Witnesses or masters?

Enrico Finotti

For decades in the post-conciliar period, people were saying that one should no longer do catechism, but experience the encounter with the Lord. The teaching of doctrine in this way was abandoned and replaced with communication of ‘our experiences’ and the ‘testimony’ of ‘credible’ people. Even in celebrations the testimonies and the homily-ray had great consideration. What do you say about this?

A catechist

We can recall some slogans that reveal this anti-doctrinal and existential mentality: Church of the encounter or Church of the announcement? Witnesses or masters? Each slogan contains a truth that can only be grasped to the extent that the opposition between either and/or is overcome in favor of the composition et-et. It is understood that the two terms – meeting and announcement, witness and teacher – are not mutually exclusive, but require and complete each other. In fact, one cannot hear the word without meeting the one who proclaims it, nor is one truly welcomed who is sent without listening to the message he announces. 

Faith, therefore, is born together from the encounter with the one who announces and from the message he transmits, just as his word was received in the personal encounter with the Lord. The logic of this consideration, unfortunately, was overwhelmed by the ideological extremism of partial interpretations, which led, not to the composition of the elements, but to their opposition, to the point of mutual exclusion. In this way, the meeting was reduced to a completely subjective and personalistic relationship with the ‘witness’ who was deprived of any possibility of the announcement and any teaching role.

With this separation, however, the contents of the faith were obscured, while the catechesis and the liturgy itself were reduced to a jumble of testimonies from various people called to bring their experience and those present were urged to ‘tell their own story’, or in any case communicate their ‘spiritual experience’. Therefore the catechism, understood by now as the cold teaching of a doctrine, had to be abandoned in the name of a warmer and more credible ‘experience of faith’, nourished by the testimonies of ‘living’ people.

Nobody doubts the value of the witness of a believer and the grace of being able to meet coherent and convinced Christians, authentic witnesses of the faith they profess, but this does not take away the need for an adequate doctrinal formation, complete and organic. It is about that basic catechism that the Church has always imparted to catechumens or children in Christian initiation. 

This minimum of the announcement has never been lacking in the life of the Church, starting from the day of Pentecost, until today. No matter how much one insists on personal encounters and the testimony of life, one can never help but discuss the contents of the faith and receive, from qualified and accredited teachers, the correct interpretation of the revealed word. Without the objective content of Christian doctrine and without the authentic interpretation received by the Magisterium of the Church, every personal encounter and every witness, however ‘credible’, can be undermined by ephemeral subjectivism, unless the objective rootedness in doctrine is demonstrated of Christ professed by the Church. 

As we can see, the relationship with doctrinal contents can never fail, as they are intrinsic to the very word of God, which affirms: “We know that the Son of God came and gave us the intelligence to know the true God. We are in the true God and in His Son Jesus Christ: he is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn 5:20). Confrontation with doctrine and full adherence to right doctrine is necessary to maintain that faith which alone pleases God and obtains eternal salvation: “Whoever goes beyond and does not abide by the doctrine of Christ, does not possess God. He who holds on to the doctrine possesses the Father and the Son. If someone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him at home and do not greet him; for whoever greets him participates in his perverse works” (Jn 9-11). 

(From La spada e la Parola. Il liturgista risponde, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved) (Image by M. H. from Pixabay)