Lens Through Which I View Faith Formation
MY PHILOSOPHY OF CATECHESIS
In articulating my philosophy of catechesis, I provide the following three areas of insight: 1) the framework out of which I understand catechesis, 2) my sense of the necessary components involved in catechesis, and 3) my reflections on the specific needs for catechesis in a parish context. For the purposes of this discussion, I use the terms religious education and catechesis interchangeably, while acknowledging that there is some conversation in the field concerning the precise use of each term.
SECTION 1: My Framework For Understanding Catechesis
My understanding of catechesis flows from the recognition that from the very beginning of a person’s life, Christ is already present because “all things came to be through Christ, and without Christ, nothing came to be” (John 1:3). And so, our role as Church is not to “make Christ present” to those whom we teach – as if Christ were ever absent. Rather, our role is to teach others how to recognize the presence of God in their lives, how to name grace, and, above all, how to encounter Christ in a real and profound way.
Religious education is not only about the passing on of information, teaching someone how to read Scripture, or making sure that someone can recite the Creed. While these are helpful methods in particular settings, catechesis is, at its foundation, about calling others into a personal relationship with Christ (CT 5, quoted in CCC 426), about journeying with others more deeply into the mystery of the God who first loved us, about inviting others to participate in God’s plan of salvation for humanity and all of creation. This relationship is not an end in and of itself, but is the way in which we are transformed to be more like Christ, and the way we are challenged to continue the mission that Christ began on earth 2,000 years ago – the mission for the healing and redemption of the world.
The Church exists to evangelize (EN 14) – as members of the body of Christ, we are Christ’s mission to the world. The goal of catechesis, as “a moment within the process of evangelization,” (CT 26) is “to make disciples, to help people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so that believing they might have life in His name, and to educate and instruct them in this life and thus build up the Body of Christ” (CT 1).
The bonds between the members of the Body of Christ, the community of believers, is strengthened through the power of the holy Spirit, the ongoing love between the Father and the Son, as we celebrate the Eucharist together, as we practice social justice, as we recognize one another’s common dignity and celebrate our differences. These bonds are strengthened as we recognize each other as companions on the journey, sharing with one another our joys and our sorrows, realizing our identity as sisters and brothers in Christ, as one family.
SECTION 2: Necessary Components of Catechesis
Following the example of Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), who entered into human history and communicated God’s love in a way that the people of his time and location understood, so are we as catechists called to take seriously the cultures and worldviews of all whom we teach, to recognize the ways in which Gospel values are already present in each culture, and to also hold up the Gospel as a critique for elements of each our cultures that are inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Catechesis is not reserved only for the young or the old. It is not something we ever graduate from or finish. Catechesis is a lifelong process that involves a dynamic balance between content (the Christian message) and methodology (the way the message is presented). Both content and method are integral parts of catechesis, and an understanding of the need for balance between the two is an art that requires careful discernment.
As Christians called to live like Christ, so we are called to know the content of our faith, Christ’s story and his message, without losing sight of the dynamic ways in which God still speaks today. Regarding methodology, catechists must always be aware of who their audience is and know how to adapt their teaching without diluting the compelling message of the Gospel. The best methodologies integrate what we know through disciplines such as history, science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc., and present the content, the message of the Gospel, in a way that does not contradict it. The need for methodology is explicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Above all, teachers must not imagine that a single kind of soul has been entrusted to them, and that consequently it is lawful to teach and form equally all the faithful in true piety with one and the same method! Let them realize that some are in Christ as newborn babes, others as adolescents, and still others as adults in full command of their powers. . . .Those who are called to the ministry of preaching must suit their words to the maturity and understanding of their hearers, as they hand on the teaching of the mysteries of faith and the rules of moral conduct (Roman Catechism, quoted in CCC 24).
This process of adaptation calls for a level of knowledge, on the parish’s part, of who parishioners are, and the multiple contexts in which they exist (this includes but is not limited to cultural contexts, social location, stages of development, etc.). Because catechesis is a process that is necessary at every stage of a person’s life, it is important to take seriously the life experience that each person brings with them, and to adapt teaching in a way that honors a person’s intellectual, emotional, and psychological development.
SECTION 3: Catechesis in the Parish Context
As stated in the National Directory for Catechesis (NDC), “All members of the community of believers in Jesus Christ participate in the Church’s catechetical mission.” (NDC 8:53) We are each called to give to others the faith we have received, our “light must shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). Some are called to specific catechetical roles: the bishop and diocesan staff, pastors and parish leadership, Catholic schools, and parents and families (NDC 8:54).
In the specific context of the parish, the primary catechetical leader is responsible for:
- Overall direction of the parish catechetical programs for adults, youth and children
- Planning, implementation, and evaluation of the parish catechetical program
- Recruitment, formation, ongoing development, and evaluation of catechists
- Implementation of diocesan and parish catechetical policies and guidelines, including the areas of catechist certification and supervision and administrative policies related to negligence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and the safety and protection of minors
- Collaboration with the pastor, other parish ministers, and appropriate committees, boards and councils
- Assistance in liturgical planning
- Attention to their own personal, spiritual, and professional development (NDC 8:54).
According to the NDC, “parish catechetical leaders are not simply administrators or general pastoral ministers…They are catechists first” (8:54), and should always be involved in ongoing formation themselves.
It must be recognized that the majority of those who are called to share in the catechetical mission are volunteers who come from diverse backgrounds, with a variety of skills and expertise. As such, the catechetical leader, in constant collaboration with parish leadership, must be able to recognize and celebrate the gifts that already exist in the community, to provide the space for the discernment of those who have received the call to be catechists, to empower those who have answered this call, and to provide an environment that nurtures and cultivates those gifts so that each might live in a manner worthy of the call s/he has received (Ephesians 4:1). Or, in the words of St. Francis de Sales, so that each might “be who [they] are, and be that perfectly well.”
Additionally, the responsibility of the catechetical leader is to build partnerships with other ministries (liturgy, youth ministry, RCIA, etc.), to recognize ways in which we can collaborate meaningfully with others within the parish community (parents, parishioners who are community leaders, etc.), as well as the broader community (social justice organizations, schools of theology, Catholic schools, etc.).
Ultimately, I understand catechesis in the parish context as a profound undertaking that requires an understanding of the gravity of what we have been entrusted to do – to be Christ’s invitation and mission to the world – balanced with the recognition of the need for a certain lightness, indeed, a sense of humor that is required when working with human beings. To be called into such a ministry is an honor and a privilege. It is a call that requires utter dependence on God, and a willingness to be moved by God’s own Spirit and the people of God.
CT = Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis In Our Time
EN = Evangelii Nuntiandi: On Evangelization in the Modern World
CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church
NDC = National Directory for Catechesis