Does Catechesis have a place within Evangelization?

Aug 29, 17 Does Catechesis have a place within Evangelization?

Thirty-eight years ago, St. John Paul II communicated what I believe is an authentic explanation of evangelization, “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ; only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” (Catechesis in Our Time, 5) However, some might interpret John Paul’s words to be incomplete as they identify evangelization as the primary vehicle to guide someone into communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ instead of catechesis. A current ministerial trend on the practice of evangelization is that Christ and the Apostles simply evangelized (proclaim the Gospel) and only taught (catechized) when necessary. Sacred Scripture reveals a different story about Christ’s teaching methods involving direct instruction of the faith as the means of evangelization (Mt 6:25; 24: 1-14; Lk 14:15; 20:1-8).

Catechesis as an Afterthought?

Several interesting encounters with evangelists of good will suggests that catechesis is viewed as a mere formality devaluing the importance of sound instruction. These faithful stewards would tout that evangelizing someone is all you need for a complete conversion of faith. In one instance a colleague described catechesis as a mere formality in the overall journey of faith. Thus, the basis of teaching the faith rested with an effective evangelization plan and any form of catechesis would simply fill the gaps where necessary. In another instance an acquaintance of mine did not see the need to catechize at all, everything can be accomplished through a process of evangelization and discipleship.

To say that these examples are anomalies would be incorrect. What I have seen develop over the last several years is the premise that catechesis is not a primary component for a conversion of heart and two, catechesis is not evangelization. They justify this position through an inaccurate notion that catechesis only involves handing on information (doctrine), answering questions to clarify misconceptions and memorizing important aspects of the faith i.e. Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes and nothing more.

In an irony of ironies, the Catechism describes how “quite early on, the name catechesis was given to the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help men 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, thus building up the body of Christ (4).

St. John Paul II reminds us that catechesis is built on a certain number of elements of the Church’s pastoral mission that have a catechetical aspect e.g. the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching through the kerygma (proclamation) to arouse faith, apologetics or examination of the reasons for beliefs, experience of Christian living, celebration of the sacraments, integration onto the ecclesial community, and apostolic and missionary witness (Catechesis in Our Time, 18).

Are You a Preacher or a Teacher?

Are we called to be evangelists or catechists? The simple answer is both. The anthropology of the person who desires to share and teach the faith must possess both components to effectively proclaim Jesus Christ crucified. If the relationship between faith and reason makes logical sense when communicating a natural truth of the faith, then the Catechist is also an evangelist because he effectively evangelizes when he catechizes.

The transmission of faith requires telling a compelling story that will hopefully resonate with the person receiving it. This becomes the first teaching moment where we open the door to the reality of Jesus Christ and our place within the Church. Hence our teaching efforts are first and foremost evangelistic. But our evangelical efforts are not always catechetical. The evangelist accompanies the individual and walks with him through a gradual process of conversion culminating in an initiatory relationship with Jesus Christ. The catechist (teacher) applies the same approach of accompaniment but with the important caveat of teaching the person how everything connects in relation to the teachings of the Church i.e. catechesis.

The Catechism reminds us: Whoever is called “to teach Christ” must first seek “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”; he must suffer “the loss of all things . . .” in order to “gain Christ and be found in him and “to know the power of his resurrection, and to share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible he may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (428)

Catechesis has a definitive place within the evangelization process because it involves proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified. It provides the formational nourishment necessary to answer the “how and “why” questions of our faith and our place with Christ in this world.

 “If you know Christ and nothing else, you know everything.”

St. Boneventure


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