Putting on Errors: How Pride Corrupts Catechesis

In the 1990s, shortly after the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the United States bishops formed the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism. Ever since, this body has helped to ensure that all catechetical materials are in “conformity” with the Catechism. The criteria are not particularly exacting, but the overall effect of this review process has been positive.

The head of the Ad Hoc committee for many years was Archbishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis, who also serves on CUF’s advisory council. As the committee started to review the many inadequate catechetical materials that were being used to teach our children, Archbishop Buechlein famously noted ten recurring errors in contemporary catechesis. For this “top ten” list, and for tips on identifying these errors, see CUF’s Faith Fact entitled “Where Do We Go Wrong? Top Ten Errors in Catechesis.”

Archbishop Buechlein has pointed out again and again that human action, human initiative, and human experience are commonly overemphasized in some catechetical materials, while the power and divinity of God seem to be undermined.

Pope John Paul II, in his 1979 apostolic exhortation On Catechesis in Our Time (Catechesi Tradendae), expressed similar concerns that the essential content of catechesis was not being communicated. He criticized catechetical efforts that minimize the divinity of Christ, the supernatural mystery of the Church, and the personal moral commitments that come with our new life in Christ (CT 29).

There are countless explanations as to why such shortcomings exist, but here I’d just like to mention one recurring cause: human respect (aka pride). We care too much about what others think of us, and not enough about what they think of Christ and His Church.

Let’s face it, Catholics can be very difficult to teach. St. Pauls words to Timothy ring very true today: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). 

I usually cite that passage in the context of dissident Catholics who stop listening to the truth and instead look for teachers who say what they want to hear. But really there’s a co-dependent relationship here: those with itching ears and teachers who are all too willing to scratch. 

St. Paul is clear in the next verse as to how all teachers of the faith should approach their task: “But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5).

This is a call to all of us–especially pastors, teachers, catechists, and parents–to cultivate virtues such as meekness, humility, patience, and zeal for souls. Otherwise, we too will be “ear-scratchers” rather than ambassadors for Christ.

This article is part of an ongoing series on the Church’s catechetical mandate. For those looking for solid catechetical materials for their children, one need look no farther than CUF’s Faith and Life series, which the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism has officially been found to be in conformity with the Catechism from day one.

4 responses

  1. I love the Faith and Life Series. We use it in our parish and are working on translating it into Spanish.

    But, the rub seems to be more than simply implementing orthodox content. Even Pope Benedict remarked about that in his address to educators at CUA.

    When we have volunteers desirous to give their time as catechists, very often, they have not been well catechized. It is not fair to the children to have their teacher learning solely from the same text as them.

    It really seems the time is ripe for more emphasis to be placed on catechist training and catechist certification. Fr. Hardon’s courses are such a great beginning for catechists. It also would be great to have some courses like that to walk a catechist directly through the Catechism and the Compendium. It could even be digitally advanced so one could complete tests over the internet.

  2. As a military family, we move very often. One recurring theme I have seen all over the country and even overseas is the lack of solid catechesis at the parish level. In the military chapels, the constant change exacerbates this problem and one of the results is that the CCD programs tend to be very poor. I have taught (at military chapels)2nd graders that do not know how to make the Sign of the Cross, and 7th graders that do not know what a Tabernacle is.

    While that is a problem in and of itself, the larger problems are the parents who do not take their children’s catechesis seriously. Too often we see parents who are “box checkers” and take their children to CCD to placate grandma, or else use the classes as free babysitting. As you said…human pride is tied up into all of it; parents will insist that students study extra hard to learn a spelling list or an algebra formula, but faith and morals? Only when it fits into their lifestyle and if they happen to agree with what the catechist is trying to teach.

    Until more parents start living up to their obligations and fulfilling the duties they promised to do when they had their child baptized, the battle will always be uphill.

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