Where Have You Gone, Thomas Groome? The Role of Experience in Catechesis

Question markWhen I was a mere “babe” in the catechetical ministry (early 1980s), I was introduced to the notion of the catechetical process. At the time, those 2 words could not be spoken without also mentioning the name of Dr. Thomas Groome and his groundbreaking work, Christian Religious Education: Sharing Our Story and Vision . At the heart of Groome’s approach is an unmistakable connection between lived experience and the faith Tradition of the Catholic Church. Throughout my entire career in the catechetical ministry, I have strived to make clear connections between what we believe and our everyday life experience.

Interestingly enough, however, this approach to catechesis, often innacurately labeled the “experiential approach,”  is falling out of favor in some circles and Dr. Groome is viewed in these circles as a “persona non grata.” The bishops, in particular, are very wary of any catechetical process that they perceive as using human experience as the “starting point.” In place of this so-called “experiential approach” is a process that is considered revelation-based and that follows a “divine pedagogy” – as summed up in this article by Caroline Farey (“The Truth Will Set You Free”, Faith Magazine, Vol. 41, No. 5, Sept-Oct 2009)

Here’s my dilemma. For over 3 decades, I have successfully (I believe) followed a catechetical process heavily influenced by Dr. Groome’s “shared-praxis approach” which emphasizes a strong connection to lived experience and, in my own opinion, I believe much of the criticism of his approach stems from a lack of understanding of the proper role that lived experience plays in this process. At the same time, I recognize how the Groome approach can be and has been abused (or at least executed poorly) and I have great respect and interest for those who are espousing a “revelation-based” approach to catechesis and a “divine pedagogy.” Unfortunately, I do not think anyone has yet to articulate those concepts in a way that is accessible for the average catechist nor am I aware of anyone who has effectively translated divine pedagogy into a practical methodology.

With that in mind, I invite conversation (not debate). I firmly believe that something can be learned from both approaches. I have some things I will share about the Groome approach and I earnestly desire more input from those who champion the “revelation-based” approach, especially in the form of practical approaches and resources.  SO…

[photo: Marco Bellucci via Compfight ]

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.


  1. Joe,
    It cannot be a coincidence that this post came out on the same day I ordered Groome’s “Will There Be Faith?” I just completed my Masters in Theology (and was ordained to the diaconate) and have been involved in adult catechesis for over ten years. I am very interested in engaging in a conversation that will help all to better spread the Good News!



  2. Joe, I’m very much looking forward to this discussion. I’d like to share a few thoughts about the Divine Pedagogy. It is important to distinguish it from methodology. In the General Directory of Catechesis it says in #148:

    “The Church, in transmitting the faith, does not have a particular method nor any single method. Rather, she discerns contemporary methods in the light of the pedagogy of God and uses with liberty “everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8).”

    Therefore, various methods are carried out in light of the pedagogy of God. The Pedagogy of God is God’s action through Salvation History as well as a set of principles, certain keys, that enable to content of the faith to be authentically and wholly transmitted.

    Dr. Petroc Willey is an expert on the Pedagogy of God and wrote a paper for a Catechetical Conference on the Pedagogy of God in Rome in 2009 said this:

    “When the term ‘pedagogy of God’ is encountered in catechetical documents, it might appear that the reference is simply to a set of principles, or ideals, against which catechetical activity might be measured and evaluated. And indeed it can be accepted that the pedagogy of God can be translated into principles which can then be studied for an understanding of how they apply to catechesis and education. Nonetheless, the ultimate reference point is not to these principles in themselves but to the ongoing divine activity in history which these principles then attempt to identify and enshrine.
    This understanding of educational and catechetical practice taking its reference point from God himself and his activity is consistent with the way in which the Church teaches that human life and activity as a whole have the divine life as their point of reference: ‘You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy’; ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’.15 The doctrinal basis for this is contained in the teaching of the human person as made ‘in’ the image and likeness of God, with this being understood as an ongoing making and re-making by the two ‘hands’ of the Divine Son and Spirit, under whose redeeming and sanctifying activity human persons are brought to share in that final unity and wholeness for which God destined his creation, sharing in the life of the Blessed Trinity itself.16
    The Directory thus refers us to the concrete events of God’s own activity, describing this as a ‘pedagogy’:

    ‘God, in his greatness, uses a pedagogy to reveal himself to the human person: he uses human events and words to communicate his plan; he does so progressively and in stages, so as to draw even closer to man. God, in fact, operates in such a manner that man comes to knowledge of his salvific plan by means of the events of salvation history and the inspired words which accompany and explain them.’(GDC 38).

