Does anyone remember courtship? Back in the day, the process of a young man and a young woman entering into an ever-deepening relationship followed a pattern. For some, this pattern still exists, however, with society’s casual attitudes about sex, for many the process is “out the window.”
Anyway, courtship follows a definite pattern:
- the couple meet and introduce themselves
- the couple spends time getting to know one another
- as a relationship develops, the couple learns how to “conform” to one another (“the things we do for love!”)
- at a certain point, the relationship is formalized, first with an engagement period, and then with the consummation of marriage
- as life goes on, the relationship bears fruit, not only of new children, but of the effects (hopefully positive!) that each person has on the other
All this to say that catechesis can be compared to a process of courtship (especially in the catechumenate). Last night, in discussion with the 8th grade catechists at Mary, Seat of Wisdom parish in Park Ridge, Illinois, we compared the Confirmation program to a courtship process. In particular, we looked at the Confirmation text being used by the parish (Confirmed in the Spirit, Loyola Press) and saw how the chapters of the book basically follow this courtship process:
- In the first 2 chapters, the young people meet (are introduced to) the Trinity and, in particular, the Holy Spirit
- In chapter 3, the young people get to know the Trinity more intimately through the teachings of the Church (the Creed)
- In chapters 4 and 5, the young people learn to conform to the life of the Trinity by exploring the moral life (the Commandments, the Beatitudes, conscience, etc.)
- In chapters 6 and 7, the young people explore how our relationship with the Trinity is formalized through the Sacraments and, in particular, how our relationship with the Holy Spirit is formalized in Confirmation.
- In chapter 8, often taught post-Confirmation, the young people learn how their relationship with the Trinity and in particular, the Holy Spirit, bears fruit (the Fruits of the Holy Spirit).
This, of course, is the pattern of the catechumenate (RCIA): inquirers meet (are introduced) to the life of the Trinity and the Church in the period of Inquiry; they get to know the Trinity and the Church in the period of the catechumenate; the catechumens learn to conform to the life of the Trinity throughout the catechumenate and, more intensely, during the period of Purification and Enlightenment (Lent); the relationship is formalized in the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation; and the neophytes reflect on how their new relationship with the Trinity and the Church is bearing fruit during the period of Mystagogia.
I like this metaphor of courtship because it reminds us that, in catechesis, what we are nurturing is a relationship!