Systematic Catechesis and Evangelization
Jesus asks us to become great evangelists and disciple-makers, not just amazing keynote presenters. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said that proclaiming the Christian life consisted of "First come then go." Only those who first come and sit at the feet of the Master again and again can be properly formed to "go, go" out into the world and not only preach the gospel, but to "go and make disciples".
When speaking about disciple-making, we need to cover the topic of systematic catechesis.
Systematic does not mean boring, mechanistic, or rote memorization. In fact, systematic catechesis demands creativity from every catechist as well as coherence.
So let's dive into the teaching of popes John Paul II and Paul VI on evangelization and catechesis is order to respond faithfully and take seriously the call to "go and make disciples" through being systematic in our catechesis.
Catechesis begins after the initial proclamation of the Gospel is made and received and is the process whereby the individual is brought from that moment into mature discipleship in the Church. Catechesis is a "moment of evangelization", according to popes John Paul II and Paul VI, and, therefore, cannot be separated from evangelization.
So now we look at evangelization. Evangelization "is a rich, complex and dynamic reality, made up of elements, or one could say moments, that are essential to and different from each other, and that must all be kept in view simultaneously" (CT18). As a moment of evangelization, catechesis is related to, but not the same as, other evangelistic elements. Here is JP2's brief list of these elements:
- missionary preaching,
- apologetics or examination of the reasons for belief,
- experience of Christian living,
- celebration of the sacraments,
- integration into the ecclesial community,
- and apostolic and missionary witness.
Catechesis is complementary with all of these works of the faith, remaining "one of these moments - a very remarkable one - in the whole process of evangelization" (CT18).
The specific character of catechesis is teaching the Christian doctrine in an "organic and systematic way", according to JP2, "with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life" (CT18). There are two objectives of catechesis: maturing the initial faith and to educate the student “by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and message of our Lord Jesus Christ” (CT 19). Catechesis is disciple-making. And it must be organic and systematic to bear fruit.
This is what JP2 means when he says "systematic catechesis":
- It must be systematic, not improvised but programmed to reach a precise goal;
- It must deal with essentials, without any claim to tackle all disputed questions or to transform itself into theological research or scientific exegesis;
- It must nevertheless be sufficiently complete, not stopping short at the initial proclamation of the Christian mystery such as we have in the kerygma;
- It must be an integral Christian initiation, open to all the other factors of Christian life.
The new evangelization must be rooted in these two goals of systematic catechesis. JP2 points out the status of many Catholics in the West, especially in the relationship between initial proclamation and ongoing catechesis. Many kids today have been baptized into the faith and yet when they come to the church for instruction, they come "without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ." They are "Catholic" without loving Jesus. This dramatically affects the way we catechize:
For it must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith. This concern will in part decide the tone, the language and the method of catechesis. (CT19)
The pope desires to intentionally frame catechesis to initiate the individual systematically into the Mystery of Christ. Systematic catechesis does not mean just lesson plans, scope and sequences, and a four year curriculum framework. It must ensure that evangelical proclamation occurs and that the individual is, in fact, invited into a relationship with Jesus Christ that is living and active. Catechesis must involve the evangelization of people who are already baptized Catholics. It means discerning the place of the hearer and making decisions on how to proceed to develop them into mature disciples.