There are different ways of knowing a person, indeed of knowing Christ. In the Second Reading of the Mass for Sunday March 17, 2013, Paul writes in Phil 3:8b-11:
For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things
and I consider them so much rubbish,
that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having any righteousness of my own based on the law
but that which comes through faith in Christ,
the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him
and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings
by being conformed to his death,
if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
An important part of this passage – one that spoke to me in the morning reading today – is Paul’s affirmation of the supremely valuable and supernatural relationship with Christ that he possessed and treasured in his Christian life. These portions of the passage continue to speak:
… that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
… through faith in Christ,
the righteousness from God,
depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection
and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death….
To know Christ, a knowing so dear to Paul, is a process not instantaneous, and not cheap. To come to know Him is free, universally offered, indeed our common vocation. Yet His Gospel is not cheap, and one who would follow Him finds a cross waiting to be carried on the journey, as well as the promise of eternal life. To come to know anyone is a process, and three stages with distinctions can be identified:
- to know of a person
- to know about a person
- to know the person.
To know of a person is merely to accept as fact or belief that he exists. “You know our new Pope?” “Yes, of course – Pope Francis.” I have never even met in person or for that matter seen, this man – yet I “know” him in this sense: I know of him. This kind of knowing is not irrelevant to the right hearing of this passage of Scripture, because it is possible for persons – believers – Catholics – to know little more concerning Jesus and His saving Gospel than of Him and of His love for them. It is possible for a Catholic to know only of Him, and to know very little about Him – and not to have the precious koinonia, personal communion, with Christ that Paul found. Such a Catholic has found very little of the supernatural treasure that impelled Paul through his life of martyrdom to eternity in beatitude with Christ.
To know about a person implies possessing or accepting some factual information concerning him. “You know our current President?” “Yes – President Obama – I’ve heard some of his speeches, and listened to several commentators talk about him. He seems to be an intelligent man, really concerned for the people.” Or – “He seems to be a typical politician. I don’t trust him.” Some know much about him, some know little about him, but such external information is, after all, external. External facts could be evidence of who a man is, but not necessarily. The Pharisees were good on the outside, but Jesus saw within where goodness or evil reside.
Is it enough to know much about Jesus? To know only about Jesus can be the beginning of what we need, but unless that beginning is headed toward authentic κοινωνία (koinonia) – true communion, fellowship, sharing as persons in real relationship – then the knowledge is as sterile as numbers, as data, as things. Without knowing Him, as Paul came to know Him, knowing about Him is merely information and not formation – merely instruction and not discipleship – lifeless words falling far short of the living Word who calls us into Him.
Knowing about can be the whole goal of catechesis for children or for adults, or of RCIA, or of a Returning Catholics program or a Marriage Preparation program. Knowing about Jesus and His Gospel is inadequate. Knowing about the Catholic Church – her dogmas and doctrines, her sacraments, her structure and history, her moral teachings – all these that flow from her heart – all these are in themselves inadequate if they do not reveal her heart and extend her love to be received in sacred relationship.
Paul came to know him and the power of his resurrection, and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death. Paul came to know Him and His saving Gospel. Paul first knew only of Him, even though wrongly, but then he met Him. Paul encountered the risen Jesus, and Jesus called him, touched his heart, illuminated his mind with truth. There began Paul’s knowing Him – and thus began his transformed life.
Catechesis in the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church has many kinds of teaching and formation programs: religious education for children, adult programs of Bible Study, Catechism Studies, RCIA, and so on. The thing taught depends very much on the teachers – their philosophy of education, their knowledge, their wisdom, their faith, their gifts and more. There is a radical difference, whatever the program and whoever the teacher, between a program intending to teach facts and one devoted to communicating Christ. John Paul II wrote of the aim and purpose of catechesis:
…It is therefore to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by Him, for they simultaneously hide and reveal His mystery. Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is 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. (1)
What is the purpose of an adult Bible Study, for example, in a local parish? Is it to produce greater knowledge of the books and authors of Scripture, their structure, dates of composition, literary style and cultural setting? Is it to make amateur Scripture scholars? Or is it to meet Christ the Word in the words? Is it to discover Him therein, to hear His voice in the events and narratives and teachings? Is it not to grow in faith, and come into a share – a participation – koinonia - in the very life of God in Christ? So also with every program of teaching in the church! So also with every parish activity, event, presentation and work.
Indeed not only all teaching but all initiatives in the parish ought to be so directed and intended! John Paul II wrote, “First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness.” (2) If we would grade and prioritize all our parish activities according to their immediate application to the call to holiness, I suspect many of our activities would be found unnecessary or even counter-productive, and much of what is essential would be found lacking!
What do we need, really need? What is the “one thing necessary”? Must we ask such a thing, even now, today, as Catholics among Catholics? Have we become so desensitized that we do not know immediately what is lacking in the Church and in our own hearts and minds? Has the stoney ground so filled our hearts that the seeds cannot become rooted? Have the thorns of the world so entangled our lives that His Word remains choked? Is there no space or time or silence in our hearts for His Truth to find room, and grow in us? Do we seek and ask and knock? Do we die that He may live in us? Do we believe, and live? Do we have His life within us? Will we even now repent and believe the Good News?
(1) Catechesi Tradendae #5, John Paul II
(2) Novo Millennio Ineunte #30, John Paul II