‘Set the world on fire’

Just a few months after D-Day, Pope Pius XII erected the Catholic Diocese of Evansville. A lot can change in 75 years; and a lot has. Likewise, a lot can—and does—remain the same. When it comes to reflecting upon faith formation during these past three-quarters of a century, I believe that the key lies in distinguishing between what may change and what must always remain in continuity. And the only authentic way to do that is to go to the Source, who never changes.

Pope Saint John Paul II tells us, “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.” Consequently, “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ.” To catechize is “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person.”

This is the entire reason for all of our faith formation programs: from Vacation Bible School through adult faith formation, and from sacramental preparation to new evangelization. Moreover, the heart of catechesis never changes, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

All Catholics are called to be catechists in the sense that, through our baptism, we are all called to bring others to Christ… in all his beauty, truth and fullness. It is not without reason that in the line that immediately follows the above quote from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author continues, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching” (Hebrews 13:9). Authentically sharing the fullness of our faith is a humbling responsibility! For, as the Catechism states, “In catechesis, ‘Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God,… is taught—everything else is taught with reference to him—and it is Christ alone who teaches—anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips… Every catechist [that is, all Catholics] should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me’” (CCC 427). Whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not, we are always informally or formally “teaching.” The way in which we live each moment of our lives—be it at home, work or play—is our constant witness either for or against Christ.

Not only is this humbling, it is one of Christ’s many “hard teachings” (cf. John 6:60), which will always remain so. As we have seen, the heart of catechesis is Christ, and Saint Paul teaches us that “we proclaim Christ crucified,” which to many is both “a stumbling block” and pure “foolishness.” However, it is in Christ crucified that we discover “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” and—in entrusting ourselves to Him—we find the strength to stand in the breach, for we learn that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:23-25).

The Diocese of Evansville has striven to put people in communion with Jesus Christ for 75 years. The Catholic Church has fought to do so for 26 times that. While Jesus was on earth, he both raised the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) and expressed the desire, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49). It is my prayer that when Jesus comes—whether it be tomorrow or 75 times 75 years—he will find our diocese on fire for our faith! There is a Catholic spiritual classic entitled “The Spiritual Combat.” Keeping our faith alive and passing it on in all its beauty and fullness entails spiritual combat. It should not surprise us. Our diocese was erected during the midst of one of the world’s greatest combats! May we never lose heart. To paraphrase Saint Catherine of Siena, “If we are who we should be [who God means us to be], we will set the world on fire!”