Monday, November 06, 2006

The Nation's Capital -- of the Munus Docendi

It seemed to take a bit, but the previously-mentioned opening address of Archbishop Donald Wuerl to his convocation of the catechists of the archdiocese of Washington has been posted.

When attempting to crack the Pope's game plan in terms of appointments, here's a good pointer to keep in mind: in his two most prominent US nods to date, Benedict XVI has tapped people who could speak better and more effectively off the top of their heads for an hour than most of us -- most bishops included -- could from an hourlong canned text. In that, they're much like himself.

Here are some goodies from the 13-page text:
Some time ago I had the opportunity while visiting a family who are long-standing friends to accompany the father of the family on an outing to the toy store with three of his children aged 2, 4 and 6 years respectively.

Once we got the three of them safely and securely into their car seats we started off on our journey. Before long a discussion broke out in the back seat as the six-year old began to assert his place in the pecking order. The four-year old became more and more agitated. At a certain point he began to use his hands to express himself. At that point his father glancing through the rear view mirror reminded him to “use your words not your hands.” I turned around in the seat to watch this drama unfold and once again the father had to intervene saying a little more firmly this time: “use your words not your hands.”

I watched as frustration mounted in the 4 year old. It was clearly etched all over his face when he replied to his father, “I don’t have those words.”

In a sense, that four-year old is a parable figure for all of us. On our own, we simply do not have the words to enter into the great divine / human dialogue that is Jesus’ revelation and our response in faith. We do not have the words because in our finite human condition we cannot even begin to comprehend the mystery of who God is and what God brings to us. Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians tells us that “we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, ... ‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ this God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:7, 9)

We turn to Jesus and, therefore, to his Church today in order that we might hear, accept and live the words of spirit and truth—the words of everlasting life. Catechesis/teaching the faith involves introducing people to Christ and his way and, therefore, into a higher level of life and a new way of living....

We are finding that we are dealing with a generation that has not had the opportunity to be introduced into that great dialogue of faith that is Christ speaking to us in and through his Church and our response in loving acceptance and commitment. Too many people simply do not have the words. They have little familiarity with the wisdom of God.

For nearly two decades, we have witnessed an increasing diminishment of the Church in two clearly verifiable areas: participation in the sacramental life of the Church and catechetical preparation sufficient to grasp the central mysteries of the Christian faith.

One of the most significant differences between the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and the ’90s and this decade is found in the attitude of so many young people. They often do not contest what the Church teaches. They simply do not know it.

The context of our proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ is caught up in what is increasingly described as “the American mindset.” That way of looking at life is arguably more individual than communal, more competitive than cooperative and, generally, more self-focused than other-directed. It finds expression in the difficulty of many of our faithful to feel comfortable with the Church that identifies itself as a community that preexists the decision of individual members to bring it into being, a Church that claims to bind conscience, and a Church that expects more from Sunday worship than a warm sense of being comfortable.

Concomitantly, we also witness to some extent the disintegration of the community and social structures that once supported religious faith and encouraged family life. The heavy emphasis on the individual and his or her rights has greatly eroded the concept of the common good and its ability to call people to something beyond themselves. This impacts strongly on our capacity to bring people to accept revealed teaching that cannot be changed by democratic process and to follow an absolute moral imperative that is not the result of prior popular approbation.

There is today, as there has always been to some extent, a temptation by some of the faithful to treat the Church as if it were incidental to salvation. Thus, the acceptance of the teaching authority of Christ exercised by bishops and priests in union with them throughout the world is a “hard saying” today.

Nothing more clearly and succinctly demonstrates the extent of the religious illiteracy among what is increasingly and commonly referred to as the “lost generation,” and perhaps their children, as the report issued several years ago by Archbishop Daniel Buechlein on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee to oversee the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here we find highlighted 10 areas of doctrinal deficiency found in the catechetical materials published in our country and used rather widely in our religious educational efforts. These doctrinal deficiencies create a religious content vacuum in which a great part of the catechetical effort has taken place.

Many have simply drifted away. They do not have an axe to grind. They are not angry with the Church. They just do not know much about the Church and have drifted away from her....

Witness to the faith necessarily involves content. The creed is the summary of who Jesus is and what he does. It is the framework for the passing on of the story. In recent years there have been splendid developments in the Church's expression of her faith. A contemporary catechist must take into account the wealth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the living experiences of the liturgy and the concern for sacred Scripture, as well as the fresh emphasis on ecumenism and the social requirements of the Gospel.

Tradition, Scripture and the living magisterium, with the presence of the Spirit guiding the faithful to be open to the truth, are all gifts of God. The close union of these gifts cannot be forgotten. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls for us, sacred Scripture, tradition and the magisterium of the Church, in accord with God’s wise design, are so linked that each in its own way under the action of the Holy Spirit contributes effectively to the salvation of souls (cf. 95).

When we reflect on the role of bishops in the Church and, therefore, the magisterium or teaching office, I think it important to note that there is a renewed appreciation, particularly among some of our Protestant brothers and sisters, for the stability that the magisterium provides the Church.

Authentic Catholic faith is never partial or selective. It is always universal. We say yes to the whole mystery of the faith and to each of its elements because of our personal faith in God. We believe the truth that God reveals because we believe God, and we believe that God is still teaching in and through the Church. When Peter came to recognize that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, he was prepared to believe any word of Christ, for it was clear to him that God is always to be believed. “You have the word of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69)....

This is a new moment for catechesis in our country. It is a time to focus clearly on the proclamation of authentic Catholic faith, to do so in a manner that is unambiguous, and to recognize that we are speaking to an audience — many of whom are hearing the authentic faith for the first time — and a large portion of whom are open to hearing the teaching of the Church.

We live in an age of hope. This is not a groundless euphoria but, rather, a confidence that God continues to grace the Church with opportunities to reach deep within our own lived experience of Jesus to find the practical means to introduce a whole new generation into the knowledge — into the encounter with the living Lord.