    God’s activity is being presented as educational in character. It is to be understood as a pedagogy. Catechesis, as an education in the faith, is being asked to take this divine educational activity as its point of reference. Just as in matters of faith it is in the divine realities themselves that we believe, rather than in the formulas which express those realities, so in this catechetical process, it is the divine activity itself with which catechesis is concerned rather than simply principles which express this activity. Nonetheless, the principles which express this divine activity allow us to investigate and understand it better so as to be able to collaborate with it.18 As we shall see in this thesis, this point concerning the divine personal centre to our understanding of pedagogy impacts especially on how we need to understand a philosophy of the aims of education; and it also affects how we conceive of the relationship between teachers and learners in education.”

    Ok, I’ll stop there for now, but I did want to give some background that I hope is at least initially helpful to what the Pedagogy of God is.

    Here are a few interview articles that might also be useful:



    • William, there is much food for thought here…a lot of rich stuff that I need to ponder and reflect upon and to digest. In particular, I am finding a lot of the discussion of divine pedagogy to be somewhat ethereal. Some of that is simply my own limited intelligence. However, I am always concerned about how we talk to everyday catechists. How do YOU talk to catechists about these concepts in your OWN words. These quotes are beautifully worded but I have visions of glassy-eyed catechists looking at me like I have 3 heads if I were to simply relate these quotes to them. I think you can tell, William, that I am not seeking to debate you but I am pushing you/challenging you to articulate these critical concepts in accessible vocabulary. Until that happens, they will remain beautiful, lofty concepts collecting dust on our bookshelves.

      BTW, I will most definitely acquire some of the resources you mention that treat Divine Pedagogy in depth. Perhaps as I grapple with it more, I will discover the language needed to reach “the masses!”

      • Joe, thanks for your response. One of the reasons for my long response is that it is important to lay out the Pedagogy of God even if it’s a little as you said, “ethereal”. Let me now take the next step and share an example of how this translates. If we follow the Pedagogy of God when catechizing the catechist should be sure to start from “revelation” and proceed from that point allowing the hearer to respond and apply it to their lives. We always hear the notion that God loved us first. It’s also true in regards to God’s action(s) which comes first. God always reaches out first; God reveals Himself first. Therefore, when we “announce” the truth(s) of a given lesson/topic of the day it is important to model God’s way – to announce first and only afterwards apply it and unite it with human experience. For example, when talking about sin I would not want to begin with an experience based approach and ask the students “what things do you think are sinful” or “what do you think sin is”? This common approach has a tendency to lend itself to the hearer thinking that it’s only wrong if she/he thinks it’s wrong. I would rather begin with a revelation based approach by using Scripture, the Catechism and concrete examples of things that lead to sin and actions that are “sinful” (age appropriate) and are not in accordance with the Gospel.

        • William, thanks so much for taking the “next step.” I couldn’t agree more that all catechesis needs to start from Revelation. In my mind, that means that the catechist clearly identifies the aspect of Revelation that is going to be taught. We need to be crystal clear about what “door” we are leading them to (to use St. Ignatius’ imagery). I’m not convinced, however that, when it comes to methodology, that this means that the first words out of the catechist’s mouth need to be a statement of that revelation. In my experience, once I know precisely what aspect of revelation I am charged with teaching, the first thing I am compelled to do is to think of an experience from everyday life that is related to this concept and that can capture the imagination of the learners (much as Jesus told parables to grab his audience). Then, I would announce the truth being proclaimed that day. Often, this dynamic resembles the reverse of the old formula, “I’ve got good news and bad news (think Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show) In other words, while the example from lived experience introduces the concept is some way, shape, or form, it is always incomplete (the bad news) while the announcement of the Good News to be considered that evening is truly good news since it is the perfection, completion, or solution to the human experience presented.

          I agree with you that I would NOT want to begin a session about sin by asking “what things do you think are sinful?” or “what do you think sin is?” That’s not what I see as an experience-based approach. That’s just bad catechesis. I’m not interested in their opinions about the topic (at this point…if ever! You know what I mean!) and I regularly teach catechists that they should stay away from asking questions such as “so what do you feel is…” or “what do you think is…” Even after showing a video of any kind, I never ask, “so, what did you think?” When you do so, you run the risk of allowing their opinion to hijack the lesson.

