It is not a secret that knowledge of the faith continues to decline. It is tempting to insist simply upon teaching more doctrine, but this overlooks a more fundamental problem. What is catechesis really about? It is not simply knowledge of the faith but knowledge of the living God, a knowledge that includes and goes beyond simply the intellect, as it must include a complete transformation of life. We are not simply missing knowledge of the faith but the entire structure of life and culture that should undergird and support this knowledge.
The Cultural Foundation for Catechesis
Grace builds upon nature, according to the scholastic adage. By “nature,” we mean the natural foundation of human life—our ability to think, make free choices, and order our lives through good habits. Even more foundationally, nature refers the basic soil of human potential that God uses to draw forth his divine fruit. But how would we describe the “state of nature” today? It is not a stretch to say that the soil of human life has worn thin through the saturation of technology and a fundamental change in the way we understand and relate to one another, mediated by a screen with less interpersonal contact. Catechesis has to compensate for these challenges, seeking to build up a more robust community to provide a stronger cultural context to receive the faith.
Just as grace builds upon nature, so faith builds upon culture. In fact, Pope St. John Paul II declared faith to be “incomplete” without a culture to live it out faithfully.[i] Culture is a shared way of life, one that is necessary because Christians need to live out their faith in communion with others. As we know from our own experience, it can be quite difficult to live the Christian life when you are pushing against the cultural currents. Perhaps our religious education has fallen short because we have not attended closely enough to the cultural dynamics of faith. Right thinking, healthy living, rightly ordered work, and robust community all contribute to building up the soil needed to support the Christian life.