When we engage in the art of catechesis, we can group people into three broad categories. First, there are those who know little or nothing about Jesus. Then there are those who recognize Jesus as the source of true peace and joy, but they do not know much more than that. Finally, there are those who have received a basic catechesis in the faith and have been initiated into Christian life. While these are not hard-and-fast distinctions, we can say that there are three levels of catechesis and that people move successively from one level to the next:
- initial proclamation
- initiatory catechesis
- ongoing catechesis
We looked at the first two levels in a previous article. In this article, I would like to look at the final level: ongoing catechesis.
Level 3: Ongoing catechesis
This “final” level of catechesis can be the most confusing. A newly baptized person who has only been a Christian for a matter of days is in this level. And so is Pope Benedict XVI. Ongoing catechesis is what the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults calls “postbaptismal catechesis.” The goal of postbaptismal catechesis is the same for both the neophyte and the pope and everyone in between—to fulfill the prayer of Jesus to the Father that we all become one in the life of the Trinity (see General Directory for Catechesis, 70).
The purpose of postbaptismal catechesis is the upbuilding the Christian community of faith.
The question we are faced with when we catechize, then, is not exactly what do I have to teach? Rather, we should ask, what do I have to teach this person to help him or her fulfill his or her unique role in the community of faith—his or her “vocation”? And at first, that can seem overwhelming. How can we possibly create a tailor-made catechetical process for every individual we encounter?
By ourselves, we cannot, of course. But catechesis is not exclusively the job of any one catechist. It is the job of the community of faith. The job of the catechist is not so much to teach the individual but to inspire the community of faith to become a learning community, focused on the praise and worship of the Father through Jesus Christ.
From that perspective, the General Directory for Catechesis lists six forms of ongoing catechesis that we would hope to find in every parish.
The community of faith learns more about the word of God in every liturgy, which is a primary source for this form of catechesis. In addition, parishes might offer other opportunities for the study and exploration of Scripture.
Signs of the times
The community of faith is not isolated from the world. Following the model of the first apostles, we are always interpreting what is happening around us through the lens of the gospel. Note that this is not solely the work of the “social justice committee.” The entire community of faith is constantly working toward the restoration of God’s reign of peace and harmony.
The liturgy itself teaches. The prayers, gestures, songs, and the simple act of gathering itself all say something about who God is and how we are to act as God’s people. Pope John Paul II called the liturgy an “eminent kind of catechesis.”
If someone is a living a Christian lifestyle, that life will be filled with moments of revelation. The work of God’s spirit will be evident in unlimited and illuminating ways. A very effective form of catechesis is simply to notice—as an individual or as a community—where God has passed recently.
To live a Christian lifestyle is not easy. It requires discipline and practice. When we engage in spiritual practices such as prayer, penance, and works of mercy, we learn more about ourselves as people of faith.
The General Directory for Catechesis lists this form last, and we have to wonder why that is. For the new catechist, and even for a few of us veterans, it is the form we often think of first. However, the General Directory for Catechesis also calls this form “perfective catechesis.” It seems to me we have to be fully engaged in all the previous forms of catechesis before we can “perfect” our understanding of God as the source hope and joy. In a sense, we have to spend a lot of time learning who God is and who I am in relation to God before we can learn why and how God is.
If our parish communities are actively practicing these six forms of catechesis, we will come very close to fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that we all become one in the life of the Trinity.