Wednesday, July 20, 2016

THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF EDUCATION: A GUIDE TO CATECHESIS


The most important aspect of educating children is passing on the faith. -- Bishop Javier Echevarria. 

Download the one-page Executive Summary here. In PDF here

This guide, useful for family and parish catechesis and teaching Religion in school, condenses the teachings of the Vatican’s General Directory for Catechesis (GDC), the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Popes and the Synod on New Evangelization (Synod).

HELP THE LEARNER TO FOCUS ON AND OWN THE GOAL: A RELATIONSHIP OF LOVE

Begin teaching by helping the learner know and love the one goal of catechesis: “communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ”. (GDC 80) The one end-goal of all men, as taught by Jesus in the greatest commandment, is to love God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength, and love others for God: to be a saint! Thus to fail to be a saint is the only tragedy. All doctrine has “no other objective than to arrive at love.” (CCC 25) True love means “willing the good of the other.” (St. Thomas) And so Christians truly love God and give the best to others if they freely choose to do so, and confidently persevere, despite unruly feelings and worldly pressure.   

SET THE BUILDING BLOCKS  OF CATECHESIS

1. Strongly emphasize the first and principal proclamation.  “God loves you and gave his life for you and is near you”. This is the summary of all we know about God, and what helps everyone to love him in return. This most solid message has “great spiritual power” to bring about the starting point of catechesis: “conversion of hearts”. (Synod, GDC 61-62) The whole education in the faith is about helping students enter more deeply into this central truth. 
2. Examine reasons for belief. The learners should see clearly that they are believing, not because their family and friends believe, but because what they believe is true (agrees with reality) and highly reasonable.Clarify why (a) God is real, (b) Jesus is God, (c) the Catholic Church is Jesus’ one true Church.
3. Ensure that students have received the key sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Confession. Without grace, divine life, growth in the Christian life is impossible.
4. Be warmly welcoming and give a joyful Christian example.  (The list is taken from CCC 6)

 
EMPHASIZE THE KEY WAYS TO REACH THE GOAL

1. Facilitate an encounter with a living person. To help the learner to become Jesus’ intimate friend, we need to shift from (a) merely teaching truths about God to (b) introducing Someone. Education in the faith should “have as an objective not only the intellectual adherence to Christian truth, but also the creation of a personal encounter.” (Synod) In catechesis, Christ is taught –everything else is taught with reference to him. (CCC 427) Jesus is alive, and he is the one who teaches and gives grace through the educator, the priest, the Bible and catechesis. An effective practice is to recommend:  “As you acquire doctrine, you can meditate, you can realize that God is looking at you, and that you are looking at him.” (St. Josemaria)

2. Focus on the essentials: make the kerygma the central and oft-repeated message.  The truth that God who is alive loves us and died to save us, and is near us” is called the kerygma. This has to be the center of all teachings, “which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.” (Pope Francis) The kerygma is expressed in many ways, but the core of God’s love is his mercy and his thirst for our love.  You help the learner achieve the goal of catechesis –union with Jesus—when  you teach all the key dimensions of faith for the learners to encounter Christ in them: (1) Creed:  We believe in God’s love, (2) Liturgy: We celebrate and receive Jesus’ life of love, (3) Morality: We live Jesus’ life of total love, (4) Mission: We live Jesus’ life of total love in saving souls, (5) Prayer: We live Jesus’ life of total love in dialogue with God, (6) Community: We live Jesus’s life of total love with others. (GDC 84)

3. Emphasize the key places of encounter and identification with Christ


a. Gospels and Personal Prayer. To help students know Jesus and become one with him, catechesis should “base itself constantly on the Gospels…the heart of all the Scriptures.” (GDC 41) A key way to develop friendship with Jesus, possible even for little children, is quiet time of conversation with him. A simple way to do this is to block off some minutes to just be there alone with God as friend, and to allow him to love us, while loving him above all in return. Another way is to read the Gospel of the day and to talk to God about the words that strike us. St. Josemaria taught that religion “is studied properly when the subject becomes a topic for prayer.”  Thus during catechesis, an effective practice is to make each one pause to pray to God about the key teachings in silence. Also the teacher should encourage the learner to pray about Christ’s teachings on their own after class by blocking off time for personal prayer. 

