Synode 2018: Intervention de Mgr Thomas Dowd
Crédit photo: AÉCQ
The 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment
The Most Rev. Thomas Dowd, Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal
Putting together the puzzle of faith
My intervention is on the topic of catechesis. I once had a conversation with a young Mormon woman who was in the process of becoming Catholic through the RCIA. She was a catechumen, but she was dissatisfied with the catechesis she was receiving. "We are learning lots of facts, going line by line through the creed for example, but they are not showing us how the facts connect together." She was not criticizing the faith, but the way it was presented. She need a methodology adapted to her, with some basic starting information to put the whole of the faith in context.
I replied that the Catholic faith was like a jigsaw puzzle, one of those very large puzzles with at least a thousand pieces. The first step is to turn over the pieces to see the image on each one. The individual images don't look like much, but as they are put together a greater picture emerges. To build the image, though, we start by looking for the corner and the edge pieces, so as to build the frame of the puzzle, and then fill it in as we see, over time, where particular pieces fit together. And we often use the picture on the box as a guide put putting those pieces together.
I was born in 1970, and my religious upbringing in the Catholic school system and in our parishes used a new approach to catechesis. I can say it was an abysmal failure. In many cases, it remained too academic, i.e. it just gave us pieces, and no overall picture. It also gave us no starting methodology to build the puzzle ourselves. And often, our catechists left out pieces or tried to introduce others that were foreign to the Catholic image, or refuse to turn some of them over so we could see the true image and not just a grey backside. Thank goodness I had parents well-versed in Catholic teaching, as I do not think the catechesis and Catholic education I had received at my parish and school would have been sufficient. I can see the results among my friends, many if not most of whom no longer practice or even believe.
Based on some previous interventions, it would seem my experience was not unique. We know that there must be more than just an intellectual component to being a disciple, but we must also realise that young people -- and not so young -- have real and often deep questions for which they seek answers. We have heard how a new form of catechesis should follow the questions of young people, as was mentioned by Bishop Barron in his comments on Part I. Of course, with such a huge puzzle -- and life itself generates many questions -- we need to know where to start. We need the corner and edge pieces of the puzzle that give us the framework -- four key questions, you might say -- and we need an overall picture to help guide us as we build that puzzle.
The Holy Father has invited us to speak boldly. In that case, let me say that if I was Pope -- I know I'm not, and rest assured, you Holiness, I am not after your job -- but if I was, I'd write an encyclical on the 4 basic questions I believe constitute the corners and edges that anchor the puzzle. These questions are:
- Who is God?
- If God is good, why is there evil in he world?
- If God is good but there is evil in the world, what has God done about it?
- If God is good but there is evil in the world and God is doing something about it, how can we be part of it?
It is my conviction that these questions haunt the heart of every person, religious or not, and that the Christian faith can give a complete answer to those questions. God is love, the tragedy of sin, the drama and beauty of salvation history, and the call to vocation. In other words, start with the answers to those questions, and every other question falls into place. The picture on the box is revealed. It does not exempt us from building the puzzle ourselves, as no two people will notice the same patterns in exactly the same order, as our life experiences are different. But we'll know where to start and how to finish, and if we make a mistake we can more easily correct it without confusion.
It is my hope that this Synod will propose a renewal of catechesis that includes an approach respectful of individual questions but which also helps guide young people on their journey of "building the puzzle".
Thank you for your attention.