Blessed be God!
During my Dad’s final years of life, he was unable to communicate through the gift of voice. A victim of Alzheimer’s disease, Dad’s voice suddenly departed a few years before he died. Other family members, already Dad’s advocates, became Dad’s voice in new and distinctive ways. His own vocal expressions were gone but Dad, child of God, was not.
I am convinced that Dad communicated during his last years through the gift of sight. On the day he died, his eyes scanned the room where he lay, focusing intently on each of the family members gathered around his bed. Dad, even in the moments leading up to physical death, continued to “speak” to us. He continued to proclaim the goodness of God. In today’s language, we might identify him as an emissary of the New Evangelization.
Faith in God, the one true God of all who reveals himself to us, is faith that enables us to proclaim in word and action, in thought and look, in Gospel and glance, the goodness and love of God. Such faith enables us to communicate by speaking up for one another as mutual disciples with shared beliefs. Whatever our life circumstances and whatever misgivings we may have about God, family, or students, we can remain confident in hope and sure in faith. Faith in a self-revealing God is faith in a God who calls and who yearns for our response. The Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts that “faith is a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words” (CCC §176).
This is a saving and liberating love, a “yes” to a love that will never end.
We trace much of our pedagogical role to the Apostles and to the disciples among whom Jesus walked, taught, and lived. We do so as a Church of Word and Sacrament with an almost overwhelming responsibility to secure and hand on the faith we cherish. Now called to live in a spirit of “New Evangelization,” we begin with what I would call “self-evangelization,” despite certifications gained or degrees earned. We examine and reflect on our lives, though “at present,” St. Paul tells us, “we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12). The wise catechist examines one’s own heart and soul before doing catechetical surgery on those of another.
God’s love for us runs so immeasurably deep that he becomes one with us in Christ Jesus. This is a saving and liberating love, a “yes” to a love that will never end. This loving God and Father of all offers us the irresistible opportunity to explore and explain faith, and even more, to embrace and live faith. Such is the opportunity and challenge before the Catholic high school teacher serving the ministry of catechesis.
How might we continue to promote the pedagogy of the faith as we serve as “teachers of religion” in the life of the Church? Here is what the Fathers of the 1977 Synod on Catechesis, with particular attention to children and youth, stated about “the specific nature of the pedagogy of faith” in their Message to the People of God, offered two years before Catechesi Tradendae and two years after Evangelii Nuntiandi:
In all catechesis one must always unite indissolubly and in an integrated manner:
- Knowledge of the word of God;
- Celebration of faith in the sacraments;
- The profession of faith in daily life.
Pedagogy of faith therefore has this specific characteristic: an encounter with the person of Christ, a conversion of the heart, the experience of the Spirit in the ecclesial community.
Pope John Paul II, a participant in the 1977 synod, affirmed in Catechesi Tradendae that catechesis was “a central care in [his] ministry as a priest and as a Bishop” (CT §4). He asserted that “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch, but also in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (CT, §5). Later, the Catechism would offer clear reminder that “we must believe in no one but God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (CCC §178).
John Paul II reminds us that “pedagogy of faith is not a question of transmitting human knowledge, even of the highest kind; it is a question of communicating God’s revelation in its entirety” (CT §58). Identified as “active pedagogy in the faith” by the General Directory for Catechesis, catechesis offers a broad sweep that is challenging in its breadth and perhaps even off-putting in its scope. After all, it would be so much simpler to focus solely on the demands of a textbook with its summary-type sidebars of faith statements.
We wisely take another look at Catechesi Tradendae:
Very soon the name of catechesis was given to the whole of the efforts within the Church to make disciples, to help people to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so that believing they might have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life and thus build up the Body of Christ. (CT §1)
Years later, the Catechism will quote Catechesi Tradendae in stating that
“Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people, and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.” (CCC §5, quoting CT §18; italics in original)
Key to the pedagogy of the faith is forming what is to be an eternal relationship with Christ the Savior. It is key to our pedagogically-informed catechetical service and witness. This is no limited agenda, easily accommodated by a 38-minute class session four or five times a week. As committed teachers of the faith, we approach the hopeful horizon for catechesis with enthusiasm and a healthy dose of savoir-faire—that extraordinary blending of who we are, what we know, and how we communicate the faith. So we take heart as we accept with humility the treasure we receive and renew with vigor our commitment to the treasure we hand on.
With these remarks as prelude, I now propose four points for consideration regarding the pedagogy of faith:
The pedagogy of faith calls us to embrace and hand on the Word of God in a time of turbulence and tumult, a time ripe for the New Evangelization.
