Does catechesis have a place within evangelization?

by Marlon De La Torre

North Texas Catholic

11/14/2017

St. John Paul II

Thirty-eight years ago, St. John Paul II explained “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ; only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (Catechesis in Our Time, 5).

However, some might interpret John Paul’s words to be incomplete and identify evangelization as the primary vehicle to guide someone into communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ instead of catechesis. A ministerial trend in evangelization is that Christ and the Apostles simply evangelized (proclaimed the Gospel) and only taught (catechized) when necessary. Sacred Scripture reveals a different story. Christ directly taught the faith as the means of evangelization (Mt 6:25; 24:1-14; Lk 14:15; 20:1-8).  

Catechesis as an Afterthought? 
Several interesting encounters with evangelists of goodwill suggest catechesis is viewed as mere decorum. These faithful stewards tout that evangelizing someone is all you need for a complete conversion of faith. Once, a colleague described catechesis as a mere formality in the overall journey of faith. Thus, teaching the faith rested with an effective evangelization plan and any catechesis would simply fill the gaps where necessary. In another instance, an acquaintance saw no need to catechize at all — everything can be accomplished through evangelization and discipleship.

These examples are not anomalies. Over the last several years, I have seen develop the premise that catechesis is not a primary component for a conversion of heart and that catechesis is not evangelization. They justify this position through an inaccurate notion that catechesis only involves handing on information (doctrine), answering questions to clarify misconceptions, and memorizing important aspects of the faith, i.e., the Ten Commandments or the beatitudes and nothing more. 

In an irony of ironies, the Catechism describes how “quite early on, the name catechesis was given to the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help men believe that Jesus is the Son of God so that believing they might have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life, thus building up the body of Christ” (4). 

St. John Paul II reminds us catechesis is built on elements of the Church’s pastoral mission that have a catechetical aspect, for example, the initial proclamation of the Gospel to arouse faith, apologetics (examination of the reasons for beliefs), experience of Christian living, celebration of the sacraments, integration into the ecclesial community, and apostolic and missionary witness (Catechesis in Our Time, 18). 

Are You a Preacher or a Teacher? 
Are we called to be evangelists or catechists? The simple answer is both. The person who desires to share and teach the faith must possess both components to effectively proclaim Jesus Christ crucified. 

The transmission of faith requires telling a compelling story that will resonate with the person receiving it. This becomes the first teaching moment where we open the door to the reality of Jesus Christ and our place within the Church. Hence, our teaching efforts are first and foremost evangelistic. But our evangelical efforts are not always catechetical. The evangelist accompanies the individual and walks with him through a gradual process of conversion culminating in an initiatory relationship with Jesus Christ. The catechist (teacher) applies the same approach of accompaniment but with the important caveat of teaching the person how everything connects in relation to the teachings of the Church, i.e., catechesis.   

The Catechism reminds us: 

Whoever is called “to teach Christ” must first seek “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”; he must suffer “the loss of all things . . .” in order to “gain Christ and be found in Him” and “to know the power of his resurrection, and to share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that if possible he may attain the resurrection from the dead” (428). 

Catechesis has a definitive place within the evangelization process because it involves proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified. It provides the formational nourishment necessary to answer the “how” and “why” questions of our faith and our place with Christ in this world.

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Marlon De La Torre,  is the Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Fort Worth and writes articles on catechesis, evangelization, and Christian spirtuality at KnowingIsDoing.org.

Thirty-eight years ago, St. John Paul II explained “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ; only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (Catechesis in Our Time, 5).

Published (until 11/14/2030)
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