately, before the laity can convert the world, the laity itself needs to be converted. Too many Catholics treat Jesus as their cop-out instead of their Lord.

I know that’s a tall order for our priests. I also know that it most decidedly is not what a good many of our men in collars thought they were signing up for when they took their vows. Most of the priests we have today entered a priesthood rolling in automatic respect and trust for their calling which spilled over onto them personally. They saw themselves giving homilies, administering parishes, providing comfort, healing hurts, taking on an occasional pilgrimage and basically doing predictable and rewarding work throughout the long slide to safe and predictable retirement.

What has changed is that they now have to do all those things, with a call to battle heaped on top of it. They must somehow find a way to deal with demoralized and angry parishioners while they play catch up in preparing their people to be strong in their faith in the face of hostility, and learn how to convert a self-dissembling culture.

They’re not up to it. I know that.

But this is the our time. These are our challenges. And the job in front of us is the one the Holy Spirit has chosen for us.

We’ve got to support our priests who are trying to be faithful while learning how to do a whole new job and add it on top the job they already have. As for Catechesis, the parish and diocese which needs it the most are probably also the ones which will mount aggressive resistance to it. When priests try to teach what the Church teaches, parishioners who are also faithful to the Church need to stand by them absolutely, especially in the face of hostility from parishioners who have grown accustomed to the Church teaching what the world teaches.

Catechesis as we’ve been doing it is failing our children, our families, our Church and Our Lord. The evidence is all around us.

That’s the first fact we have to face. The second, which is that we must change our way of doing Catechesis, follows on its heels. Everything after that is detail.



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15 responses to “The Problem with Catechesis Is that It’s Been Found Difficult and Not Tried”

  1. The past few months have convinced me that the only way things will really change is if those who “claim the name” are truly disciples, truly converted in their hearts and made willing to live it out even tho the world will oppose them. I realize I lack the power to “make” that happen (teaching a wee Sunday school with a cpl adults isn’t probably going to change the world!). But we can all be praying that the Spirit would be poured out and hearts truly converted. And of course, supporting the ministers/priest/laypeople who stand up for Christ. 🙂

  2. Catechesis has failed me. I knew that. I never expected it to attack me this badly.

    I have no idea what to do now that it seems to me the sexual revolution is over, and the Culture of Death has won the war.

    My only thought is promoting indiscriminate charity. Gay people have to eat too. Without children, my generation is going to grow old alone and without care. Community is more important than ever, and more neglected than ever. Acting locally is more important in a world where love has been given over to lust.

  3. ” … a stunning display of unexpected fidelity to Church teaching …”

    Awesome, just awesome.

  4. The Catholic Church is stuck between a rock (no pun intended) and a hard place. It can be like Pope Benedict and refuse to adapt to the times or like Pope Francis probably wants to be. Benedict did not come across to most people as particularly likable while Francis does.

    I think most conservative Catholics would like to see Francis be more like Benedict and stand his ground on the controversial issues of the day. The rest of the world is looking for change and hoping that Francis is the one to bring it.

    I would like to see the Church change but I am not holding out hope for that to happen. It doesn’t matter as much to me as to those who want to remain Catholic but don’t agree with its policies. They are the ones yearning for change and hoping that Francis will bring it.

  5. I don’t think teaching catechesis is difficult. It’s following it that’s hard. And the difficulty of following it scares the Bishops into thinking this will drive people away. And perhaps it would.

  6. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. This is His Church.

    Get real Bill. The Church is not going to change to fit “the times” anymore than it changed to fit with ancient Rome.

    What will happen is the same thing that has happened repeatedly, all over the world since that first Easter morning: The Church will not be changed by the world. The Church will change the world.

  7. This fear is why protestant ministers also tend to avoid the nitty gritty of the faith. They seem to think butts in the pews mean souls saved, never mind the lack of any discernible difference between the folks stopping in for their “Sunday feel-good hour” and those who sneer at the church altogether. Playing to numbers, tho, just reinforces the mediocity of the congregation and insures growth is unlikely even among those who want to follow Jesus. 🙁 It gets worse, of course, when the minister doesn’t LIKE church teaching and so spews the same stuff you get from Oprah and the “spiritual, not religious ” crowd. Then the congregation isn’t just being fed watered down milk, but actual poison!

  8. The Church is not going to change to fit “the times” anymore than it changed to fit with ancient Rome.

    Actually, by the fourth century, the Church was nothing like it was when it first began. It very much had become more like the Roman Empire than what Jesus had started with the Apostles. At the height of his power, the Pope was more like an emperor than a good shepherd.

    There will always be people who will value tradition and will be drawn to Catholicism not despite but because of its refusal to upgrade its teachings. I’m not one of those people.

  9. I am a former middle school catechist and now a longtime Confirmation small group leader (with my wife) and a member of our parish Confirmation retreat planning team. In addition, my wife and I have facilitated the presentation and discussion of Fr. Robert Barron’s landmark 10 part Catholicism series with two different groups. Based on my experience, meaningful catechesis needs to include the context provided by the kerygma (or First Proclamation) and the great story of salvation history and the richness Catholicism.

    Here are two key examples of what I mean.

    First, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes, “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.”

    Second, Fr. Robert Barron presents seven key steps to the New Evangelization which, I would suggest, are key to catechesis as well, especially of current adult Catholics that may not have been as well catechized as they could have been (and I include myself in that group). In talks all across America, Fr. Barron has been telling today’s Catholics that the New Evangelization should “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth. Once you are captivated by the winsomeness of the beautiful, you are drawn to the good. You wonder, ‘How do I participate in the life that made this beauty possible?’ Once we live that life of goodness, we realize the truth of it.” You can read more about Fr. Barron’s approach in an article that appeared in Sooner Catholic last June. Fr. Barron’s DVD series Catholicism is an ideal tool for adult faith formation. It can provide an outstanding foundation upon which discussions about Church teaching can be built. In a recent post, The Anchoress reemphasized her enthusiasm for Fr. Barron’s project.

    Sorry for the length of this post. I have been thinking about this for several days.

    Twitter: @RayGlennon

  10. Rebecca,

    Closely related to Catechesis is Evangelization. Fr. Robert Barron (creator of the Catholicism series) has been traveling across the country exhorting Catholic audiences about the Seven Keys of he New Evangelization.

    Here is a video of the talk he gave in LA last weekend. Follow the link and then scroll down to Fr. Barron’s talk:

    My wife and I heard Fr. Barron speak two weeks before this talk when he gave a similar one in Baltmore. If you have never seen this talk, I encourage you to give it a listen. The second of his keys is “Don’t Dumb Down the Message.”

    Once again, thanks for all you do.