Evangelization and Catechesis: Enough About Content, Let’s Talk Tactics!

Over the past couple of years, in an apparent effort to ensure orthodoxy of content, some Catholic dioceses in the United States have invested countless man hours and who knows how much money implementing lengthy and tedious processes to mandate a limited number of catechetical textbook series in their dioceses. This, despite the fact that dozens of textbook series have gone through rigorous scrutiny and have already been determined to be in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church by the Subcommittee on the Catechism (USCCB) and carry imprimaturs from local Ordinaries. Apparently this is not enough according to some dioceses who continue to focus almost exclusively on content to the exclusion of strategies and tactics for effective evangelization and catechesis.

I am convinced, more than ever, that we need to shift our focus to equipping Catholics with the techniques needed to spread the faith. Our content is solid! But that content does us little good if it remains a well-kept secret to the rest of the world! The New Evangelization calls us to, not only deepen our faith, but to SHARE it with others. Many Catholics do not know how to do that.

Which brings me to the latest book I’m reading, recommended by one of my readers: Dedication and Leadership by Douglas Hyde (University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), who, in 1948, renounced Communism (after serving in the Party for 20 years) and embraced Catholicism. In his book, “he advances the theory that although the goals and aims of Communism are antithetical to human dignity and the rights of the individual, there is much to be learned from communist methods.” (book’s back cover)

In particular, I was struck by what Mr. Hyde said about why and how most people joined the Communist Party:

The majority of people who join the Communist Party do so knowing very little about Communism. The potential recruit sees the Party in action…and he admires what it is doing. He goes on to be more conscious of its…campaigns and increasingly to feel that these correspond to real needs. They are relevant where so much that is being done by other bodies seems to be quite irrelevant to the titanic needs and ills of our time.

He goes on to say…

In other words, it is the Party in action, an active, campaigning body, and the people who make up the Party, who normally provide the spur to the recruit’s first approach to Communism. To spell it out: recruits to Communism are usually attracted by the dedicated people who are Communists and by the Party in action, and this action is appealing because it appears to be concerned with real problems. The Party operates at a level which is meaningful to the potential recruit. It comes to him, as it were; he does not have to seek out the Party.

The “actions” that Catholics need to be “caught” doing (and that we need to invite young Catholics to participate in) are well-organized campaigns involving the Works of Mercy that reveal God’s goodness, compassion, and justice to the world.  Orthodoxy of content is important but unless our young Catholics see (and are invited to join) dedicated Catholics in action, addressing “the titanic needs and ills of our time,” that orthodoxy will remain in a book.

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20 Responses to “Evangelization and Catechesis: Enough About Content, Let’s Talk Tactics!”

  1. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh Says:

    I totally agree that it is time to reassess the tactics of spreading the gospel message to the world. As a Catholic physician who is getting my Masters Degree in Spirituality in May from the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago, two words that have always been a block to me in Catholic teaching are the words: catechesis and catechist. As a family physician, my motto has always been to keep things as simple and straight forward as possible. Those 2 words, to my understanding, refer to Catholic teaching and Catholic teacher. I would rather those simple words to be used, for people to understand better and focus on Jesus, rather than on those strange words. Focusing on catechism words, continue to take the focus off of Jesus and puts the focus on the teachings of the church. You might say that is where you want the focus to be, and yet, I believe that the focus has been on the church for too long and that it is time for the church to focus on Jesus. I love the subtitle which says: Sharing My Journey of Teaching the Catholic Faith. Removing the word catechesis would go a long way, I believe, to opening Catholic teaching that focuses on Jesus, rather than on the church.

    Reply

    • Joe Says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Dr. Rosemary! So happy to hear that you are pursuing your MA in Spirituality from my alma mater, the IPS at LUC! I love what you say about “keeping things simple” and that’s my approach to catechesis as well. I have to admit to having an attachment to the word catechesis however! But that is because the true meaning of catechesis is not limited solely to teaching doctrine but to ALL OF THE WAYS we transmit the faith. Thus, not only our words, but also our ACTIONS are catechetical! It’s time for catechesis to get less wordy and to focus more on actions that will proclaim the faith and will inspire others to want to follow. We don’t follow ideas on a page. We follow a Person – Jesus – in action! Nice talking with you and blessings on your practice and on your degree program!

      Reply

    • Christian Says:

      Here in the Bible-Belt I know of more Catholics than I care to count who were taught to love and follow Jesus in Catechism class, and went on to love & follow him just fine in a non-Catholic church. They did not suffer a lack of love for the Lord; they suffered a dreadful lack of knowledge about Jesus’ Church, despite years in the Religion classroom. I make it explicit to my 6th-graders that they will not just be learning to love Jesus, but why the Catholic Church is the essential conduit for doing so. And I tell them I expect them to get out there and evangelize, and grow up to be catechists. So the words catechist and catechesis suit me just fine.

      Reply

  2. Jonathan F. Sullivan Says:

    Wow — that’s a lot in one post! Regarding the first part of your post:

    I agree that our content is solid and I have no worries about textbooks on the bishop’s conformity list. I’m not as sanguine about the knowledge possessed by our catechists — chiefly based on what I hear from teachers, catechists, DREs, and principals. They express doubt about how much they know, and so aren’t confident in their ability to answer questions on-the-fly in their catechetical programs. This is especially true of many younger catechists who may not have received adequate catechesis themselves.

