Conversion is an essential element in the whole catechetical process.
But conversion isn’t automatic after Baptism. It requires evangelization.
The Church’s process of evangelization works, but only when people follow the stages in a certain order.
And that’s not likely to happen in our current catechetical situation.
But hope is on the way. The Church is proposing a new evangelization. And, with a new evangelization comes a new catechesis–one that doesn’t need to work within the stages.
With a little help from the General Directory for Catechesis, I’ll explain what catechesis for the new evangelization should look like.
What catechesis is supposed to be
In a previous post I talked about the stages of evangelization. This is the process for taking someone from zero faith to spiritually mature Christian. It was developed by missionaries evangelizing people with no knowledge of Christ.
In this process, conversion is the first priority because, of course, people have to care about what you’re saying before they’ll want to learn more about it.
“Primary [first] proclamation is addressed to nonbelievers and those living in religious indifference. Its functions are to proclaim the Gospel and to call to conversion.” General Directory for Catechesis (GDC), 61
Catechesis is where they learn more. It matures initial conversion, further educates the person, and integrates them into the community of believers.
It goes without saying that both are dependent on each other. Without the initial proclamation there’s nothing to mature. Without maturity, faith remains shallow and eventually withers.
“Both activities are essential and mutually complementary: go and welcome, proclaim and educate, call and incorporate” GDC 61.
So, when you’re a catechist in a parish religious education program, your job is simply to teach the doctrinal depth, right? After all, it’s a catechesis program, and catechesis matures existing faith. But it’s not that easy.
What catechesis really is
In reality, the stages are never quite that clear.
Even though they’re enrolled in catechesis classes, students will come to you unconverted. First off, evangelization and primary proclamation are not really emphasized. Also, you’d still have students that, for whatever reasons, don’t follow the process and start in the middle.
These unconverted students really aren’t ready for catechesis.
“Because of this the Church usually desires that the first stage in the catechetical process be dedicated to ensuring conversion. In the ‘mission ad gentes,’ this task is normally accomplished during the pre-catechumenate.” GDC 62
In the old missionary catechesis model, the “mission ad gentes” or “to the nations,” this happens in a dedicated pre-catechumenate. This is a period of catechesis focusing on proclamation of the gospel and conversion. That’s what happens in the RCIA, which is modeled after this.
However, you won’t have that luxury. What should you do?
Missionary once again
The Church in the U.S. hasn’t been missionary for a long time, but it’s becoming that way again…in a new way.
This new missionary effort, this new evangelization, calls for a new catechesis. If students need a pre-catechumenate period for evangelization, but there’s no way to have one, then catechesis will have to look like one. Catechists will have to make their catechesis evangelizing.
“In the context of ‘new evangelization’ it is effected by means of a ‘kerygmatic catechesis,’ sometimes called ‘pre-catechesis,’ because it is based on the precatechumenate and is proposed by the Gospel and directed towards a solid option of faith.” GDC 62
A new “kerygmatic” or “evangelizing” catechesis would be oriented toward conversion at the same time it taught doctrine.
An evangelizing catechesis would:
- be structured around the Gospel message
- concentrate on presenting the fundamental building blocks of Catholicism–the doctrinal pieces that provide the foundation for all other doctrines
- flow from the Scriptures and the history of salvation
- be thoroughly liturgical
- make faith real through the witness and example of devout, practicing Catholics
- incorporate traditional Catholic spirituality and practices
- focus on relationship with Christ and our need for his salvation
This is not an exhaustive list, but those are some highlights.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
In reality, our students are no different than the missionary’s students in a non-Christian country.
They still have to care about what you’re saying before they’ll want to learn more. And that’s the problem…our students don’t care.
As a catechist, you can only educate in the faith like you’re supposed to if your students start with conversion. Since that’s not going to happen within the current system, you have to make your catechesis evangelizing.
I know it all sounds like too much trouble, but let me tell you…it works. I’ve been doing this for years and students really respond. I know that if you try this, your students will respond too and make your job a lot easier.