          If I was teaching a class on sin, the revelation that we want to present is that God is actively seeking to “put things right” – to reconcile us with Him. Rather than beginning with, “what do you think is a sin?” I would want to introduce a human experience that either illustrates brokenness or reconciliation. If I was teaching older kids for example, I might ask them to recall (or show a clip of) the MLB pitcher who was one out away from a perfect game when the 1st base umpire blew the call and ruined it. His dream was shattered. The next day, the umpire tearfully asked forgiveness and the pitcher accepted his apology, bringing about some healing. It’s important to know that the human experience looked at need not be the delving into every single individual’s personal experience but rather a story that is illustrative and captures the imagination and the essence of the concepts of sin and forgiveness. In all, this example should be dwelt on for no more than 4-5 mins…it’s an entry point – a doorway to enter into – after which the catechist announces something to the effect of, “that umpire was lucky to have the forgiveness of that pitcher. Not everyone is always so forgiving. Today, however, we’re going to be learning about how God is ALWAYS forgiving as long as we seek his forgiveness!” (the good news). The remainder of the session is an exploration of the revelation about God’s forgiveness. At some point, we should bring that concept back to human experience and invite the learners to explore how this forgiveness is being or can be experienced in their everyday lives and how they can help to bring it to others. In other words, the dynamic you described still applies here: God is taking action and we are called to respond.

          Now it was my turn to be wordy! I hope this makes sense.

  3. I’m someone who was also weaned on Groome. In fact, I took classes from him.

    However, I have seen his method badly used and abused.

    I always go back to the Baltimore Catechism. The first question is Who made me? The second is Who is God? And the third question is Why did God make me?

    It begins with the lived human experience – “I exist. How?” It is answered by something from the deposit of faith. This provokes a further question the integrates themes from the deposit of faith with the experience of the person.

    We can’t ignore the person or the person’s experience or the person’s questions in catechesis. If we do, we’ll find ourselves talking to blank walls. Think of Jesus’ engagement with people: he either answered their questions – “How do I inherit eternal life?” – or asked them – “What can I do for you?”

    Where I find Groome’s method being abused is in the following areas:

    A) Trying to put it into a textbook. For the most part, I found that kids laughed at the “Tommy and Billy went to the store” introductions to chapters. This is no more about their lives and the core existential questions that children raise than medieval tax records;

    B) Spending a good chunk of a session (or a homily or anything else) with folksy anecdotes or quasi-psychological gobbeldygook. It is a waste of time.

    C) Keeping sessions content free. I was at a meeting once and a colleague exclaimed about a new resource, “It is just full of doctrine!” And to her, that was not a good thing.

    In my head, the ideal method engages the learner at the point that he or she is: what are the questions? What is the learned experience to this point? What are the desires? You can only get this from listening to people, and not from reading a text book – of any sort.

    Then one jumps from those questions into the the subject matter. And at the end, one should ensure that learners have an idea of how they can carry this through into their lives.

    To give the example of one lesson I taught: I posed a number of difficult choice options to fourth graders and aaked them to discuss what they would need to help solve the problem. (How does one withstand the temptation to be mean to another person on the playground, when your friends are teasing that person?) After their discussion, I presented the cardinal virtues and we labeled their own responses with the traditional words.

    We also used the schematic of a compass (since they had learned the cardinal directions) and talked about how one goes in one direction or another when needed.

    We spoke about how one increased in virtue (asking God, not missing the opportunity, practicing).

    At the end of that lesson, one kid told me, “This is is going to be very useful.”

    That’s precisely what we are shooting for, I think – the opportunity for learners to see how their basic questions and experiences are answered from the deposit of faith.

    Farey writes: “This would mean ensuring not only a time for imparting some aspect of doctrine, but also a link to the consequences of the particular doctrine for life ‘in Christ’, a time of prayer linked to the same doctrine and a liturgical element or link to the liturgy in some way.”

    My little lesson above didn’t have a liturgical link. It would not have been difficult to forge one. But, I think it did take into account the experiential life of the learner and show how the tradition proposed an answer to the question, “What should I do?”

    Farey seems allergic to the idea abroad that all points of view are valid. I would join her. I had a mother once accuse me of “trying to impose your values on my children.” I walked away from that conversation tempted to commission a sign for the front of our building – “The Catholic Church: Imposing our values since 33 AD.”

