Now there’s an ugly word.
It’s right up there with pedagogy and — dare I say it? — consubstantial for tongue-twisting damnably obscure ugliness. Nobody outside of professional theologians and educators use those words in polite conversation. Where I come from, you could yell Catechesis! at someone and they would be convinced you’d just made a vicious slam on their sexuality.
Which leads me to the point of this post: Catechesis, and where I come from.
I followed the recent catechesis smack down among my fellow Catholic Patheosi from a distance, sure that I would not have a single thought or word to contribute to it. Along about the same time, I read a post by Kathy Schiffer in which she discussed the fact that the folks in the Vatican were a bit overwhelmed by the venomous obscenities Catholic bashers were tweeting at the Holy Father on pontifex.
When I read that, my first thought was welcome to what the laity has to endure, your various fathers and eminences. Any Christian who stands for Christ out there in the cold world of employment and public discourse is going to get kicked around, called names and might even end up endangering their livelihood. And that’s in the West. In other parts of the world, that same Christian may be physically attacked or killed.
I’m glad the people at the Vatican are joining us in the real world where being a Christian can be difficult. I’m hoping the experience will improve their ability to lead us through these times.
A few days later, I read an interesting blog post by Tom Hoopes at CatholicVote. Mr Hoopes wrote about Millennials who are also “hard core” Catholics. It’s a great blog piece; well worth reading. But, like the story about nasty tweets and the Vatican, it rubbed up against reality as I know it.
The two things slammed together and I realized that I’ve got a whole lot to say about Catechesis. I have a veritable truck load of thoughts on the subject, and they all revolve around where I come from.
Where I come from, we wouldn’t call it Catechesis. It might be educating people in the faith, or learning about Jesus or some such. But nobody from the mean streets of inner south side Oklahoma City is going to coming ripping out with a word like Catechesis.
I keep harping on this language thing — and getting speared by liturgists, canonists and a host of other -ists for doing it — because my long years of communicating with the public and successfully inspiring a good number of them to take various actions, has actually taught me one or two things.
The number one thing I’ve learned is that if you want to inspire, motivate and lead people, you don’t do it by talking at them. You don’t even do it by talking to them. You do it by talking with them. You have to be able to speak with them from where they are, not from where you are. That requires empathy, understanding and a common language.
So my first bit of advice to anyone who is serious about evangelizing the world, bringing actual people to Christ, teaching them about their faith and helping them grow in that faith so they can evangelize others, is to get serious about language as a tool of communication. Deep-six the word Catechesis and all the other obscure words that it rode in on.
Use the language of the people with whom you are speaking.
The second thing I would suggest is to stop assuming that the whole world is educated middle class and upper class hot house flowers like the Hard Cord Catholic Millenials Mr Hoopes wrote about.
One of the things that frustrates me the most is that good Christians are very prone to just throw up their hands and consign whole swaths of the population to hell. They do it for one reason: They aren’t like us.
We do it in politics. And we do it in life. Whatever happened to our missionary spirit, our desire to share Jesus with other people?
The inner city, which is what I’m writing about here, is dying for lack of Jesus.
Did you know that?
Every denomination has closed and is closing its inner city churches and moving to the moneyed areas. Why?
It’s not because there are no people in the inner city. There are lots of people there. Some of these same churches run “programs” to minister to these people. What they don’t do is be with them on a daily basis. They certainly do not spend any thought, time or effort talking to them about Jesus.
It is a classic example of people starving for the bread of life and being given the stone of stuff.
Where did we get the idea that the words that lead to eternal life should only be spoken to people who understand words like “catechesis”?
Rossi wrote a beautiful blog post about the church in Uganda. It said …
That’s what we need to do with the inner city.
I realize that I am going to be called out for confusing catechesis with conversion. But I honestly think that’s an artificial difference. Conversion, my friends, is catechesis; and catechesis, if it’s any use to anyone, is conversion.
Our core problem with catechesis has nothing to do with didactics, or pedagogy or any of those other words I told you not to use. The problem is that our catechesis is not converting people. In my opinion, much of the reason why it’s not converting them is because it does not acknowledge the reality of their lives and it asks nothing of them.
Except for a few intensely cerebral people like TS Lewis and Leah Libresco, commitment comes from doing. Most of us don’t reason our way to a commitment. We act, and the commitment grows from that.
My thoughts on Catechesis are as simple as the place I come from. Catechesis needs to address people where they are, which in the inner city means awash in drugs, crime, no money, amorality and lousy rotten educations that give no hope.
But we Christians have hope to give them, if we would just do it. We have the only Hope there is, the Hope of the world. But this Hope of ours isn’t like money you can put in the bank and forget and it grows interest. Our Hope is like the loaves and fishes: You’ve gotta share it to grow it. When you do share it, it multiplies, both in others and in you.
We can’t share the Gospel with these people by calling a meeting and waiting for them to come. We have to go to them. We have to speak to them in their language and we have accept them as they are.
I think the primary thing wrong with Catechesis in our Church is that we’ve made it for ourselves and we are set in the concrete of not taking it beyond the narrow parameters of people who are like us, gathered together in our church meeting rooms.
The Church as been too passive for too long in its first work, which is going out in the fields of living people and bringing in a harvest for Christ.