The pedagogy of faith calls us to affirm that Christ is at the center of our lives, present with us as we catechize.
Faith-filled catechists teach that Jesus Christ redeems us and invites us into His redemptive presence through the gift of the Eucharist.
Faith-filled catechists promote both orthodoxy and orthopraxis for the good of the student, the school, and the entire Church.
1. The pedagogy of faith calls us to embrace and hand on the Word of God in a time of turbulence and tumult, a time ripe for the New Evangelization.
Turbulence and tumult are all too common within our country and our world. Surrounded by daily doses of news bites that worry, challenge, and even frighten us, we strive to maintain a vibrant faith. A daily advertising blitz suggests to impatient and impressionable young people, “You can have it all.” But what is “all”? For us, “all” is identified by the hope we share in Christ.
We teach with gentleness and care that this young and injured century remains secure as we resist surrendering to turbulence and tumult. “Hope does not disappoint,” St. Paul tells us, “because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). Augustine wrote to Laurence the wisdom-seeker that “love cannot exist without hope nor hope without love, nor can either exist without faith.”
The strong voice of the catechist invites excessive uncertainty and lingering confusion to taste wisdom and goodness at the table of faith and reason. I am reminded of the third letter of John, which exhorts us to “love in truth” and “walk in the truth” (3 Jn 1:1, 3), for we are “co-workers in the truth” (3 Jn 1:8). In all of this, the school is a type of rock, a foundation in faith whose structure is firm and whose teaching by and from faith benefits from an enriching “catechetical pedagogy” (GDC §244). The 2008 Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church aids our applying fresh layers of mortar to the foundation already built on “the Word of God,” identified by one author in a 2008 USCCB Catechetical Sunday resource as a “phrase [that] refers to
- The pre-existent Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God
- God’s Word at creation, through whom everything that exists came into being
- Jesus himself, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us
- Sacred Scripture, God’s inspired Word
- Church Tradition, which faithfully echoes the Word of God to every generation.”
None of us stands alone as we teach. We are, in a way, “with God” in the catechetical moment, for God invites us into the life of the living Word. God is the master of self-disclosure. As one directory notes:
God’s self-communication is realized gradually through his actions and his words. It is most fully achieved in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. The history of this self-revelation itself documents the method by which God transmits the content of Revelation as contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. This is the pedagogy of God. It is the source and model of the pedagogy of the faith.
Confident in our mission to “go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15), we do not yield to subtle or explicit pressure. For this is our work, the work of all of us, the entire Church. We recall Paul’s great letter about the Church to the Ephesians in which he exhorts them to hold fast to that powerful union of “one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4–6). These “‘seven unities’” engage us in witness to the world. Indeed, we are not a renewed twenty-first century school corporation united or bound together by a seven-columned corporate flow chart. We are the Church of the ages. No wonder we ask of ourselves, what will Christians of succeeding generations say or know of us?
We are led, energized, and brought together in our catechetical mission by our chief catechist, our bishop. Indeed, all of us are called to enact the catechetical mission, a branch of the sacred vine given to the Church in Christ Jesus. It is together that we “speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph 4:25). We share a bond in faith and teach foundations in faith rooted in the Trinity. Whether from within the environs of the school or far from our usual educational setting, we seek Christ who calls us to himself, even when we resist, for we are stewards of the word of God, “24/7.”
2. The pedagogy of faith calls us to affirm that Christ is at the center of our lives, present with us as we catechize.
Catechesis is no ordinary conversation. We encounter Christ and, through the goodness of God and the gifts we have received, enable our students to do the same as maturity and education in faith take root. I am thinking here of Catechesi Tradendae §19. As noted already, each of us likely can stand for some new evangelizing of our own, some extension or revisiting of the conversion, or turning, of the heart. Even for those of us baptized as infants, a heart bereft of ongoing conversion can become a muscle wearied by routine over time.
I believe that we are experiencing in this day in the life of the Church a turning toward Christ and one another. Although this turning involves heightened interpersonal interaction, it may be challenging for some of us, and for our students as well, for a sense of isolation can capture the human spirit. The type of conversion of which I am speaking challenges all of us to dig deeper for baptismal meaning and understanding as we act as advocates for faith professed, celebrated, and lived. This is especially pertinent for promoting intellectual understanding and for rejoicing as students build linkages to Catholic Social Teaching and other ways of witnessing to our Catholic tradition. We speak not about Christ but speak Christ, the One whom we encounter each day. Indeed, “Christ, the first evangelizer” (NDC §1), calls us to himself. No wonder the National Directory for Catechesis states that “Catechesis aims to bring about in the believer an ever more mature faith in Jesus Christ, a deeper knowledge and love of his person and message, and a firm commitment to follow him” (NDC §19).
