Evangelii Nuntiandi 44: Catechetical Instruction

Most Catholics identify “catechetical instruction” as the main part of evangelization. Knowledge about God and faith is important:

44. A means of evangelization that must not be neglected is that of catechetical instruction. The intelligence, especially that of children and young people, needs to learn through systematic religious instruction the fundamental teachings, the living content of the truth which God has wished to convey to us and which the Church has sought to express in an ever richer fashion during the course of her long history. No one will deny that this instruction must be given to form patterns of Christian living and not to remain only notional. Truly the effort for evangelization will profit greatly- at the level of catechetical instruction given at church, in the schools, where this is possible, and in every case in Christian homes- if those giving catechetical instruction have suitable texts, updated with wisdom and competence, under the authority of the bishops. The methods must be adapted to the age, culture and aptitude of the persons concerned, they must seek always to fix in the memory, intelligence and heart the essential truths that must impregnate all of life. It is necessary above all to prepare good instructors- parochial catechists, teachers, parents- who are desirous of perfecting themselves in this superior art, which is indispensable and requires religious instruction. Moreover, without neglecting in any way the training of children, one sees that present conditions render ever more urgent catechetical instruction, under the form of the catechumenate, for innumerable young people and adults who, touched by grace, discover little by little the face of Christ and feel the need of giving themselves to Him.

This is a big area to cover. I’m glad the Church as a whole does not lack competent catechists. Getting those people to the nexus between the leadership/institution/staff and those hungry for knowledge remains a challenge. Pope Paul VI also acknowledged that adult catechesis was an “urgent” consideration in 1975. I don’t think the reality of that message has ever been thoroughly absorbed in the US. I think we give it lip service. I think we talk the ideal of parents as first catechists. But really, we are hampered on two fronts.

The graduation meme in sacramental preparation works against expectations. Consider infant baptisms. For parents of several children: do we invite them to return to catechesis for a second, third child’s baptism? Do we move people into leadership and catechist roles themselves? Or do we give them a pass because we assume they absorbed the necessary information the first time around?

Consider the Catholic school system also. Do schools promote lifelong learning as an alternative to graduation? I don’t think Catholic schools, even the high-achieving academic ones, are much more than college prep academies with the addition of religion classes. A thoroughly academic/social culture. Which is not a bad thing. In the light of the Church’s evangelical mission, it’s just inadequate and incomplete.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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