God's Pedagogy

Catechist Discusses Best Method for Faith Education

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By Annamarie Adkins

BIRMINGHAM, England, JUNE 6, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Church has expectations not only concerning the content of what we teach, but also how we teach it.

So says Petroc Willey, who co-authored “The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis” (Ignatius) with Pierre de Cointet and Barbara Morgan. He is also the deputy director of the Maryvale Institute, editor of the catechetical journal The Sower, and host of the EWTN series “Handing on the Faith.”

Willey talks to ZENIT in this interview on why the Church has certain teaching requirements, and how catechesis should reflect the pedagogy of God.

Q: Why do you call catechesis a "craft"?

Willey: We use the term “craft” to describe the work of catechesis in order to evoke the notion of working with loving intelligence, uniting intellect, will and practical skills in a patient work of drawing out the very best and the most beautiful.

The ultimate craftsman in the work of catechesis is, of course, the Holy Spirit, “the interior Master of life according to Christ,” as it says in paragraph 1697 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; paragraph 721 states that Mary is his “Masterwork.”

In her -- and as her children -- we learn our craft and we, too, can be crafted in the Lord, as it says in the second chapter of Ephesians, verses 9 through 10, and paragraph 1091 of the Catechism.

Appreciating catechesis as a craft, therefore, enables us to bear in mind that it is a holistic understanding and application that we are seeking, one that involves the heart, the mind and the hand.

We are also reminded that we develop the skills of this craft always as members of the Church, receiving and participating in the work of grace in our lives. Mary is our model and our mother in this, a “living catechism,” as Pope John Paul II called her.

Q: Your book contends that the Catechism reflects the "pedagogy of God." What do you mean, and how does the Catechism accomplish such a feat?

Willey: That the faith has its own specific pedagogy may perhaps be a new idea for us. Paragraph 31 in the “General Directory for Catechesis,” however, calls upon catechists to consider “the demands” and “the originality” of “that pedagogy which is proper to the faith.”

The Church, then, has certain “demands,” or requirements, with regard to pedagogy. She has expectations not only concerning the content of what we teach, but also how we teach it.

This is the case because the faith generates its own pedagogy. Our catechesis is to be inspired by this pedagogy, the pedagogy of God.

We often think of the word “pedagogy” as more or less synonymous with “teaching.” When the Church speaks of the pedagogy of God she means something broader than this. She means the whole of the work of God leading people to share in his life, in and through Christ.

The transmission of dogmas are described in paragraph 1697 of the Catechism as "lights along the path of faith," as the Holy Spirit, the “interior Master of life,” disciples us in the Church.

How does the Catechism reflect this pedagogy of God? Our book identifies 12 pedagogical principles drawn concretely from the text and structure of the Catechism, principles which have clear and significant implications for our catechesis.

So, for instance, the Catechism invites catechists to bear always in mind the four dimensions of the Christian life, corresponding to the four "pillars" of the Catechism, so as to foster a "holistic" catechesis in which the reality of liturgical and sacramental grace, the converting power of doctrine, the splendor of our life in Christ and our prayerful relationship to the blessed Trinity are all present.

Q: Many would say a crisis in catechesis has been one of the main problems in the Church since the Second Vatican Council. Yet apart from select bishops and the Pope, the Catechism is seldom mentioned as an answer to this crisis. Why not?

Willey: The Catechism is, beyond, doubt, an extraordinary gift to assist in the renewal of catechesis.

One reason for its continuing neglect is that people simply have not taken up the keys provided for understanding this gift; they do not realize how it has been written precisely with a view to assisting catechists in handing on the faith.

The Catechism is treated as a reference text, certainly, but not as the aid offered to us in our time for learning and teaching the faith.

Q: There are endless catechetical resources for young people, yet few are based in any way on the Catechism itself. What factors shaped this phenomenon?

Willey: A major factor lies in the use of alternative pedagogies that are neither derived from, nor compatible with, the faith.

Paragraph 149 in the “General Directory for Catechesis” speaks of a “good catechetical method” as a “guarantee of fidelity to content”; a poor method, on the other hand, cannot deliver content faithfully.

These alternative pedagogies, for example, might be based on secular or even Marxist educational theories, or carry with them philosophical presumptions that are incompatible with a realist Catholic philosophy.

Sister Johanna Paruch, from Franciscan University in Steubenville, has recently completed significant doctoral work at Maryvale Institute in England, where I work, on these pedagogies.

Alongside these distorting influences we can see a widespread minimalism in some resources, where very little of the faith is presented, and also what Hans Urs von Balthasar called an “Islamization” of the notion of God, when he is seen in his unity, but no longer clearly as Triune.

There have been significant moves, in the United States in particular, to address this difficulty, especially through the voluntary submission of catechetical resources for an evaluation by the bishops concerning the conformity of these texts with the Catechism.

We are also seeing resources in the United Kingdom such as Echoes, published by the Catholic Truth Society, which are formation programs for catechists rooted in both the content and the pedagogy of the Catechism.

Q: In the book you discuss the false dichotomy between the personal and propositional dimensions of revelation. In that same context, you state that the goal of doctrine is love. How can bishops, priests and catechists recapture and present Christ's promise that he is the truth, and the truth is life?

Willey: The Catechism makes it a priority from the outset to exclude any thought of a separation between a propositional and a personal understanding of revelation. Rather than think of propositions as detaching us from God, we need to be aware of their absolute necessity in attaching us to him.

Maryvale Institute is the first Catholic home of the Venerable John Henry Newman, and Newman can help us here because he discovered what he called the “converting” impact of doctrine.

We cannot love God if we know nothing about him. We cannot worship Christ without knowing of his divinity. And on the other hand, we shall never know God fully unless we love him, and we shall never have a clear understanding of Christ’s divinity unless we worship and adore him.

Q: Is it too much to say that the personal encounter with the Lord available to one who studies the Catechism spawns a "catechetical spirituality”?

Willey: This question rightly presumes that a personal encounter with the Lord is available to one who learns and teaches from the Catechism.

The “Compendium of the Catechism” speaks of “the wisdom of its presentation and the depth of its spirituality,” and our book has grown out of an “amicitia catechistica” between Notre Dame de Vie in France, Maryvale Institute and Franciscan University in Steubenville -- three institutions that have firsthand evidence of this spirituality through their courses in theology and catechesis.

Studying, and praying with, the Catechism leads to an increased trust, joy and confidence in being able to speak about the faith to others, adults and children alike. One is immersed in a text that is precise, gracious, elegant and deeply spiritual.

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On the Net:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis”: www.ignatius.com