Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On "the Canisius"... and Faith As a "Crime Novel"

Suffice it to say, catechisms have been on B16's mind a good bit these days.

Most recently, the Pope dedicated his catechesis at today's General Audience to a figure he called "the catechist of the centuries": the 16th century German Jesuit St Peter Canisius, now a doctor of the church.

Yet even as, per usual, the talk primarily sketched out the threads of Canisius' life and work, Papa Ratzi's text contained some pointed passages that could be read as a commentary as salient to these days as the ones in which the saintly doctor made his mark:
St. Peter Canisius spent a good part of his life in contact with the socially most important persons of his time and exercised a special influence with his writings.... However, his most widespread writings were the three catechisms composed between 1555 and 1558. The first catechism was addressed to students able to understand elementary notions of theology; the second to boys and girls of the people for an initial religious instruction; the third to adolescents with a scholastic formation at the level of middle and high school. Catholic doctrine was explained with questions and answers, briefly, in biblical terms, with much clarity and free of criticisms. In his lifetime alone there were a good 200 editions of this catechism! And hundreds of editions succeeded one another until the 1900s. Thus in Germany, still in my father's generation, people called the catechism simply the Canisius: He is really the catechist of the centuries; he formed people's faith for centuries.

This is a characteristic of St. Peter Canisius: to be able to harmoniously combine fidelity to dogmatic principles with [the] respect due to every person. St. Canisius differentiated a knowing, culpable apostasy from a non-culpable loss of faith, in the circumstances. And he declared, before Rome, that the greater part of Germans who went over to Protestantism were without fault. At a historical moment of strong confessional oppositions, he avoided -- this is something extraordinary -- the harshness and rhetoric of anger of the time in discussions among Christians, something rare as I said -- and he looked only to the presentation of the spiritual roots and to the revitalization of the faith in the Church. His vast and penetrating knowledge of sacred Scripture and of the fathers of the Church served this cause: the same knowledge that supported his personal relationship with God and the austere spirituality that he derived from modern devotion and Rhenish mysticism.

Characteristic of St. Canisius' spirituality was a profound personal friendship with Jesus. For example, on Sept. 4, 1549, he wrote in his diary, speaking with the Lord: "In the end, as if you opened to me the heart of the Most Sacred Body, which it seemed to me I saw before me, you commanded me to drink from that source, inviting me, so to speak, to attain the waters of my salvation from your founts, O my Savior." And then he saw that the Savior gave him a garment with three parts that were called peace, love and perseverance. And with this garment made up of peace, love and perseverance, Canisius carried out his work of renewal of Catholicism. His friendship with Jesus -- which is the center of his personality -- nourished by love of the Bible, by love of the Sacrament, by love of the Fathers, this friendship was clearly united to the awareness of being a continuer of the mission of the Apostles in the Church. And this reminds us that every genuine evangelizer is always a united instrument with Jesus and the Church and, because of this, fruitful....

Rooted in the Christocentric spirituality of St. Peter Canisius is a profound conviction: There is no soul solicitous of its own perfection that does not practice mental prayer every day, an ordinary means that permits the disciple of Jesus to live in intimacy with the divine Master. Because of this, in the writings destined to the spiritual education of the people, our saint insists on the importance of the liturgy with his comments on the Gospels, on feasts, on the rite of the holy Mass and on the sacraments but, at the same time, he is careful to show to the faithful the need and the beauty of personal daily prayer, which should support and permeate participation in the public worship of the Church....

Amid the thousands of activities and the many distractions that surround us, it is necessary to find moments of recollection before the Lord every day to listen to him and to speak with him.

At the same time, the example that St. Peter Canisius has left us, not only in his works, but above all with his life is always timely and of permanent value. He teaches clearly that the apostolic ministry is effective and produces fruits of salvation in hearts only if the preacher is a personal witness of Jesus and is able to be an instrument at his disposal, united closely to him by faith in his Gospel and in his Church, by a morally coherent life and incessant prayer as love. And this is true for every Christian who wishes to live his adherence to Christ with commitment and fidelity.
As ever, reflect first, then discuss.

