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The Art of Teaching the Faith
BISHOP RAYMOND L. BURKE
What does it mean to say that the teaching of the faith is the work of the Holy Spirit? It means that the catechist cooperates in God the Father's communication of His truth and love to His sons and daughters, most perfectly in the sending of the His only-begotten Son into the world for our salvation. The norm of all catechesis is the revelation of God the Father to us in His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The catechist shares in the mission of Christ to reveal God the Father to His children.
THE ART OF TEACHING
How does God the Father teach His children? He accepts His children as they are, and He works to free them from sin and to draw them to Himself. God the Father works through the events of each person's life to reveal Himself and to form a bond of faithful love with the person.
The pedagogy or art of teaching of the catechist should imitate the pedagogy of God. The catechist should help the catechized to see the hand of God at work in the events of life. Through catechesis, the catechized comes to a deeper appreciation of his or her relationship with God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ exemplifies the art of teaching of God the Father. The disciples had direct experience of Christ's teaching through His words and deeds. They have given us a picture of His teaching in the Gospels. The following traits of His teaching are found clearly in the Gospels.
When Our Lord Jesus Christ invited His disciples to follow Him with all their mind and heart, He handed on to them His art of teaching as a fundamental way of sharing fully in His saving mission.
In her turn, the Church has followed the art of teaching of God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ. In a certain sense, the whole life of the Church is an education in the faith. As we say, the Church is our Mother and Teacher. Down the Christian centuries, we find a wealth of catechetical pedagogy in the Church: the lives of the saints and of catechists; the various ways of living the Christian faith and of communicating the faith to others, for example, catechisms; and a rich collection of catechetical practices and texts.
God the Father's art of teaching is discovered in the action of the Holy Spirit in the catechized, leading the catechized to draw close to the Father by becoming more and more like God the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The finality of all catechesis is the deeper communion with God the Father which comes about by becoming more and more like Christ. The catechized becomes more like Christ to the degree that he or she responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit dwelling within. "For this reason," the General Directory for Catechesis concludes, "there cannot be teachers of the faith other than those who are convinced and faithful disciples of Christ and of his Church." (No. 142)
The art of teaching the faith, following the divine example, has the following characteristics:
In short, the art of catechesis favors the growth of the catechized into the likeness of Christ, with the Holy Spirit as Helper and Guide. By so doing, the art of teaching the faith is the art of assisting others to return to God the Father in love and holiness of life.
Catechesis is carried out by humans who employ human means but it is a participation in the saving mission of Christ, the saving action of God the Father. Therefore, catechists must be on guard that they are presenting the truth of the faith and not their private ideas or some ideology. Catechists will employ a teaching art which permits them to promote the full adherence of the catechized to God and to the content of the Christian message which makes full adherence to God possible. They will also help the catechized to develop in all dimensions of the faith: knowledge, prayer and worship, and the life of the virtues. Ultimately, the catechist helps the catechized to give himself or herself to God, especially in "the vocation to which the Lord calls." (Ibid., No. 144) In this regard, catechesis is fundamental to the apostolate of vocations by which the Church helps young people to know their vocation in life and to embrace it with their whole being.
To conclude, catechesis seeks to imitate the pedagogy of God the Father who finds the means to communicate with His children in the diverse experiences of their lives. The great challenge of catechesis is to find the means of communication which respect fully the truth of the faith and the concrete situation of the catechized. By so doing, catechesis assists the catechized to make of their lives a gift of sincere and pure love to God the Father and the neighbor.
METHOD IN CATECHESIS
Diversity of Methods
In teaching the faith, the Church does not use any single method but rather employs a variety of methods as long as they are consonant with the pedagogy of God, that is are coherent with the doctrine of the faith to be taught. Down the Christian centuries, different methods have been employed according to the gifts both of the catechists and of the catechized. Whatever the method employed, the goal of catechesis has always been the same: the education of the catechized in the faith.
Relationship of Method and Content
If catechesis is to be true both to God's Word and to the catechized, the method and the content of catechesis must be carefully related. It is false to think that method is neutral with regard to the content of the faith to be communicated. The way of handing on the faith must be "adequate to the nature of the message, to its sources and language, to the concrete circumstances of ecclesial communities as well as to the particular circumstances of the faithful to whom catechesis is addressed." (General Directory for Catechesis, No. 149a)
One method has special importance both in the long history of catechesis and today. It is the documentary method which presents the Bible, the Creed, the Sacred Liturgy and the Church herself. It is a method in which the mass media can be effectively employed.
