A chance encounter.
A life changed!
That’s the scenario in last Sunday’s gospel, the “Woman at the Well” from John 4:5-42. This gospel has profound implications for catechesis and evangelization. Let’s take a look.
What exactly is the business of catechesis?
Most catechists assume catechesis is about education in the Faith. Education is important but it’s not really the goal of catechesis. It’s more like the means to the goal.
John Paul II once wrote that “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ” (On Catechesis in Our Time, 5).
Doctrine is God’s revelation of himself to us. Our students must know and understand this. But it can’t end there. We need to make doctrine the starting point for encountering God. This is more like formation than simply education.
If a catechist can arrange a transformative encounter with Christ through their teaching, they’ll keep their students coming back for more. Then the learning will continue long after they leave the class.
I think this is the business of catechesis.
My encounter with Revelation
I experienced something similar to this in my own conversion. I grew up in the Catholic Faith but pretty much rejected it until I was around 30 years old. Through a series of events involving Tokyo, an Australian New Age healer/channeler gone bad and Ricardo Montalban (it’s a very long story), I was awakened to the Catholic Faith.
Soon after, I began studying and fell in love with Church teaching. It was the answer to all my questions about life. The month before this encounter with Revelation, I could not have cared less about anything Catholic. Afterwards, I couldn’t get enough!
It’s a similar experience to story of the Woman at the Well.
He told me everything I ever did
The Woman at the Well is from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. Married multiple times and currently shacking up, she’s a recognized sinner. But she’s thirsting!
She dives into theological debate with this Jewish rabbi. She knows the Scriptures and the prophesies. Is she eagerly awaiting the Messiah?
When she’s awakened by this encounter and understands the truth of who Jesus is, she becomes a very effective evangelist. She tells everyone in the village and her testimony is so good, they all go out to see him.
The most interesting part to me is after verse 40. The Samaritans of the village meet Jesus, ask him to stay for two days and believe in him “because of his word.” It continues, “They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (Jn 4:42).
The villagers first heard about Jesus from the Woman. Her passion and obvious change compelled them to take a look. However, they believed by hearing “his word” not hers.
The point? Jesus does the converting. It’s our job to do the introductions.
The catechist’s job is to facilitate transformative encounters with Christ. This can be done in many ways through our teaching. But we have to understand the teaching is the means and not the end. The end is the encounter.
If you can arrange that, you’ll create a student for life. They’ll hear it for themselves and know that Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world.
- Does this fly in the face of your ideas about catechesis?
- What problems are there in this theory?
- What are some ways you could facilitate encounters with Christ?