b. Liturgy as a Place of Encounter Par Excellence.  The liturgy found in the Mass, Confession and the other sacraments is the “best school of faith.” (Synod) It makes present the Paschal Mystery, the very summit of God’s love, the center of the Christian life.  Educators should echo the strong recommendation of the Church for frequent Confession and Mass, and help students understand why nothing is more important than these

c. Family Prayer. “It is essential that children actually see that, for their parents, prayer is something truly important. Hence moments of family prayer and acts of devotion can be more powerful for evangelization than any catechism class or sermon.” (Pope Francis) Family prayer “is precisely the best way to give children a truly Christian upbringing.  (St Josemaria)

d. Christ’s identity: Son of God and Savior. We have become Christ himself.” (CCC 795)  Each one then has to always identify himself as a child of God with Christ’s mission to save souls. Students should feel the serious and joy-filled responsibility to exercise the three offices of the Savior: priest, prophet and king who Christianizes society. From early on, they have to take initiative and bring their family, classmates, friends, neighbor and the poor closer to God. “Young people should become the first to carry on the apostolate directly to other young persons.” (Vat II, Apostolate of the Laity, 12)

e. Christ in the Poor, the Sick and all Men. A high impact encounter with Christ is performing the works of mercy for people in need:  “whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me.” (Mt 25:40)   Good catechists encourage families to love and visit the sick and poor.  Teachers should also emphasize that love for the poor is “mainly translated into privileged religious care.” (Pope Francis)

f. Christ as Reason and Truth.  Since the goal is to consciously choose to be one with Christ, doing his work of Christianizing the secularist society, it is key that Christians “live a faith that comes from the Logos, Reason.” (Benedict XVI; Jn 1:1 – Logos is Word or Reason) Students should be able to generate convincing arguments for the rationality of choosing the Catholic religion and the natural law, and of critiquing the present-day errors.  They should know the reasoning for the truths of Social Doctrine they ought to spread in their secular work and in the country. The teacher should ensure that no falsehood is taught or willful omissions of key doctrines occur, as these are a betrayal of Christ who is the Truth and the Light in darkness. 

g. Christ as Perfect Man.  Imitating Jesus who is Perfect Man, students should be trained to practice all the human virtues, like integrity, justice, cheerfulness, courtesy, loyalty, responsibility, sincerity, humility, work, etc. 

h. Christ in the Beautiful Lives of the Saints. “Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints.” (Benedict XVI)  Good for students to research on the inspiring lives of saints.

4. Attract through the positive: joy, beauty, the greatness of God. Teachers “should appear as people who share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite to a delicious banquet...the Church grows by attraction” (Pope Francis)  Effective catechists show excitement and amazement at God’s infinite beauty, wisdom and generous self-giving.  

5. Follow the pedagogy of God and of the Church.  God’s teaching method is our model. God became man to make it easy for us to see God. And so Jesus’ story is key, as well as the stories he told of the Kingdom. Sacred images, which John Paul II recommended to be used in praying the rosary, are “extremely effective in communicating the Gospel.” (Intro to the Compendium 5)  Follow the pedagogy of the CCC, GDC and the Popes. Good teachers discern the background, culture, interests and level of the learner. 

6.  Embody the goal (freely chosen intimate union with God) and help the students keep it always in mind.  “Today's world needs persons who speak to God to be able to speak of God. Remember that Jesus did not redeem the world with beautiful words or showy means, but with suffering and death.” (Benedict XVI) This means the faith educator has to faithfully persevere through the ups and downs of life to deeply know God in prayer and in the Church's doctrine, and give the best in teaching – with punctual regularity. 

Download the one-page Executive Summary here. In PDF here  

See also: Working Like the Best in Teaching Religion: fruitful experiences in applying these principles. 

These one-page leaflets have started going viral around the world. One leaflet was posted in the website of the Archdiocese of Westminster in London ("The Mother Church of England"), in the Corpus Christi Parish in Canada,  in Kenya and in Macau. To get the full collection, please see this: One Page Leaflets for New Evangelization Going Viral!