    I don’t think that these methods are at polar opposites. Reading kids the Catechism (or the textbook) isn’t going to engage them. Talking about playground experience endlessly isn’t going to catechize them. Helping them to integrate their own questions and concerns with the answers in the deposit of faith – isn’t that what Jesus had in mind?

    • Cathy, thanks for your insights. I agree about the abuses of Dr. Groome’s model, not the least of which is your examples B) and C). I make a point of teaching catechists that the segment of a lesson in which we engage the lived experience of the learners should be the shortest segment of your lesson. St. Ignatius said that we need to “enter through their door but be sure to leave through your door.” I tell catechists that, yes, you should enter through their door but you don’t want to loiter there for very long! The purpose of entering there is simply to make a connection as you lead them to your door which is where you want to focus attention.

      Love your story and point about imposing values! And I agree, I don’t see these methods as polar opposites, however, some in the episcopacy and in the catechetical ministry do and they are out to “ban” any textbook series that, in their mind, follows the “experiential” (shared praxis) approach.

  4. I was attending the Chief Administrators of Catholic Education annual meeting earlier this week and Dr. Groome was one of the main presenters. As both a speaker and an author I find him maddening — I’ll be agreeing with his general line of thought and then he’ll say/write something that I completely disagree with. I’m not sure if that says more about him or me. 😉

    I think people run into problems with shared Christian praxis (or as he’s calling it now the life-faith-life model) when they take it as a series of proscribed steps rather than a way of understanding how people integrate religious teaching into their lived experience. That, to me, is the thrust of Dr. Farey’s critique in the article. There are so many variables when one tries to proceed through the perceived “steps” in a classroom setting that it can be overwhelming, especially for the under-trained volunteer catechist.

    On the other hand, if we see Dr. Groome’s model not as instructions but as a framework for understanding the interplay between doctrine and experience, I think it opens up greater possibilities for integrating human experience into catechesis by helping us understand that people don’t come to faith formation in a vacuum but with their own questions, desires, and histories.

    That, to me, is one of the gifts of social media — it allows the sort of differentiated catechetical experience that just isn’t possible in most parishes since it allows people with the same questions to find one another. Looking for community with other Catholic moms? There’s a site for that. Want to find spiritual insights in the latest blockbuster? There’s a blog for you. Want to find other Catholic video gamers? They’ve got a podcast.

    All of these folks are taking their human experience and viewing them through the lens of faith — and allowing their experience to inform their understanding of the Catholic faith. They may not be guided by a series of precise steps, but I think the general contours of Dr. Goome’s models is there.

    • Thanks, Jonathan. I’m glad you had a chance to sit in on Dr. Groome just recently. You are a keenly critical listener/reader so I’m not surprised that you find yourself agreeing/disagreeing with him.Interesting point about the steps being a hindrance. In my own experience, I have found steps to be helpful in terms of creating a flow for the lesson, something that I think can be very helpful for under-trained catechists. I agree, however, that we must not adhere to them slavishly. Likewise, good point about people not coming to faith in a vacuum which is one of the concerns I have about Dr. Farey’s article…it leaves me feeling that we all simply come to faith the same way as long as it is presented “properly.” You’re right as well that social media is naturally helping people to find their niche as they search to deepen their faith: small Christian communities in cyberspace.

  5. Certainly a lot of great explanations here. I would add that when I have experienced Groome in person or in his “What Makes Us Catholic” presentations, that there has been a strong element of story – of the application of human experience as retold to frame an issue and as a way to lead the learner into the explanation of Catholic practice.

    That use of story is perfectly congruent with the way Jesus taught. He told a story, then he interpreted it for his hearers, instructing them about the Father’s will. I believe that is one of the models for the pedagogy of God – an incarnational method – putting the flesh of human experience onto the divine, and then through that, showing the Father.

    • But whose story? If catechists are being encouraged to share their own stories do we risk falling into a generational gap? I fear that many young people in our catechetical programs are turned off when “storytelling” becomes “back in my day.”

      (As one example: in his presentation Monday morning Dr. Groome went on a tangent about the Baltimore Catechism — a tangent that seemed to assume familiarity with it. This was a real turnoff for me as it is not part of my experience at all — my catechetical upbringing in the 80s/90s was very different — and it left me behind in the conversation.)

