Tag Archives: catechesis

Blessed Cesar de Bus

blessed cesar de busLast year I heard about a French Blessed, a modern patron of catechists, Father Cesar de Bus, beatified in 1975 by Pope Paul VI. This same pope recommended to the Church this witness for our following.

De Bus has an interest story for us to think about, and I think we in the USA ought to make the effort to allow his good name and missionary zeal flourish in our work of passing on the faith.  Connecting with de Bus in an real way is crucial for teaching the faith especially to children. We ought to invoke Blessed Cesar de Bus for those involved with the work of catechesis. A friend wrote, Father Ambrose, delivered the following homily on de Bus.

“…saintly man named César de Bus, who is a splendid patron and guide for all who seek to hand on the Catholic faith. He was born in Cavillon, France, on February 3, 1544, the seventh of thirteen children. Though he had a good Jesuit education, he was a worldly young man who couldn’t decide between the career of a soldier and that of a writer. In the end, he decided for the military. It was the time of the bloody Wars of Religion in France, when it hung in the balance whether France would remain Catholic or become Protestant. And yet, despite fighting in the Catholic cause, César himself led a life of dissipation: he was known as a party boy, as a dandy, as one who wanted to make his way at the royal court in Paris. He also still had literary ambitions.

Now César’s brother was a priest, a cathedral canon with a good income. When his brother died, César succeeded in gaining the income from his late brother’s position without himself actually being a priest or doing anything in return for the income. It was an abuse that often happened in Catholic France in those days: a layman would hold a clerical position simply as a source of revenue. Just in case you don’t know, the wasteful and worldly squandering of the Church’s goods is not exactly a new problem. It was well-known and widely criticized in the 16th century, too.

But then something unexpected happened. César had come to know an illiterate but very pious servant girl named Antoinette Reveillade. This young woman had persuaded César to read to her the lives of the saints, even while Antoinette fervently and in tears begged God that death would not find César in mortal sin. He at first shrugged off her concern. Then, one night, as César was on his way to a masked ball, he passed a shrine where a light burned before the image of Our Lady. Suddenly he remembered Antoinette, and was stricken with remorse and felt an overwhelming desire to repent and amend his life. He thought, “How can I recommend myself to God while I am on the way to offend Him?” In the words of one of César’s biographers, “One tempestuous night, the All-powerful God, the King of Glory, encountered the worldly chevalier César de Bus, obstinate in sin, and conquered him.” There and then, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, he was converted to Christ.

César resumed at last his studies for the priesthood and was ordained a priest at last in 1582 at the age of thirty-eight. He read the life of the Catholic Reformer St. Charles Borromeo and became convinced that widespread religious ignorance was the cause of many scandals and failures among French Catholics. But César didn’t just complain or wring his hands: he did something about it. 

First, he converted his cousin Jean-Baptiste back to the Catholic faith. Jean-Baptiste had become a convinced Calvinist because of the impressive zeal and strictness shown by French Protestants, who so often put the Catholics to shame.  After Jean-Baptiste returned to the Church, he, too, was ordained a priest. César and his cousin then dedicated the rest of their lives to the work of catechesis, founding an order for that purpose called the Fathers of Christian Doctrine and also a similar order for women. After his conversion, Blessed César directed his energies to two things: penance for his earlier life and the teaching of doctrine. And yet, it was actually an unlettered servant girl’s prayers that had led to the grace of his conversion. This reminds us that it is only the love of God and of neighbor that can inspire the teaching of sound doctrine and make it fruitful in our lives. And yet, true charity cannot be content that those whom Christ has redeemed by his Most Precious Blood should be ignorant of divine truth. Ignorance is not bliss, in religion or in anything else.

Blessed César died on 15 April 1607 and was beatified in 1975. At the beatification, Pope Paul VI (who will himself soon be beatified) had this to say about the parallels between our age and that of Blessed César:

[Our time] is a period in which the world is in crisis, as formerly, and in which most values, even the most sacred ones, are rashly questioned in the name of freedom, so that many people have no longer any point of reference, in a period in which danger comes certainly not from an excess of dogmatism but rather from the dissolution of doctrine and the nebulousness of thought… It seems to Us that an additional effort should be courageously undertaken to give the Christian people, who are waiting for it more than is thought, a solid, exact catechetical base, easy to remember. We well understand that it is difficult today to adhere to the Faith, particularly for the young, a prey to so many uncertainties. They have the right at least to know precisely the message of Revelation, which is not the fruit of research, and to be the witnesses of a Church that lives by it.

