By Barb Arland-Fye
“Describe your own experience of catechesis,” instructed our professor, Corinne Winter of St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Comment on various aspects of that experience: the role of Scripture, sacraments and commandments; doctrines and moral precepts that were stressed; highlights and lowlights; changes you’ve observed in the Church’s approach to catechesis in your lifetime; and your concerns as you consider the Church’s mission of catechesis today.
Catechesis is a great topic to explore because all of us — clergy, lay leaders and people in the pews — are striving to pass on the faith we love and cherish to the next generations. I have the privilege of exploring this topic as part of the Master of Pastoral Theology program I am participating in with deacon candidates and their spouses for the Diocese of Davenport. We have just begun the second year of academic classes that meet one weekend each month and are a collaborative effort of the Davenport Diocese and St. Ambrose University. I enrolled in this program as part of my ongoing faith formation and to enhance my work for The Catholic Messenger as its editor. The program also provides a way for me to accompany the deacon candidates and their spouses on a journey of faith that, God willing, will result in the ordination of the 14 candidates as permanent deacons for the diocese three years from now.
The U.S. bishops’ own communications committee chairman underscored the importance of catechesis for Catholic media professionals like me in a speech he gave this summer at the Catholic Media Convention in New Orleans. “At their core, Catholic media organizations have two main roles to play in our Church: to inform and to teach,” Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles said. In its teaching role, Catholic media can help Catholics to deepen their understanding of their faith and how it is lived, the bishop said. “To do this requires that Catholic media be staffed by people who are theologically trained and able to use media to effectively teach.” He challenged Catholic media to make this investment and for bishops to be willing to help with this as well.
Like many cradle Catholics, my first catechists were my parents who nurtured the faith at home. Other catechists built on that foundation of faith formation — clergy, women religious, lay leaders and fellow parishioners.
I served on the RCIA team in my parish, an enriching experience because of the exploration of Scripture, catechetical materials, shared stories and sense of fellowship. Catechesis moved full circle for me in motherhood, as I attempted to nurture the Catholic faith in my children.
The Church teaches that catechesis is a lifelong process – “the education of children, young people and adults in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine … with a view of initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life,” Pope John Paul II observed in his apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae.
A desire for lifelong faith formation inspires me to seek opportunities for catechesis for each of my family members, including my older son Colin who lives with autism. Our diocese is beginning to explore ways in which to provide faith formation for people with special needs, and I look forward to assisting with that effort. The National Directory for Catechesis states that “All baptized persons with disabilities have a right to adequate catechesis and deserve the means to develop a relationship with God.”
My own relationship with God has evolved through catechesis, prayer, Scripture and regular participation in the Mass and sacraments. I am more keenly aware of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and turn frequently to the Holy Spirit for inspiration and guidance.
In an article in the New Theology Review (Feb. 2010), the authors described a catechist as “a kind of mid-wife.” The analogy reinforced for me the value of catechists. We have a responsibility to expand our knowledge of the faith so that we can pass it on in its fullness to the next generations.