Fr John Flader is Director of the Catholic Adult Education Centre of the Archdiocese of Sydney. For information on the ten 90-minute audiotapes of Fr Flader's lectures on Part I of the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church' (including price details) contact the Catholic Adult Education Centre, Locked Bag 888, Silverwater DC NSW 1811, (02) 9643 3660, fax (02) 9643 3669, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If anyone thinks lay people are not interested in knowing what the Church teaches, or that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is too daunting for them, they should have come to the Catholic Centre in Lidcombe on a Tuesday evening in July or August, or on a Wednesday evening in May or June. They would have seen between 80 and 100 people of all ages, many in their 20s, from as far away as Newcastle and the Central Coast, eagerly listening to an explanation of the Church's teaching, based on the Catechism, for the better part of two hours. About 150 different people in all have attended the first or second series of classes, or both.
These people, like so many today, recognised the importance of learning more about their faith. As Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae in 1979, "Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church's life. Not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more her inner growth and correspondence with God's plan depend essentially on catechesis" (No 13).
It is no secret that our faith is increasingly challenged today by the values and beliefs of many around us in the secularised society in which we live. In order to maintain our own beliefs and way of life and, especially, to show others the beauty and wisdom of our faith, a thorough understanding of the Catholic Faith is imperative.
As the Holy Father likes to quote, we must always be able to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf I Pet 3:15), and we can only explain the Faith adequately to others when we understand it fully ourselves.
The Pope recognised the special importance of catechesis in this part of the world in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, where he wrote: "The Church's mission to 'tell the truth of Jesus Christ' in Occania today summons her to renew her catechesis, instruction and formation in the faith. The media's impact on people's lives illustrates how strongly a new social reality demands fresh ways of presenting the faith" (No 22).
Moreover, our own spiritual growth is intimately bound up with our understanding of the Faith. A person, for example, who knows the reality of God's fatherhood and providence, will find it much easier to love Him and accept His will in the midst of the difficulties of life. Similarly, someone who understands the nature of the Mass will be more inclined to love it and to want to attend it regularly.
In spite of these considerations on the importance of catechesis, I was still quite frankly overwhelmed by the response to the classes we offered. Over 100 people enrolled for the first series of five classes in May and June, including those who attended the smaller Friday afternoon sessions in the boardroom of the Centre.
The first series, under the general title What Catholics believe - The Creed, covered the first half of the Profession of Faith, with such topics as man's desire for God, Revelation, the unity and trinity of God, creation and Jesus Christ. The second series, in July and August, covered the second half of the Creed and dealt with Christ's redemptive death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit and the Church, the structure and infallibility of the Church, Mary and the Last Things (death, the judgment, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory).
Our plan is to give a total of 40 classes over the next two years, with ten on each of the four parts of the Catechism.
The course is of special interest to young people, parents, teachers, catechists, people involved in RCIA programs and non-Catholics interested in knowing what Catholics believe, and in fact people of all these types have been attending.
Participants are given a comprehensive set of notes at the beginning of each class to make it easier for them to follow the presentation. The classes are divided into two halves with a coffee break in between. There is time for questions at the end of each half.
In general the response has been eminently positive. For example, a 27-year-old accountant wrote: "Thirteen years of Catholic education had not left me with a strong grounding in the basics of the Faith, in what the Church actually claims of herself and her mission. Hence it was all too easy to reject what I really knew very little about. I have been incredibly encouraged to discover some of the richness and depth of the Faith through these presentations! Thanks to the CAEC for the patient instruction and notes. I look forward to Series Two"'.
And a non-Catholic, who is also in her 20s and in the RCIA program in her parish, wrote, "I would like to take the opportunity to say how much I enjoyed the catechism classes. As a non-Catholic I found the classes very thought-provoking and easy to follow. It was inspiring to learn about Catholic doctrine on such things as the relationship between Scripture and Tradition and to clarify some of the misconceptions I had held previously about the beliefs of the Catholic Church. I am eagerly looking forward to the next series of classes, particularly what the Church really believes on Mary!"
The third series of five classes, on Part Two of the Catechism, The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, will be held on Wednesday evenings at the Catholic Centre, beginning on 30 October, with Friday afternoon sessions beginning on 1 November.