Renewal Can Only Take Place Through Deep Prayer

The current catechetical models being utilized in the West are failing because they lack the one thing necessary. The pews are filled with poorly or uncatechized Catholics, but this isn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem—which study after study reveals—is that most Catholics have not experienced a deep, life-changing encounter with the Risen and Glorified Lord. Therefore, they are not able to know Him in the way that you can when you love Him.

To teach facts and theological maxims to people who are not in love with Christ is to reduce the spiritual life to a school subject. The facts being taught may as well be about Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. It is Divine Love that transforms us, not catechetical facts. Love gives life to catechesis.

I know my thinking is counter to the prevailing approach to catechesis, but I truly believe that we are putting the cart before the horse. I wasn’t always this way. I argued repeatedly that the biggest issue in the Church is poorly written and executed catechetical programs for children and adults in our parishes. Years ago, I tried to convince my own pastor to implement a more theologically rigorous program because the one being used was accomplishing very little.

Over time, however, something started to change in me. As I implemented solid, orthodox programs both at a parish and in the raising of my daughter, I started to see that it was still failing. Don’t get me wrong—my daughter had a lot of knowledge: in first grade she knew the faculties of the soul per St. Thomas Aquinas. But as time went on, I realized that she had not encountered Jesus Christ, who is alive and glorified in Heaven and in the Tabernacles of the world. She knew lots about Him—as she did with many historical figures—but she didn’t know Him.

My own spiritual life went through a dramatic overhaul through the Holy Spirit. After completing my graduate theological studies, the Lord in His mercy led me to meditation, primarily with the Gospels. I still prayed the Rosary and other prayers, but it was this God-led shift that transformed my spiritual life. It was prayer, not catechesis, that led me to a loving encounter with the Lord. My graduate studies could not give me what the Holy Spirit gave me in prayer.

Praying with the Gospels led me to encounter the Lord in a life-changing way. My own relationship with Christ went from the mind to the heart. My heart started to burn with love from encountering the Most Sacred Heart, which burns with love for me. I came to understand that being able to regurgitate the Summa Theologiae amounted to nothing if I did not live a life of deep prayer and allow Him to lead me to my ultimate destiny: union with Him.

It is encountering Love that will renew the Church, not having catechetical principles memorized. When we encounter Christ healing us of our sins and wounds, leading us to the Father, pouring Himself out on the Cross, rising from the dead, and sending the Love of the Holy Spirit upon us, our lives change. It is love that leads us to want to know more about our Beloved King and Savior. Until the first embers of that love are kindled in hearts, catechesis will fail.

When we begin to fall in love with someone, we want to know everything about them. This same principle is at work in the spiritual life. When the flames of love begin to turn our stony hearts to flesh, we desire to know everything we possibly can about our Beloved. This is the perfect time to introduce catechesis. We want to give ourselves to Our Savior, not out of servile fear but out of love. We are no longer slaves but friends.

The difficult teachings our culture wrestles with center almost entirely around human sexuality. We live in a hedonistic and Gnostic age. The only answer to these false teachings is to lead people to encounter Christ who is ultimately Love. While the culture is obsessed with sexual expression at any cost, reality shows us that this obsession is in fact the expression of our deep loneliness. Every person is made for love and made by Love, but in our sinfulness we seek to fulfill it in all of the wrong places. Divine Love is the only answer. Encountering the Risen and Glorified Lord heals this brokenness and provides the graces necessary to wage the battle to overcome and abandon sin.

Once we encounter this Love—not its cheap counterfeits—we will be able to guide people within their wrestling with difficult Church teaching. It is love that will lead people to surrender to Christ’s moral law. It is love that leads us to understand and embrace the limitations God places on us. This love can only be learned and embraced in the school of prayer.

All the saints, no matter what God accomplished through them, were first and foremost men and women of prayer. They were taken up by His Divine Love in all that they did. It is this Love that led them to sacrifice even to the point of death. There is not a single catechetical program that can do this because learning about prayer is not the same thing as praying. Only encountering the One who is Love can do this in souls. Catechesis helps fan that love into flames by coming into greater and deeper knowledge of Him Who loves us.

This means that before we can implement solidly theological and orthodox catechetical programs, we need to lead people to a life of prayer and sacrifice. This begins by helping people meditate on the Gospels. Catholics should be known for carrying Bibles, not just our Protestant brothers and sisters. The Bible canon was set through Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Regularly praying with God’s Word deepens individuals’ encounters with Christ in the Sacraments and in the Church’s teachings.

Similar to the way I spent too many years with head knowledge and no heart knowledge, the Church is suffering from over intellectualism. The study of theology is a beautiful gift and vocation, but it amounts to nothing if it never leads us to hearts that burn within us for Christ. Only prayer can do this. This is the whole purpose of prayer, to seek to raise our hearts to God and converse with Him.

If we want genuine and life-changing renewal in the Church then we must return to the Source. We must go to Him in prayer in His Word. There are countless lonely and lost souls who are seeking the living waters He promises and the infinite Love only He can pour into souls. We will continue in a fruitless cycle until we are a Church of deep prayer.

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash


Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy. Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths.

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