Posted by: Thomas Richard | June 12, 2018

Kerygma, Hierarchy of Truths, Card. Burke and Alpha

There are books and programs in circulation today among Catholic parishes and dioceses, which offer themselves as means for renewal – for evangelization – among Catholics. These books and programs focus on what they understand to be the kerygma – the preaching of the Gospel – of New Testament times. I wrote a blog essay (1) on the need for this basic preaching, a need that exists because so many Catholics have been “sacramentalized”, and “institutionalized” as Catholics, but never “evangelized” to become deeply converted personally to Christ as His disciple.

Catechesis – “religious education” as it used to be called in the recent past – ought to recognize and begin to correct the problem, by persistently stressing our fundamental need to be given over to Him, to Christ, with all our heart, mind, soul and strength! We ought never to reduce catechesis to detached, classroom-like teaching of mere ideas about religion (even about the true religion of the Catholic Faith! Catechesis must always be what it always has been – a spiritual “passing on” of holy, divine, living Truth concerning God and life in Him. Catechesis must always be an encounter with the living God, a transforming experience, a meeting with Jesus, a movement of continuing conversion and communion in Him.

So, the kerygma – the Gospel as first taught – is necessary. We must know – with a knowing that demands response and obedience – that Jesus Christ is our saving Lord and God. That in Him is Life, and apart from Him is death.

BUT – yes, there had to be a “but” – The beginning is not the entire truth. The call to salvation is not the whole life of salvation. The kerygma is not the whole Gospel. And the contemporary books and programs that present meals and videos and fellowship and talk about Jesus and how wonderfully He can improve our lives, is not the totality of God’s call to and intention for us. The Catholic Faith has been growing in the Truth of God since those early days of the preaching, in the early days of His Church – as Jesus promised it would!

Hierarchy of Truths
A Church directory for catechesis – and for catechists who teach the Faith – the General Catechetical Directory, 1971 (2), includes a discussion of truths that must be included in a Catholic catechetical program. Certainly it does not list everything that must be included, but it gives four basic headings under which the necessary truths can be organized: a “hierarchy of truths” that flow from these fundamental four. The paragraph is this (formatted with bullet-points for clarity):

GCD #43 — In the message of salvation there is a certain hierarchy of truths, which the Church has always recognized when it composed creeds or summaries of the truths of faith.

This hierarchy does not mean that some truths pertain to faith itself less than others, but rather that some truths are based on others as of a higher priority, and are illumined by them. On all levels catechesis should take account of this hierarchy of the truths of faith. These truths may be grouped under four basic heads:

  • the mystery of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Creator of ail things;
  • the mystery of Christ the incarnate Word, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation;
  • the mystery of the Holy Spirit, who is present in the Church, sanctifying it and guiding it until the glorious coming of Christ, our Savior and Judge; and
  • the mystery of the Church, which is Christ’s Mystical Body, in which the Virgin Mary holds the pre-eminent place.

These four basic heads of truths include some very, very telling doctrinal requirements for a catechetical book or program to be truly Catholic! I say “telling” because some of the very popular current books and programs for catechesis, circulating today among Catholic parishes and dioceses, are exposed by these requirements as not Catholic, but are better characterized more as quasi-Catholic or even Protestant. Some are embarrassingly silent concerning the rightful place of the sacraments – especially the Holy Eucharist, – of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church in the development of doctrine and transmission of Sacred Tradition – indeed silent concerning the place of the Church itself, and of the significance and importance of Mary, mother of God, mother and model for all Christians, Mary the pre-eminent member of His Holy Church.

Card. Burke, and Alpha
There are solid Catholic programs of catechesis, and of evangelization! One, the Marian Catechist Apostolate (3) initiated by Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. (whose cause for beatification is now going forward), is currently being directed by Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, D.D., J.C.D. Now these are two men whose judgments on the Catholic Faith I can respect! Here is a brief history of the Apostolate, on their website:

Father Hardon’s catechetical mission expanded with the catechetical study program, which he wrote for the Holy See after Pope John Paul II requested Mother Teresa to educate her Missionaries of Charity to become catechists. This catechetical course, studied by the Missionaries of Charity worldwide in their formation, has been adapted into home study courses for laity, entitled the Basic Catholic Catechism Course (16 lessons) and the Advanced Catholic Catechism Course (36 lessons). This course serves as the formation program for the Marian Catechist Apostolate, founded by Father Hardon in 1985 in order to train the laity to be catechists and evangelists in the modern world. This apostolate was directed by Father Hardon until his death, and is now headed by International Director Archbishop Raymond L. Burke.

On the other hand, Card. Burke has written critically (4) on one of the several contemporary programs now presenting themselves as “successful” programs for evangelization for Catholics:

TO: All Members of the Marian Catechist Apostolate
FROM: Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
International Director of the Marian Catechist Apostolate
SUBJECT: Directive to Marian Catechists regarding the program “Alpha in a Catholic Context”
DATE: December 3, 2015

It has come to my attention that a program called “Alpha in a Catholic Context” has been recommended to some Marian Catechists.

Having studied the program, both from the perspective of doctrine and methodology, I must make it clear that the program may not be used, in any form, in the Marian Catechist Apostolate and that Marian Catechists are not to become involved with it.

While, like so many similar programs, Alpha may seem to offer a more attractive and effective form of evangelization and catechesis, it does not have the doctrinal and methodological foundations required for the teaching of the Catholic Faith. Marian Catechists should continue to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church, together with the courses of the Servant of God Father John A. Hardon, S.J., and my “Commentary on the General Directory for Catechesis.”

I recall to all Marian Catechists the words of Pope Saint John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte [At the beginning of the new millennium] (5) regarding those who think that, before the challenge of a new evangelization, the Church needs to discover “some magic formula” or invent a “new program”: “No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you.”

The saintly Pontiff reminded us that the program by which we are to address effectively the great spiritual challenges of our time is, in the end, Jesus Christ alive for us in the Church. He explained:

The program already exists: It is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ Himself, Who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in Him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with Him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. (No. 29)

The Servant of God Father John A. Hardon, S.J., understood profoundly the truth of Pope John Paul II’s words and, through the spiritual and doctrinal formation of the Marian Catechist Apostolate, as he so faithfully and wisely developed it, Marian Catechists understand the same truth and are not allured or deceived by stories of a “magic formula” or a “new program.” In short, Marian Catechists understand that our program is holiness of life which flows from a profound knowledge and ardent love of Christ Who is alive for us in the Church.

In the days of the heterodox priest Arius, late in the 4th century, his false teaching threatened the first of the foundational mysteries of the Catholic Faith: God is a Trinity.  This grave error became wide-spread, to such an extent that St. Jerome wrote, “the whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian”.  Today, it seems that many, many in the Church are willing to trade pearls of sublime divine Truth, entrusted to His Church, for thin theology embracing what is popular, neither threatening nor demanding, and ecumenically “safe”.  Holy Lord, awaken your Church!






(4)Letter posted on



  1. Dear Thomas,

    Hopefully, many readers will use the links you’ve provided. Servant of God Fr. John Hardon and the Marian Catechists have been a great help to me over the years, and of course St. John Paul II ‘s apostolic letter “On the Beginning of the New Millenium” is a gem!

    In every age, God raises up Saints and St. John Paul II and Servant of God John Hardon certainly have shared God’s wisdom in their writings and even more by the witness of their holy lives in our time. Thanks for writing this article.

  2. I have not read the notes yet, but I am going to. This is a well written and interesting article. I hope it will be an eye opener to many. As you so beautifully wrote: “Holy Lord, awaken your Church!”

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