César de Bus had seen how religious divisions and social upheaval had devastated the faith of many. Amid all the fighting about religion between Catholics and Protestants—and among French Catholics, too—, there was considerable neglect of the actual practice of the faith.

Surely, with the Venerable Servant of God Paul VI, we can see the parallels with the state of the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. As in the 16th century, there are the vast multitudes of Catholics, here and in Latin America, who have become Protestants because of our weakness in catechesis and evangelization. Is it any wonder that so many Catholics respond to the evangelical preachers who still have the courage to proclaim without dilution that Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life?  Blessed César saw these very failings among Catholics in France four hundred years ago.

And, like that great saint, we can do something about the situation. Think of that amazing story of Blessed César’s conversion and ask his intercession for a renewed zeal for the teaching of sound doctrine in our pulpits, our schools, and our catechetical programs.

In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, let us “lift up our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees” (Heb 12.12), for the Lord himself is calling us to work in his vineyard.

Catechesis and Preaching is trinitarian

In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’ This first proclamation is called ‘first’ not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.

Pope Francis
Evangelili Gaudium (2013)

A catechist is a Christian who keeps the memory of God alive, Pope Francis tells

Mass offered today by Pope Francis marked an International Day for Catechists organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization for the Year of Faith. Patriarch John X of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church was present.

It is a day to remember what teaching the faith to others means. Indeed, we can focus on the gifts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Key to any method of teaching is knowing what the role of the teacher has. In the Church, we say that Catechists are not the focus of our attention in passing on the Tradition of the faith, Christ the teacher is. We who teach the faith to others, especially the young, don’t replace the parents as the first teachers of the faith, nor do we, when it comes to adults, obscure the fact that each person makes the decision to freely follow Jesus doing the hard work to know what Jesus said and did.

As Pope Francis said, catechists reflect the memory of God in concrete ways; a line of thinking that Pope Benedict also taught us. Attend to what Francis says. Keeping the memory of God is an intriguing idea: the gift of being able to give clear witness to the Creator, indeed the work of the Holy Trinity. In Ignatian terms, we know God to labor for us but do we recognize this fact? This is one of the reasons we are to be familiar with narrative of divine revelation. There are many patron saints for catechists but we ought to consider important to go to are Saint Robert Bellarmine, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint John Bosco and Saint John Baptist de la Salle, among others. Go to the saints help you to remember God.

Pope Francis’ homily follows:

1. “Woe to the complacent in Zion, to those who feel secure … lying upon beds of ivory!” (Am 6:1,4). They eat, they drink, they sing, they play and they care nothing about other people’s troubles.

These are harsh words which the prophet Amos speaks, yet they warn us about a danger that all of us face. What is it that this messenger of God denounces; what does he want his contemporaries, and ourselves, to realize? The danger of complacency, comfort, worldliness in our lifestyles and in our hearts, of making our well-being the most important thing in our lives. This was the case of the rich man in the Gospel, who dressed in fine garments and daily indulged in sumptuous banquets; this was what was important for him. And the poor man at his doorstep who had nothing to relieve his hunger? That was none of his business, it didn’t concern him. Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the centre of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings. The rich man in the Gospel has no name, he is simply “a rich man”. Material things, his possessions, are his face; he has nothing else.

Let’s try to think: How does something like this happen? How do some people, perhaps ourselves included, end up becoming self-absorbed and finding security in material things which ultimately rob us of our face, our human face? This is what happens when we no longer remember God. If we don’t think about God, everything ends up being about “me” and my own comfort. Life, the world, other people, all of these become unreal, they no longer matter, everything boils down to one thing: having. When we no longer remember God, we too become unreal, we too become empty; like the rich man in the Gospel, we no longer have a face! Those who run after nothing become nothing – as another great prophet Jeremiah, observed (cf. Jer 2:5). We are made in God’s image and likeness, not that of material objects, not that of idols!

2. So, as I look out at you, I think: Who are catechists? They are people who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others. This is something beautiful: to remember God, like the Virgin Mary, who sees God’s wondrous works in her life but doesn’t think about honor, prestige or wealth; she doesn’t become self-absorbed. Instead, after receiving the message of the angel and conceiving the Son of God, what does she do? She sets out, she goes to assist her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. And the first thing she does upon meeting Elizabeth is to recall God’s work, God’s fidelity, in her own life, in the history of her people, in our history: “My soul magnifies the Lord … For he has looked on the lowliness of his servant … His mercy is from generation to generation” (Lk 1:46, 48, 50).