      • You have a good point, but I think the story needs to be relatable to the student’s life. Each of them are in different points in their faith life, but a personal story, I feel, is always better than just the facts. I look at it this way: if I give a man all the tools he needs to build a house but don’t also instruct him on how to use those tools, he may never build the house. He may struggle for a long time and eventually give up. However, if I give him all the tools and also explain how to use them he will be better off, but even better would be to show him how to use the tools and how you built your house so that he can then build his own house. We all started from the same point, and have grown from there. We have built our house with help from others. And I am sure that most of us have had a few people show us their house and it has helped us build our own.

  6. My parish is currently undergoing “Parish Transformation”, which is a program sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago for all parishes within to strengthen, energize and inspire their communities.

    At the basis of our transformation, we are finding that our members want to know how our Catholic faith is relevant to everyday life.

    In my opinion, if our adult Catholics are struggling with the concept of lived experience, I see that as a good starting point for teaching the Catholic faith, not only to our youth, but to catechize all members of our community.


    • Hi Bernie and thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience of Parish Transformation. Whatever approach we take, we must absolutely be sure that the Catholic faith is presented as relevant to everyday life.

  7. Thanks, Joe, for directing us to the article in Faith. I thought it a thinly-veiled advertisement of a book co-written by the author’s colleague. while I am not now nor have I ever been a fan of Shared Christian Praxis, I thought the author’s attacks extreme–I’ve never experienced anything similar in any way to what the author claims happens usually when using SCP. Enough said about the article.

    I agree with a previous respondent who offered a different understanding of what is meant by the pedagogy of God. To my mind, this phrase means primarily that faith should be gradually revealed with love, just as God does within the Trinity. It is unfortunate that the GDC didn’t make clear its meaning, but hey, it is pretty forthcoming for a universal church document.

    My overall concern about Shared Christian Praxis is that it equates classroom instruction with faith formation. It is based upon a premise that we start with a shared experience of faith, an idea with which I agree whole-heartedly. It becomes problematic when the shared experience of faith is an artificial story or exercise that tries to create such a shared experience within the classroom. That just doesn’t work. For SCP to work, children, youths, teens, young adults, and adults have to experience faith in their lives as part of the Christian community. Once we have had the experience, we can then engage in meaningful theological reflection.

    My concern isn’t where Dr. Groome has gone, for as Jonathon points out, he is still around. My concern is where are the next generations of professional catechetical leaders with advanced degrees who can help us as we move into the next generation of catechesis.

    • Thanks Dan, good to hear from you. I agree that the Pedagogy of God concept is a beautiful concept and that we are blessed to have this in the GDC. However, it is rather ethereal and needs more fleshing out. Likewise, I agree about the “artificiality” of some shared experience approaches…that cannot be force-fed. Good point about the next generation…I am looking to them to articulate these concepts in more accessible language than we find in the GDC etc.

  8. I have been in an all-day workshop today and just saw Jonathan’s response to my post. Here is my answer.

    If the story is NOT from the person who is teaching it is not authentic. I had a similar reaction as did Cathy to the 1990’s textbook stories. For me it was the “Jimmy and his dad and the basketball shoes” story that reallly lit my fuse;-) I was not Jimmy, I hate basketball and would never purchase expensive basketball shoes, so I felt particularly alienated by such stories… as would any child not involved in sports (and yes, there actually are families who choose music and the performing arts over sports.)

    Just because there is a difference in the experience of the generation of the catechist from that of younger learners does not invalidate a catechist’s use of personal story. What we encourage and teach catechists in our diocese to do is to discover the points in their life where God has been discernibly present – and to learn to share those appropriately. No, we do not encourage the “when I was a kid we had to walk 15 miles in the snow and rain to get to school” stories, unless, of course, that WAS the authentic experience… and unless it is making a point about faith.

    Storytelling in faith formation comes from two sources: Scripture and the lived experience of the catechist. His or her personal witness to the presence of God is a way to show how the witness of a person’s life should work. If it bothered you, Jonathan that Groome did that, would it have bothered you less if he told a story about someone he had never met doing something he had never done? And what was his purpose? Was it catechizing you, or was it for another purpose, such as discussing methodology? Two different venues, frankly – and not a reason to dismiss the appropriate sharing of life experience by a catechist trained to do so.

