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Catechism & Catechesis

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The Catechist as Channel of Grace

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The last person we would expect to suggest as a model for catechists is the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux.

Her short life of twenty-four years, from 1873-1897, was spent with her family until the early teens; and then the rest of her days in a cloistered Carmelite convent. Needless to say, these are not exactly what we associate with teaching the faith. Yet she has been declared a doctor, which means teacher, of the universal Church.

The key to understanding how St. Therese is a model for catechists can be found in her autobiography. She tells us volumes on what is the principal task of a catechist. A catechist is useless unless he or she is a channel of grace.

After all, the purpose of catechesis is to change people’s lives. Instruction for the mind is given as a means for inspiring the will. Inspiring the will is to move the will from vain love of self to selfless love of God and selfless love of others out of love for God.

Viewed from this perspective, the Little Flower takes on a new meaning. She is not for nothing the heavenly patroness of the missions, along with St. Francis Xavier, the apostle of the Indies. He personally instructed and baptized over one hundred thousand natives of India. St. Therese never preached a single sermon.

Teaching of St. Therese

In her autobiography, the Little Flower has this to say. It is a bit long, but deserves to be quoted in full.

When I looked upon the Mystical Body of Christ, I recognized myself in none of the members which St. Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favorably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge of my vocation.

Indeed I knew that the Church had a body, composed of various members, but in this body, the necessary and most noble member was not lacking.

I knew that the Church had a heart, and that such a heart drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and place. In one word, that love is everlasting.

Then nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed, “O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my proper place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my Mother. I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction!

It is not our purpose here to analyze this beautiful apostrophe of the Little Flower. There is only one, but a basic thought we should extract from St. Therese’s words and that is: Religious instruction without teaching love is meaningless; catechesis without teaching charity is useless; Christianity without charity is paganism.

The Catechist as Teacher of Christian Love

There is more than academic value in making clear just what teachers of religion are to impart to those they teach.

There are so many truths revealed by God that need to be believed; there are so many precepts of the Gospel that need to be learned—that we are liable to forget those words of Christ at the Last Supper: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Whatever else, therefore, a catechist teaches those under religious instruction, the heart of Christian catechesis is instruction in Christian charity.

It might be useful if only for a few minutes, to explain what we mean by Christian charity.

  • Christian charity is not worldly love.

  • Christian charity is supernatural love.

  • Christian charity is supernatural love because it would be unknown, except for the supernatural revelation made by God, who is Love, and who became Man to show us the meaning of love.

Christian charity is supernatural love, because it requires supernatural grace to practice.

Christian charity means two things:

  • It means loving God more than anyone else in the world, especially more than we love ourselves.

  • It means loving others out of love for God.

  • It means loving others as God loves us.

Catechists have many truths of the faith to teach, but none is more basic, or more important, or more profitable for salvation, or more distinctively Christian, than to teach the meaning and value and practice of selfless love.

The Catechist as Channel of Christian Love

If the teaching of Christian love or charity is so important in the teaching of faith, how can this best be done?

In other words, what is the pedagogy of Christian charity? One simple sentence answer: The most effective way for a catechist to teach Christian charity is to practice Christian charity.

There is more locked up in this statement than meets the eye.

God will use us as catechists to teach the virtues, in the measure that we ourselves practice them. The most distinctive virtue of Christianity is selfless love of God and selfless love of others out of love for God.

Like reproduces like. We shall be conduits of divine grace to generate loving Christians in the degree that we are personally living loving Christian lives.

This is the iron law of spiritual reproductivity. It is also the secret of being an effective catechist.

  • Live what you teach—especially Christian charity.

  • Be what you say—especially selfless love.

Then you can leave the rest up to God. He knows that the main reason He became man in the person of Jesus Christ was that we might follow in His footsteps, and prove to a selfish world that Christianity is the true religion. Why? Because it produces selfless people who believe—with the Little Flower—that our primary vocation in life is to love.

Of course, on earth the price of loving selflessly is suffering. Of course it means enduring pain. Of course: it means carrying the Cross!

But the reward is great.

  • Already on earth, selfless love produces such peace of soul as nothing else can provide,

  • And in the life to come, the reward of selfless love is to enjoy the possession of God, who is Love, and enjoy the experience for all eternity.

Catholic Faith
Vol. 3 - #6, Nov/Dec 1997, pp. 14-15

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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