I recently saw a docent at the Art Institute in Chicago patiently explaining Georges Seurat’s masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, to a grade school class. She obviously had a firm grasp of the facts about the painting—size, date painted, number of figures in the painting, number of years to complete—but the kids were bored.
I know nothing about Seurat, other than that he painted this painting. But if I could ask him why he painted it, I’m going to bet he would not say so that children could learn how long it took him to paint it. I’m going to bet his goal was to touch people’s hearts or make them see the world in a new way.
Become a better docent of the faith
Catechists are docents. Our challenge is to “explain” Jesus to people. We can do this like the museum docent, giving people all of the facts about Jesus. Or we can lead them deeper into the mystery of Jesus so he can touch their hearts and help them see the world in a new way.
Catechetical docents have an additional challenge. The art docent was only speaking to grade school kids. As catechists, however, we are often speaking to people with grade-school-level faith (or less), as well as true artists of the faith who creatively and passionately live the gospel every day.
What level is your RCIA group at?
How do we catechize a group that includes people at such different levels of faith?
Ideally, we would find ways to separate people into appropriate levels. However, that’s not always possible. For lots of reasons, we often have to make do with one group that includes people at very different places on their faith journey. When we have to do that, it helps to remember the three levels of catechesis.
- initial proclamation
- initiatory catechesis
- ongoing catechesis
(See the links below for articles that describe the levels.)
As RCIA catechists, our first obligation is to those who require catechesis in the first two levels—initial proclamation and initiatory catechesis. These are the beginners in faith, and it is the mission of the initiation process to apprentice them in a Christian lifestyle.
The reality is, however, that in many parishes, the majority of people in our processes require the third level of catechesis—ongoing or postbaptismal catechesis.
Think back to that art docent with the children. The children needed “initiatory catechesis” into the world of art. They were beginners. But look at the other people in the room. Some of them might be artists themselves. What would they need to go deeper into the “world” that Seurat was inviting them to? And how could the docent meet the needs of both levels at the same time?
What’s possible in our RCIA groups?
Or to shift to our context, how does a catechist lead a beginner in faith to a very basic encounter with the mystery of the Trinity while at the same time leading a lifelong Christian to a much deeper encounter with the mystery?
I think it is possible to help people at such different levels, in the same group, to have a meaningful encounter with the mystery of Christ. But it is not easy. It takes planning, focus, and discipline. We’ll look at some possible strategies in a future article.
In the meantime however, please share your ideas. What has worked for you in trying to catechize people at different levels of faith?