    In our diocese, we regard the ability to share story to reveal the presence of God as so important that we do that in our Catechist Certification program and in another optional catechist retreat experience. It is important for catechists to show where God has been active in their lives, and to be models of how to witness their faith that hopefully their learners will emulate. It gives an example, so when the catechist invites learners to share their experience, they have seen it done and may find it easier to do.

  9. The key in all these questions of methodology is to make sure true Catholic teaching is passed on whole and unaltered. The Deposit of Faith must be safeguarded and passed down in it’s integrity so everyone has the same access to the saving teachings of Christ handed down by the apostles…even centuries later. To that end, the methodology must serve the content. The methodology must be conducive to this unaltered transmission. That is one of our duties to the next generation. The other is handing it down in a way that our students can appropriate it and make it a part of their lives. GDC 111-113 talks about this in regard to the Pedagogy of God.

    The criticism of Groome’s approach is that it doesn’t do this, or at the least, is not as conducive as other methods. By starting with the way Catholicism is lived and then introducing Church teaching to fit with that, you’re starting from a flawed perspective. The fact that Groome encourages critical reflection on the Revelation based on the current situation has the potential effect of watering down and changing the content of the message. The goal is to work towards conformity with the message handed down, not to assess whether or not the message, as it stands, works for you and should be changed based on that. Now, it may be the case that you can’t accept the message. That’s the tricky part. That has to be worked out. Either you or your situation needs to change. The message can’t change to suit your needs. Groome says that perhaps this can happen based on the climate of the culture and society, and he himself advocates many dissenting positions.

    As William said earlier, part of the Pedagogy of God is that God reveals first and then we respond. That revelation can and must be adapted to human experience and understanding. This is exactly what God did in the Incarnation. He became a man and revealed his inner life not only in human terms but in human actions. The apostles drew from both, and from supernatural inspiration, in formulating the Deposit of Faith. But the response flows from the Revelation of God not the lived experience of hearers. Yes, their experience shapes how they respond and what response they make, but it’s not part of the formulation to be believed.

    Now, all that being said, that doesn’t seem to be the intended outcome of the method. It seems that the introduction of the Christian Story is supposed to shape the outcome in favor of conformity to the message. That seems to be the way Kathy is using it. The link to your “catechetical process” shows that. The quote from St. Ignatius, “enter through their door but be sure to leave through your door” is a perfect example, as well. Nevertheless, there are many examples where that is not the case, and the article you linked to quoted Groome as giving some examples himself.

    I would suggest that you’re not using a purely “Groome” methodology, and that is why you’re not seeing much difference. Or, perhaps I should say you’re using it in a way faithful to the Church. What you’re talking about is a revelation based method. Revelation is driving the teaching, in a sense. You want you students to come away with a knowledge and understanding of the true teaching and to live their lives by it, not to formulate a different doctrine based on their own lived experience prior to knowing the doctrine or the way society practices the doctrine. You’re talking about the difference between an inductive and a deductive approach–catechesis from below or above. One begins with the experience of the person, the other begins with the revelation. They both end up in the same place. Both are valid depending on the teaching and the situation.

    The abuses Kathy spoke of are the reason why bishops are wary of Groome’s approach. Particularly B and C, time spent on irrelevant information and an anti-doctrine bias. They want to make sure the Faith is passed down in its entirety to their flock. That’s what they pledge as bishops.

    To answer the question of a simple to use method for catechists, the Ecclesial Method, as laid out in the post by William that you linked to, is a simple method that is conducive to handing on the message in its integrity. It does start with a proclamation of the message and then works out the application, but again, that is not an absolute. The important thing is the content can’t change to fit the method.

    • Marc, this is an excellent synopsis of the situation. Perhaps you’re right and I’m not as “Groome-ian” as I thought! I never interpreted the shared praxis approach to be an invitation to begin the catechetical process with a reflection of how Catholicism is being lived and then to bring in Church doctrine “to fit with that.” I have always seen it as beginning with a reflection on how LIFE is being lived before introducing how an aspect of revealed truth can transform that lived experience into a Kingdom experience.

      Groome puts it this way. When your child comes crying to you, you don’t immediately offer words of wisdom or a solution. You first ask, “What happened? What’s wrong?” The child tells you about his or her experience. You probe further…”why did that happen?” After that experience has been clarified, THEN you present your parental wisdom, including the old “when I was your age…” In doing so, you invite your child to reinterpret his or her story through the lens of another story (your story). You then tell your child to think about what you said and then talk about how he or she will approach the situation differently next time.

