We sat every Sunday morning in that hot master-bedroom-turned-classroom of an old cinderblock house on Church property. It seemed to flow in and out of the dead leaves and sticks and palmettos and low hanging spanish moss like a stereotypical Florida home built in the 70’s. Brown and tan and empty and rotting and weirdly nostalgic and safe. Like visiting your friend’s granny. Regardless, we definitely dragged our feet in the rocks after Mass as we walked from the Church to the house where CCD took place. The room always smelled like granny was hiding in a closet sniffing pinesol. All the metal chairs in the hot but otherwise empty room faced the front and therefore so did all 18 of us sweaty 9th graders.
This is catechesis in 2003 in Valrico, Florida. It was my freshman year of high school. If you’re reading this, chances are you too can harken back to that classroom where you stared at the back of Melissa’s head wondering what a Mexican wedding would look like. You might still remember the strange endearing sympathy you felt as your volunteer catechists stood at a half-broken formica table and tried to hold the attention of a room full of your hormonal freshman peers raised on Pokemon, Adult Swim, and iPods. Let’s be honest: those Sadlier religious-ed books were out-gunned from the beginning.
To this day I still wonder how I ended up willing to (or at least praying that I would be willing to) die for the things those volunteers spoke about in that room. I remember telling my friend Darryl to say “transubstantiation” to throw the teacher off. The Catholic faith was another chunk of information I could wield to stroke my ego just like the (little) philosophy, martial arts, and LOTR information I possessed.
Somewhere during senior year of high school or freshman year of college I bumped directly into Jesus for the first time, and then quickly tried to ignore Him by burying myself in self-aggrandizing information gluttony. Its a lot more comfortable to follow Jesus if you feel like you’re an expert in Jesus-knowledge. I learned about typology and colored salvation history timelines. I could recite – from memory – Jeff Cavin’s hour long talk from the audio CD “I’m Not Being Fed”. But I made sure to never look up from the information directly into the eyes of Christ. It was like a relationship that only existed on Facebook.
I find it sad that to this day too many people believe there is a strong dichotomy between Catholic doctrine and a transformational relationship with a personal God. I’ve been guilty of this most of my life. Many times I’ve been running from one extreme to the other. I’ve either hidden in my head from my heart’s need for Jesus, or headlessly chased Jesus around with my heart.
“The principal task entrusted to the Council by Pope John XXIII was to guard and present better the precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all people of good will.”
Do you know what Pope St. John XXIII believed the principle task of Vatican II was? What he really wanted to accomplish with all that Church window opening? “To guard and present better the precious deposit of faith”. Catholics who are deep in the evangelization frenzy, steeped in Catholic meditations on beauty, or armed to the teeth with apologetics tracts might hear this as a sad trombone.
And maybe that’s because deep down we aren’t sure if there can exist a marriage between our heads and our hearts. Maybe we really believe that when we are 19 and reckless we can have a religion like a love-affair but when we are finally 35 and mortgaged we need to grow up and learn some facts and let the naive passion of our youth fade into the past like First Communion.
I, however, choose to believe that the panting of our hearts can be quickened by the slow and seductive revelation of God in the form of doctrine, tradition, and dogma. Maybe that’s really what all the doctrine should be viewed as: a lover writing from a foreign land revealing who He is.
For too long the distance between the head and the heart has forced me into a false dichotomy. I should either be a frenetic charismatic or a staunch Thomist. The spirit and the letter. I think its normal for this tension to exist. Its part of how we are made. But what would it look like if the two were married?
It looks like Divine Revelation. I believe it looks like the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, seems to agree.
“…we need to discover the CCC’s pulsating heart. And what is this heart? It is not a dogma or a truth, a doctrine or an ethical principle. It is a Person: Jesus Christ! “On page after page,” – the Holy Father writes regarding the CCC in the same Apostolic Letter – “we find that what is presented here is no theory, but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church”
We can get our heart into the heart of Christ by walking over the bridge of revelation.
The more Revelation becomes our bridge to the heart of God, the more we unite our head and our hearts. Then we can begin to transform the catechism from “a silent instrument, like a valuable violin resting on a velvet cloth, into an instrument that sounds and rouses hearts.”
This story was written by Edmund Mitchell, Director of Catechesis & Evangelization. It was originally published 10/28/2014 on edmundmitchell.com, and was republished in the June 2016 Edition of The St. Francis Grapevine, our parish newsletter.