Echoing a message that is not my own
It’s been a minute since I’ve beaten this dead horse, but a recent teaching from Pope Francis has inspired me to bring it up again.
Last month, the pope gave a speech to members of the International Theological Commission. There he distinguished theology from catechesis:
“Theologians must go further, seeking to go beyond. But I want to distinguish this from the catechist: the catechist must give the correct doctrine, the solid doctrine; not possible novelties, of which some are good, but what is solid: the catechist transmits the solid doctrine.”
The etymology of the word catechesis is “to echo back.” A catechist echos a message that is not their own, that they did not create themselves.
The message they are echoing is, first and foremost, the kerygma, the proclamation of God’s relentless love and pursuit of each and every person, a pursuit that takes Him all the way to the cross. Building from that, the catechist shares, as Pope Francis explained, “the solid doctrine,” the Church’s teaching.
There is a very real problem in American Catholicism: we often confuse theological opinions with catechesis.
I have heard catholic speakers, apologists, pastors, and DREs regularly present the ideas of their favorite theologians as if those ideas were Church teaching. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard someone speaking from a pulpit, a stage, or from behind a microphone outright say, “The Church teaches ________” when, in fact, the Church does not teach that.
It is highly inappropriate to say that the Church teaches something if the Church doesn’t actually teach it, if you cannot point to the document where the Church teaches it. Not just inappropriate, harmful.
When we do this we are misrepresenting the Magisterium, presenting personal opinions as if they were assisted by the Holy Spirit, and unjustly imposing on the consciences of others by placing man-made burdens on their backs and saying that they come from God.
I see this is Catholic political discussions: “The Church says we can’t support…..”
I see this is NPF groups: “The Church teaches that couples must…..”
I see this is Catholic parents forums: “The Church says parents need to…..”
If anyone says “The Church teaches…..” and that idea imposes on your conscience or doesn’t resonate with your experience, go ahead and ask for a citation.
If you ever hear me say anything that I don’t make clear is a theological or personal opinion, something that imposes on your conscience or doesn’t resonate with your experience, please, demand a citation from me.
Keep theologians, apologists, priests, and catechists accountable in distinguishing what’s Church teaching and what’s theological opinion.
Anyone who steps into the role of echoing down the Church’s teaching must do so with deep humility. As Saint John Paul II taught in Catechesi Tradendae:
“What assiduous study of the word of God transmitted by the Church's magisterium, what profound familiarity with Christ and with the Father, what a spirit of prayer, what detachment from self must a catechist have in order that he can say: ‘My teaching is not mine!’”