Starting in 2017, the Malaysian Church celebrates Catechetical Sunday on January 22 (or date nearest to it). Below is a reflection by Fr Mark Michael of the Malaysian Commission for Catechetics.
CHRIST came to bring joy to all humanity and this is one of the keynote messages of Christianity and the recurring motif of the Gospels. Joy, like love, is at the heart of what it means to be Christian, and it testifies to the conviction that human life has an ultimate meaning revealed to us by God and guaranteed by His unfailing love. Jesus wants us to experience His joy and He reveals the path to the lasting joy that satisfies the deepest needs of the human heart. He instituted the Church to bring us to this plateau of delight. We need to take Him at His word when Jesus told His disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). The greatest honour we can give God is to be joyful because of the knowledge of His love.
Pope Paul VI wrote, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Catechesis is no longer perceived as the simple teaching of faith formulae, but is focused at the maturing of faith as a support to witnessing to it in the world. My primary concern about catechesis today is that we need to emphasise the joy, enthusiasm and hopefulness that our faith produces, by witnessing and living this truth in our words, our actions, our decision, our relationship and our entire being.
GK Chesterton, who states that joy, which was a small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian and that Christianity satisfies human’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up. GK Chesterton’s understanding would be seen as controversial and not all would agree with this claim of Christianity that affirms that joy is one of the “dominant thesis” of Christian faith.
A joy-filled Christian is one who, rather than endure life, has learned through faith, to treasure life and witnesses the kingdom of God. The Word of Jesus has produced its fruit. Those who believe in Him have the fullness of His joy (Jn 17:13). Joy is indeed a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) and a characteristic mark of the Kingdom of God (Rom 14:17). The sacrament of Baptism fills the faithful with the joy of the Spirit (Acts 13:52), which makes the apostles sing praises even in their worst moments of persecution. Our joy depends more on the Spirit’s Presence in us. Joy is simply the Presence of the Holy Spirit. When the spirit of gladness permeates a person’s entire being, they are said to be joyful.
How do we catechise in a way that fosters learning of the heart? We are catechists in a community of various backgrounds, traditions and histories where there are expectations and pressures. We cannot be independent and cannot avoid the social structures beyond our Catholic religious structures. We will be constantly negotiating between those structures and our communities. The pastoral approach does not mean accommodation to current ways of thinking and behaving, but entails bringing the joy and the light of the truth to bear on contemporary situations in a manner that is convincing and sensitive to the questions of post-modern people. As the ministry of the Word, catechesis refers to a constellation of activities that promote, enhance and challenge believers toward more mature faith. “Christ our joy” could take many forms like:-
- The good example of living a gospel-inspired life
- Works of charity and mercy
- Morally appropriate language, action and attitudes.
- Genuine Christian faith, hope and charity
- A lifestyle characterised by prayers
- Celebration of the Sacraments and other acts of worship
- Genuine Christian humility
- Participation in the Christian community’s ministry
- Active participation in social justice events and causes.