Herald of Hope

“The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2500)

Anyone involved in the religious formation of children, adolescents, youth and adults is certainly familiar with the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” It is an official text of the Church’s Magisterium, which brings together in precise form a synthesis of the salvific truths expressing the common faith to the people of God. It is an indispensable reference for catechesis and for writing local catechisms. However, it does not provide a methodology for catechesis.

To aid in development of a methodology, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization promulgated the new “Directory for Catechesis” on June 25, 2020. The directory is the Church’s official guide for teaching the faith and it lays out the guidelines for carrying out the process of catechesis.

The new directory seeks to show the strong link between evangelization and catechesis. It emphasizes that it is the calling of every baptized person to find ways to communicate the faith.

Evangelization is always about the proclamation of the life, teaching, Kingdom and mystery of Jesus, the Son of God. It leads to conversion through the power of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of evangelization are changed lives and a changed world.

The new “Directory for Catechesis” consists of three parts divided over 12 chapters. Part 1 is “Catechesis in the Evangelizing Church”; Part 2 is “The Process of Evangelization”; and Part 3 is “Catechesis in Particular Churches.”

The topic of this “Herald of Hope” article comes from the “Directory for Catechesis,” Part 1, Chapter II, Section 5, titled “Sources of Catechesis.” In one sense, this section gives the catechist some insight into what kinds of sources went into in the composition of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” but more importantly, what sources a catechist needs to be aware of when preparing to catechize others.

The directory names the following sources of catechesis:

  • The Word of God in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition;
  • The Magisterium;
  • The Liturgy;
  • The Testimony of Saints and Martyrs;
  • Theology;
  • Christian Culture; and
  • Beauty.

The directory states that these sources are interrelated, and each one of them is rooted in some way in the Word of God, and, indeed, each one is an expression of the Word of God. A balanced approach is essential in catechesis — a one-dimensional methodology is never sufficient.

While no one would be surprised to hear that Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition or theology are rich sources of catechesis, some might be surprised to hear that beauty is listed as a vital source of catechetical teaching.

The Christian faith throughout the centuries has shaped the perception of what is good, just, true and beautiful, inspiring literary works, scholarly texts, musical compositions, architecture and artwork throughout the ages. Our Christian cultural heritage shapes and enhances catechesis.

All beauty can lead to God, but this is not just about aesthetics. In Sacred Scripture, God is the source of all beauty. In the Old Testament, creation is good and beautiful, to be admired for its own sake, inspiring amazement and ecstasy in the heart of the beholder. There are numerous examples of this in Sacred Scripture:

  • “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31a)
  • “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.” (Psalm 19:2)
  • “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know.” (Psalm 139:14)

Works of human beings, such as the Temple of Solomon, are works of beauty connected to God’s creative activity, as we see in the First Book of Kings:

“Now the Lord has fulfilled the word he spoke: I have succeeded David my father, and I sit on the throne of Israel, as the Lord has spoken, and I have built this house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. I have provided there a place for the ark in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (1Kings 8:20-21)

In the New Testament, beauty is concentrated in the person of Jesus Christ, the revealer of the divine:

“He is the reflection of God’s glory and bears the impress of God’s own being, sustaining all things by his powerful command; and now that he has purged sins away, he has taken his seat at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:3)

The Gospel is attractive because it is beautiful, joyful and full of hope. Jesus, throughout his ministry, spoke beautiful, healing words:

  • “Your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)
  • “Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:11)
  • “God so loved the world.” (John 3:16)
  • “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

The Gospels recount the beautiful actions of Jesus — he healed, he set free, he accompanied and he touched wounds. To reach human hearts, the Gospel must shine forth in truth and beauty.

Goodness and truth imbue true beauty. St. Paul writes:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

The directory states, “… contemplating beauty elicits within us sentiments of joy, pleasure, tenderness, fullness, meaning, thus opening us to the transcendent. The way of evangelization is the way of beauty, and therefore every form of beauty is a source of catechesis.” (Directory for Catechesis, para. 109)

Catechesis points to the infinite beauty of God in a variety of ways. It does so by lifting up the primacy of grace as seen at work in a special way in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary; honoring the saints as witnesses to the beauty of faith; standing in awe of the mysterious beauty of creation; and cherishing the Church’s liturgical and artistic heritage. The point of using beauty as a source of catechesis is to lead people to the most beautiful gift of God, that of his Son, Jesus Christ. Religious educators will do well to tap into the abundant sources of beauty they encounter — nature, music, literature, art, architecture — in order to help those they catechize to open themselves to the transcendent beauty of God.

(This article is based on a presentation that Bishop Schuerman gave to the Order of Catechists of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on June 23.)