I talk a lot about the new evangelization and approaches that we take here at LayEvangelist.com that are based upon the new evangelization, but it occurred to me that some people might not understand what is so different about this approach than others.
In typical parish-based catechesis in the past it was safe to assume that parents knew the faith and were communicating it to their children and that, at least to some point, the culture was by-and-large supporting the Church's moral vision, and things like the Rosary and mass attendance were just another part of the average Catholic's life.
These assumptions can no longer be made, yet it seems that so much of our theology curricula come from this perspective.
Most Catholic teens in America today do not have an effective or sufficient knowledge of their Faith and lesser still are the ones with a living relationship with Christ and His Church. There are outstanding Catholic teachers, priests, catechists and youth ministers who have heroically fought against this trend, but the reality is that our kids barely even know the basics of our beautiful Faith.
Our kids (and adults!) are being catechized, but without being first evangelized. That is to say, there was never an initial proclamation of the Gospel whereby they came to know Christ Jesus intimately and were committed in their conversion to Him. There was never an invitation to this relationship made, instead it was just assumed.
Pope John Paul II, in Catechesi Tradendae, puts it this way:
But in catechetical practice, this model order must allow for the fact that the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit; and opposition is quickly created by the prejudices of their non-Christian family background or of the positivist spirit of their education.
-(CT 17, emphasis mine)
Let us do a little thought experiment together. Imagine you have 150 teens making their Confirmation who do not know the basics or even the building blocks of the Faith, rarely go to Mass, have not been to Confession since their First Reconciliation, have no real contact with prayer and spirituality in the home, and do not know what the Catholic Church teaches about true happiness, morality and Christian living.
Now, take these teens, put them in the parish hall in folding chairs, and give them a chastity talk. Tell them the Church's teaching on modesty, fornication, lust, "hooking up", and "friends-with-benefits". Tell them that intimacy is reserved for spouses alone, that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and that pornography and masturbation are grave evils. What do you honestly think the result will be, even if the catechesis is pure orthodoxy?
It would fail. Horribly.
In fact, it is failing horribly all across our country, producing students who are not disciples, and that is the greatest failing of our Church today. We are catechizing without first evangelizing. Why would any adult, any teen, in America today give up their relationships, their porn, their drugs, their hooking up and immodest clothing? Because you or I told them to? Because we say that some old guy in Rome tells them to? Oh, its because that Jesus-guy (reminiscent of Santa Claus, and no more real to them) 2,000 years ago told us to...
Catechesis is the maturation of discipleship, but people have to be disciples first! They have to desire being in conformity with Jesus Christ; seeing with their own eyes the importance of the Gospel we proclaim. They need to say "Yes" for themselves to the invitation that Jesus Christ has extended to each and every one of us: "Come, and follow me."
This is what the New Evangelization is supposed to be about: renewing the Faith through evangelization in those areas that are already supposed to be Christian. We are moving into a Post-Christian world that will be harder to convert than Ancient Rome.