By Kathy Gallo
Diocesan Director of Catechesis
“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” (St. Pope John Paul II, “Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in our Time”).
Every year, the Catholic Church sets aside a day to focus on the call of catechists, and to thank all those people who minister in parish faith-formation programs. This year, Catechetical Sunday is on Sept. 15, and the theme is “Stay with us.”
People who catechize pass on the teachings of the Catholic Church and serve as witnesses. Some programs of catechesis include Catholic Schools, Youth and Young Adult Formation, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and Adult Faith Formation.
The overarching goal of catechesis is to “encourage a living, explicit and fruitful faith,” according to the General Directory of Catechesis #66.
Some may hear the word catechesis and become overwhelmed because they aren’t sure what it means. To define catechesis, one must know that it comes from the Greek meaning “to echo the teaching,” according to the Catholic News Agency.
Echo your faith
Catechesis means “to echo,” or to tell the story of faith over and over again in different ways for different ages, forever. It’s about sharing your faith through the story of Jesus – the Gospel – with others to help form disciples.
The Emmaus story in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:13-35) is used as a primary model for catechesis. In this story, Jesus walks with two disciples. He asks them what is going on. They tell him. Jesus listens. He teaches them about the prophets and breaks open the Scriptures. He continues to walk with them and then starts to continue his journey. They ask to stay with him (connecting to this year’s theme: Stay with us). They eat together and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
All the components of catechesis – sharing faith, teaching the faith – are in this story. In this story, you can see accompaniment, the importance of relationship.
While catechists are called to share the Gospel, you, too, can go out and echo the story to all who will listen.
Who shares the faith?
The parish community is the primary place where catechesis takes place, but it’s certainly not the only place. Forming the faith is everyone’s responsibility, and faith in the home is a critical element of a person’s faith understanding.
Coming to faith is developmental, and it’s ever-evolving.
While catechesis includes many youth, young adult and adult formation classes, programs don’t replace people, according to an article written by Father Michael Schmitz for The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Father Schmitz wrote that it’s important to focus on sharing your faith personally. Ask someone to attend Mass with you, for example, and then go to brunch after to discuss the Gospel readings or homily. If you are not willing to share your personal relationship with Jesus, then who will, he asked.
Father Schmitz also said: “St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica about how he interacted with them. He wrote, ‘With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us’” (1 Thes 2:8). Father Schmitz said the model Apostle highlights he was not going to rely upon programs, professionals or procedures, instead he would allow the Gospel to be personalized through him.
Catechesis is situated within the ministry of evangelization, or outreach, to bring back brothers and sisters in Christ who may have fallen away from the faith or have started to question it.
Bring life to faith; bring faith to life
Catechesis is life-long – from womb-to-tomb with the primary focus being adult faith formation. We are always growing in faith, in our relationship with Jesus; and there is always more to discover about God.
The liturgical calendar provides the appropriate schedule and curriculum for catechesis. However, it is not all about doctrine; it is more than instruction in the classroom.
While the doctrine informs faith, faith is relationally-based. Faith is about trust, journey, conversion, discipleship and your relationship with Jesus. Faith Formation involves the heart, head and hands – year-round.
How do you form and share your faith?
Editor’s note – The Diocesan Office of Catechesis asked people from across the diocese to contribute essays on how they share their faith. Perspectives include those of a family, a young adult, an RCIA volunteer and a parish music minister. We also are grateful to Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, for contributing an essay on faith and science. You will find these essays beginning on page 9. We also thank regular columnists appearing in this issue for focusing on the concept of sharing the faith.