Christ the Teacher . . . and Subject

When it comes to catechesis, Jesus Christ is both the teacher and the subject that is “taught.” We simply cannot understand the Church’s catechetical ministry–that is, her response to the Lord’s call to make disciples of all nations–unless we grasp this fundamental point.

But wait a minute! In the definition of catechesis that we gave in last Wednesday’s installment of this column, we noted that those who do the catechizing are called catechists. Aren’t they the ones who are doing the teaching?

Yes and no. Surely the catechist is the one standing in front of the class in a teaching role. Yet one is worthy of the name ”catechist” only to the extent he or she is able to decrease so that the Lord may increase (Jn. 3:30). In imitation of Christ the Teacher, every catechist should be able to say, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (Jn. 7:16).

There are countless times and places for expressing one’s personal opinions, references, and insights, but a catechetical setting is not one of them. Our Lord wants us to know Him, and not merely know someone else’s views about Him. Therefore, the catechist has the most serious responsibility to communicate the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, with the goal of fostering intimate communion with the Holy Trinity in the communion of saints.

As Christ says plainly at the Last Supper, “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am” (Jn. 13:13-14).  Elsewhere, He affirms that we have but one teacher, God Himself (Mt. 23:8; see also Jn. 3:2). St. Ignatius of Antioch continued this theme when he wrote shortly after 100 A.D.: “We have received the faith; this is why we hold fast, in order to be recognized as disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Teacher” (Epistle to the Magnesians, 9:2).

As baptized Catholics, we are privileged to participate in Christ’s teaching ministry, but only to the extent we truly let Him be the teacher.

As the “subject” of catechesis, Christ must be the point of reference for everything that is taught. This naturally includes a systematic presentation of Christ’s teachings, found in Scripture and Tradition, and authentically proclaimed by His Church.

But if catechesis were merely learning the teachings of Christ, then it would become just an abstract, academic exercise. But at the heart of our faith, and surely at the heart of catechesis, is a person–and not just any person, but the eternal Son of God who became man and was born in the fullness of time to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Catechesis is informational, but even more, it is relational, as we are introduced into the real-life drama of salvation history. This relationship is familial, which ties into the sacramental life of the Church through which we become children of God. This relationship respects and calls forth the exercise of authentic human freedom and responsibility, which ties into Christian morality. And this relationship is eminently personal, thus tying into the need for prayer and sound spiritual formation.

Throughout this series I will be recommending resources for those who wish to go deeper. This week I especially recommend Pope John Paul II’s 1979 apostolic exhortation “On Catechesis in Our Time” (Catechesi Tradendae). Click here for the official text from the Vatican website. Today’s reflections are a summary of nos. 5-9 of that papal document on the Church’s catechetical ministry.

In addition, especially for readers who aren’t accustomed to “family of God” terminology in reference to the Church, I recommend the Catholic for a Reason series. The initial volume, subtitled Scripture and the Mystery of the Church, provides a very helpful introduction. For more information on that title, click here.

In conclusion, Pope John Paul II notes that the primary and essential object of catechesis is to lead a person to study the mystery of Christ in all its dimensions: “to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery . . . comprehend with the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth . . . know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge . . . (and be filled) with all the fullness of God” (quoting Ephesians 3:9, 18-19). 

6 responses

  1. Another example of how as followers of Christ we are called to adopt a philosophy of “both/and” (the fullness of God) and not “either/or”. Sadly, much in secular society falls into the latter domain.

  2. Thanks, Leon.

    Catechesis is informational, but even more, it is relational, as we are introduced into the real-life drama of salvation history. This relationship is familial, which ties into the sacramental life of the Church through which we become children of God. This relationship respects and calls forth the exercise of authentic human freedom and responsibility, which ties into Christian morality. And this relationship is eminently personal, thus tying into the need for prayer and sound spiritual formation.

    This reminds me of Spe Salvi, no.27: Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live”.

    Thanks for the great post and link to Catechesi Tradendae. God bless.

  3. To live the faith we must learn it; to learn it we must love it; and to love it we must share it. Great post. Look forward to your weekly series!

  4. Hi leon,

    The paragragh referenced above is the four pillars of the Church as given to us in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”

    1. Creed: a very condensed version of salvation history given to us in scripture. A great way to learn how to read the bible is a great scripture timeline study by Jeff Cavins (short version) “A Quick Journey Through the Bible”.

    2. Sacraments and liturgy: the conduit of God’s grace in of lives.

    3. Life in Christ: How we should live. Ten Commandments and Beattitudes. Social teaching. Relationships with others.

    4. Prayer: Communication with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

    God Bless,


    One of the great Catholic laywomen in England is Daphne McLeod, a RELIGION teacher in schools for many years. President of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice association in that country, she has written extensively on the catechetical collapse in that nation. I met Daphne some years ago and spoke at one of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Conferences in London.She was recently in the U.S. preparing a series of programs for EWTN entitled: “Will Your Grandchildren Be Catholic ?” A very good question for both Americans and Britons.
    In her latest Newsletter she notes that :”It is the fashion today for dioceses in England and Wales to offer glossy expensive Programs with trendy titles for adult lay Catholics. None that we have seen works through either the ‘Cathechism of the Catholic Church’ or the “Compendium”, so, although there is a real need for adult catechesis, these Programmes should be approached with caution. As most seem to bear little relation to true Catechesis or the teaching of the Church, they could lead us down the wrong path entirely…Another program we have studied, as it seems fairly typical, is “At Your Word, Lord”. Like the others, it aims to set up small ‘faith-sharing’groups within parishes where people exchange their own ideas about the faith WITHOUT ANY CORRECTION OF ERROR ALLOWED. As the Pope has warned us, there is now ‘widespread religious ignorance’ among Catholics as this is bound to cause confusion and distress.”
    American Catholics (and CUF members in particular) will find the present English scenario quite familiar and will doubtless recall especially the “RENEW” program of Paulist Press of some years ago which despite lay protests at the lack of Catholic doctrine in it, spread in countless American dioceses. They will also recall the religious education’s establishment denouncing RENEW’s lay critics (including members of CUF) for “not understanding the spirit of Vatican II” and the “new experiential methodology” that would inevitably lead to a renewal of the Church.
    Well, RENEW was a colossal failure, and contributed only to spread a false concept of conscience among the faithful and to further religious confusion among the faithful since dogma and doctrine were regarded as threats to individual conscience and to the religious pluralism and tolerance to be cultivated by the ‘faith-sharing groups’.”
    There is evidence on our own American scene that the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” also receives mere lip-service in all too many religous education programs in parishes where “faith-sharing programs” do not clarify what faith is being shared.
    -James Likoudis

  6. Thank you, Leon for a beautiful piece on catechetics. We who are privileged to know Christ and his teaching must take every opportunity to pass on what we have been given to others, especially the young, so that ‘what has been entrusted to our keeping may not be embezzled by us ‘(St Athanathius). Thank you, too, Jim for your very kind comments – as you know I owe a lot to you and CUF. Giod Bless this wonderful blog.

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