By AJ Garcia/Office of New Evangelization and Justice
Recently I started reading “After Emmaus: Biblical Models for the New Evangelization” by Father Marcel Dumais. I am especially interested with the second chapter titled: Direct Proclamation of the Gospel (The Kerygmatic Model). The book has been thought provoking and has led me to great reflection and I wanted to share some of those reflections here and invite you to reflect on the role of evangelization and catechesis in formal and informal faith formation.
In 2005 in his encyclical, “God is Love,” Pope Benedict shared this thought: “Being Christian is born not of an ethical decision or a lofty ideal, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Throughout history men and women have made the decision to be Christian and many factors have impacted those decisions. It is helpful today to consider and seek the source of inspiration leading one to make the decision to be a Christian.
We are at a critical moment in the life of our Church, we are bombarded with statistics about how Church attendance is plummeting and of the increased and almost desperate need for priests and religious. However, this shouldn’t cause us to lose hope, Jesus Christ is still Lord and what he did on the Cross should bear a significant impact on how we live each day. Understanding who Jesus is and what he did must go beyond something we know as a historical fact or something we learned in class. Knowing who Jesus is and what he did can be a personal experience with the person of Jesus Christ. Father Dumais wrote, “Christian faith is not, first of all adherence to doctrinal content or moral values. Christian faith is essentially an encounter with someone with whom one develops a relationship and by whom one lets oneself be transformed.”
Adherence to doctrinal content and moral values will become part of relationship, but if that is the primary focus of a religion or relationship, it should be examined and maybe even called to question. If we are going to adhere to doctrine and morals it should be out of a profound love (relationship) for a person: Jesus.
For years it has been the Catholic cultural/parochial norm to catechize (to teach the faith) through faith formation in a parish while very little, if any, happens in the home. This history has led us to where we are now and what I described above – plummeting Church attendance and an increased need for priests and religious. How much of this is a result of catechizing without first evangelizing? Father Dumais wrote: “If there is no initial evangelization, if there is no personal relationship with God living in Jesus Christ, catechesis doesn’t make any sense, since it represents delving deeper into the faith.”
Evangelization that precedes catechesis is what we see the first Christians do in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts Chapter 2, St. Peter preaches, he shares the Kerygma; the reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Then the crowd asks him what they are to do because they’ve become so convicted of the truth and love of Jesus. In verse 38, St. Peter tells them “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Verse 41 tells us that 3,000 people were baptized that day!
From that moment, Acts 2:42 describes what that group of people did going forward: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” Notice that the first item mentioned is the teaching of the apostles, or catechesis. However, this was not until after they were told the great story of Jesus and made the decision to know Jesus and follow him in a personal way.
As we strive to evangelize and share the faith let’s look to the example of Jesus and the apostles and be willing to tell the story of Jesus and invite people to know him and follow him. Only with that as the precedent will catechesis ever make sense or take root in one’s life. Before we share the facts about Jesus, we should simply share who he is and how he has transformed our lives and we will set the world on fire!