Inductive and Deductive Methods
When talking about the method of catechesis, frequently the terms inductive and deductive are employed. By the inductive method, facts (the history of salvation, the liturgical rites, the history of the Church, contemporary events) are presented to uncover their relationship to God's revelation of Himself to us. It is sometimes called the kerygmatic method because it fits so well the presentation of God's plan for our salvation. "Kerygmatic" comes from the Greek word for preaching and proclaiming. Through the kergymatic method, the events of salvation are, first of all, proclaimed, and then their application to daily life is made.
The deductive method strives to present facts and explain them in terms of their causes. It is not opposed to the inductive method, but in catechesis it can only work well in conjunction with the inductive method. After all, God's revelation of Himself is His initiative and is not reached by merely human reasoning.
Human Experience in Catechesis
The place of human experience in catechesis must be carefully examined and evaluated. Catechesis should help the catechized to become more aware of their experiences and to weigh them in the light of the Church's teaching. Otherwise, the catechized will not be helped in living a responsible life before God.
Experience helps to make the doctrine of the faith understood. We remember how Our Lord Jesus used a variety of experiences to teach the truth of the Gospel. With regard to personal experience, it is the place in which God manifests Himself to us, even as He most perfectly manifested Himself in the taking of our human nature by God the Son. The catechist has the solemn responsibility to help the catechized to view the experiences of daily life in the perspective of the Gospel and Church teaching. Only then will catechesis lead to a deepening Christian life.
The Place of Memorization in Catechesis
Through catechesis, the Church hands on her living memory. Memorization helps the catechized to appropriate into their very being the truths of the faith. What should be memorized? - The principal formulations of doctrine which are a common language and culture for all the faithful. Clearly, the formulations will be most effectively memorized after the doctrine involved has been thoroughly presented. Among the formulations of doctrine, there should also be memorized key passages from the Holy Scriptures, important texts of the Sacred Liturgy and the common Christian prayers (The Sign of the Cross, Apostles' Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Act of Contrition, etc.).
The General Directory for Catechesis refers to the memorized formulations as blossoms which grow in the context of a deeper understanding of the faith. The memorized formulations should call to mind the personal and communal experiences to which they relate.
The Role of the Catechist
There is no method which can replace the service of the catechist. The catechist brings to the method the gifts of the Holy Spirit, a sound spiritual life and the witness of the virtues. The catechist is an important instrument by which God's Word reaches us. Therefore, his or her "cultural vision, social condition and lifestyle must not be obstacles to the journey of faith." (General Directory for Catechesis, No. 156b) The good catechist will be keenly aware of the need to nourish his or her faith through study and, most of all, prayer. It goes without saying that the personal relationship between the catechist and the catechized will have a profound positive effect.
Active Participation of the Catechized
If catechesis is to achieve its noble end, the deeper knowledge and love of God, then the catechized must be invited and encouraged to respond actively to God's love for them. Some of the forms of active participation of the catechized in catechesis are: prayer, public worship, participation in the other Sacraments, works of justice and peace, the life of the virtues. Catechesis should help the catechized to live what they are learning.
The Community and Group in Catechesis
The community of the faithful is obviously "a point of concrete reference for the faith journey of the individuals." (Ibid. No. 158) The catechized look to the community for witness to the truth of the faith. Within the relationship to the community, there is also need for "person-to-person" contact in certain key aspects of our Christian life.
The group can assist very much the learning of the faith. With children, the group helps to form sociability. The group also helps the personality development of the child. Finally, the whole study of the faith uncovers the responsibility which we as a body share for the salvation of the world.
Means of Social Communication
The media are for many "the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behavior as individuals, families and within society at large." (Ibid., No. 160) Therefore, the use of the media (television, radio, press, tape recordings, video and audiocassettes, compact discs, etc.) must be integrated into whatever other methods are employed in catechesis. Some of the media are expensive to employ, but if parishes share them, the high costs become feasible.
The use of the media must be founded upon the knowledge, competence and preparation of the catechist. In this regard, the great challenge is to permeate with the truth of the faith the culture created by the media.
Media professionals should be encouraged to employ their skills in the presentation of the Gospel. Families should be assisted to employ the media for the building up of family life, avoiding uses of the media which attack the family. Young people who have grown up with the contemporary media and are so influenced by them must be helped to employ them in a way which helps them to grow in the faith and its practice.
Burke, Bishop Raymond. "The Art of Teaching the Faith." The Catholic Faith (September/October, 2000).
Reprinted by permission of The Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is published bi-monthly and may be ordered from Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531.
His Grace Bishop Raymond L. Burke is the Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin
Copyright © 2000 The Catholic Faith