Welcome to Franciscan University’s new catechetical journal! As we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the founding of our academic Catechetics program, we offer this quarterly journal to the wider catechetical community. It is this generous community and those they serve who are particularly integral to the Church’s hope for carrying out Christ’s missionary mandate:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Mt. 28:19-20).
Jesus’ “Great Commission” to the nascent Church has echoed down to each generation through the grace of God and the responsiveness of many faithful disciples. Catechists in particular embrace the responsibility to teach the fullness of the faith and to invite others into the joy of life in Christ. The catechist does not carry out this mission alone, however; we know that in this sacred ecclesial activity of passing on the teaching of Christ, the Lord Jesus himself is mysteriously present and at work. In catechesis, not only do we communicate his teaching, but he also meets us in a profound, divine encounter. How is this so? I’d like to suggest two particular ways the catechetical encounter with Christ unfolds.
First, substantial experiences of prayer within catechesis become possibilities for genuine contact with God. Coming face-to-face with God not only happens when we go on retreat, join a prayer group, participate in the sacraments, or give of ourselves to another in need. Such a meeting also happens in the catechetical setting anytime prayer from the heart is cultivated. Five or even ten minutes of quality prayer may be the most important moments of a catechesis. It becomes an experience of hearing and responding to Christ who “stands at the door and knocks” (cf. Rev. 3:20). If those we teach prayerfully enter into genuine contact with God in these opening minutes, a deep desire for God subsequently arises. Cooperation with the ever-present grace of Christ throughout the catechesis becomes more likely. Those initial moments of communion with the Lord are, in fact, unparalleled in their impact upon the receptivity and responsiveness of everyone present—including the catechist.
Second, catechesis itself is profoundly centered on Christ. Pope St. John Paul II identified the catechist so intimately with the Divine Teacher and the content of catechesis so closely with the Mystery of Christ that he was able to say: “in catechesis it is Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God, who is taught – everything else is taught with reference to Him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips.” Catechetical participants encounter Christ, therefore, because in a mysterious way they are hearing Christ speak and meeting him in the content of catechesis. Catechists, then, must be heralds of the Good News, communicating the Deposit of Faith that has been entrusted to the Church by Christ himself.
This responsibility entrusted to the catechist is so sacred and significant, that the task of catechesis is considered by the Church to be a vocation. The catechist is called to this work by God, and this work of communicating Christ is a sure path to holiness. And so, in and through the catechetical act, a transformative encounter with Christ is always possible. Catechesis then becomes an opportunity for deep conversion of mind and heart, intellect, and will. Unquestionably such a conversion of those being catechized is integral to the actualization of the New Evangelization. This conviction of Christ’s presence within catechesis is so fundamental to the mission of this journal that it includes the department, “Encountering God in Catechesis,” as a platform for our readers to give witness to the presence of God and the working of grace in the catechetical endeavor. We hope that such accounts of how God moves and works in catechesis will inspire and teach us all how to be more attuned to his grace, his unmistakable presence, in this work of bringing the Good News to those we teach.
As Franciscan University launches The Catechetical Review, it is our hope that it assists catechetical leaders spiritually, academically, and pastorally as they fulfill their great commission. The Catechetical Review will provide penetrating reflections from experts all over the world on issues impacting the vital work of communicating the Good News, for the sake of better equipping catechists to reach today’s generation with the saving truth of Christ our Lord. We look forward to working with you, hearing from you, and serving you in this exciting new endeavor.
Editor of The Catechetical Review, Dr. James Pauley is associate professor of Theology and Catechetics and has served on the Theology faculty at Franciscan University of Steubenville since 2002. He received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary/the University of St. Mary of the Lakein May of 2014. His doctoral research was focused on the twentieth century history of the renewal of liturgy and catechesis and the proposal of principles for the revitalization of liturgical catechesis in contemporary ecclesial life. He is a frequent speaker in parishes and dioceses nationwide. This article was originally on page 5 of the printed edition.