Q: Archbishop J, what is the task of the catechist?
The catechist’s task is first and foremost to hand on a living faith to this generation and to the next. There is no substitute to this primary task.
It begins by facilitating an encounter with Jesus Christ. Without this encounter as a centrepiece of catechetics and, I dare say, the life of the Church, we will build on shifting sand and not on the solid rock that is Christ.
At the heart of Christianity, we do not find precepts, laws, doctrines, or moral codes; we find the living Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is Christ, with the Holy Spirit, who animates the disciple through encounter to conversion, through conversion to discipleship, through discipleship to communion and, ultimately, through communion to mission.
This missionary cycle is a continuous process of encounter and conversion always leading to deeper discipleship, communion, and more focused living of the mission. Through this cycle the person moves from a neophyte who needs accompaniment, to a missionary disciple who accompanies others.
To understand the formation cycle of the missionary disciple is to understand that catechetics today is both dynamic and integral.
It is dynamic because it constantly responds to the needs of God’s people in a very volatile world. It is integral because it needs to address all dimensions of the human—mind, body, emotions, and spirit—while addressing each person and all people.
Discipleship requires that we make of ourselves a living sacrifice to God. St Paul invites us all to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God”, adding, “which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).
He continues: “Do not be confirmed to this world”, rather, he stresses, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2).
For St Paul, the human is body, spirit, heart, and mind, with each dimension referring to the whole human. By offering our body as a living sacrifice, our spirit (our spiritual capacity) is aligned to this offering and, thus, our worship of God is pure and holy.
Being conformed to this world is a matter of heart or emotions (our emotional capacity). A parallel text is 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.”
The transformation of our heart is in loving God and the things of God. All this requires a transformation of the mind (our intellectual capacity). Only then will we have the capacity to discern, “to prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12: 2).
Integral, here, refers not only to each dimension of the human—body, mind, heart, and spirit. It also refers to each person and all people. Here, we interpret this through the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk16:15).
A Change of Era
In a 2015 address, in Florence, to the Italian Church, Pope Francis famously said: “You can say today we are not living in an era of change but a change of era.” When eras change our criterion for success are fundamentally reworked. What worked in catechetical formation in the previous era, will not work today.
For this reason, St John Paul II called for a New Evangelisation—new in ardour, new in method, new in expression.
A change in era comes about through a change in human consciousness. Jean Gebser in his ground-breaking work The Ever-Present Origin documents the changes in human consciousness from the beginning till now.
Each change in human consciousness changes our description of our collective and the way we organise our self politically.
The previous era was one of mental consciousness, which is binary—either/or. So, we are either body or spirit, good or bad, right wing or left wing, etc. Now, at the end of that era, we can see all the hard and sharp divisions holding humanity ransom.
Gebser narrates the shift in consciousness from mental to integral: from industrialisation to planetisation, from the nation state to noetic polity. A noetic polity is a grouping of likeminded people. Brexit was a noetic polity. Anti-vaxxers are a noetic polity. They exist in different nation states, but they think with a common mind.
For catechetics to be effective in forming the next generation of Catholics, we need our catechists to move from information to integral formation—encounter, conversion, discipleship, communion, and mission.
This must address the questions and deep inner desires of all our people and every dimension of the human person. This will require each of us be open to conversion.
This is an invitation to a new world view that is closer to that of St Paul than the modern mental consciousness, which has created the dualistic way of seeing Christianity.
We do not have modern life and then religious sentiment, the whole world is pregnant with God, if we have eyes opened, we will see God in all things.
A Synodal Church
On October 17, we launch the diocesan stage of the Roman 2023 Synod. The purpose for this synod is to find the way towards a synodal Church, one that is walking together with Christ, like the two people on the road to Emmaus.
They were dejected and without hope when the stranger walked up and accompanied them. The stranger reinterpreted the whole of the scriptures, from the perspective of the cross of Christ.
Then their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread, and they could see plainly and distinctly, and were drawn back to mission and to Jerusalem.
In the change of an era, we need to walk patiently together, if we are to find the way to pass on the faith to the next generation. To move from giving information to integral formation requires a patient journey of conversion.
The process the Holy Father has outlined for us is the Emmaus walk, through which, let us pray, our eyes will be opened to the full message of the Gospel in our era, to the encounter with the risen Lord and ultimately to a commitment to mission.
The catechist’s task is to hand on a living faith to this generation and the next. This is made difficult because of the change of era.
Follow the synod launch in our Archdiocese next month and participate in all the activities.