* * *
Of course, Joseph Ratzinger is no stranger to catechetical texts of his own: the landmark work of the Professor Pope's academic days was his Introduction to Christianity, and the now-pontiff's 23 years at the helm of the CDF saw him lead the preparation of the first two definitive, universal compilations of church teaching since Trent -- the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994, and 2005's smaller, oft-forgotten Compendium of the Catechism, whose art-studded, color-coded Q&A format was envisioned by the then-prefect as a more accessible and engaging work than the original and a means of harnessing the bigger book's "potential."

Benedict's next big opus -- the second volume of his Jesus of Nazareth series is due out early next month. In the meanwhile, though, the pontiff weighed in to issue a significant endorsement of another new work: YouCat, a youth catechism whose drafting was overseen by his chief collaborator on the original Catechism, now Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP of Vienna. Slated to publish on 1 March in several languages (English included), the book will figure heavily at this August's World Youth Day in Madrid, whose anticipated turnout is looking to make for the largest edition of the church's "Olympic event" since its Roman turn in 2000, when upwards of 2 million young people flooded the Urb.

On a "personnel-as-policy" note, B16's blessing for the book is but the latest signal of the Pope's enduring favor for the Vienna prelate, as well as another indication that Schönborn's high-profile trip to the Papal Woodshed last June was more a move to placate the retired Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano -- who the Austrian cardinal slammed for the Italian's earlier response to the European outbreak of the clergy sex-abuse crisis -- than any dimming of Schönborn's star in Benedict's eyes.

Voicing a "hope that many young people will let themselves be fascinated by this book," and praising Schönborn's "tested guidance" in leading the project, Benedict took it on himself to pen the foreword to Youcat...

...and here, a snip:
Some persons tell me that the catechism does not interest today's youth, but I do not believe this affirmation and I am sure I am right. Youth is not as superficial as it is accused of being; young people want to know what life truly consists of. A crime novel is fascinating because it involves us in the fate of other persons, but which could also be our own; this book is fascinating because it speaks to us of our very destiny and that is why it concerns each one of us very closely.

Because of this I invite you: Study the catechism! This is my heartfelt wish.

This supplement to the catechism does not flatter you; it does not offer easy solutions; it calls for a new life on your part; it presents to you the message of the Gospel as the "precious pearl" (Matthew 13:45) for which there is need to give everything, Because of this I ask you: study the catechism with passion and perseverance! Sacrifice your time for it! Study it in the silence of your room, read it together, if you are friends, form groups and study networks, exchange ideas on the Internet. In any case remain in dialogue on your faith!

You must know what you believe; you must know your faith with the same precision with which a specialist in information technology knows the working system of a computer; you must know it as a musician knows his piece; yes, you must be much more profoundly rooted in the faith of the generation of your parents, to be able to resist forcefully and with determination the challenges and temptations of this time. You have need of divine help, if you do not want your faith to dry up as a dewdrop in the sun, if you do not want to succumb to the temptations of consumerism, if you do not want your love to be drowned in pornography, if you do not want to betray the weak and the victims of abuse and violence.

If you dedicate yourselves with passion to the study of the catechism, I would like to give you yet a last counsel: You all know in what way the community of believers has been wounded in recent times by the attacks of evil, by the penetration of sin in the interior, in fact in the heart of the Church. Do not take this as a pretext to flee from God's presence; you yourselves are the Body of Christ, the Church! Carry intact the fire of your love in this Church every time that men have obscured her face. "Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord" (Romans 12:11).

When Israel was in the darkest point of its history, God called to the rescue no great and esteemed persons, but a youth called Jeremiah; Jeremiah felt invested with too great a mission: "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth!" (Jeremiah 1:6). But God did not let himself be misled: "Do not say, 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak" (Jeremiah 1:7).
PHOTOS: Reuters(1); L'Osservatore Romano(2)