This canticle of Mary also contains the remembrance of her personal history, God’s history with her, her own experience of faith. And this is true too for each one of us and for every Christian: faith contains our own memory of God’s history with us, the memory of our encountering God who always takes the first step, who creates, saves and transforms us. Faith is remembrance of his word which warms our heart, and of his saving work which gives life, purifies us, cares for and nourishes us. A catechist is a Christian who puts this remembrance at the service of proclamation, not to be important, not to talk about himself or herself, but to talk about God, about his love and his fidelity.

Saint Paul recommends one thing in particular to his disciple and co-worker Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, whom I proclaim and for whom I suffer (cf. 2 Tim 2:8-9). The Apostle can say this because he too remembered Christ, who called him when he was persecuting Christians, who touched him and transformed him by his grace.

The catechist, then, is a Christian who is mindful of God, who is guided by the memory of God in his or her entire life and who is able to awaken that memory in the hearts of others. This is not easy! It engages our entire existence! What is the Catechism itself, if not the memory of God, the memory of his works in history and his drawing near to us in Christ present in his word, in the sacraments, in his Church, in his love? Dear catechists, I ask you: Are we in fact the memory of God? Are we really like sentinels who awaken in others the memory of God which warms the heart?

3. “Woe to the complacent in Zion!”. What must we do in order not to be “complacent” – people who find their security in themselves and in material things – but men and woman of the memory of God? In the second reading, Saint Paul, once more writing to Timothy, gives some indications which can also be guideposts for us in our work as catechists: pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness (cf. 1 Tim 6:11).

Catechists are men and women of the memory of God if they have a constant, living relationship with him and with their neighbor; if they are men and women of faith who truly trust in God and put their security in him; if they are men and women of charity, love, who see others as brothers and sisters; if they are men and women of “hypomoné”, endurance and perseverance, able to face difficulties, trials and failures with serenity and hope in the Lord; if they are gentle, capable of understanding and mercy.

Let us ask the Lord that we may all be men and women who keep the memory of God alive in ourselves, and are able to awaken it in the hearts of others. Amen.

YouCat is essential reading

At the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid, Pope Benedict unveiled what is called, YouCat, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church. It was his hope and intention to make the beauty of the Catholic Faith be available to many. The Pope’s foreword says the text provides a tool for all, laity and clergy, “who are looking for answers to problems” as well as “paths for personal and group reflection.”

YouCat is worldwide success with some 27 translations (and counting). It is, without a doubt, an immense success from a publishing point of view. Recent news on YouCat speaks of Taiwanese Catholics welcoming their edition (天主教 青年 教 理). This good news comes on the heels of a report that 1.5 million copies of the YouCat were distributed for free by Aid to the Church in Need to Brazilian young people to help in WYD 2013.

It goes to show that a book can have a positive effect on faith formation, evangelization, with an emphasis on faith and reason. Just like the standard volume of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, YouCat covers doctrine, sacraments, the moral life, prayer and spirituality.

I find YouCat extraordinarily helpful and promote its use among people of all ages. It is categorically NOT only for young people. Adults of all ages benefit from an attentive use of YouCat. I used it in the RCIA and other adult faith formation forums. The authors/editors made certain that the text gives an excellent user friendly experience, its content is accessible and very handy. It has great images and several great features like definitions, cross-referencing and a good layout. I urge you to get a copy today! Follow the link above.

Faithful catechists are “witnesses rather than teachers,” Pope Francis said

Catechism Clips

Catechism Clips (Photo credit: thicke)

As the archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio spoke of the importance of the ministry of catechesis, as a “pillar of the Church.” For him, as you would expect, catechesis is the sowing of seed in soil. No what type of soil, as the parable goes, you sow, cultivate, and pray. In a letter addressed to catechists, the cardinal stated, “In our task of evangelization, God asks us to accompany a people that walks in the faith.”

Cardinal Bergoglio paid attention to the ecclesial and evangelical nature of the catechetical ministry that is often overlooked, mismanaged, and otherwise dismissed by clergy and laity alike. You get a clearer sense of the the scope –successes and failures– in catechetical ministry throughout the last hundred plus years if you read George Weigel’s recent book, Evangelical Catholicism. And this why catechetical methods such as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd aim at doing what is consistent with the long-view of teaching the faith is about, and the emphases Pope Francis made in 2010.

Bergoglio, like Weigel, and other reasonably attentive pastors of the Church speak of the handing on the faith to others (children and adults alike) is a “splendid mission, ministry of the Word that catechists have been carrying out uninterruptedly for almost two thousand years”; it is “an ecclesial service that is expressed in many ways and in different places.”


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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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