Today we keep the feastday of the catechist who wrote the book that teaches us about: the wise men, St. Joseph, the Sermon on the Mount, St. Peter receiving the keys, the king separating the sheep and the goats, and the risen Jesus sending the Apostles to teach and baptize all nations in the name of the Blessed Trinity, among other things.
And soon our humble parishes will begin our annual educational enterprise. We will begin classes–for adults interested in joining our Church, and for our young ones.
In these classes, we will teach sacred doctrine. We do not teach our own personal opinions about anything. What purpose would that serve? We catechists ourselves don’t have more insight into anything than anyone else does. In our classes, we simply minister to the one Teacher, the Christ.
So: Sacred doctrine… Let’s meditate a moment. What is it?
First: It’s sacred. The world isn’t everything. We human beings need a temple, where we meet God. And we need to learn something there, about Him–so that we can have a friendship with Him.
The world–lovely as it may appear at times, dangerous as it appears at others–the world becomes a desperately unhappy prison house for us, unless we become friends with the One who made it all, and Who guides it all towards fulfillment, according to His mysterious plan.
We must learn something about our ineffably mysterious Maker, then, we human beings. And: because He dwells in such unapproachable mystery, the doctrine we learn about Him can come from only one source: He Himself.
What do we learn first? That, in the beginning–a beginning so total and so absolute that our minds cannot conceive it–in the beginning, God arrayed the stars and galaxies and trees and hills and fields, and formed man and woman from the clay. And He did it all for His reason. He made the cosmos for a reason.
The reason. The reason why there is something, rather than nothing. Something–teeth, sheep, rocks, pine cones, human imaginations, fish in the sea, hemispheres of the globe–why there is anything at all, rather than an endless, silent, unpaintable darkness.
The basic question of life: What is God’s reason for all this? And we catechists must face this fact, and start from it: We would have no answer to this question, no answer at all–had something unexpected not happened.
Okay, yes. Some people did expect it, back in ancient Israel. Kind-of. The Almighty had taken some significant steps. He had spoken to Abraham and promised that old Mesopotamian man descendants as numerous as the beach sands or the night stars. The Almighty had spoken to Moses. The Lord had, indeed, consecrated many prophets. So our ancient forefathers knew God and expected something.
But still–it came as a surprise. The Annunciation came as a surprise. Mary believed, but she did not understand. St. Joseph believed, but he did not understand. Bethlehem came as a surprise. Jesus’ miracles and teachings and triumph over death–it all came as quite a surprise. All the faithful disciples believed, but they did not understand.
What happened was this: Turns out the one, true God–indivisible, uncomplicated, pure like nothing we know–infinitely more pure than Ivory soap–turns out that He, the One, is three: Father, Son and Spirit of infinite love.
And the second divine Person, the Son, became flesh. Man. Incarnate. He dwelt among us. He spoke. He did stuff. In Palestine.
Now, we human beings need to learn many things. For instance, it really helps to know how to drive. And how to cook–at least how to cook spaghetti. And most of us need to learn how to do something useful, to participate in the ‘economy.’ (Those who don’t just run for public office 🙂
But all other knowledge pales in significance compared to: knowing about Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal Father. When we learn about Him, we learn the great reason of God. The Why. Why do I wake up in the morning, rather than not? What is God’s point, with all this? With these 24-hour intervals of life, which He doles out to me with such stubborn regularity? –To know Christ is to know the answer.
Lovely, Father! you say. Lovely. We ❤ Jesus 2. But, you add: People like St. Matthew, all the Apostles, St. Thomas Aquinas, all the wise popes and theologians–they spent their lifetimes trying to learn about Christ. But in Religious Ed., we only have like an hour a week.
“Sacred doctrine.” How vast! The whole Bible, the traditions we have which go back to Christ Himself, the writings of all the holy men and women of the ages… Father, we’re just volunteers here. How do we even begin?
Let’s look at it like this. There are two kinds of people. On the one hand, people who know the Four Pillars of the Catholic faith by heart. On the other hand, the poor, uninformed people who don’t.
The people in the first group have everything they need to spend the rest of their lives growing in friendship with God. They have the interior foundation. They know the essential basics of the religion of Christ.
The people in the second group do not.
So we catechists have a simple-enough task: Move people from the second group into the first.
Adults can and must memorize all four pillars between now and Easter. Not hard, if you go to Mass every Sunday.
How about our youth? Memorizing?
Little ones can memorize the Our Father. Next: the Ten Commandments. Once you’re ten or eleven, you should have memorized the seven sacraments. By Confirmation day: the Creed.
Not hard, if you go to Mass every Sunday.
In my youth, I had coaches who made us run suicides. Up and down the basketball court, until we almost puked. Over and over again. Every practice. Every day. They drilled us.
At the time, I thought these coaches were crazy, killer tyrants. Cruel, heartless Nazis. Some days I had to choke back tears of exhaustion and shame. I wanted to quit with every fiber of every muscle of my being.
But now I venerate these men as loving gods. They loved us enough to whip us into something, something worth getting whipped into. And that had to do with just this mortal body–this body that will soon lie in a coffin.
Which is more important? Having what you need to play basketball, or having what you need to get to heaven?
Catechists, drill your students on the Four Pillars. Drill them without mercy. Because nothing could be kinder and more merciful than helping someone memorize the things we need to know in order to have a friendship with God. Drill them, and don’t apologize. Drill them until they know it.
The world needs hardass catechists. Let’s do it.