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Maggie Ciskanik, M.S., MSc.July 27, 20236 min read

Pope St. John Paul II: Catechesis and The New Evangelization

“The greatest challenge . . . and the greatest contribution that authentically Catholic education can make . . . is to restore to that culture the conviction that human beings can grasp the truth of things, and in grasping that truth can know their duties to God, to themselves, and their neighbors.
Pope St. John Paul II

Pope St. John Paul the Great repeatedly called for a “new evangelization” throughout his pontificate. He once described Catechesis as “the joy of bringing the mystery of Christ to the world.” Recognizing the challenges that accompany this essential work of the Church, he exhorts the faithful to embrace and proclaim this vision:

Catholic education aims . . . to transmit a coherent, comprehensive vision of life in the conviction that the truths contained in that vision liberate students in the most profound meaning of human freedom. —Pope John Paul II, 30 May 1998

The Pope reminds us in Catechesi Tradendae that this vision of life needs to be presented to all who seek to understand more deeply “the mystery of the Word of God become man.” He calls the Church “the sacrament of Christ’s presence” and the guardian of this vision under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

JPII also reminds us that the Church herself needs to be constantly evangelized in order to evangelize the culture more effectively:

The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. . . she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love. She is the People of God immersed in the world and often tempted by idols, and she always needs to hear the proclamation of the 'mighty works of God', which converted her to the Lord; she always needs to be called together afresh by him and reunited. In brief, this means that she has a constant need of being evangelized if she wishes to retain freshness, vigour and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel."

Pope St. John Paul II: The Demands of This Vision of Life

This authentic Catholic vision of life also makes certain demands of all disciples.

As early as the patristic age, St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom—to quote only them—gave prominence to the social consequences of the demands made by the Gospel. Close to our own time, the catechism of St. Pius X explicitly listed oppressing the poor and depriving workers of their just wages among the sins that cry to God for vengeance. —Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae 

The modern disciple is called to counter the current culture of nihilism, despair, and violence in order to build up the civilization of the future, which, elsewhere, the Pope named “the civilization of love.” If that seems like an impossible task, he offers us this encouragement, quoting St. Augustine:

Even now the Holy Spirit teaches the faithful . . . in accordance with each one's spiritual capacity. And he sets their hearts aflame with greater desire according as each one progresses in the charity that makes him love what he already knows and desire what he has yet to know." —St. Augustine

In a speech to Catholic educators in New Orleans in 1987, St. John Paul II declared the role of Catholic educators (and parents!) is to transmit “the full truth concerning the human person, created in God’s image and called to life in Christ through the Holy Spirit,” which includes the obligation “to inculcate into young people right ethical attitudes. These include attitudes towards material things and their proper use.”

Most importantly, this Pope, who is also a saint, declared that holiness is not optional for teachers and catechists:

The world needs more than just social reformers. It needs saints. Holiness is not the privilege of a few; it is a gift offered to all. The call to holiness is addressed also to you and to your students. To doubt this is to misjudge Christ’s intentions: for "each of us has received God’s favour in the measure in which Christ bestowed it" (Eph. 4, 7). 

St. John Paul II: On Care of the Sick and Catechesis

The New Evangelization calls believers to bear joyful witness to Christ in their daily lives, specifically in education and, not surprisingly, in the care of the sick and suffering. Pope St. John Paul II established the World Day of the Sick in 1993. The Pope declared that caring for the suffering members of our communities contributes to the process of evangelization:

Christians are being called to embrace the Cross of Christ so as to give the world the reason for its Gospel hope (1 Peter 3:15) The Christian church is committed to the service and care of the sick because it is convinced that life is a gift from God as a sublime expression of his love for humanity and that it continues to be so even when it declines.

The Pope explicitly links living out the Gospel to those involved in Catholic education:

If evangelization is to be true to itself, it cannot take place apart from education; it is directly related to it. The Second Vatican Council teaches that the encounter with Christ is the true light of the mystery of human existence. In this regard, the Church possesses a tradition of educational resources, studies, research, institutions and people—consecrated and non-consecrated persons, belonging to religious orders, congregations and institutes—who provide a significant presence in schools and education.

The Tools of the Trade

In our time, a bounty of catechetical resources has emerged, from podcasts to improved Sacramental preparation courses, from parish reading group materials to more formal catechesis for those entering the Church. The need to evangelize the culture was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Magis Center for Teachers and Catechists, known initially as "Credible Catholic." One of the available resources, the Essential Modules, grew out of the feedback from students and catechists. It includes the following topics:

But the Magis Center for Teachers and Catechists is not the only new educational resource on offer. Fr. Spitzer’s book The Moral Wisdom of the Catholic Church: A Defense of Her Controversial Moral Teachings (Volume 3) (recently released on cogently argues that the seeming restrictive, “outdated” morality encouraged by the Church actually helps human beings to flourish. Using statistics from Pew Research polls and the most up-to-date findings in the psychological sciences, Fr. Spitzer convincingly declares that the moral life is a life of love:

If we trust in Jesus and open ourselves to the dynamics of love taught by Him in the Beatitudes, we will soon discover that the seemingly unfair impositions of Jesus and the Catholic Church are the path to true freedom and the reality of overwhelmingly sublime loving union with the divine lovers themselves.

So head on over to the Magis Center to be inspired and equipped to evangelize!

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” —John 17:3