Just as our teaching follows God’s pedagogy (this is why the proclamation is like an announcement, because this is how God reveals and teaches in Scripture), our teaching also needs to show faithfulness to our human audience. We have to know our audience well – their culture, their mindset and attitudes, the things that preoccupy them – in order to present the teaching in such a way that they can receive it. Catechesis is not really ‘complete’ until it is received into the heart, until the person’s will moves to appropriate this teaching to their life, to make a change.
This puts a big responsibility on our skills as a catechist: we have to know God and the faith well; we also have to know people well, understand them, live their culture, know how to attract them or challenge them or console or encourage them.
John Paul II said:
“We need heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who know the depths of the human heart, who can share the joys and hopes, the agonies and distress of people today, but at the same time contemplatives who have fallen in love with God.”
What a huge call! If you are a catechist, you need to an expert in humanity, and not only that, a contemplative who has fallen in love with God.
How does this relate to the Explanation part of catechesis? This is when your “expertise in humanity” come in! We need to explain the teaching in such a way that it can be understood, received and applied to life. We not only need to understand the doctrine well so that we can explain it clearly (for example, do we really believe that the Fall was a historical event? or: how do I know which of my sins are mortal and which venial? or: what exactly are angels? or: how are we saved?). We also need to answer the question: What relevance does this teaching have to these people’s lives? How is this going to increase their faith, their hope or their love? What has this got to do with their relationship with Christ? We may be able to explain a doctrine beautifully, but these questions are often the important ones.
How do we do the Explanation step? For adults, this may be a short talk. In our RCIA classes, we break it down and don’t have any talks which last longer than 20 minutes. We know that teenagers have a short attention span, but on a weekday evening after a long day at work, adults too are tired, and I think it can help to break things up, and keep the elements of the session moving. Audio-visual aids are also extremely helpful. In the last two weeks, we have started using Fr Robert Barron’s excellent Catholicism series DVDs in our RCIA classes. You need to pick the right section, and we never show more than 15 minutes at a time, but I think this is a resource which will be indispensable within adult catechesis for years and years to come. (Thank you Word on Fire!)
It is also useful to work through handouts, use powerpoint, film clips, personal stories, analogy, examples…making it as real and concrete as possible. There are some great tips on adult education within the Association for Catechumenal Ministry material.
What about with teenagers? The above can also be used, but often, the more active young people are, the better: as long as the activity has a defined purpose and is focussed. In our Confirmation catechesis, we often begin the Explanation step with a quick activity to engage the candidates initially so they are active from the start, not passive. For example, we have used a “Gospel Demo” for teenage catechesis before, which involves young people representing different characters – first in the Fall, and then through to the redemption. It is a presentation of the kerygma, the Gospel message, but the young people themselves participate in it. Use memorable props related to the topic. Use games with deeper meanings (the Theology of the Body for Teens resource from Ascension Press is excellent for ideas of games that are relevant for all catechesis – not just Theology of the Body).
There are other very simple ideas which you can sprinkle through your teaching to liven up a normal catechesis: If you have passages from Scripture in your presentation, give them out with numbers on, and the young person reads their passage when you ask for that number. When you ask for more thoughtful answers from the group ask them to share their thoughts first with the person next to them. And I’m sure we all know this: but moving around is better than standing still – keep them engaged, focussed and on their toes
In the Explanation stage for children, catechesis takes on quite a different character. We use the Faith & Life series for our children’s catechesis, so each session combines different elements: reading together, discussing, activities, role play and use of different items. All of the above can come into the Explanation step – there are some great scripts in the resource and in other places online which can make the teaching come alive.
As always, see Mgr Francis Kelly’s The Mystery We Proclaim for a full account of the ecclesial method.
So over to you: What else would you include in the Explanation step?