Is This Catechesis for the New Evangelization?


A new catechesis that’s the right fit for the current situation.

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.

Photo Credit: thtstudios via Compfight cc


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  1. I spent this past year as an aide in a 1st Communion class. Having just to Florida from the north, I was being vetted so to speak, to see whether or not my ‘reversion’ to the faith (15 years before) was complete;-) While this was disturbing, it was not the issue that was most perplexing, rather it was that these were Latino teens. The class of boys and girls ranged in age from 11 to 14 years old. Most of the girls were there so that they could make their Quinceiara, the Mexican version of a Sweet Sixteen Party, which begins with Mass. The girl, in a ‘prom’ gown, is seated in front of the congregation and receives Communion first.

    The issue for the Sister teaching was where to start. These children probably believed simply because their parents did, however neither they nor their parents understood anything about the Catholic faith. In fact, only one of them knew the Our Father or Hail Mary. She had a harrowing experience coming to the states and it had happened recently enough that she still had nightmares. Mom had taught her to pray. We were not interested in language, we were thrilled that she knew the prayers. I was thrilled because Sister had spent 15 years in Bolivia, so she spoke the language. But where to start? Trinity? They had no idea, Catholic vs Protestant? No idea. I bought them Prove It! Teen Bibles because Sister felt that she had to get something of the faith across; it was not enough with them at this age, to simply teach the prayers they need to know. She chose the Creed, vasilating between the Apostles and the Nicene.

    It really didn’t work, if one thinks it is important for new kids to understand that God is 3 persons in one, that Jesus is the only Son of God, that God is Spirit etc. Part of the issue is language. While they are all English speakers, most here since infants, their command of English is not good. But the real issue is they have had no catechesis. They were baptized and short of cultural-religious festivals, they know nothing of God let alone Catholicism/Christianity.

    I gave them a short class on the Bible, the history of our version vs Protestant etc. They got that as I did it in very simple terms. Sister worked hard every week bringing in 3-4 sheets with fill in the blank statements that required them to look up bible passages and teach stories from scripture, Creation, Noah and then we rushed into Peter, to emphasize that the Catholic Church is the only Church Jesus began. They did learn how to find things in the Bible though they still got nothing of the information she was teaching.

    What worked? During Lent, we showed them The Passion of the Christ. We invited parents as it is in ancient languages so it didn’t matter that parents did not speak English. About half the class showed up and three or four parents. It made the impression Sister wanted. And she would ask me to ‘witness’ to those times where God was clearly present in my life. They listened.

    HOwever, ask them what the Eucharist is…some actually said, we get to eat. Ugh!

    I am telling you all this because we are trying to figure out what to do this year. I believe we can take them through salvation history using the idea of covenant. God has been building a family. It was the reason for Creation and God continued to do so in a different manner after the Fall. I would also like to see us use the Rosary, to teach salvation history while also meeting the requirement of knowing the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and Glory Be.

    I am thinking that the Rosary provides a perfect teaching tool. It takes us through the story. Since it is based upon the New Testament only, we could teach the OT covenants for a few weeks and then plunge into the Rosary. Through out all this, I am suggesting to Sister that she bring in people who will witness to their faith. I can talk about what a minister used to call, “mountain top experiences of God”, I had one. They can believe it or not, but as young people they may be more inclined to believe. I have situations with my children that clearly illustrate God’s intervention in their lives for their good and protection. But we need others and I am hoping for Latinos and teens, not simply adult anglos. My guess is their own parents can witness if asked to do so.

    Does this make any sense? I teach in RCIA and it is so much easier. Most people have a basis in Christianity, simply not Catholicism. For the most part, they want to be there. These kids are teens…grandma or mom want them there. We tell them, we know someone made you come, but they are God’s angels. We are making the introduction.

    Has anyone had a similar type of class and what did you do?

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Wow, you’re dealing with what I was talking about in this article head on, aren’t you? Unfortunately, that’s not uncommon. I’ve heard similar stories before.

      I think those ideas are spot on.

      Salvation history is a great way to go because it’s story based and will come across better. Your idea of using movies is excellent. Movies can bridge the language barrier because they’re so visual. There’s a series of Bible movies made by Turner Broadcasting of all people that is excellent. They cover most of the major covenant players like Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jacob, and David. They have big name actors too like Matthew Modine, Richard Harris, and Ben Kingsley. You could use those movies to shore up the teaching on covenant.

      Also, I would look at figuring out the Old Testament connections to the Eucharist and emphasize those when you find them in those movies. Books like “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist” by Brant Pitre or “The Sacraments in Scripture” by Tim Gray lay out the prefigurements to the Eucharist that lie in the Old Testament. That’s an excellent way to get across an understanding of what is happening with the sacrament. Those movies I mentioned could introduce the themes of sacrifice and Passover. The movie “Prince of Egypt” shows the plagues and Red Sea crossing to emphasize the rebirth in Baptism. Stuff like that.

      The rosary is an excellent catechetical tool as well. All the mysteries together basically deliver the Gospel message. St. Dominic used the rosary and explanations of the mysteries to re-catechize southern France.

      Finally, I definitely think you should bring people in for witness testimonies…especially from the Hispanic community. And, they should talk about experiences of God in the Eucharist. That would be powerful. If the kids could see people really changed by the sacrament and in love with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, that could go a long way toward putting the ideas in their heads that there’s something more to this whole thing. If you could get a basic understanding of the Eucharist, a sense of devotion to it, and an initial love for Jesus that would go a long way.

