Lani Bogart encourages catechists to model and explain the powers and capacities available to the Baptized.
Sometimes I puzzle over the lives of cradle Catholics who are repeatedly drawn back to the sacraments of the Church over the course of many years, yet seem to lack an understanding that Christ came to lead them, personally, to an intimate life of love in the Father and with the Holy Spirit. What is it, I wonder, that keeps them coming back?
Fanning the flame
I imagine within each one a hearth where the fire of God’s love is kindled. Sparks flare during the big moments of life: a wedding, the birth of a child, a tragic relationship, the death of a loved one. At such times not just a flame burns, but a respectable fire. As time passes, they appear content to allow the flame to lie dormant under a heap of ashes; yet, they are unwilling to entirely extinguish it. In cold, dark moments they return to the hearth and stir the coals into flame.
How can we help cradle Catholics be more aware of the graces at their disposal? How can we help them understand that all of life is meant to be lived in the light and warmth of that fire? How can we help them tend the fire of God’s love in their hearts?
In the catechesis of cradle Catholics, we can first focus on the beginning of their communion with Christ. We emphasize the graces they have already received. Then we cultivate in them the longing for more. Cradle Catholics are immersed in Christ through Baptism. The General Directory for Catechesis has this to say of the baptized in need of catechesis:
…there is a fundamental difference between catechumens and those being catechized …who have been already introduced into the Church and have been made sons of God by means of Baptism. The basis of their conversion is the Baptism which they have already received and whose power they must develop. (GDC 90)
Baptism is the basis of conversion for all Christians. Our task, as catechists, is to help the baptized develop the power they already possess; to fan the flame. ‘Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word.’ (Catechesi Tradendae 20)
The efficacious graces of the sacraments make it unlikely that a cradle Catholic who remains faithful to the sacramental life of the Church will long continue unaware of their own yearning for a share in the life of the Holy Trinity. Participations in these sacraments are guaranteed encounters with Christ. We dare not neglect so sure a path to communion with Christ. Catechists can highlight the love and forgiveness available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the strengthening graces available in the Eucharist.
Expressing powers and capacities
In my work with preschoolers it is my task to arrange things in such a way that the children become more and more aware of their own abilities. Walking slowly, speaking softly, holding their palms together to ‘make prayer hands’, listening respectfully to short readings from Scripture, and genuflecting with reverence are within the capacities of three year olds, but not often expected of them. I deliberately express my confidence in their abilities and model consistently the behaviors I expect from them. Children are happy to exercise their newly discovered powers when they understand them as an expression of love for God and others. Catechists of preschoolers learn quickly that helping children understand what they can do is considerably more effective than telling them what they cannot do.
Just as a child may be unaware of the natural capacities he possesses, so any Christian may be unaware of the power of his Baptism. To help cradle Catholics develop the power of Baptism for life in the Church and the world, we use the language of the Church in speaking of the mysteries of the faith. God’s grace is at work within them, but perhaps they have not been expected to live as if this were true. We make it our aim to awaken them to the graces already given. We help them become familiar with Sacred Scripture. We patiently help them understand the difference their Baptism makes. We show them, by example, how to live in an awareness of Christ’s presence and power. We express confidence that they are capable of overcoming the doubts and obstacles they confront when wrestling with Church teaching. Gradually, they will discover within themselves the graces they were given at Baptism.
How can we convince Cradle Catholics that saying ‘yes’ to a share of life in the Holy Trinity diminishes the dread of saying ‘no’ to sin unless they can see the flame of Christ’s love burning brightly in our hearts? We must witness by our lives that the life of grace is not only possible, but joyful.
Above all, we must step aside and say, with Mary, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Our role, as catechists, is to encourage all to pursue their share in the life of the Holy Trinity. By God’s grace at work in us, we will help them tend the fire of God’s love in their hearts.
This article is originally on page 16 of the printed edition.