Paragraph 7 is something of a counterbalance to the previous one, which had gone to some lengths to separate catechetical ministry from other works of the Church, such as preaching. The description of catechesis as “intimately bound with the whole of the Church’s life” is a rather powerful endorsement, both of the process and, by implication, the entire Catechism. It occurs to me that one aspect of catechesis rarely described as such is formation to Holy Orders. It is a bit ironic that we have little difficulty discussing catechetics and formation in nearly every other aspect of Church life—for sacraments of initiation, Penance, classroom teaching and the like—but the use of the term catechesis for future ordinands is not at all common. There is nothing in paragraph 7 to prohibit such terminology, and one wonders if the entire enterprise of catechetics would be enhanced by its connection to the formation of priests.
Paragraph 7 makes the first concrete mention of the catechist as a front line minister for the enlargement of the Church, which is distinct from the role of educating those already within the fold. We saw in para. 6 that there was some effort to distinguish catechists who worked in first world settings—with clerics in the forefront—from catechists in third world settings who function of necessity as community leaders and de facto ministers of daily Church life. This paragraph does not make such a distinction, with its reference to catechetical involvement in the “geographical extension and numerical increase” of the Church.
Interestingly, this paragraph gives a hint of the aging of the Catechism, or at least of its overview of those who would use it. Given that the Catechism was released in 1993, it is not unreasonable to assume that this optimistic phrasing about numerical and geographic expansion was probably first drafted at least 25 years ago, maybe more. While the United States is hardly the world, it is a significant bell weather in the western Catholic world. Just yesterday our diocesan faith formation director posted online the highlights of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, which concluded its annual convention in Buffalo last week. He noted that a major concern was the deteriorating funding situation of the Church across the country. To quote him, “I was struck by how much we are impacted by the stretching of our resources (staffing, programming, and funding) as everyone is being asked to do more with less (church leaders, publishers, and academics alike).” In short, the language of “numerical increase” is actually the reverse of what catechists actually experience in 2015.
Paragraph 7 goes on to talk about the role of catechesis in the “inner growth” and “correspondence with God’s plan.” In fact, catechesis is presented here as essentially carrying this mission. I suspect this may be a touch of magisterial hyperbole, but it does raise an interesting question: if this is the ultimate mission of catechetics, do we need to expand our understanding of catechesis to include the Catholic academic community? If I am a tenured theology professor at Gonzaga or Notre Dame, am I in fact part of the Church catechizing mission as described in this paragraph? The obvious answer, of course, is yes; in practice this has not been the general case, dating back at least to 1968 when a clear majority of Catholic moralists shared great concern about the academic underpinnings of the encyclical Humanae Vitae on artificial birth control. The ongoing tension between academic freedom and Church mission is subject matter for many a day’s reflections. For our purposes today, however, it is worth noting that the Catechism has precious few footnotes from post-Enlightenment Catholic sources; in fact, I have not seen any.
Something to bear in mind, too, is the time conditioned nature of this Catechism, or of any catechism, for that matter, as there have been many over history. To understand and interpret its teachings, it would be wise to keep in mind the 1990 world view of John Paul II and those who pushed for a contemporary world catechism. No one can ever accuse John Paul II of anti-intellectualism; yet it is no secret that a fair amount of the Catechism’s momentum came from a desire to clarify the status of religious teaching after the paradigm shift of Vatican II and a frenetic generation of academic and pastoral exploration. Whether those needs of clarification and restoration are necessary in 2015 is an open question; it is worth noting that John Paul himself made his call for a new evangelization after the publication of the Catechism.