I’m doing some work at the moment tutoring students who are training to be catechists. As a result, I have been re-reading The General Directory for Catechesis and Share the Good News which explores what that means in an Irish context.
In the past when people talked about catechesis they often thought of the Catechism and the sheer terror of having to know answers off by heart if the priest came in to the classroom. Knowing about our faith is part of it, but there is more to it than head knowledge.
Growing in relationship with God and encountering the merciful love of God the Father are central to it. Catechesis is about formation, about becoming more and more like Jesus Christ – and then living that reality in our everyday lives.
It is about having a sense of shared responsibility for the mission of the Church – that we should be good news for the world, be the ongoing presence of Jesus in society. We cannot do this without having a love for those who are on the margins. This is where the gospel commitment to justice takes root.
Pope Francis has talked about the importance of ‘integral human development’ – the development of every aspect of the human person. The General Directory tells us that means the right to life, work, education, foundation of a family, participation in public life and to religious liberty (GDC 17). I have always felt that faith has to engage with every aspect of who we are, our desires and our dreams, the mundane and the wonderful realities of our lives.
For many of us the reality that shapes our lives more than anything else is family. Whether we are married or single, old or young, family – nuclear and extended – shapes so much of who we are, how we engage with the world and what our priorities are.
And so, I have found myself wondering how good we are in the Catholic Church about really engaging with that powerful and profound reality of people’s lives. Over the next month hundreds of children in parishes all over the country will celebrate their First Holy Communion. Some parishes have been very involved in the preparations with parish-based programmes.
Other parishes have been less involved. The challenge though is what happens next?
There are many families who will walk away now, reappearing in time for another First Holy Communion or Confirmation, perhaps a Baptism. But there are other families who continue to be part of our parish communities. How much do we nurture and support family life – not just for sacramental preparation but for that integral development that Pope Francis talks about?
I’ve recently started working a few days a week as the coordinator of a service which seeks to bring together all the available information parents may need – courses, resources, support groups, events and networks.
Research has shown the importance of supporting and equipping parents with good skills, information and confidence in their own ability and that children reap the benefits of this.
The more I read about parenting courses and the importance of informal networks like toddler groups, the more I see opportunities for parishes to engage in this work. I’m not suggesting at all that ‘Father’ has to start running parenting courses but maybe as parishioners we could suggest that community space in the Church be made available to local services for parenting talks, courses, toddler groups or indeed youth groups.
Maybe those of us who are more seasoned parents at this stage could consider getting trained so that we can volunteer to help with such courses and groups.
Perhaps we could do a little informal research into what the needs of families are – not just the ones who come to Mass but in the wider community – and then explore how we as a parish could respond to those needs. To act in faith and respond in love to the needs of others is catechesis in action.