Intergenerational Catechesis

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an intergenerational catechetical event at St. Raphael parish in Naperville, Illinois. The DRE, Jane Ehrlich, does a fantastic job of catechizing the entire parish!

I was amazed at the amount of planning and coordination that must go into such an event for about 700 people! The evening began with dinner (pizza and salad) in the gym followed by an opening experience in the church. This experience served to gather folks, engage them, and set the tone for the evening. It segued nicely from a lighthearted look at the craziness of the secular Christmas season to the prayerfulness of Advent.

After that, there were 3 venues that each featured 20-minute experiences focusing on the Advent and Christmas season. Groups alternated between these 3 venues and then met again in the church for a closing experience.

In all, it was a wonderful experience and was masterfully planned and coordinated by Jane Ehrlich and her staff. What I like most about it is that Jane and her staff see these events as complementing the existing religious education program. They are periodic rallying points throughout the catechetical year to gather families together in community and involve parents in their children’s faith formation. They are like mini-revivals that energize the parish and the religious education program. They are not seen as a replacement for ongoing catechetical programming.

I think that is very wise. For one, much of what happens at events like these is not so much catechesis as it is evangelization or even pre-evangelization. By this, I mean, that the activities at these events are designed to be an entry-point into the life of the Church, helping everyone involved to feel more comfortable with a church-environment.

The General Directory for Catechesis reminds us that “catechesis is a moment within the whole process of evangelization and that there are “activities which prepare for catechesis.” (#63) This is what intergenerational events accomplish, preparing people for catechesis which is the formalizing of faith. Here’s more from the GDC:

Nevertheless in pastoral practice it is not always easy to define the boundaries of these activities. Frequently, many who present themselves for catechesis truly require genuine conversion. Because of this the Church usually desires that the first stage in the catechetical process be dedicated to ensuring conversion. (185) In the “missio ad gentes”, this task is normally accomplished during the ‘pre-catechumenate’. (186) In the context of “new evangelization” it is effected by means of a “kerygmatic catechesis”, sometimes called “pre-catechesis”, (187) because it is based on the precatechumenate and is proposed by the Gospel and directed towards a solid option of faith. Only by starting with conversion, and therefore by making allowance for the interior disposition of “whoever believes”, can catechesis, strictly speaking, fulfil its proper task of education in the faith. (188)

All of this to say that intergenerational events play a very important role in the evangelizing mission of the Church. In particular, they help to achieve the first-stated goal of the U.S. bishops’ evangelization document Go and Make Disciples:

To bring about in all Catholics such an enthusiasm for their faith that, in living their faith in Jesus, they freely share it with others

One caveat that I do have in this whole discussion is calling these intergenerational events “whole community catechesis.” As mentioned above, what is taking place is not so much catechesis as it is evangelization or pre-catechesis. Secondly, the atmosphere at these events is so heavily geared toward parents with young children that, even when parishes offer a track strictly for adults, those adults feel out of place. I thought last night’s experience was wonderful…if you have young children. As someone who has college-age children, I would personally not attend such events…I definitely felt out of place not having kids with me. However, I wish that such events were offered when my kids were young and in religious education!!!

About Joe Paprocki

Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press. He has more than 30 years of experience in ministry and has taught at many different levels. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestseller The Catechist’s Toolbox and Under the Influence of Jesus.

Comments

  1. Pat Chuchla says:

    Joe,
    Thank you for the glowing review of our intergenerational event. I’m curious as to why you feel you would not personally, as a parent of teenagers, come to these events and felt out of place? I’m wondering what it was that felt uncomfortable to you and would keep you from attending again. This is important in our evaluation process because we hear this from other adults.
    This is something with which we have been struggling over the past few years. (I did offer an adult talk. Only 8 adults attended,but those who did found the talk catechetically valuable as I defined and discussed domestic church and how to live as domestic church during the Advent season.)
    It is equally interesting that you felt this was a religious education event and not a parish event. That, too, is something with which we are struggling. Can you give us more feedback?

    I’d also like to comment on pre-catechesis/versus catechesis. The GDC also says in section #71 that for continuing education in the faith, the ministry of the word uses many forms of catechesis. One of these is “occasional catechesis which seeks to interpret determined circumstances of personal, family, ecclesial or social life and to help live them in the prospect of faith.” In this sense, I believe that what we were trying to do at this event was more than evangelization. It was also actual formalized occasional catechesis without the books. We were striving to help families to interpret their experience of life in the Advent season as they are situated in a culture not appreciative of the meaning and purpose of Advent and “help (the attendees)to live them in the prospect of faith.” This whole community catechesis was a two day experience consisting of one evening for adults (An Advent retreat with Fr. Fragomeni on the same topic) and another for families (also allowing adults without children an option). There is a struggle in large parishes to find space large enough to do whole community catechesis on one night and also to meet the needs of all groups. All of this leads us to think more creatively and to keep experimenting.

