Bad Catechesis Begets Bad Catechesis


bible-with-catechismWe do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. We want a religion that is right where we are wrong. We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world. -G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton’s words resonate with the current moral state of our country. Whether it’s the Supreme Court Decision regarding aspects of DOMA, to Proposition 8 in my home state of California, one is left to wonder; when did this advocacy of immoral behavior come from? One needs look no further than our first parents (Adam and Eve) and the initial act of self-love that drove them to seek the pleasure of self rather than directing their love toward our Father in Heaven.

At the onset of any moral dilemma lies a certain moral proposition: Am I willing to love others before myself? This proposition is hinged on the Great Commandment to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:34-40). The significance of this great proposition by Christ is that when the Pharisees posed the question to Jesus; “which is the greatest commandment in the Law,” he went beyond the law they were referring to. Jesus calls us toward an unconditional love toward God and in turn reflects our call to love our neighbor who is created in the image and likeness of God.

The Template of Bad Catechesis

The greatest commandment tells us to seek the Lord first, and in seeking Him we seek the spiritual well-being of others before ourselves. Thus it is not a question of material or carnal desires that draw us to love God and our fellow neighbor; it’s the desire to lead our fellow brother and sister in Christ to Heaven. Unfortunately this was not the premise of most Catechetical programs after the Second Vatican Council.

Bad Catechetical templates beginning at the turn of 1970 would consistently include the following:

  • “Love language” that was so ambiguous you couldn’t tell whether you were called to love God or a tree.
  • Christ was viewed not in the Sacraments e.g. the Holy Eucharist but in “mother earth.”
  • Christ was not viewed as Lord, Savior, and King. Instead he was viewed as our “friend.”
  • The sacraments were taught as mere symbols of faith and not actual gifts from Christ that dispenses grace.
  • If you truly loved someone, then it was alright to express that love anyway you wanted without moral restraint.
  • Acts of Social justice e.g. saving the environment was more important than living a moral life in Christ.

This is just a small sample of what the catechetical landscape was like for many of us growing up during this time period. The notion of charitably clarifying someone for their misunderstanding of Church teaching was taboo because it meant we did not love the individual in question. This disdain for sound evangelization was even more apparent when one would try to charitably offer the alternative to actively and publicly living an immoral lifestyle.  In many instances the responses were hostile in nature. In an article I wrote many years ago I described the experience of my Confirmation class where the catechist told us if you truly loved somebody then it would be okay to have pre-marital sex with him or her. Needless to say this was not the message to be sent to a group of hormonal driven teenagers but it does provide us with a glimpse of the bad catechetical landscape of the time.

The Fruits of Bad Catechesis

St. Luke reminds us:

For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. . . The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil . . . (6:43-45).

Christ’s words regarding good and bad fruit are predicated on the parable of the blind man leading the blind man (Lk 6:39-40). The end result is that both will fall into the pit. This sums up the bad catechetical platform many are still falling into. It should come to no ones’ surprise that the push for same-sex marriage, homosexuality, cohabitation, and artificial contraception is a direct result of the unwillingness to present “right teaching” i.e. orthodox teaching.

Whenever we fail to present the “motives of credibility” — what the Catechism (156) refers to as the signs of Divine Revelation — then we allow motives of incredibility to take form allowing for the development of false doctrines that simply make no sense but to the poorly catechized appear to be perfectly normal and within their right to live and profess.

There is Definitive Hope

Christ embodies Hope (Col 1:27). We can only blind ourselves so much until a realization hopefully sets in that there is something greater at work than ourselves. Bad catechesis established its precedent on the notion that everything depended on man (i.e. his emotions, feelings, thoughts). This idea led to a concerted effort to eliminate any notion of a creed-rule of faith.

When God promised Abraham (Heb 6:19 ff.) that He would bless him and multiply his flock, God assured Abraham of his continual love and guidance. He would never go away. God strengthened this Hope and promise by the birth of His only-begotten Son. Christ became and continues to be the anchor by which we practice a steadfast faith revealed in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The sanctity of Marriage as a holy and natural institution will withstand the barrage of attacks. Something so natural and beautiful can never truly be redefined or destroyed. It will only get stronger. The Church in her goodness will be steadfast in its continual proclamation of the Gospel. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that:

. . . the Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or grow weary, his understanding in unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youth shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they shall mount up with wings like eagles they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (40:27-31).

“We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.” -Blessed Cardinal Newman


About Author

Department Director of Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and author of Screwtape Teaches the Faith (2011) Saint Benedict Press.

  • A single generation of effective catechizing would be a great new beginning. Evangelize early and often.