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May 26, 2011

A Catechism Revival, Of Sorts

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

Catechism After awakening from what, for me, was an abundant amount of sleep – 6 uninterrupted hours – I woke up thinking about Martin Luther's Small Catechism. Maybe the Holy Spirit is pushing me to spend more time within its pages, but I started pondering life without it and came to a scary conclusion: Most of us already live without it.

This sad revelation started me thinking about ways to move this august pamphlet of Christian thought back into the forefront of the lives of the people here at Saint Matthew's Lutheran Church in New Milford, New Jersey. Where at one time, I encouraged its daily usage in private, at home devotions, for about a year I've relegated this important book back to the bookshelves for members of my church. 

The Lutheran Christian life is completely wound up within it pages, whereby the Law of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are tightly engrained in a few short pages, all of which reminds us of what it truly means to be a member of Christ's family through Baptism. The Six Chief Parts are an essential ingredient in the Lutheran lives we live, but our fallen natures press us to ignore it, bypass God's Word, and pretend that both are only for Sunday mornings in church.

One of the major reasons that we tend to push the Catechism aside as part of our daily devotions, study, or prayers is that when we were kids and in Confirmation, we were forced to memorize it. Oh, the memories! When I was growing up, my Catechism memorization started in Sunday School where I had to learn the Ten Commandments. No matter how much I whined, my parents made sure that I knew the commandment due for that Sunday's class. As I got older and started Confirmation Class, Pastor F. William Wild made sure that I memorized the entirety of the Catechism, meanings included. 

While I ended up being called by God into the priesthood (clergyhood), I cannot forget that Palm Sunday in 1984 when I was confirmed. I put my Catechism on the shelf and never opened it again until sometime in 1998 when I joined Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Yonkers, New York. At least 14 years of my post-Confirmation life were lived without caring about a small pamphlet that was pounded into me by my Sunday School teachers, parents, and pastor. Throughout those years, cracking open that dark blue-covered book never entered my mind. Why?

Because I was done with Sunday School and Confirmation. I always thought it as a textbook, of sorts. Since "church school" was over, why would I want to open it again to relive the stresses of trying to memorize lengthy meanings while my friends were outside playing?

And most of you – if not all – are in the same boat, unless you were forced to open it during a bible study at church. Otherwise, we are all in the same boat. The Catechism just takes up room on our shelves.

I think the time has come to revitalize the Catechism. Oh, we don't need to retranslate it or change it any way. Instead, we need to make it relevant to our lives today.

Part of my Catechism Revival is going to be in our weekly parish notes, "Saint Matthew's Matters." We're not just going to review the Catechism point-by-point. I hope to make the Catechism a useful tool in your devotional life, tackling issues directly related to our lives as Lutheran Christians as we go about our walk in this sinful, fallen world. Of course, some of the "lessons" will be hard to accept; I will be as pastoral as possible, but don't expect me to hold my tongue just because the letters "Rev." appear before my name.

The first "lesson" is simple — take that dusty old Catechism down off the shelf (or off the coffee table where it's being used as a coaster), and open it. May the cracking of the binder open your minds to the world of God's compassion and love found within those pages.

However, some of you will not have a Catechism available or you may want to "upgrade" to the latest and greatest version. if so, then talk to me. We'll order one for you here at church.

When will this start?

Right now. You have lesson one. Get to it.


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