For years I’ve understood that the textbook was just a tool and not the end-all of the catechetical lesson. One of the challenges today is to equip volunteer catechists to go beyond the textbook, i.e., not relying on the textbook as a crutch which they have to teach from in order to convey the content of the chapter. Although I have some ideas on what we need to do about that, I want to share a few things that seem to be essential in this Ministry of the Word and the Proclamation of the Good News of Christ and His Church today. This are some things needed for Catechesis in the Third Millennium:
1. We need a holistic approach to catechesis.
As many have been saying, we need to do more than pass on content – we need to see our catechesis as initiating people into the Christian Life. Much has been said about this, especially in the last number of years. Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that it’s not a victory to get through the 30 chapters of the textbook. It’s a victory if over the course of a year we have helped those we catechize be inspired, grow in hunger for being in communion with Jesus Christ and desire to continue that friendship they have with Him.
2. We need to help Catechists see that what they are transmitting is something that is unified.
Textbooks, among other resources, can have a tendency to compartmentalize the content of the Faith. At times for the sake of order this is understandable and necessary. However, too often we struggle to catechize seeing that the faith is unified not just a set of various truths. For example, in the 3 part of the Catechism in the second paragraph of that section it expresses this truth I’m speaking of beautifully:
The Symbol of the faith confesses the greatness of God’s gifts to man in his work of creation, and even more in redemption and sanctification. What faith confesses, the sacraments communicate: by the sacraments of rebirth, Christians have become “children of God,”2 “partakers of the divine nature.”3 Coming to see in the faith their new dignity, Christians are called to lead henceforth a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”4 They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer. (Paragraph 1692)
Even in the 3 part of the Catechism it has not “moved on” from the first two parts to now cover the 3 part (although it does cover the Christian Life lived out and what we believe about that). But it does so in a unified manner helping the believer see that the faith in intricately woven together as a unified whole. Catechesis today needs to keep this in mind and make positive strides in helping others see the unity of the Catholic Faith.
3. We need to root our Catechesis in the Holy Trinity.
Yes, I’m sure we all have heard that the Trinity is the central mystery of the faith and how as the Catechism says: “It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them” (#234).
If what we are teaching does not relate to one of the persons of the Trinity then we should not be teaching it. As stated above regarding the unity of the faith we have to show those we catechize that God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealing Himself to us and inviting us to community with Him. When you have a moment take a look at Ephesians 1:3-14 which conveys beautifully the Trinities Mission. Our catechesis should always be linked with the Trinity.
4. We need to present the faith today as a compelling story — of God’s loving plan.
The Good News is a story to be told, a story to be celebrated, a story to be lived and a story to be in communion with. It is not romanticizing to say that it is a love story because it truly is, but it is a love story that has tragedy, hope, love and joy which are all a part of the human condition. We have a tendency in catechesis to present the faith as a lot of great truths but can struggle to help those we catechize see that it’s more a story we are a part of than a number of great truths that happened in the past. The more we can show others that what we are proclaiming and teaching is all part of a beautiful story of God’s plan and purpose for creation then we help others see just how compelling God and his ways are.
5. We need to put people in contact with Jesus (in relationship with Him).
If we begin and end each catechetical session with a brief prayer lasting no more than 30 seconds then it is not likely that we are able to allow for the proper setting to help those we catechize come into contact with Jesus. We need to have more prayer in our catechesis, more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, more time of silence and reflection (as challenging as all this can be). I recently heard a story about how two priests had devoted much time to being present to the First Communion class by stopping by the classes to talk with the 2nd graders and how they also were present at the parent meetings. Even so, after First Communion none of the parents brought their children to Mass. One of the things the priests discovered is that they never took to time to take them to the church and have direct contact with Jesus. They did not take them into the church to show them how this is where the Christian community gathers to celebrate, proclaim and encounter God. Therefore, helping find more opportunities of putting people in contact with Jesus Christ is essential for fruitful discipleship.
6. The Catechism needs to be better utilized in elementary catechesis
When Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of the Catechism as a reference text he did not intend for it to merely be something we use as one among many resources. Textbook publishers have a tendency to site the Catechism as a reference or a way to show that the teaching in a particular chapter is linked to a teaching in the Catechism. Although this is a great first step to what we had 20 years ago it lacks something significant. The Catechism is the essential Deposit of Faith which the Church guards as a most important and vital treasure to the universal Church. The Catechism helps articulate the beauty of the Faith. The Catechism shows how the Faith is organic and unified. The Catechism threads the faith together in a way that we can see just how unified and simple the faith is. When I say simple, I mean that at the heart of the Deposit of Faith we see the simple Gospel Message that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that we may not perish but have eternal life (Cf. John 3:16). The Catechism conveys the simplicity of God’s plan accomplished through Creation, through His relationship with us, through sending His Son to redeem us and sending the Holy Spirit to sanctify the world and prepare us for the world to come. Therefore, the Catechism needs to be used more fully in equipping catechists in their ministry of catechesis.
These are 6 things I see as vital to Catechesis in the 21st Century. May God our heavenly and gracious Father direct us and lead us to greater renewal and communion with Himself.
What do you see as things that are needed for Catechesis in the 21st Century?