In the Diocesan Synthesis for the Synod on Synodality, we read that the People of God in the Diocese of San Bernardino want to get “back-to-basics” in their faith. The basics are not memorized prayers, lists of virtues, or the corporal works of mercy – all of which are excellent. What the people want is something more basic and far better: they have asked to give priority in all things to a loving encounter with Christ.
This loving encounter with Christ is at the heart of catechesis. The Fourth General Synod of Bishops, held in 1977, focused on the Christocentricity of the catechesis. In the apostolic exhortation that followed, Pope John Paul II explained the two-fold meaning of Christocentric catechesis. First, it means that “at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘the only Son from the Father...full of grace and truth,’ who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever. It is Jesus who is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life…’” (Catechesi Tradendae, 5). This means that the aim of all catechetical activity should be “to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (Catechesi Tradendae, 5, emphasis mine).
The second meaning of Christocentricity in Catechesis is “the intention to transmit not one’s own teaching or that of some other master, but the teaching of Jesus Christ, the Truth that He communicates or, to put it more precisely, the Truth that He is.” John Paul II continues, “every catechist must constantly endeavor to transmit by his teaching and behavior the teaching and life of Jesus… Above all, he will not try to inculcate his personal opinions and options as if they expressed Christ’s teaching and the lessons of His life. Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me’ (Catechesi Tradendae, 6).
How does a catechist do this? How does anyone who shares the good news that is Jesus Christ purify their teaching such that the message they share is not of themselves, but is Christ’s own message? How do they “put people… in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ?”
We cannot teach what we do not know; we cannot expect others to do what we will not model for them. To effectively give priority to a loving encounter with Christ, it is imperative that we spend time with Christ! There is simply no substitute for the daily practice of reading scripture and reflecting on the Word of God we encounter there. Steve Halligan wrote an excellent article just a few months ago in this same column about how we can become more comfortable reading the Bible.
There are other practices recommended by the saints that help us prioritize a loving encounter with Christ: we should, whenever possible, spend a few minutes in front of the tabernacle, basking in the loving presence of Jesus present there in the Eucharist. We can pray the rosary, even if it is only a single decade, and mediate profoundly on the mystery of Christ’s life. And of course, we should prioritize attending Mass, on Sunday at least, if not also on other days.
The challenge for most of us is not that we lack the ability to do any of these things: we can read scripture daily; we can visit Jesus in the tabernacle; we can pray a decade of the Rosary; we can set aside one hour out of the 167 we have each week in order to attend Mass. The challenge is not that we cannot do these things, but that we try and then give up.
We live in a culture that tells us it is “all or nothing.” But God is patient with us. In order to prioritize a loving encounter with Christ in all things, we have to start by intentionally prioritizing Christ in something. Take the first step: wake up 10 minutes earlier to spend time reading scripture. Alter your route to or from work so that you can pass by a Catholic Church and reverence Christ in the tabernacle as you drive by. Sit in your car for three extra minutes to pray a decade of the rosary each day. Be intentional about taking a small step toward growing in intimacy with Christ each day and gradually you will discover that your whole life has become Christocentric.
Amanda Alexander is currently the Director of the Department of Ministry Formation Institute for the Diocese and a parishioner of St. Adelaide in Highland. She has a Ph.D. in systematic theology and has taught at numerous Catholic universities.