    Having a textbook with orthodox content is important, but much more important in my mind is a catechist who is equipped with that same knowledge (and even better, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ) since so much of catechesis happens “outside the text.”

    Reply

    • Joe Says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more Jonathan. As I mentioned in my comments to Jennifer, if we devoted even half of the time, energy, and resources toward catechist formation that we devote to scrutinizing the content on the page, we’d have a Church with much more vitality.

      Reply

  3. Jennifer Fitz Says:

    I dunno, Joe. I’m not in one of the dioceses that’s doing a textbook rake-over, so I can’t comment there. (I fully agree — if the book is sound, it’s sound.) BUT, I’m still hearing left and right about lapses in orthodoxy among parish leaders and catechists. So in my corner of the world, that problem has not been dealt with. And it becomes very difficult to evangelize, when you can’t be sure the person you’re leading into the Church is going to land in hands that will actually teach the Catholic faith.

    If I were sure of that, I’d be inclined to agree with you. But that’s not the reality around me.

    I’d be extremely interested to hear how your diocese succeeded in getting to the point where dissent within the ranks of clergy and lay ministers was no longer a problem. I think others around the country would be keen to learn from that.

    Reply

    • Joe Says:

      Jennifer, you get to a very important point…you can have orthodox books but still have people teaching unorthodox ideas. That’s a problem in formation and we do not do enough to form our catechetical personnel. If we gave even half as much attention to formation of personnel as we do to the content that gets printed on a page, we’d be in much better shape.

      As for dissent, I wasn’t suggesting that doesn’t happen. I’m merely asserting that the content on the page is sound. We just need to learn how to bring it to life and put it into practice and that’s where we are failing as a Church.

      Reply

      • Jennifer Fitz Says:

        Gotcha – yes, I agree. Forming the catechists is a serious need. Both in content and techniques.

        I really appreciate the dialogue here on the blog, Joe, because often I think when you and I seem to be talking past each other, after a few backs-and-forths, I get what you’re saying.

        Reply

    • Christian Says:

      Yes. Even a perfectly orthodox book is only as orthodox as faith of the teacher. Jen and I have discussed this as well- better to screen the teachers for orthodoxy instead of the pre-approved USCCB textbooks.

      Reply

  4. Jennifer Fitz Says:

    Clarifying: Technically, I’d only agree with you in part. Since I just laid out over at AC how I think the “four loves” of the the Great Commandment line up with Christian formation.

    (http://amazingcatechists.com/2013/04/an-examination-of-christian-formation-using-the-great-commandment/)

    But I certainly think what you describe *is* an important part.

    Reply

  5. Francis Says:

    Thanks for posting this wonderful piece… I am a high school religion (we call it Christian Living) teacher in a Catholic school here in the Philippines and I am hoping that this blog will provide us with more articles featuring ways/tactics of sharing/teaching our beautiful Catholic Faith especially to the youth… Thank you… (I have learned so much from your blog)

    Reply

    • Joe Says:

      Thank you FRancis…I will continue to share ideas as they come along and also look forward to hearing ideas from your experience.

      Reply

  6. Dawn Dwyer Says:

    Amen!! Our program has 75 minutes a week to spend with our children. By the time we finish the lesson plans on safe children/environments, the new “virtue of the month” lesson plans (next year it will be Fruit of the Spirit) that are required in my diocese, and the content on sexuality/family life, we have just about enough time to fit in our required fire drills. Content is important. Action is important. But most important is the relationship and real witness that brings meaning to both. Thanks for your good work!

    Reply

  7. Nick Says:

    Terrific post, Joe. I’m a bit baffled by the hyper-emphasis on content. Especially at the very early stage of initial evangelization, aren’t we mostly supposed to be about introducing seekers to a love relationship with Christ?

    Can we imagine two young people going on a date, with the potential of falling in love, and one of them pulls out an “approved” biography of himself that he asks his date to read before their relationship can go any further?

    As you know, Pope Paul the VI was way out front on this. In 1975 he wrote:

    Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good.

    Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine.
    Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live:

    Why are they like this?
    Why do they live in this way?
    What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst?

    Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one.

    (On Evangelization In The Modern World, 21)

    I always feel inspired when I read that. Note that Pope Paul says it only takes a handful of us. I guess if whole dioceses want to go off the deep end about the approved-content thing, a few of us can still have a huge impact by doing the Works of Mercy, as you suggest.

    Blessings on all the great work you do.

    Nick

    Reply

  8. Frank Koob Says:

    Joe, I truly hope that some dioceses are not disallowing texts published by Loyola Press, although they have passed the conformity scrutiny. I find your resources to be spot on with Catholic teaching, but also to be excellent tools for transformation in Christ in he hands of catechists who use them properly. I look forward to reviewing your revised Finding God for grades 7 and 8. Frank

    Reply

  9. Joe Says:

    Jeanne writes:

    The messages from Catechist’s Journey are wonderful! This is another great one.

    We just have to start.

    Reply

  10. Joe Says:

    Maureen writes:

    hip, hip, hoorAYYYYYYY !!!!!!!!!

    Reply

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