By Kathy Gallo
Diocesan Director of Catechesis
Special to The Message
How were you formed in your faith? Does your mind return to that fantastic class you had in grade school or high school? Does your memory go right to that certain book or catechism? I have asked this question many times of many people in various situations, and I would say that 95% of the answers were the name of someone – a parent, a sponsor, a friend, a catechist, a pastor … a PERSON!
This understanding is the gift that the newly approved Directory for Catechesis offers the Church. Catechesis, faith formation, religious education – whatever the name – is all about relationships and an encounter with Jesus through one another.
If you are looking for a book that is inspiring and desire to learn more about how faith is transmitted in the Church today, the new Directory for Catechesis is for you. The approval of this document is a landmark moment in the Church. Sometimes the word catechesis can be very confusing. It can be minimized to a certain way of defining the process of transmitting the faith usually based on one’s experience. It is often described in relation to a certain age group and usually about children. Often, catechesis is blamed for the reason people leave the Church, the lack of doctrinal knowledge and loss of faith.
Catechesis as process and good news
The newly promulgated DFC reinforces catechesis as a process, a way of being with people and proclaiming the Good News. Catechesis is the responsibility of each of us. This can be the parish, the religious-education program, the Catholic school, the family, the magisterium, catechists and pastors. Blaming catechesis is not the answer; understanding catechesis is. Realizing the importance of relationships and modeling faith in a way that is meaningful in all life situations is catechesis at its best.
The new DFC draws strength from building on the long history of catechetical scholarship and reflection since the early Church. This newly promulgated Directory addresses catechesis for a new time and suggests new ways of meeting the needs of a digitalized culture and globalized culture.
“Both are so interconnected that they shape each other and produce phenomena that highlight a radical change in the lives of people. The need for formation that pays attention to the individual often seems to become blurred as one-size-fits-all models take hold. Faith, in fact, is transmitted through interpersonal connection and is nourished within the circle of the community” (p.6).
The core teachings of the Church have not been changed. The Directory highlights different areas of emphasis to teach the core concepts of the faith. This emphasis includes inculturation of faith, the relationship between content and method, evangelization as primary, catechesis with persons with disabilities, migrants, emigrants, marginal persons, and persons in prisons, to name a few.
This understanding reflects the wisdom of Vatican II in its call to be cognizant of the “signs of the times.” Catechesis must be juxtaposed with the world in which we are living. It must be meaningful and relevant. Catechesis is more than a class; it happens in the context of relationships with others and ultimately an encounter, a relationship with Jesus Christ. If there is anything we have learned in this time of pandemic it is that catechesis happens in multiple contexts. We cannot rely on one format or venue to learn and grow in faith.
First things first
The DFC raises up the importance of the essential message of Jesus, sometimes called the first proclamation. Another word for this is Kerygma. At the heart of catechesis is the Good News. Basically, this Good News is Jesus. Jesus reveals God to us. He makes the invisible visible. Simply stated, the Kerygma is the heart of the message that Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. It sounds so simple and can be somewhat challenging. We want others to believe as we do, as we believe, how we believe and use the words we use. The Kerygma touches the heart and is the motivation to know Jesus Christ and his message. The following are some examples of the first proclamation or kerygma:
“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is
Living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (GDC 58).
“Jesus is the Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us” (Mt 1:23).
“The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1: 15).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in
him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3: 16) (citation 5, p. 44).
Evangelization is primary
If you have been a team member with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, this document will reinforce this transforming experience. The DFC articulates in a very inspiring and comprehensive way the relationship between the catechumenal model and catechesis. In the catechumenal model evangelization, coming to know Jesus must happen before one can be catechized. The kerygma or first proclamation is the source for evangelization. Catechesis is at the service of evangelization. Faith is kindled through the proclamation and witness of the church. Ultimately, the DFC emphasizes the importance of this witness expressed as missionary discipleship. “Missionary activity is the first stage of evangelization” (GDC 33).
“The Church exists to evangelize” proclaimed Pope Paul VI. The DFC is written in the spirit of evangelization. Catechesis accompanies evangelization as Pope Francis writes in the “Joy of the Gospel.”
The document addresses the way evangelization happens in our world today. Thus, the focus is the centrality of revelation in Jesus, leading with beauty in catechesis, the importance of the entire faith community and the importance of well-formed catechists.
The goal of catechesis is to encounter Jesus Christ and to answer the question Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” This encounter with Jesus can be facilitated when we use the “pedagogy” of God and Jesus. The Directory helps us to understand that we already have a model of how to teach in the ways that God teaches us, the Divine Pedagogy, and in the way Jesus taught throughout his life.
Concern for those who have left the Church, “disaffiliation,” is a new and important emphasis in the DFC. The primary role of the faithful with those who leave the church is to accompany and support those in search of God. The DFC calls for intentional methods to proclaim the “why” of embracing faith life in the church and “who” we are following. Providing opportunities to encounter Jesus and experience this encounter in community calls for faithful parishioners to share this encounter on a personal level. Listening and dialogue are essential to this accompaniment.
Pray and ponder the DFC
It is impossible to review all that the new Directory for Catechesis offers to the ministry of forming faith in our time. It is a document that all of us need to spend time with, to pray with and to ponder with our parish family in mind. We need this clarion call currently. We need to look at why we do what we do and who is at the center of our ministry. All of us are called to be missionary disciples and to take the Word, the Eucharist and the teachings of the church into our homes, workplace and everywhere we go. We are called to encounter Jesus in our lives and to invite others with us on the journey. It is truly about walking together, accompanying one another with the beauty of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as our signposts.
The task now is to take this important work, pray with it and put its challenges into action in our parishes and lives for the transformation of our world.