In Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner make some interesting observations that could very well apply to initiation catechists. For example:
The trouble is that most teachers have the idea that they are in some other sort of business. Some believe, for example, that they are in the “information dissemination” business….There are some teachers who think they are in the “transmission of our cultural heritage” business….
Unless our schools can switch to the right business, their clientele will either go elsewhere (as many are doing) or go into a severe case of “future shock”….
What if the authors had been talking about catechists and churches instead of teachers and schools? Would their observations strike a chord? Do we believe we are transmitting information or a cultural heritage to the catechumens? If that’s not the business we should be in, what is?
There is a number out there that bothers me. The number is 50. (And not just because this year will be my 50th birthday!) About 50 percent of those baptized at the Easter Vigil do not remain active in their parishes. On the one hand, that’s good news. That’s about 10 percent higher than cradle Catholics. On the other hand, in what other parts of our lives do we accept a 50 percent failure rate?
And we don’t really accept the failure here either. We tend to say things like, we told them this was a lifelong commitment, and we told them community life was central to Catholicism, and we told them this was initiation not graduation.
Some do accept the failure and respond by saying things like, I guess we didn’t tell them enough, or maybe we didn’t tell them often enough, or maybe we didn’t go into enough detail.
Either response is missing the point. We are not in the information business. We are in the conversion business. Our job is to convert hearts to Jesus. If the catechumens are not remaining committed, it is because their conversion was weak or non-existent.
Conversion never happens through the transmission of information or the transmission of a cultural heritage. Conversion happens when the Holy Spirit quickens the heart of a seeker and the Christian community surrounds that person with love. Conversion happens through relationship, not education.
We need to get down to business for the sake of the 50.