Tag Archives: authentic catechesis

The Ecclesial Method, Part 4

Here we are, after a very long gap, for which I apologise… The fourth step of the ecclesial method. The first three steps of the ecclesial method for catechesis (Mgr Francis D Kelly, The Mystery We Proclaim) are the preparation, the proclamation, and the explanation. Catechesis occurs through stages: it first involves preparing the ground without which nothing can really be heard or received, it then moves on to the central moment of the proclamation, the announcement of the kerygma, followed by a clear explanation adapted to the needs of those catechised. Next, comes the fourth step:


20120311-194624.jpgThis is a vital moment that can easily become overlooked. Only when doctrine and real life come together does the lightbulb come on, so to speak. We all know what it is like: we allot 30 minutes for proclamation and explanation. We have key objectives for understanding we need to cover. One activity takes longer than planned, a particular point sparks imagination and the questions are endless. You don’t get through everything you wanted to. Before you know it, the explanation step has not only encroached into, but totally gazumped the application step. Here are a few points I’ve found helpful:

  •  You can’t cover everything! Hopefully you have a realistic number of learning objectives for your session (I’ve found that around three or four are realistic for an hour and a half session), but even then, even with the best will and catechetical skills in the world, it may be that you don’t get through everything. This is fine. Thankfully we’re giving catechesis, not teaching a GCSE syllabus.
  • I remember Professor James Pauley say at the Bosco conference at Steubenville last summer: every baptised Catholic has the right to be taught the full Deposit of Faith – just not in 30 minutes!
  • Because the Catholic Faith, and therefore catechesis too, are organic, the foundational truths and other central doctrines should come up again and again. Those receiving catechesis should be able to view them from many different angles. It is a bit like being on a tour of a cathedral or basilica and viewing the altar from every angle, including from above. We shouldn’t aim to exhaust any one teaching in one session.
So, what is the point of this step?

When we speak of the preparation step, we speak about “calculated disengagement” – helping those being catechised to step back from the busyness of the lives they have come from, to be ready to hear God’s Word. Now we come to the application step, we want to achieve “calculated re-engagement“. Now we have heard God’s Word and understood what this means, have thought it through and grasped it a little bit, we need to consider the reality of our lives in the light of this Word.

20120311-200908.jpgWhat does this teaching mean in our lives? Naturally, we seem to think straight away about the difficult moral implications it may mean for our lives. This is important, but even before we get there, there are simpler responses: If a teaching on God the Father is effective and powerful to those being catechised, their response may be: ‘Wow! Why do I worry so much if God is my Father?!’ If a teaching on Baptism hits home for the baptised, it may result in a response of: ‘The Three Persons of the Trinity have actually made their home in me! Which means I am never alone…’ Or an effective teaching on Grace may help a person realise, ‘I have been struggling so much with this sin. But God always gives grace, so I will ask for his help.’

I really believe that God’s Word transforms our attitudes, before it transforms our actions and behaviour. A woman who is afraid to come off the Pill needs to know the love of God for her, that her life is in safe hands, before the teaching about natural family planning can be truly received in her life.

How do we help this stage to happen? In our Catechumenate sessions, the Application stage happens in small discussion groups (answering questions for understanding and application to life) as well as afterwards during silent prayer in the church where they pray with and consider the questions further, and also at home, in between sessions. In our Confirmation sessions, the application stage happens in different ways: individual reflection in their spiritual journal, small group discussion, one-on-one chat with their mentor, or a spiritual questionnaire during the time of prayer.

This stage is so vital, because it means Christianity is real. It is not just something I assent to. This has meaning for every area of my life. If this step is squeezed out of our catechesis, the seed of the word lies on the surface of the soil without taking root. It is definitely more difficult than the explanation step, and it therefore requires us to give more time to planning and prayer: effort which is undoubtedly well-spent.

Quick-Fix Catechesis?

I am as guilty as the next person for wanting instant results. I hate delays. I hate it when the wi-fi connection goes down. I hate not being able to use my Oyster when I go back home and having to hunt for change instead.

I am also quick to translate this impatience into my catechetical work. It is an instinct that those of us who give catechesis need to fight against. We want instant results. We expect a person who begins RCIA in September to be fully-baked by Easter. If someone shows up in January, we slip them into the programme, hoping the formation they get between January and Easter will be “just enough”. We want quick-fix programmes that will work a treat with the First Communion parents. Confirmation catechesis is notoriously difficult, so we want to squeeze the absolute essentials into a bare-minimum six sessions – and we’ll draft in another organisation like Cafod to cover one of those.

However tempting it might be, however pressured we are, I strongly believe we need to make an enemy of this mentality in the Church. This mentality is a sure sign that we are keen to do things our way, and not God’s. This mentality is a sure sign we are secularising our Christian initiation processes.

The truth is that, however giddily our fast-paced lives speed ahead, God remains unchanging – eternally. Becoming a Christian is not as instant as updating your Facebook status. Our status changes with our mood, but the process of our conversion to Christ takes time, patience, effort, and above all, the work of grace and prayer.

Recently I met with a couple of women who wanted to become Catholics. Neither were baptised, and neither had a strong Christian background, but both thought they would be baptised quite quickly. I explained to them the nature of Christian initiation – of bringing your whole life, mind, will, heart to be configured to Christ – and they began to grasp that this was going to be a long process of deep thought, learning, praying, living and witnessing to the faith, becoming part of a community, changing one’s lifestyle… What was interesting was that neither woman was put off – they were happy to set out on this journey, to start attending weekly Precatechumenate sessions until both they and we determine they are ready to begin the year-long Catechumenate. I could see both of them truly wanted to discover more deeply this Christian life they had encountered in different ways. They were not looking for a quick-fix solution in their life and neither did I want to offer them one. The Lord offers something much deeper and infinitely more fulfilling.

Let us get out of this mentality of looking for quick fixes! God wants to change things, with our cooperation, deeply and gradually. Why feed your catechumens a McDonald’s when, with a little more preparation and care, you could serve them a rich and sumptuous feast?