Fr Billy Swan
I have just finished reading the new ‘Directory for Catechesis’ (DFC) published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and approved by Pope Francis in March last year. For all of us committed to the work of evangelization, it is essential reading. What impressed me most about the document was the close connection held throughout between evangelization being at the service of faith and how faith leads to loving communion with God: ‘At the centre of every process of catechesis is the living encounter with Christ…Communion with Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, who is living and always present, is the ultimate end of all ecclesial action and therefore of catechesis as well’ (DFC, 75, 426).
Here is the goal of it all, the result we evangelizers want to see, the prize on which our hearts are set – that everyone comes to know and love Jesus Christ, to believe in him and thus share the life of God. Here I would like to draw attention to what the directory advises regarding how efforts to evangelize can more effectively lead to a growth in faith in those we engage with.
In the chapter entitled ‘Catechesis in the Lives of Persons’, the Directory outlines four particular tasks of catechesis with adults that are focused on the goal of moving people towards a response of faith or leading people who already believe to a deeper, more mature faith (DFC, 261). These four tasks are:
A PURIFICATION of faith ‘from partial, misguided or erroneous religious representations’. I remember a good priest from my youth who had a number a pet peeves and favorite topics. No matter what the readings at Mass were or whatever the liturgical occasion, these peeves and emphases would come into the homily! I think here too of how easy it can be for all of us to make God into our own image and make Him a projection of our own desires. That’s why purification is so important for it takes us back to the witness and Word of Jesus himself who came to reveal a God that is bigger than any box we might make for him.
This first task of purification calls evangelizers to have a clear objectivity about the faith we teach and share. It is not just ‘my faith’ but ‘our faith’. The faith is the faith of the Apostolic Church that has been handed down to us and that we are asked to proclaim in fidelity to the Word of God, the living Tradition of the Church and the authentic interpretation of that Word by the Church’s magisterium. In practical terms, this means constant and prayerful recourse to the Scriptures and the Catechism that both evangelize us and prepare us to evangelize others.
Second, to ASSIST ‘the sharing and witness of faith, preparing spaces of sharing and service in the Church and in the world as ways of realizing the task of manifesting the kingdom of God’. This task reminds us that in order for faith to grow, it needs space and opportunities for expression. Consider for a moment the Confirmation programs in our parishes that prepare young people for the sacrament. We talk to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and about the ways God has gifted our youth. But do parishes create enough space within those communities for those gifts to be welcomed and expressed? Do our parishes have some kind of graduate system whereby young adults can assume more responsible ministries in our parishes as they mature and move into adulthood?
This task also challenges our communities to become spaces where there are opportunities to share what our faith means to us and share reasons why believing is sometimes difficult. It involves us talking about faith, listening to the witness of faith and seeing the witness to faith by other believers. Creating spaces for sharing involves developing the language of faith and helping each other deal with any obstacles that are blocking a fuller assent to belief. I think here of how C.S. Lewis came to faith after hours of chat, laughter and lively conversation with his fellow inklings. What God has revealed calls for a response on our part. So begins a dialogue that leads to a relationship that leads to faith.
Third, adult catechesis must NOURISH faith ‘thanks in part to an experience of meaningful ecclesial relationships, promoting the formation of mature Christian consciences capable of giving the reason for their hope and ready for a serene and intelligent dialogue with contemporary culture’.
In the Gospels, faith has an organic quality to it. In the words of the Directory, faith grows ‘consolidated with the years, developed with time, deepened with age’ (DFC, 26). Faith is something that grows or dies, depending on how it is nourished and lived. In the Gospels, Jesus often likens the gift of faith to a mustard seed (cf. Matt. 17:20). It begins small but can grow to such a degree that others benefit from it, like birds in the branches of a tree that began its life as a seed. Our faith in Christ is something alive and active. It is a gift that is nourished by the Word of God and by the example of good Christians who confirm our deepest faith instincts. It is a gift that grows best in community where we make friends who encourage us to live the demands of the Gospel. As the Directory suggests, our consciences are always being formed and nourishing our faith leads to a clearer sense of what is right and wrong, true and false.
Finally, evangelization and catechesis seek to ELICIT faith ‘fostering a new beginning of faith filled experience’. For the inspired preacher and teacher of the Gospel, this implies a constant invitation to make a fresh response of faith and helping others see that believing today in a Creator and loving God is a reasonable option. At times, we might not fully understand all that faith requires of us but the invitation to faith summons us to make that leap because, in the words of St Paul: ‘I know who it is in whom I place my trust’. In that spirit, believing is a daily adventure and always begins afresh in Christ who sends us on mission to new places and people.
For all of us who strive to teach, preach and share the Good News of the Gospel, may we keep in mind that faith grows through ‘PANE’ – through Purification of our message by conversion and fidelity to God’s living Word; through Assisting the sharing and witness to faith; through Nourishment of the faith we have, enabling it to grow; through Eliciting the response of faith by making our own the words of the man in Mark’s Gospel: ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief’. With the guidance of the new ‘Directory for Catechesis’, may our efforts to evangelize be driven by a burning desire to lead others to faith in Christ and to a loving union with him in heart, mind and action.