Catechesis vs. Discipleship

There’s been a lot of discussion here on the Catholic Channel about how to do catechesis better, starting with Joanne McPortland’s humble proposal to do away with catechesis of children and catechize adults instead. She wasn’t entirely serious, but there was a lot to what she said. Leah Libresco, Elizabeth Duffy, Greg Popcack, and of course Elizabeth Scalia have all chipped in, and I’m probably missing a few.

Here’s my take: catechesis is the wrong focus, and discipleship is the right one. We need to focus on forming intentional disciples, as Sherry Weddell calls them. We need to be forming adult Catholics who love Christ, have a mature faith, and seek Him every day. That’s not the fruit of catechesis; that’s the fruit of discipleship.

Please note: I’m not saying that we should do discipleship instead of catechesis. I’m saying that we should be doing discipleship in the context of catechesis.

As an example: this year I joined the RCIA team at my parish. I’m in the San Fernando region of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Bishop Wilkerson, our auxiliary, has been supporting the notion of intentional discipleship for many years. (He’s mentioned by name in Weddell’s book.) Our pastor has been preaching about discipleship for the past year. And in the RCIA program, this year, as we teach the candidates what the sacraments are, and what the Church teaches, and how the Bible is structured, and what the creeds me, and all of that, we are also explicitly trying to draw them into a deeper relationship with Christ.

Will this work? Good question; and we’ll find out. But I’m utterly sure that we’re more likely to make disciples if we’re trying to make disciples than if we’re simply trying to educate people. And if we can teach parents to be disciples, then we’ll really have done something (see Greg Popcak’s post for more on the role of parents).

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photo credit: Eusebius@Commons via photopin cc

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  • http://www.thewinedarksea.com/ Melanie B

    “I’m utterly sure that we’re more likely to make disciples if we’re
    trying to make disciples than if we’re simply trying to educate people.” Most definitely.

    I’d have framed it slightly differently and said that we should be doing catechesis in the context of discipleship. Discipleship being the goal and catechesis being one tool used to accomplish that goal. But maybe I’m missing a point you were making?

    • http://platytera.blogspot.com Christian LeBlanc

      “doing catechesis in the context of discipleship” That’s how this catechist understands it.

    • Will Duquette

      Melanie, actually I think I agree with you…but if I’d written it that way I’d have lost the parallelism between “instead of” and “in the context of”.

      When I was in 8th grade CCD, preparing for confirmation, they put the boys and girls in two different classes. We learned about the sacraments, and the ten commandments, and the slippery slope of making out with girls and how not to slide down it (which topic was a little too popular with the class, I think). It was all very much down to brass tacks.

      The girls’ class was led by a couple who I think were probably intentional disciples in Weddell’s sense. And so far as we could tell they spent a lot of time on disciply things like loving Jesus…but they didn’t seem to learn as many facts. (How we knew this, I dunno, but that’s the impression I had at the time.)

      Point is, I think you need to do both: seriously do catechesis, but do it as a disciple, and bring out the relationship between the catechesis and being a disciple.

      So, as I say, I think I actually agree with you. :-)

      • http://www.thewinedarksea.com/ Melanie B

        Well for the sake of the parallelism….

        “you need to do both: seriously do catechesis, but do it as a disciple, and bring out the relationship between the catechesis and being a disciple.”

        I definitely agree with that. And I guess I need to be more careful about not seeming to want to throw out catechesis in my eagerness to talk about discipleship. Which in practice I don’t do– our homeschool has quite a few catechetical texts and we regularly spend time learning catechism and prayers and facts alongside our focus on formation.

  • Joe

    We need to be forming adult Catholics who love Christ, have a mature faith, and seek Him every day.

    That’s difficult to do when he is invisible all the time, which is what the real problem is. Presumably part of mature faith is taking that problem and somehow turning it around into being the bestest thing ever. The most wonderful bestest plan that ever could be thunk: being invisible and nobody ever knows if you are real or not and never saying anything to anyone. That’s what maturity is. Taking those lemons and making lemonade that somehow isn’t a problem at all, but really the bestest totally perfect non-problematic lemonade ever. The real problem couldn’t possibly be that Christ is completely invisible and never says nothin to nobody. Nawww couldn’t be that at all. So everyone carry on talking about “oh my gosh golly, what could the problem possibly be.”

    • Will Duquette

      In fact, I know lots of adult Catholics who love Christ, have a mature faith, and seek Him every day. Perhaps there’s something you’re not seeing?

      • Joe

        Yeah I don’t see invisible Jesus because I’m blind. Beautiful lemonade, lol. It’s the “it’s all my fault” lemonade special.

      • Joe

        I’m totally amazed that you won’t admit that invisibility and silence is a huge major problem. But not surprised. It’s hilarious but totally expected. It can’t possibly be a bug, therefore it’s a feature. The bestest feature ever. Apologetics in a nutshell. Have a nice day.


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