With changes in our Christian Education program coming up, I have the practice of catechesis on my mind a lot. The early church began catechesis as a way to provide a thorough grounding in the Christian Faith before Baptism. It sought to take converts to the Christian Faith and establish in them a Christian worldview different from the culture of the day. At that time, the insight of Christianity was profoundly distinct from the teachings of the culture–so distinct that it sometimes took many years of learning to understand Christian teaching.
During the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther found the clergy and laity in Northern Germany to be woefully uninformed about the Faith, so much so that he re-instituted the ancient tool of catechesis. His Small Catechism and Large Catechism were so effective in transforming the understanding of the clergy and laity that most of the other Reformers followed his model. From the Reformed Heidelberg Catechism to English Reformer Thomas Cranmer’s own Anglican Catechism, this learning swept the land with new understanding. The Roman Church even later got into the act by creating a new catechism for their own purposes.
As the West moves into a post-Christian future, the lines between Christian thought and secular thought will again become increasingly distinct from and foreign to one another. The chasm of understanding between Christianity and the culture is widening, approaching the width seen by the Early Church. Some even say that the secular outlook will become actively hostile to the Christian Faith. That remains to be seen, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.
During my vacation, I read a very insightful book by Eastern Orthodox blogger Rod Dreher called How Dante Can Save Your Life. In it, he summed up brilliantly the outlook of the West as we head toward this new future. Dreher writes:
Believe in yourself. That’s the fundamental lesson of the cultural catechism by which our society instructs the young. It starts with Disney films, continues with egotistical coddling from helicopter parents, and is confirmed by a consumerist, individualist culture that teaches us we are the center of the universe.
A young pastor friend in Washington, D.C., tells me that the biggest problem he faces in dealing with his congregation of young, highly educated, high-achieving professionals is an overwhelming sense of dread and anxiety about their own worth and direction in life. He said that they really want to be good, but what this culture has taught them about what it means to be good–achieve, achieve, achieve!–is leading them into a dark wood.
Did you hear what he is saying? What he is saying is true. Our children and youth are already being catechized. They’re just not being catechized by us. Forces that tell them their worth in life is defined entirely by their output are catechizing them. How de-humanizing and tragic. I have heard it say that the Christian message is “I will die for you.” The message of the world and the flesh is “You must die for me.” That is a really concise way of summing it up.
This is why instruction in Christian Faith including a catechetical element is so important. We want our children and youth to know their value is given to them by the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who created them, redeemed them, and makes them new. We want them to know exactly how that is the case and build that understanding with such a strong foundation that it will carry them throughout their lives. We want their children and grandchildren to inherit that life-giving Christian freedom. This is our charge as the worldwide Church and it will bear such good fruit here in our little corner of Southwest Houston.