In this lead article, Sr Jane Dominic Laurel expounds the ways in which an anthropological and phenomenological approach to Catechesis can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Recently, when traveling in an English-speaking country, I encountered some graffiti on a department store wall: it was a rather accurate re-rendering of Edward Munch’s “The Scream” with the words “insignificant existence” scratched beside it. Later, at a lovely group dinner in an Italian restaurant, a president of an American Catholic college was describing a television commercial which he found incredibly arrogant. In the commercial, there was a sea of people. Emerging from the vast crowd, one man held up a sign that read, “I AM.” Another man did the same. Then another. The president remarked, “What audacity—to claim the name of God for themselves.”
But, all the while, Gaudium et Spes had already characterized the situation of modern man so well: “But what is man? He has put forward, and continues to put forward, many views about himself, views that are divergent and even contradictory. Often, he either sets himself up as the absolute measure of all things, or debases himself to the point of despair. Hence, his doubt and his anguish. The Church is keenly sensitive to these difficulties. Enlightened by divine revelation she can offer a solution to them by which the true state of man may be outlined, his weakness explained, in such a way that at the same time his dignity and his vocation may be perceived in their true light.”[i]
The spirit of this passage of the Conciliar document can be perceived in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as in its Compendium. It addresses the human person by appealing to that part of his experience that speaks of his transcendence and his utter mystery. It articulates for him his very thoughts, desires, and even emotions—and then provides the most convincing and coherent explanation for their existence. Hence, we can see that this approach is anthropological; it begins with the human person, the one for whom all catechesis exists. This approach is also phenomenological; it draws upon the human person’s experiences—experiences through which, as Augustine would say to the God who fashioned and planned those experiences, “You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.”[ii] This catechesis invites every human person to see how God speaks and, indeed, has already been speaking through his or her experience.
As a catechist bringing the message of the God of Jesus Christ to others, perhaps it would occur to me to start with the Creed. The first words are “I believe in God.”