Catechetics

The always excellent Monsignor Charles Pope is calling for a back to basics catechesis. This is a topic naturally dear to my heart and as usual, he nails it. “It became clear to me in that moment that we could no longer do business as usual when it came to catechesis,” he writes.

[W]e have to go back to basics and tell the “old, old stories” again of mankind lost in sin, living in the dark shadows of death and ensnared in the mystery [of] iniquity. Yes, It was time to re-read the Genesis account of Original Sin and all the old stories.

He goes on to describe the program in his parish, in which all grades are taught from the same Bible text each week, with parents in their own group going over the same material. He describes his own approach, based on the three pillars: Sin, Redemption and Grace, but what strikes me is the weight he assigns to Bible stories:

Bible Stories are both memorable, and teach fundamental truths in ways that reach deeper than merely the intellect. They touch the heart and draw the children into the world and mind of God.

When I first started working in the classroom, my job was to take the Gospel for that particular Sunday. After reading it to the class I opened the floor for discussion, guiding the students to relate Christ’s teaching to their lives.

This year in my parish we are starting a lectionary-based curriculum. Each week takes the Gospel (or occasionally an Epistle or Old Testament reading), which we will explore in detail, tying it into specific Church teachings. Children in the same family will be on the same page, so to speak, so families can pick up the theme together if they wish.

Such an approach carries a risk. This is not a systematic ticking off of the CCC point by point, and some critics have described it as hit-or-miss. I have criticized “content-free” catechesis myself, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Before the upheavals of the 1970s, a teacher could count on the children growing up in an environment where the Gospel was part of the fabric of daily life, and going through the questions in the catechism book simply added some intellectual rigor to what the child lived in his family and in the parish. Today, we cannot count on any of this, and catechists have to be evangelists as well. The times may well call for some good old fashioned kerygma.

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