Catechesis and Sacramental Grace
Amid the boxes and moving arrangements this week and last, I have led a couple of sessions at the seminary on catechetics. Do you know what? This is one of my favourite things to do in my work. It is such a privilege to talk with seminarians about catechesis because we all know it is one of the Church’s greatest tasks in the coming decades, and it is great to impassion each other in this task.
Everything I’ve presented in these first two sessions has been rooted in the universal Church’s vision for the New Evangelisation – especially this year, the Year of Faith, with the establishment of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation, the Synod, and everything that the Holy Father has encouraged us in. We have been exploring the catechetical documents’ guidance, but also looking especially at this fabulous new book you are going to get bored at me raving about: Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples. A reader of this blog told me I would absolutely LOVE it and he is absolutely RIGHT. I love it. I’ve been quoting it all over the place. I would love to stick a copy in the post to all my priest and seminarian friends. Maybe that’s exactly what I’ll do once all this Move Stuff is out of the way…
So, last week, we looked at the reality of the new situation which calls for a new evangelisation, in its ardour, methods and expression. We faced up to the fact that the vast majority of Catholics in our parishes are sacramentalised but not evangelised. And we looked at the role of catechesis in this new situation. This week, we talked about moving from an “infant paradigm” to an “adult paradigm” of catechesis in our parishes.
One thing I talk about a lot to our catechists, and have even spoken about at a parents’ meeting, is the levels of a sacrament. The outward sign of the sacrament effects the character of the sacrament, but the grace of that character only flourishes if there is a heart disposed to receive it. (If you want the “theology bit”, the three levels are: the sacramentum tantum, the res et sacramentum, and the res tantum.) This is the point of evangelisation and catechesis – without personal conversion, people are receiving buckets of sacramental grace without it having much effect in their lives. Anyway, I spoke about this – the connection between catechesis and the sacraments – with the seminarians, then, lo and behold, on the train journey home, there it was in chapter 4 of Sherry Weddell’s book. Much more articulately than I have explained here. She even says: “Whenever I have spoken of this possibility [of receiving the character of the sacrament without the grace] in public, any clergy present – even those passionate about evangelisation – seem stunned and bewildered. I have yet to meet a priest or deacon who has told me that this possibility was made explicit during his formation. No wonder we so seldom discuss the possibility that the graces objectively received may not manifest in the lives of individuals and in the midst of our communities.” There you have it. I think I may have found my soul sister.