Catechesis: The Primary Goal of the Church
From the Baltimore Catechism we learned the answer to the question, “Why did God make you?” The answer is, “God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.”
In the last several years there have been at least seventeen major documents written on Catechesis. The National Directory for Catechesis states in the Introduction that there are many challenges to the ministry of catechesis in the United States. It goes on to say that for many Catholics, there is a gap between their faith and their everyday life and an inadequate connection between their religious beliefs and their moral choices. The United States culture, at times, excludes or marginalizes both the individual and institutional religious values of Catholics. And it states that catechesis needs to present the Christian life as a response to Christ’s invitation to follow him - in one’s personal life and family, the parish, and the wider human community. (National Directory for Catechesis p. 15)
In our own diocese, we have noticed worrisome signs that point to inadequate results in our catechetical efforts. We have adults as well as children and adolescents missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation without a twinge of conscience. We have other Catholics attending other denominational churches because “they have less rules,” are “more friendly” or “have better music.”
It is now time to take a look at our catechetical efforts as well as the quality of our parish life. There are many pockets of hope: lay people are taking on more of the role of catechists, there are more programs to help educate and form these lay people; many of our parishes are focusing on adult faith formation and intergenerational catechetical programs. Youth programs are being designed to educate young people in their role for evangelization, service, prayer, Scripture study, liturgy and personal moral responsibility. Groups such as Cursillo and parish/diocesan retreats for men and women have flourished. The diocesan Center for Catholic Studies provides courses in Theology, Scripture, Sacraments, Evangelization, Liturgy and Catechesis. These courses are offered at a variety of times and may be taken for credit or just for continuing education. These courses have been offered at the Diocesan Center but also in vicariates. In accord with the National Directory for Catechesis, the diocese uses the Center for Catholic Studies to provide training and formation for youth ministers as well as catechists in general, including certification programs.
Lifelong catechesis is absolutely necessary for the Christian formation of the faithful. Time has long passed when an adult can state that because he/she went to a Catholic school for eight/twelve years he/she “knows the faith.” Parents can no longer ignore their responsibility and expect their children to learn their faith from catechists, priests, religious men and women. At the Baptism of their children, parents willing accept the responsibility to bring their child up as a faithful member of the Church.
There are many excellent catechetical resources available today. These resources seem better able to interest a child as well as the youth and adults. They include teaching which can be seen as more age appropriate. We have learned that adults have a different way of learning and the resources have to be designed for this. With the advent of computers, there is a wide variety of ways for adults to learn on their own time, in their own homes or in small groups.
The diocesan library contains many videos on Scripture, the Sacraments and on the Christian life. These are available to anyone.
In a recent survey of parish catechetical leaders we learned of the concerns and needs that some of these leaders have. Some of these are: diocesan staff visibly present in vicariates/out in the field, more development of Young Adult ministry, varied faith-experiences at parish level, DREs/Faith Formation Directors needed at parish level, more educational programs at Vicariate level, help for families to discuss Faith/Church at home, families leaving the faith, programs need better diocesan direction/leadership/communication, keeping youth
involved after Sacraments of Initiation. There were also many positive comments.
After studying the returned surveys, an Ad Hoc Committee was formed to study these concerns and to respond to them. The committee had two goals:
- To assess the state of Faith Development in the Diocese and the level of the formation of the persons involved in Faith Development at the parish level.
- To form a Faith Development Program at the diocesan level which will assure adequate, professional in-depth, relational, parish/diocesan oriented, open to change and growth and subject to evaluation.
With these goals in mind, the Ad Hoc Committee restructured the diocesan office to allow for more on-site contact and support for parishes. It was impossible for one office director to visit all the parishes and to respond to the long list of needs and concerns of parish catechetical leaders. The new structure has a part-time office person and four diocesan field staff. Each person in the field will offer support to catechetical leaders in two vicariates. Each one will also visit the youth ministers and report their concerns to one of the field representatives who will offer workshops to youth ministers. Courses and workshops will be offered in each vicariate. Through Catechetical Days parish leaders will be able to interact with each other and learn from local and national resource persons.
To centralize efforts, information and evaluations, the Ad Hoc Committee has become the Diocesan Faith Development Council and will meet with the diocesan bishop quarterly. They will study the Religious Formation Manual and the Youth Formation Manual of the diocese to revise them along with the policies which have been in place for several years.
Do we think that this new structure will automatically solve all of the problems in today’s religious culture? In no way! Do we think that the persons involved in this new structure can accomplish what is needed by themselves? In no way! It will take the efforts of all those who are responsible as disciples of the Lord and who are interested in the continuation of Gospel values in the lives of our children and adults to work together to accomplish what we have accepted as our mission as disciples of the Lord. A few years ago one of our workshop speakers said: “When Jesus ascended into heaven, the angels asked him if he had accomplished his mission. He said no, but that he had left disciples on earth to continue what he had started. The angels thought about that for awhile and then said, what is plan B?” We are the disciples Jesus left to continue his work of forming the Kingdom of God. Although some members of the Church are called to more specific catechetical roles, fostering growth in faith is the responsibility of the entire Christian community.
The National Directory for Catechesis states: The consumerism and materialism that dominate the culture of the United States present extremely demanding challenges for catechesis because they are often seen as primary values or even ends in themselves. Catechesis has to find ways to help people break the “buy, use, buy again, use again” cycle and yet relate these forms of everyday decision-making to the integration of Gospel values in their lives. Catechesis must make it clear that the person of Jesus Christ offers a realistic alternative to immediate gratification and the satisfaction of personal needs. (National Directory for Catechesis p. 16)
The Summary of the National Directory for Catechesis defines the nature and purpose of catechesis as: The aim of catechesis is to lead believers to a deeper knowledge and love of Christ and the Church and a firm commitment to follow him. (National Directory for Catechesis p. 10)
It goes on to list the tasks of Catechesis:
- promotes knowledge of the faith/ promotes meaningful participation in liturgical worship and the sacramental life of the Church;
- integrates moral formation into a Christian way of life;
- teaches Christians how to pray with Christ, in Christ, and in communion with the Church;
- initiates the Christian into the life of the local church community and fosters active participation in the mission of the Church and
- promotes a missionary spirit that prepares Christians to witness to Christ in society. (Summary of the National Directory for Catechesis p. 10)
Since the proclamation and transmission of the gospel are central to the episcopal ministry, the bishop has primary responsibility for catechesis in the diocese. Since pastors are the bishop’s closest collaborators in ensuring that the goals of the diocesan catechetical mission are achieved, they have a special responsibility...and fostering the ministry of catechesis by providing catechists with training and support. (Summary of the National Directory for Catechesis p. 32/33)
The Secretariat for Faith Development was restructured to further a renewal of the spirit and efforts of catechesis in the Diocese of Gaylord so that the faithful will seek to know Christ more fully and to follow him more faithfully. It will reach this goal only through the efforts of all people of the diocese under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
National Directory for Catechesis, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC, 2005
Summary of the National Directory for Catechesis, Committee on Catechesis United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C., 2005