What is Evangelizing Catechesis?

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by William O’Leary, MA Theology

Have you ever thought about evangelization and catechesis being a part of the same sentence? I didn’t until I discovered that Jesus refers to both in the Great Commission. When he spoke to the apostles immediately before he ascended into heaven, Jesus said:

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

I thought, wow, Jesus is calling us, his followers, to go and share the Good News (evangelization). And then he calls us to teach all that he has commanded (catechesis).

Committed catechists work hard to inspire, encourage, and draw others closer to Jesus. Let me share why it’s important to incorporate both evangelization and catechesis simultaneously in your ministry.

Evangelizing Catechesis?

First and foremost, when approaching catechesis in an evangelizing manner, it is important to keep the basic Gospel message (the kerygma) at the forefront of your catechesis. Your constant reference point is the Good News of Jesus Christ who saves us from our sins and unites us to the Father. Regardless of the topic at hand, the kerygma is a part of your catechesis.

Pope Francis summarized the kerygma beautifully when he said: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (Evangelii Gaudium, 164). This should always be in the forefront of your mind as you teach. It is the heart of the Gospel message. With this emphasis, within an environment of welcoming and warmth, your audience of children, youth, or adults will know that they are important and valued.  This disposes them to being more open to an initiation into the Christian life through catechesis. Your work, combined with the doctrines of our faith, and the experiences of prayer and the sacraments, will foster and nourish that faith.

The Five Essentials

These are the essential elements for an evangelizing catechesis:

It is inviting: witnessing, sharing and proclaiming the faith becomes an invitation for others to enter into communion with Jesus.

It is Good News: the catechist announces with joy, confidence and enthusiasm that God shared his Son for the life of the world. Whether it’s the love of Jesus, the Ten Commandments, or the Lord’s Prayer—we are presenting evangelizing catechesis as good news.

It is personal: this proclamation is not merely about a distant, long time ago event. It is a message that personally invites the hearer into the mystery of Christ. It is for each of us.

It is attractive: proclaiming and sharing each aspect of our Catholic Faith should be presented as an attractive message. It should evoke wonder in all who hear it, being offered as a beautiful treasure not to be missed.

It is true: we need not worry about providing entertaining catechesis. As people of God, we are made for truth. A sincere presentation communicating the truths of the Gospel message and the Traditions of the Church will, of themselves, evangelize believers and draw them deeper in their relationship with Christ.

Examples by Grade:

K-3 Grade

Children at this age experience the world concretely. Involvement and engagement through their senses is key, especially using strong visuals. They will be drawn further into the faith through your invitation to understand the beauty of these enduring truths. For example, when teaching about the Eucharist, use a tangible object. Allowing them to touch and see a chalice, or a work of art illustrating the Eucharist, will help them concretely see and remember the mystery you are talking about. Through this approach evangelization and catechesis take place simultaneously.

4-6 Grade

At this stage of life, young people are naturally making links between what they already know, and what they are continuing to discover. Offer examples of the connections between stories and events of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in the New Testament. For example, you can link the original sin of Adam and Eve from Genesis, and link it to the blessing our baptism, making those events come to life in our time.

Another connection comes from the lesson of how serving others serves Christ: “…whatever you did for one of these… you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)” Matthew 25: 31-46 then becomes a seamless story of salvation and service.

The catechist celebrates these things and affirms how each of us is part of the salvation narrative. In these ways, our faith becomes attractive.

We should also look for ways of uniting examples of God’s love to our experience. One idea might be that when speaking about moral choices, the catechist speaks about how first God’s love is real and steadfast in our lives. His love is found in his rules and wisdom that we may lead a happy life. A presentation about making moral choices with this outlook and orientation evangelizes while also being sound catechetically.

7-10 Grade

A child’s sense of independence increases around 7th grade. Learners become more critical and questioning of the face-value answer. There are three crucial components when presenting the faith to this age group:

1) Adults need to build a healthy rapport with middle school through high school students. I’ve found truth in this maxim: they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

2) The Christian witness of adults speaks volumes to them. Does your everyday example of life illustrate an authentic love for Christ and your desire to follow Him? Are you willing to share that? Evangelization at these ages relies heavily on your personal example and the authenticity of your message.

3) Answer their questions in a credible way. It is imperative that adults be able to respond to faith questions of young people. Catechesis happens with teens through teachable moments, interactions, and examples of faith. This way teens get a sense of the presence of God in their own lives and of his plan for them.

Young Adults

Evangelizing catechesis for young adults depends, again, heavily on the lived witness of faith by leaders. Your ability to engage young adults in meaningful conversation regarding matters of faith in their everyday lives reaps many benefits. Young adults want meaningful relationships; they are tired of the superficial. These conversations encourage them to grow into the persons God has called them to be.

Pope St. John Paul II said: “There is no separation or opposition between catechesis and evangelization. Nor can the two be simply identified with each other. Instead, they have close links whereby they integrate and complement each other” (Catechesis in Our Time, 18). With this in mind, each of us is called to evangelize, and, at the same time, catechize those in our ministry.

In many ways, the new evangelization we’re all seeking is hidden in plain view in our work as catechists.

Copyright 2016, Bayard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Bayard, Inc.

This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, January 2016.

Image Credit: Shutter Stock 36076513

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