      And, don’t forget to pray and sacrifice for them too. That could be the most powerful thing you could do.

      God bless you with this! I know it must be tough. Hang in there!

      • Chris: Wondering how many in your class actually know the story behind Our Lady of Guadalupe? Also, what if you were to share some of the Eucharistic Miracles with them as another form of witness?

        And I do agree with Marc, prayers and sacrifice so powerful. Place them into the hands of God; ask Him for the wisdom you need to plant His Seeds. Then ask Him to work the soil of their hearts and minds, so those seeds can grow – ask Him to never stop planting His seeds in them; ask Him to use the Tears of Our Blessed Mother to water and nurture them…entrust your students into His Care and pray with the faith of a watermelon, knowing that these children belong to Him – He is the Good Shepherd and He will not let one lost broken lamb go. For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion…

        • Chris and Marc: If you are ever in need of witness, there is a photograph I posted on my twitter page. It is a picture of an apple, and on that apple (one of thousands) there are snow-crystals that froze into the shape of a cross.

          My camera and I had been pulled to go on a photo hunt after a snowfall; my husband and I were living on the family farm – an overgrown apple orchard. I walked past hundreds of trees to find my heart-strings drawn to this one piece of fruit.

          I never noticed the cross; it was the beauty of that apple that captured me. Months later, maybe even a year…I was showing my brother-n-law the pictures…it was he who noticed it…he who pointed it out…it was in THAT MOMENT another seed was planted. It was an arrow to the heart. I knew right there and then I could not deny Christ’s Being. He was more than my brother. But my mind could not yet embrace the fullness of His Truth. Time passed…more seeds, more fertilizer, more encounters…until finally…I found my Lord and Savior in the Faith I was born to; Baptized, Confirmed, and Confessed in.

          Born in 1970, I was a Culture Kid…knitted in my mother’s womb…to become…a Child of Faith.

          Please let your students know that they are being prayed for…in the Mass…everyday by the faceless faithful; whether the see it or not, God’s Amazing Grace does exist. Encourage them to wonder…to ask, seek, knock…He does answer.

          With Love…The TwitterBird
          ~ @jbem1970 ~

        • Thank you both. We always prayed for the kids, it was the one thing we knew we could do that would help. We both agreed that faith is not taught, it is caught.

          And Marc thanks, I have read Brant Pitre’s book atleast 4 times now! Eucharist is my passion. I graduated from a 4 year Catholic Faith and Theology program offered for over 25 years in both DC and the New York metro area. The real issue is being able to take what I know and scale it back for kids. It was hard enough for RCIA, but with the help of the HS, I found a good balance. Not sure I can do it here.

          I think the idea of movies is a great one and I will look up the Turner movies.

          Thanks again!

          • The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd keeps coming to mind. Maybe there might be some extra thoughts here that could help, too:

            God Bless you and all your good work!

          • Yes, that’s the real trick in most areas of catechesis. Bringing the awesomely rich teaching of the Church down to the right level. One thing I will say, covenant theology is a very simple concept but I’ve found it bring down to the right level sometimes. It requires a lot of backstory to really make an impact. Not that it can’t be done. It’s just tricky. So, be careful not to make it too complicated. It can become a very intricate story but without a doubt a very powerful one.

    • Chris, Something I learned the hard way: Share the essential message of the Gospel every class period. Why are we here? Because God loves you, and will do anything, *anything*, to get you into Heaven, if only you’ll decide you want to go. All the rest of the faith is the details of how to live out that relationship and stay close to God.

      And then keep tying it back. Why the Ten Commandments? Because God loves you and wants you to be happy . . . here’s how it’s done, and why. Why the beatitudes? Because it turns out what makes us blessed — happy — isn’t what we usually think. Why read the Gospel? To get to know this God who loves you so much He died for you. Etc. etc.

      For a class structure, I’d divide it into 3rds: 1/3 basic facts of the faith you have to know. The essential stories of creation & original sin, the outline of the Gospel, etc. 1/3 Q&A (which will help you know what needs to go into basics). 1/3 extras: Life of a saint, learn a particular prayer, whatever — something they don’t need to know, and can relax and just get into to it for 10 minutes.

      For a book for yourself, Fr. Longenecker’s _Catholicism Pure & Simple_ gives a good outline of the basics of the faith for the non-believer, to avoid getting bogged in 10,000 strange details that can come later.

      • These are great suggestions Jennifer! Thanks for sharing! I wholeheartedly agree that you should share the Gospel message at the beginning of the year, as well as every class period, and then continually tie the lesons back to it. This is so important.

    • Returned…thinking about your idea of teaching them the Rosary.
      So simple, yet so Divine.
      When I was lost in the desert, the Our Father and Hail Mary were my compass.
      These prayers were the corner stones of my childhood faith; they kept me grounded – they were my saving grace.
      You will be giving them a treasure.
      Peace be with you!

  2. “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.”

    If I had been exposed to this sort of prose sooner rather than later I would never have become a catechist.

  3. You’re always ripping on the Church document language. I kind of like it! I agree though, it’s not for the average person. Guess I’m just a bit of a catechetics geek. But that’s why you like me! 😉

  4. Julian Kachi says:

    For the New Evangelization covering absolutely EVERYTHING CATHOLIC visit this “blog”.


    Thank you very murch for your mission of Evangerization may the Lord blessyou.

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