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An Illustration of Defective Catechesis

…………..As a matter of fact, the real result of this process of ever-new adaptations was an emptying out of catechesis, on account of which more effort was demanded on the part of catechists without yielding much fruit in return.

On this subject I am always reminded of a letter which a lady catechist wrote me some time after an address on catechesis which I had delivered in Lyons and Paris. The letter revealed a woman who loved children and understood them; who loved her faith and who used with zeal the catechetical tools presented to her by the competent offices; and who was, in addition, an exceptionally intelligent person. She related to me that for a long time she had been observing how, at the end of the catechetical course, nothing really remained with the children, how everything somehow came to nought. She increasingly experienced her work, which she had undertaken with joy, as highly unsatisfying and noticed that the children remained unsatisfied as well, despite all of her earnest enthusiasm. As a result, she began to ask herself what the cause of the problem might be. This woman was too intelligent to lay the blame for the failure of catechesis simply on the wickedness of the times or on the present generation's inability to believe; it had to be something else. At last she decided to analyze all of the catechetical materials with an eye to their content—in order to discover what they really transmitted behind the array of didactic techniques. The result of the analysis proved to be the key for her in the search for a new beginning. She established that the catechetical program, which was pedagogically so refined and up-to-date, had almost no content at all but simply revolved around itself. Catechesis remained entirely a matter of accommodations designed to facilitate communication, never moving beyond them to deal with the subject itself. It was clear that such instruction, which spun about in the void without communicating anything, was incapable of arousing interest. Content had to win back its priority.

Now this is, to be sure, an extreme case, which I do not wish to generalize. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the problematic situation of catechesis in the seventies and early eighties, when enduring content had in many instances become distasteful and anthropocentrism was the order of the day. This produced weariness precisely among the best catechists and, naturally, a corresponding weariness among the recipients of catechesis, our children. The insight that the power of the message had once again to shine forth began to gain ground. The bishops present at the 1985 synod gave voice to this realization: the time for a catechism of the Second Vatican Council was ripe.

Taken (with permission) from: 1. On the Prehistory of the Catechism, pages 13-14 by Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) in Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger & Christoph Schönborn.

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Version: 20th March 2009

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