A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mission Incomplete

In today's first reading (Acts 14:5-18), people identify the Apostles Paul and Barnabas with pagan deities familiar to them: namely the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes.

This misidentification of Christian personages with pagan deities or non-Christian concepts would continue throughout history and even to this day.

For example, some in ancient Egypt associated Christ and Mary Magdalene with the Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis. Practitioners of the syncretic religion Santeria associate Saints Peter, Barbara, and Francis of Assisi with the African gods Ogun, Chango, and Orunmila respectively.

This is not a phenomenon only among "primitive" peoples. Sloppy scholars and novelists sometimes seek fame (if not wealth) by identifying Jesus with various ancient cults or bizarre concepts and many "sophisticated" people are swayed by these chimeras.

Why does this happen? For two closely related reasons: inadequate evangelization and inadequate catechesis.

Inadequate evangelization and inadequate catechesis also are sometimes why people ostensibly raised in the true faith may embrace other religions.


Inadequate catechesis is often lamented. In some places, formal catechesis for young people stops early in their teenage years: leaving people to face grown-up problems with the faith understanding of a 12 year old (and only a distant memory of that). Even when there is formal cathechesis, there has sometimes been an overemphasis on "feelings" that leaves the student with too little content to their faith.

Then, when confronted by a challenging situation, a glib professor, a slick novelist, or an energetic proselytizer, the inadequately catechized person is vulnerable to manipulation of feelings and of half-remembered truths.

But it is not simply a matter of inadequate catechesis, in the sense of not being educated fully in the content of the faith: there is also the problem of inadequate evangelization.

What is meant here is not evangelization in the sense of the initial proclamation of the Gospel or the earliest stages of catechesis nor is it simply a matter of making the person vaguely "feel good" about the faith.

Evangelization addresses the truth of the faith to the deepest needs of the listener in such a way that the faith is recognized and accepted deep in the listener's heart as the answer to those needs.

Young people may be thoroughly catechized or educated in the faith and still not be evangelized: the truths of the faith are data, not good news. They may know the details of the faith, but deep down it really doesn't matter that much to them and so they are more vulnerable to physical temptations and emotional appeals.


In the case of children being raised in the faith, the duty of evangelization and catechesis falls first to the parents. It is not enough to take the kids to catechism classes or even pay for twelve years of parochial education (although these are good things).

Parents have a solemn obligation to ensure that their children become knowledgeable in the faith and also to bear witness to the deep meaning that Christ's good news has in their own lives.

(Very often this is an opportunity for the parents themselves to deepen and expand their own knowledge of the faith as well as to gain a new and fuller appreciation of the faith's meaning for their own lives.)

Beyond this, all of us, as members of the Body of Christ, also have a duty to evangelize and catechize - both in our respective individual roles and in supporting the work of evangelization and catechesis in our communities and the wider Church.

Parents can support other parents by their own example. Parishioners can get involved in evangelization and catechesis in their parishes and dioceses and also can support these efforts on the national and worldwide level.

Cyberspace, of course, provides limitless opportunities to evangelize and catechize.

As a Church and as a world, we cannot afford perfunctory or minimalistic approaches to the transmission of the faith. There is already too much confusion and apathy.

What we need, with the help of God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, is to complete the mission given to us by Christ (Matthew 28:19): to make disciples of all nations.

"Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of Thy faithful
and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

"Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created
And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth. "

Veni, Sancte Spiritus
reple tuorum corda fidelium,
et tui amoris in eis accende.

Emitte Spiritum tuum et creabuntur.
Et renovabis faciem terrae.