Today we begin at this blog a weekly series on the Church’s catechetical mission. As I noted last week, 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.
This series has to start somewhere, and I can think of no better way to do it than by defining 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 Pope John Paul II it’s “new” and exciting and capable of energizing the youth. After all, evangelization is about proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Everybody, Catholic and Protestant, is into 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).
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.
I hope many of you make a point of visiting our blog every Wednesday for our catechetical series. I would also like to suggest some other resources available through CUF that bears on this subject. First, I would like to recommend our Faith and Life catechism series, the finest series around for grades 1-8. Second, I encourage readers to check out our Faith Facts. We have several such tracts, or “Faith Facts,” on issues pertaining to catechesis, such as this one. I’ll be recommending other catechetical resources as this series unfolds. In the meantime, I encourage readers who are not already members of Catholics United for the Faith to join today so as to take full advantage of our range of catechetical resources.