MILWAUKEE — John Cavadini hoped that the approximately 175 people attending his Pallium Lecture at Mount Mary College last Thursday, Oct. 13 left the presentation with the image of the Creed written on their hearts.

p.5-cavadiniJohn CavadiniThat image, he said, is an image of “information that forms,” and is “an image of someone who loves what they believe who is so formed by the pearl of great price, the love of God in Christ as expressed in the Creed that they are practicing it, making progress in it, that is, being ever more fully conformed to it, one must say, formed, by it.”

That image, he said, also illustrates an evangelical catechesis, a notion that he termed “the most resounding and enduring innovation and legacy of John Paul II.”

An evangelical catechesis is a coming together of Scripture and tradition, said Cavadini, a member of the theology department at the University of Notre Dame for more than 20 years, who delivered the 21st Pallium Lecture, “John Paul II’s Legacy in Catechesis and Evangelization.”

Author of several theological books, a consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine and a 2009 appointee by Pope Benedict XVI to the International Theological Commission, Cavadini began his talk admitting that he was a little self conscious, as the last Pallium lecturer, Jesuit Fr. James Martin, delivered a humorous presentation on laughing with the saints.

“My students told me this morning that I have no sense of humor,” he admitted, adding at their encouragement, “I tried to include a joke and will challenge you to find it.”

True to his word, Cavadini’s presentation was academic and intellectual, as he laid out his case for Pope John Paul II’s legacy in catechesis as wholistic in the sense that evangelization and catechesis are closely connected.

The late pope’s legacy in catechesis is embodied in three major documents, said Cavadini, listing the apostolic exhortation, “Catechesi Tradendae,” “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” and the 1998 “General Directory of Catechesis.”

Citing the first post-Vatican II catechetical directory, the “General Directory of Catechesis,” he said the pope makes a close connection between evangelization and catechesis, noting no separation or opposition between the two; rather they integrate and complement each other.

Loosely calling this an evangelical view of catechesis, Cavadini said they foster and deepen an intimate communion with the Person of Christ.

“Note, however, that I did not say a ‘personal’ encounter with Christ, which is perhaps a more ‘evangelical’ way of putting this idea, using the more common sense of the word ‘evangelical’ in American religious discourse,” he explained. “For John Paul II does not mean a ‘personal’ encounter in a private individualistic sense in which Jesus Christ could somehow become one’s ‘personal’ savior, but rather the encounter with the Person of Christ is at once ‘personal,’ and, as it were, objective and ‘impersonal.’”

While he said the encounter is personal and intimate, this intimate communion takes place in the heart of the individual Christian and is not separated from other more objective encounters with this Person.

Therefore, Cavadini concluded that knowing Christ is not separate from knowing the Church.

“Thus there is no dichotomy between a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the teaching and learning of traditional Christian doctrine,” he said.

He also discounted any division between the memorization of scriptural or traditional passages and a personal encounter with Christ.

“In an evangelical catechesis, there is no dichotomy between ‘formation’ and ‘information’ because the ‘information’ is itself formative of a sense of the mystery of Christ’s person,” said Cavadini, who earned the first of his three master’s degrees from Marquette University in 1979.

“There is no dichotomy between an evangelization that is based on the Scriptures and a catechesis that is based in doctrine and tradition, but rather there is one evangelization and, as a moment of that, an evangelization catechesis with the same essential content from the same source, the word of God as transmitted in Scripture and tradition,” he said.

“This full bodied notion of an evangelical catechesis, is perhaps one of the greatest legacies of John Paul II, yet one that is barely recognized in its full dimensions and appreciated for the pedagogical innovation that it represents,” he said.

The legacy of an evangelical catechesis is exemplified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, said Cavadini, noting that one of the most striking features of the catechism is the way it uses Scripture

Listen to the audio of Cavadini’s presentation at

“It does not use Scripture primarily to back up or to corroborate doctrinal statements, as though catechesis were not essentially scriptural, but ‘merely’ doctrinal; rather it incorporates Scripture into the very articulation of the doctrine,” said Cavadini, explaining that Scripture is woven into the text of the Catechism creating a coming together of Scripture and tradition.

This approach must be incorporated into the teaching ministries of the church, said Cavadini, pointing particularly to preaching.

“The homily is supposed to illuminate the scriptural readings from the lectionary, to ‘break open the Word,’ just proclaimed, and who would argue with that? But my point is that this aim is too often contrasted with preaching doctrinally, as though doctrine had noting to do with the scriptural text,” he said.

Failing to do so results not only in under-catechized Catholics, he said, but in Catholics “who are ripe either for proselytizing by the evangelical mega churches or Pentecostal sects on the one hand, or for the agnostic status quo on the other. Once you split Scripture from doctrine and preach on the basis of such a split, you are actually teaching and propagating that very split.”

If Catholics perceive that Scripture has little to do with doctrine, that might lead them to churches where this split is stressed and embraced, he said.

In conclusion, Cavadini encouraged his audience, in the language of “Catechesi Tradendae,” to “develop understanding of the mystery of Christ … so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word,” so that one’s whole humanity, one’s very heart, becomes formed by and in the mystery of Christ’s Person.”

“If we leave our evening together with the image of the Creed written on the heart, we will have a good image for the kind of evangelical catechesis that is the abiding legacy of John Paul II,” he said.