    Pat Chuchla
    Director of Liturgical Life Ministries, St. Raphael

  2. Jack Bartz says:

    Joe,
    Thank you for coming to our Generations of Faith event Dec. 6. I would like to offer some of my biased observations to the mix here.
    I have the perception that you are conceptually restrictive about catechetical boundaries. Your observations about the content and dynamics of the event as not being catechetical, but pre-evangelization and pre-catechesis, seem like a very narrow interpretation of catechesis that is more academic than experiential. If we would take liturgical catechesis as a somewhat parallel example to this catechetical event, during a liturgy there is catechesis going on through the words of the prayers, homily, eucharistic prayer, even prayers of the faithful, up to and including the dismissal “Go, the mass is ended, to love and serve the Lord.” If these words are not catechetical or teaching the faith, then perhaps what happens at a parish event is not catechetical either. I would not subscribe to such a view. The context of any event says something for it, but does not make it of itself a catechetical event. The parish held a (non-liturgical) meal together to help form community, various prayer opportunities (which could be considered as having catechetical content), and breakout sessions for different age groups. Obviously, you did not attend the strictly adult session during which Pat Chuchla gave a presentation to the adults.
    I’m wondering about your view of intergenerational catechetics being too narrow. Can we say, for example, that the mass is an intergenerational catechetical event (I would not usually consider it such, since one of the reasons, but not the only, for my being there is to be nourished and strengthened spiritually). Could just the physical presence at a church-sponsored event of all ages be considered intergenerational, since we don’t usually hold events that exclude any particular age groups.
    Also, I would observe, catechetics is not an end in itself. The goal of catechetics, as the GDC and NDC tell us, is brining us closer to Jesus and his mission through the church. A spiritual experience for me is something that touches my relationship with God. If the church can be a medium through which God relates to people–sort of like a sacrament, if you will–then we can describe what we experienced at this event in richer terms beyond just the experiential of the five senses. Can your eyes of faith see through concrete events to the ineffable?
    This is all off the top of my head, so it is not well edited and thought through–but this is a blog, you would say. These comments are intended to keep the discussion going. I would like to ask what would an intergenerational catechetical event be like to fit your definition? Perhaps your experience of same has been limited–I’m just guessing here. Perhaps you might explore this further with us. Thank you.
    Jack Bartz, member of the core planning group for GOF events

  3. Pat, thanks for your excellent and thorough comment. Allow me to embellish a few of my thoughts:

    With regards to feeling out of place, much of that has to do with my own personality and preferences. I’ve never particularly relished being in settings with large numbers of young children (perhaps another reason I like teaching 8th grade instead of the lower grades). Going to Chuckie Cheese with my own kids when they were little was something I barely tolerated. At gatherings with large numbers of young children, the focus is by necessity, on the children. The parents present at an event such as the Wings event you hosted are focused on their own children. As someone attending without children, I felt out of place because my focus wasn’t the same.

    The intergenerational “movement” in catechesis is right on when it concludes that parents should be involved in the faith formation of their children. I have no beef with that. I think that the intergenerational movement is off-base when it assumes that ALL adults (including those with grown children) in the parish want to interact with kids when it comes to faith formation. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, I’m not interested in that. I’d prefer to be with adults talking about faith on an adult level. I think I’m more interested in pursuing multi-generational catechesis than inter-generational catechesis.

    I think that it is admirable that you offered an adult track and I have no doubt it was quality. I just think it’s hard to feel like you belong when the event shouts “family” and you’re there without kids.

    As for this being a religious education/parish event, I’m certain that I just didn’t articulate that clearly. I would definitely say that your WINGS event was a parish event. By their very nature, however, intergenerational events are attempts at getting the entire parish involved in catechesis, so I tend to assume that the religious education program is at the heart of the efforts and that the majority of attendees are families with kids in religious education (or Catholic school).

    Your final point about occasional catechesis is well-taken. It further illustrates the point I made from the GDC that it is difficult to define the boundaries of catechesis and evangelization. They do indeed overlap at times. From my own point of view, however, the talk given to adults on a 4-step process for tapping into the sacredness of ordinary daily experiences is not what I would describe as catechesis, per se. I see it as spiritual enrichment (which, of course, can be argued to be part of the catechetical enterprise).

    What’s the difference? Catechesis enables us to talk about life from within our faith tradition. The 4-step process for tapping into the sacredness of ordinary daily experiences was helpful and well-intentioned but not particularly Catholic (i.e. it wasn’t shown that the 4 steps flow from Scripture or Tradition). I think people leave a session like that being able to talk about 4 helpful steps for making the holiday season less hectic but not being able, necessarily, to talk about the Catholic understanding of Advent. That is not to denigrate that session. It is to identify its scope and purpose which, as I see it, was to awaken within people a desire to learn more about their faith. That’s what I would call pre-catechesis or evangelization.

    I believe that much of our discussion is about semantics because my conclusion was and still is that something of great value occured at the WINGS event. My point was intended more for those parishes who have decided to toss out their traditional catechetical programmming in place of hosting an event like your WINGS event once per month and claim that they are doing “comprehensive catechesis” or “whole community catechesis.” I think that what they are doing is evangelizing without catechizing and that’s where I have a beef. Evangelizing is tilling the soil and planting seeds. Catechizing is watering, nurturing, pruning, fertilizing, and exposing to sunlight…it needs to be ongoing and intensive.

    Pat, I hope I’m making some sense here. Bottom line is, I think you folks at St. Raphael are right on target as long as you don’t think you’ve discovered the be-all and end-all of catechesis and jettison your traditional catechetical programming as far too many parishes are doing.

  4. Jack, thanks so much for joining in the conversation and for your insightful comments. I don’t think you had a chance to see the dialogue that Pat Chuchla and I had before you sent in your comment. Perhaps I responded to a few of your concerns in my response to Pat. Either way, here are a few thoughts.

    I could see how you would come to the conclusion that my concept of catechesis is narrow based on my initial comments. Actually, my approach to catechesis is generally very broad. I aspire to the GDC’s very broad definition of catechesis:

    “Catechesis is nothing other than the process of transmitting the Gospel, as the Christian community has received it, understands it, celebrates it, lives it and communicates it in many ways.” (105)

    I have to say that I find it personally amusing to be perceived as having an intellectual rather than an experiential approach to catechesis. Throughout all of my ministry, I’ve always been criticized for just the opposite! :) In fact, in my RE classes, I tend to spend less time reading from the book than I do engaging the kids in experiences.

    I fully agree with you that “the words of the prayers, homily, eucharistic prayer, even prayers of the faithful, up to and including the dismissal

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