Sep 2010, SPI Newsletter: As a participant in the current Archdiocesan Catechist Coordinator’s Course I would like to share some of my insights into Catechesis as a unique form of teaching:

Faith is a supernatural gift (CCC 153)
In catechesis, faith cannot be transmitted as one would transmit human knowledge in teaching. We cannot teach faith because “faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him.” (CCC 153.) So then, we might ask how does catechesis transmit this supernatural knowledge? We are reminded that our faith is (to be) “communicated from one generation to another through a living and active Tradition” (Catechesi Tradendae, CT 22)

In CT 18, Pope John Paul goes further to explain what catechesis entails, which is anything but teaching! The catechist’s tasks are to:-

Profess (or make known) our faith through “initial proclamation of the Gospel, missionary preaching through the kerygma to arouse faith, apologetics or examination of the reasons for belief”.

Celebrate our faith through the “celebration of the sacraments”,

Live our faith through “the experience of Christian living, and integration into the ecclesial community and apostolic and missionary witness”,

Strengthen our faith through prayers so that our “entire Christian life reaches its summit.” (Source: CT 18 and General Directory of Catechesis, GDC 84.)

Catechesis as a “craft” is an interactive process between catechist, young person and the living tradition of the Church. This triadic process implies that the catechist is a steward who invites the young person to encounter Christ through the living tradition of the Church especially experienced in her liturgical life.

Christ is the Only Teacher
We follow Christ’s example by recognizing our poverty – “My teaching is not mine but His who sent me.” (Jn.7:16) Ironically it is the recognition of this poverty by the catechist that allows the youth to receive so much more because of the action of God. The catechist’s task is to create the environment and conditions conducive for the child to encounter Christ, our Teacher, but we are to withdraw as soon as the contact occurs. The catechist, conscious of God and His creative Word that is active in the religious event, learns when to stop and keep silent.

Catechesis is a lifelong process of faith development
Unlike other education programmes, catechesis is a lifelong process of faith development and not a programme. A programme has a fixed length of time and a determined course of studies. As our faith is closely linked to and shaped by our life experiences, our backgrounds and stages of human development, catechesis calls for continuous deepening and maturation of our faith. (CT 25.) As catechists we need to constantly resist the urge to relegate catechesis into a checklist of topics that we need to complete within the given period of time. “Catechesis is not so much an exercise of teaching topics, but rather an orderly and systematic initiation into the revelation that God has given Himself to humanity in Christ.” (Craft, xxxiii) The gradual nature of catechesis is inspired by the catechumenal tradition found in the RCIA process.

Catechesis seeks a transformation of the heart
While education seeks to develop the intellectual capabilities of the individual, catechesis seeks to address the heart of the person. Paul Ricoeur (a French philosopher) said, “To receive the presence is to abandon oneself to analyze it, is to dominate it”. Of course the intellect is also addressed but only after the heart has been moved by a presentation of faith that is beautiful. In this sense the catechist must be able to discern between what is essential versus what is theological elaboration. We do not want theological elaboration to drown out the essential truths.

Pope John Paul maintained in CT 58, that “it is natural that techniques perfected and tested for education in general should be adapted for the service of education in the faith.” However we must also recognize the uniqueness of catechesis from other forms of teaching. We need to keep in mind that the pedagogy of faith extends beyond transmission of knowledge - it calls for a conversion of the heart with the help of grace, so that we live a fully mature Christian life.

Wendy Loe
Sep, SPI Newsletter

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