Catechetically Speaking

2 Aug

Today we continue our weekly series on the Church’s catechetical mission. The inspiration for this series comes from the Holy Father himself, who desires that we bridge the gap between faith and the everyday lives of believers through sound catechetical formation.

Before going deeper into our series, I think we should define our terms. The glossary at the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, defines catechesis as “an education of children, young people, and adults in the faith of the Church through the teaching of Christian doctrine in an organic and systematic way to make them disciples of Jesus Christ. Those who perform the ministry of catechesis in the Church are called ‘catechists.’”

I think the word “catechesis” can be part of the problem when it comes to embracing the Church’s catechetical efforts. It is the ugly step-sister of “evangelization.” Think about it. Evangelization is hip. According to Blessed John Paul II, it’s “new,” upbeat, and capable of energizing the youth. One will expect a lot of “evangelization” at the World Youth Day festivities this month.

After all, evangelization is about proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Everybody, Catholic and Protestant alike, can get excited about that.

Catechesis, on the other hand, sounds foreign to many people. For all most people know, it’s an unpleasant procedure done at a doctor’s office. And even for those who might have an inkling as to what catechesis is, it certainly doesn’t conjure up the dynamic images of World Youth Day. Rather, to many it connotes the decidedly negative experience of mandatory CCD classes that bored them out of their minds—and, often enough, out of the Church. 

Let’s look, then, at a more positive, biblically based understanding of catechesis, which nonetheless closely parallels the formal definition from the Catechism. Shortly before ascending to His Father, Our Lord commanded the eleven apostles to go “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . .”  (Mt. 28:19-20).

That is what catechesis is all about: forming disciples who sit at the feet of Jesus, leading them to the sacramental life of the Church, and instructing them in the body of teaching that Christ entrusted to His apostles (what we Catholics often call the “deposit of faith,” drawing upon imagery found in St. Paul’s letters to St. Timothy).

If that sounds like evangelization to you—good, it should! Catechesis is evangelization that’s in it for the long haul. We need the initial, bold proclamation of the Gospel and special events like WYD that provide singular opportunities for turning one’s life over to Christ. But evangelization doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s just the beginning. We’re never finished growing as Christ’s disciples.

It would be great if the word “catechesis” were rehabilitated, but even more we need to foster a renewal of the substance to which the word refers. In other words, now is the time for us to recommit ourselves to the Church’s catechetical mission–a mission in which all of us share as members of Christ’s mystical body.

And it starts with our own commitment, day in and day out, to seek the renewal of our own hearts.

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