Near the beginning of what is arguably the most important document of the Second Vatican Council, the council fathers wrote: “It has pleased God in his goodness and wisdom to reveal himself and make known the mystery of his will… “. Knowing this mystery allows us to participate in the life of God.
This quote from the Constitution on Divine Revelation contrasted with a similar statement from Vatican I, 90 years earlier, which referred to revelation as “the eternal decree of his will.” The Vatican II statement spoke of God’s will as mysterious and yet able to draw us into a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. The previous Council spoke of the will of God as remote and implacable. At least the accent has changed.
In catechesis, the change has been massive. Within a few years, instruction in the faith shifted with hurricane force from rote memorization of Church dogma to a strong emphasis on religious experience—the development of a personal relationship with Jesus.
Then, 30 years ago, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published with Pope John Paul II declaring it “a sure standard for the teaching of the faith.” The Catechism is, the Pope said, the fulfillment of the main objective that Pope John XXIII had set for Vatican II – “to guard and better present the precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all peoples”. of good will. »
The release of the Catechism caused a sensation. Many received him as Pope John Paul II had wished, embracing him enthusiastically. However, many theologians have criticized the details of his presentation. Some felt that the whole idea was wrong, as if in today’s advanced world a catechism would hinder rather than help in knowing and living the Christian faith.
My own approach as editor of the Western Catholic reporter in Edmonton was to write a long series of content articles. One of my objectives was to present the teachings of the Catechism in the light of my personal experience. This idea was wrong because the Catechism, for the most part, did not lend itself to such treatment.
Nevertheless, these articles have been well received by our readers and have generated great interest online throughout the English-speaking world.
Now, we don’t hear so much about the Catechism of the Catholic Church. My own articles were removed from the Internet after the newspaper closed five years ago. The Catechism is used as one resource among others and has not been forgotten. My feeling is that he no longer has the exalted place in Catholic life that Pope John Paul II envisioned for him.
Indeed, Pope Francis encouraged us to move from an intellectual understanding of faith to the practice of faith. The Church is a field hospital healing a broken world. It is governed by an “unruly freedom of speech” which grows even as the farmer sleeps. Pope Francis’ Joy of the Gospel is a kind of “catechism” very different from Pope John Paul II’s sure standard for teaching the faith.
However, these two approaches to catechesis should not be contradictory. Proposals, by themselves, do not give life. But a knowledge of the fullness of faith should make us both more godly and more engaged in the world. Indeed, we need secure standards to prevent us from falling into one form of fanaticism or another.
The Vatican II document on divine revelation also set aside the idea that there are two sources of revelation – Scripture and tradition. Both flow from the same source, the person of Jesus Christ. To be real, our faith must be relational; he must also be informed. We nurture our relationship with Jesus through prayer, especially meditation, study, and action.
The laity are called to be priests, prophets and kings. A priest offers spiritual sacrifices to the Lord through prayer, family life, work, relaxation and participation in the liturgy. Prophets lead others to faith by word and deed. Kings – we need a better word – transform institutions so that they promote both social justice and personal virtue.
God has made known the mystery of his will through Jesus Christ. Jesus who proclaimed himself the way, the truth and the life. The early Christians were known as followers of the Way. To be a disciple means to be in relationship with Jesus, and any relationship requires knowing who you are with.
(Glen Argan writes his online Epiphany column at https://glenargan.substack.com.)