Church Life, Catechesis

Sacramental Catechesis is not Enough

“Oh my God! I had no idea. I had no idea! I haven’t been to Confession in 27 years. I need a priest right now. I had no idea what Christ has done for me!”

This quote was the response of a woman that was sitting in the pews of the parish the day that I stopped doing sacramental catechesis and started evangelizing within the context of the sacraments. I was invited to give a talk to the parents of little kids preparing to make their First Reconciliation. Going in, I knew that around 40% of the parents do not attend Mass and around 80% had not been to Confession in 10 or more years. I knew that a 60 minute talk on the matter and form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be fruitless. I also knew that yelling at the parents to get their act together and go to Mass like a good Catholic would alienate almost all of them. 

I realized something far deeper was going on that needed to be addressed. They did not know Christ, they had never been evangelized, and this whole sacramental apparatus was purely cultural or familial, another checked box to make grandma happy. I decided that this talk had to be different. It had to win them over for Christ and not be yet another religious check list.

I began with the common things to build bridges between pew-sitter and preacher. “How many have ever been bored at Mass?” “How many of you think Confession is a guilt trip?” “Who thinks Catholicism is nothing other than a bunch of rules?” Nervous half-raised hands went up all over the room.

“Yeah. Me too. Now let me tell you how I stopped being bored with Mass and fell in love with God.”

What I went on to do that day was preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what we fancy theology types call the kerygma. This Greek word means “proclamation” literally, but has come to stand for proclaiming the basic Gospel message that leads its hearers into a living faith in Christ. This proclamation leads to reception, repentance and conversion. Once conversion to Christ occurs, that is when catechesis begins, which is the maturation of faith. The kerygma proposes faith, and catechesis deepens it.

Our crazy post-Christian world means we have pews filled with people who have been catechized but not evangelized. They were taught as if they already had a living faith, which is a dangerous assumption. Without a living faith present, catechesis can actually harden the heart against Christ, for one dismisses Christ with “I’ve already heard this.” Catechesis ceases to be an immersion into the beautiful symmetry of Catholicism and devolves into a list of facts to be memorized and behaviors to be avoided. Without the kerygma, one is left with mere agreement instead of the assent of faith. This mere agreement can lead to disagreement, then dissent, and finally desertion. 

Christ is not asking for our opinions or political agendas to be similar to the Church’s. He is asking that we surrender them to Him. He is asking for a “total adherence” and a “lifelong commitment” to Him alone. These two quotes are from St. Pope John Paul II’s excellent work On Catechesis in Our Time, paragraph 19, where he specifically addresses this issue head on. It is worth a dozen rereads!

In this series I’m going to talk about how I use the kerygma within the context of sacramental preparation in our parish to help change lives and make converts. I hope to lay out clear principles for you to adapt and use in your own parishes so that Jesus Christ can be known and loved.

God love you!