      That interaction does not begin with the parent asking the child his or her opinion of the parent’s vision. In the same way, shared praxis, at least in my understanding, should not begin with inviting learners to offer reflections on how an aspect of Church doctrine is being lived out in their lives. Rather, an attempt is made to surface a human experience that will be illuminated and transformed by revelation.

      For example, one should never begin a session on the Sacrament of Reconciliation by asking, “so, what has your experience of going to confession been like?” The result would be a lesson that is focused on the act of going to confession and hoping to not be scared rather than on the revelation of God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness and how that comes to us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Instead, one might want to begin such a session by inviting learners to recall an experience of a broken relationship or of forgiveness in their lives. From there, the catechist would then introduce the topic of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the means through which God restores the brokenness of our relationship with him and others through his forgiveness. The message should be made very clear that God is initiating this movement and we are invited to respond.

      It’s been a while since I’ve read Groome’s work and I’ve not read his most recent Will There Be Faith, so maybe I’m misrepresenting his shared praxis approach but it seems to me that there is a misunderstanding among his critics with regards to the 1st step in which life experience is reflected on. I keep hearing people say that, in the 1st step, learners reflect on an aspect of Church teaching and that’s never how I understood it. Maybe some other Groome-ians can help me out here.

      Whatever the case may be, Marc, your thoughts have furthered this conversation and have enlightened me and for that I am thankful.

  10. Hi Joe,
    Thanks for initiating this conversation. I am the Catechetical Director for the Archdiocese of Singapore and since 2008 I have been deeply influenced by the Revelation Based Approach that i first read about in the Sower Magazine by Dr.Wiley.

    I would like to share the practicalities of the revelation based approach that i have implemented in my archdiocese.

    We have started a series of training courses to renew our catechists in the style of catechesis we are advocating.

    the 3 main paradigm shifts we aim at:

    – From Lessons to


    – From Classrooms to

    Prayer Space

    From Teachers of Doctrine to

    Stewards of the Mystery

    The educational philosophy of Sofia cavaletti deeply imbues this approach for the child from ages 3-11. It requires of the catechist developing a very different set of skills where they are really facilitating an encounter between the young child and and the liturgical and scriptural signs of the church. The young person is immersed into the world of God so that they can see the world they live in through the lense of Faith.

    In this approach Christ is the teacher and the catechist is an apprentice who learns to use the signs of the church (liturgical & scriptural), presenting them to the young person with a doctrinal point that is not directly addressed until the end of the session.

    For us the way the catechetical session is conducted very much carries the message we want to communicate to the young person.

    For the senior level there is more of an engagement with the human experience of the teenager whom we hope has had a strong liturgical and biblical formation in the early years with our methodology.

    The purpose of the senior level which goes from ages 12-18 is to train them to become evangelizers who live in faith communities of their peers. For us human experience is placed within the context of the experience of God and hence we believe that this evangelizes their understanding of life.

    So far the catechists have been very challenged to recieve this formation as most of them are used the didactic approach and are not used to a liturgical approach where doctrine is seen as the light that shine on the path of human experience and illuminates it.

    After 3 years of this approach we have had some encouraging results but there are also many challenges. Becasue it does require the catechist to practice a strong liturgical and biblical spirituality that must imbue their daily life.

    I believe it will take us another 10 years to completely overhaul our current system that is very classroon based. We tend to make the distinction between teaching in a school setting and passing on faith in a parish setting. For what we are interested in is an encounter with the person of Christ that is mediated through signs.

    For the older teen these signs are broadened for them to include being able to interpet the signs of the times. We believe without the strong foundation of the early years they may use any lense they want but with the lense of faith (scripture & LIturgy) they will have a particular reference point that is specifically catholic.

    The catechists are also taught to use the CCC not only as a reference text but also as a tool of how the faith is communicated dynamically, the faith that is proclaimed must be celebrated in order for the heart to be engaged and then lived in order for the faith to be concrete and if done then prayer becomes the cry of the heart (3-11 years old). Such a faith generates a Christian community that goes on mission (12-18 years old).

    well thats my contribution of how we have practically put the revelation-based approach in practice in our archdiocese.


  11. “If the story is NOT from the person who is teaching it is not authentic.”

    If this means that the kids know the difference between hearing what sounds good and hearing what comes out of one’s heart, then yeah, I agree with this.

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