The overarching goal of catechesis is to “encourage a living, explicit and fruitful faith.” (General Directory of Catechesis #66) We strive to achieve this goal through instruction and experience. In my experience, most of our efforts in parish catechetical work tend to focus on doctrinal instruction. I can still hear my grandmother’s voice in my head, saying, “if only they knew their commandments.” She was convinced that “doctrinal instruction” alone could resolve all our difficulties in the Church. Recent history has shown, however, that an emphasis on doctrinal instruction doesn’t necessarily translate into living faith. Our parishes need and deserve both instruction and experiences that ground us in a disciple’s relationship with the Master. In other words, talking the talk needs to be accompanied with walking the walk. There’s a reason that the Church reminds us that the baptismal catechumenate—that is, the formation of an adult preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation—is the model for all good catechesis. (GDC 59)
Our commitment to catechetical instruction requires that pastors both invest in and expect excellence in our catechetical programs. After all, Canon Law notes the “proper and grave duty” of the pastor that he provides for “the catechesis of the Christian people so that the living faith of the faithful becomes manifest and active through doctrinal instruction and the experience of Christian life.” (Code of Canon Law #773) There is no substitute for investing time and resources in the mission.
The parish catechetical leader has a responsibility to advocate constantly for the catechetical ministry, ensuring that investment is front and center in discernment of budgets and that the parish allocates the proper resources, a task that includes inviting parishioners into catechetical ministry. As a pastor, I know that I have to be personally involved in supporting my parish’s catechetical ministry. While I can rely on established formation programs, nothing beats spending time involved in the hands-on formation of catechists. Yes, I will need to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy, but the payout is more than worth it. Pastors come to know and trust the parish catechists, and catechists grow into their role of sharing in the catechetical ministry with their pastor in a whole new way. The ministry can take on quite a collaborative tenor.
The experience of Christian life is often overlooked in the efforts of many parishes. The Church has learned from experience that catechesis goes beyond knowledge of the faith; it includes formation in and understanding of the liturgy, morality, prayer, community life, and mission. (GDC 85–86) All of these tasks directly pertain to the lived experience of the Christian life. Great instruction can become truly great when accompanied by thoughtful and intentional liturgy. It is amplified when we engage in opportunities for meaningful Christian service and so come to understand something more of Christ’s way of being in the world. Exposure to prayer practices from within the vast resources that comprise our Christian tradition invite us into an intimacy with Jesus that is essential for relationship with the person of Jesus and not only the idea of Jesus.
The Effective Catechetical Leader series, developed in conjunction with the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, provides the practical skills, strategies, and approaches that ensure successful parish faith formation in an evangelizing manner.