BY JOEL PADGETT
Director of Catechesis
Diocese of Evansville
As I begin serving our diocese as Director of Catechesis – I just completed my first two months – I wish to sincerely thank everyone for their kind words of welcome and, in particular, for their prayers! I’m both grateful for and humbled by the opportunity to serve God and the people of our diocese in this capacity, and I’m excited to visit our parishes in order to get a better feel for how the Office of Catechesis can best serve the catechetical needs of our diocese.
On Sept. 19, we will celebrate Catechetical Sunday! On this day, which always occurs on the third Sunday of September, we recognize in a special way the importance of the ministry of our catechists who actively help to pass on the faith by teaching and sharing it with others. We also reflect on the important role that parents play as the primary catechists of their children.
At times, I think that the very word “catechesis” might pose a bit of a challenge to grasping its importance. All too often, I fear that the word remains too abstract. To top it off, it goes hand-in-hand with another word that also tends to remain too abstract: evangelization. Perhaps in part to respond to this, the “Directory for Catechesis,” which was published by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization last year, does a great job of helping us connect evangelization and catechesis, as well as relating them to our lives.
According to the “Directory,” evangelization is the entire process through which “the Gospel is proclaimed and spread throughout the world” (n. 31). In Latin, the word for Gospel is Evangelium, which makes its connection with evangelization a lot easier to see. Personally, I think of evangelization as the process by which the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, becomes one’s life. It begins when we first hear about the faith, continues throughout our lives as they are gradually transformed to be greater reflections of Christ, and is fully completed only when we are called home to eternal life. Evangelization isn’t meant for only a select few. It’s destined for everyone, and all who are baptized are called to play an active role in evangelizing others: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20).
Catechesis is a part of evangelization, albeit “a privileged stage in (its) process” (n. 56). It tends to be directed toward those who have already heard Jesus’ message and wish to accept it, and it aids people in their initiation into the faith, as well as in their growth and maturity in it. Catechesis strives to make the proclamation of Jesus’ “passion, death and resurrection continually resound in the heart of every person” (n. 55). St. John Paul II put it best when he wrote that “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” (“Catechesi Tradendae,” n. 5).
At the heart of catechesis is “a living encounter with Christ” (n. 75). This encounter involves our entire person: heart, mind, memory, affect, will, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Every part of us needs to truly encounter Christ in order to be transformed by him. Our faith doesn’t really “stick” if we leave part of it out of our lives, or if we leave part of our lives out of it. If we allow Christ to transform our entire lives, we are brought “to the point of gradually coming to feel, think and act like Christ” (n. 77), which is simply another way of expressing what St. Paul stated when he wrote that we are called to have the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5) and to be “conformed to (His) image” (Rm 8:29).
As we prepare to celebrate Catechetical Sunday, it is my prayer — and hopefully will be yours — that each of us may seek to be fully evangelized and catechized and actively collaborate with God’s grace in evangelizing and catechizing others. To all of those who formally serve as catechists in our diocese, please know of my heartfelt gratitude and prayers. Likewise, for all of our parents, the primary catechists of their children, please know of my encouragement, support and remembrance in prayer.