Moving Toward a Catechesis of Encounter

Authored by Peter J. Murphy in Issue #1.1 of The Catechetical Review

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The New Evangelization is a call to each person to deepen his or her own faith, have confidence in the Gospel, and possess a willingness to share the Gospel. It is a personal encounter with the person of Jesus, which brings peace and joy. (Disciples Called to Witness, 3)

Does the New Evangelization make you a little bit uncomfortable? Does it feel as if you are moving out into unchartered water? Does it feel as if some of the tools you are comfortable using aren’t adequate anymore? If so, you may be just where God wants you.

Ladies laughing in joyful encounterIn Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis calls us to go outside of our classrooms, our parishes, our comfort zones, and even our very selves to share Christ with a world that so desperately needs him. “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20). Yet to do so effectively, we cannot rely exclusively on our gifts, talents, knowledge, skills; we must rely primarily on the Lord. Pope Francis’ prayer to open Evangelii Gaudium places all our trust in Christ. “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord; take me once more into your redeeming embrace” (3). Alone, we fall short; with Christ we can do all things.

This prayer reveals one key quality with which we must approach the task of catechesis: humility. If catechesis is truly introducing others to a person and not just a set of ideals, knowledge, and ethics—if it is truly an encounter with Christ—then as catechists we must ensure that others encounter Christ and then let Christ work. The Lord may choose to use us as his instruments to reveal himself to another. To do this we must be docile enough to let him work through us, and say as Mary did, “I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38).

Humility is harder than it seems. All too often we want to rely solely on our own strengths, knowledge of the faith, and gifts to help others meet and come to know Christ. My pride creeps in many subtle ways.

When an uncomfortable question arises (or we enter an unfamiliar environment), we might want to react with what is comfortable, with what we know, with something to minimize the discomfort of the unknown. Yet this is the frontier of the New Evangelization: learning to be comfortable with others’ questions, with others’ doubts and fears, pain, and confusion. We know that we go out in Christ’s name and with Christ at our side. We may be tempted to offer a quick solution or a pat answer, when what may be needed in the moment is simply being a patient listener (See EG, 24). This pre-evangelization is essential for the people to know they are cared for and loved. It provides a loving context to experience, share, and encounter Christ.

Evangelization and catechesis are moments of encounter with the person of Christ. This means we don’t share something foreign to us; we include our encounters with Christ and how he has changed our lives. As Catholics we are not always comfortable doing this. We might prefer to teach only about Christ. Yet we are called to also share how we encounter Christ and how he personally affects our lives. Evangelii Nuntiandi reminds us, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (41).

As catechists we become more effective when we are both witnesses and teachers, but our witness is essential. This takes practice and work; but when we can share how the saving truth and love of our Lord has changed us, it takes on new meaning and significance to the children, youth, and adults we catechize. People want to know we are genuine and truly believe and live what we proclaim. Indeed our witness is a proclamation of the Gospel. It is evangelization! Catechesis and evangelization unite when we can share how Christ and his Gospel have personally touched our lives and how the Truth transforms the lives of those who accept Christ and his teachings.

No longer, then, is what we share perceived as a sterile set of rules. Our witness, shared in humility, becomes a story of personal transformation that others can see and feel. Through our witness, others see that Christ has changed us for the better and can do the same for them.

Lord, in this time of New Evangelization, give us the grace of humility to confidently go forth in your name, transformed by your love, led and docile to your Spirit, to share your gospel and our testimony to how you have transformed our lives. May we truly live and share the joy of the Gospel with all we catechize and encounter.

Peter J. Murphy, D.Min., is the Executive Director for the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This article was originally on page 11 of the printed edition.

Art credit: Public domain image from Pixabay.com


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

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