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!!!