In praying for Pope Benedict XVI after he announced his resignation, I realized he has been a persistent influence on me and catechetical ministry throughout my entire service as a catechetical leader. What follows are a few thoughts on what his legacy might be in relation to catechesis.
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Benedict emphasized that, for catechesis to have full effect, believers need to remain open to friendship with Christ.
He also dealt with practical questions about living the faith in the today’s world, particularly in facing increasing secularization, materialism and religious pluralism, which becomes an essential dynamic in the who, what and how of catechesis.
Benedict reminds us that forming faith begins in a family, is sustained through a faith community within a particular cultural context, and is guided by those entrusted as guardians of the deposit of faith. It was noted in the preparatory document for the Synod on the New Evangelization that “In addition to the irreplaceable role of the Christian community as a whole, the task of transmitting the faith and teaching persons how to live the Christian life involves a variety of Christians. [Responses from dioceses around the world] primarily make an appeal to catechists.” Upholding the dignity and formation of catechists will likely focus our collective efforts for the foreseeable future.
Pope Benedict described a comprehensive, systematic presentation of the content of the Faith, resisting the contemporary temptation to reduce it to simple formulas or slogans. Particular aspects of this include:
◗ Focusing on the “primary sources” of Sacred Scripture, liturgical rites, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
◗ Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life and the connection between liturgy and catechesis,
◗ Prayer as an essential practice at the heart of ongoing conversion to Christ,
◗ A hermeneutic of reform or “continuity” as the correct key to interpreting and applying the Second Vatican Council, and
◗ Connecting God’s actions throughout history with the present to foster authentic hope in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Pope Benedict offered us examples of how to catechize by utilizing a variety of media familiar to learners, including social media and fine art. Based on the full initiation process or catechumenate, he pointed to immersion within the life of the Christian community as a natural part of catechesis coupled with developing the intellectual faculties necessary for making sound moral judgments and giving convincing reasons for hope in Christ. Not simply intellectual instruction, catechesis also develops an authentic life of prayer.
Always the teacher
In prayerfully discerning God’s call for him, Pope Benedict’s decision to renounce the pontifical ministry provides the natural opportunity to teach people that the papacy is an office within the Church, not simply the person elected to serve as pope. Time will help us understand the work the Holy Spirit has accomplished through Pope Benedict, “a simple, humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.” I pray, as Pope Benedict did as he began his pontificate, “In the joy of the Risen Lord, confident of his unfailing help, let us move forward.”
Lori Dahlhoff is executive director of the National Catholic Educational Association’s Religious Education Department.