Jesus is the catechetical master of savoir-faire. When referring to Christ’s teaching through his life as a whole, Pope John Paul II notes in Catechesi Tradendae:
I am not forgetful that the majesty of Christ the Teacher and the unique consistency and persuasiveness of His teaching can only be explained by the fact that His words, His parables and His arguments are never separable from His life and His very being. (CT §9)
The mystery of the Incarnation moves us to the way of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, through which the work of our salvation is won for us by Christ (cf. Jn 1:14). From the sacred emptying of the womb of the Blessed Virgin to the sacred emptying of a tomb hewn from rock, we are invited into a sharing of love that words describe weakly and inadequately. We enter into the Paschal Mystery through God’s love given in Christ, now guided by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.
Why this emphasis on a tomb? Why do we catechists find fullness in seeming emptiness? Why do we sometimes sense that we are swimming against the current, going against conventional wisdom when working with young people? We find our answer in the Cross of the One who asks not so much “Where are you?” but rather the loving and inviting question, “Who are you?”
We find our answer in the Cross of the One who asks not so much “Where are you?” but rather the loving and inviting question, “Who are you?”
We humbly declare to the Savior of all, “I am your catechist, Lord, in your service.” We accept this graced role with a good dose of humility, for Jesus is “the unique Teacher because his teaching is not merely a collection of abstract truths but the Truth itself, ‘the communication of the living mystery of God’” (NDC 8, quoting CT §7). In the words of the General Directory for Catechesis:
In the school of Jesus the Teacher, the catechist closely joins his action as a responsible person with the mysterious action of the grace of God. Catechesis is thus an exercise in “the original pedagogy of the faith.” (GDC §138)
Now that is a persuasive pedagogy! No wonder Pope Benedict XVI proclaims with simple beauty in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est the words of 1 John 4:16: “God is love.”
3: Faith-filled catechists teach that Jesus Christ redeems us and invites us into his redemptive presence through the gift of the Eucharist.
We read in the Gospel of Mark, “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mk 1:14–15). The Kingdom of God, present in the Lord Jesus and given witness by his words, his signs, and his works, is here. Signs of the Kingdom, especially in the ultimate sign of Eucharistic celebration, surround us. For Jesus Christ not only redeems us but also invites us into his redemptive presence through the gift of the Eucharist. His “multi-dimensional” pedagogy of signs, words, and works continues to inspire us and summon us to himself.
In the Catholic high school we listen for echoes of faith resonating among our students amid the local culture of the school. As we listen, we may hear the voice of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, whispering in our ears his words to candidates for Baptism in the fourth century: “Prepare your heart for the reception of teaching and the fellowship in the holy Mysteries.” Later on during Lent Cyril would offer this charge regarding the giving over of the Creed:
This summary I wish you to commit to memory, word for word, and to repeat among yourselves with all zeal, not writing it on paper but engraving it by memory on the heart. . . . Keep it as a provision for the way throughout the whole course of your life.
From what I have experienced during my 40+ years as a catechist, the essential binding force for catechists and for those whom they teach is that of the “holy Mysteries,” particularly the Eucharist. Reliance on this sacrificial memorial enables us to enter into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, strengthening us for Christian witness.
The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School points out, “The essential point for students to understand is that Jesus Christ is always truly present in the sacraments which he has instituted, and his presence makes them efficacious means of grace.” While some students might wish that the experience of the Sacrament would conclude with the final verse of a recessional hymn or quick movement to the next school activity, what is expected of us and of them is what I would term “Eucharistic mystagogy.” Lesson plans can change and class activities can take on new meaning when Eucharistic mystagogy becomes an expectation for high school catechesis.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults tells us that
[mystagogy] is a time for the community and the neophytes together to grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives through meditation on the Gospel, sharing in the eucharist, and doing the works of charity.
There are obvious similarities here to what was said earlier about gaining knowledge of the Word of God, celebrating faith in the sacraments, and professing faith in daily life.
Eucharistic mystagogy is less about “doing” as time-consuming activity than it is about “transforming” as life event. It is about living and cherishing each moment as the time of kairos, “now” time, transforming time. Awakened and anticipated through the fiat of Mary, the divine gift of the Incarnation, and the prophetic work of John the Baptist, this is time without an “off switch.” It is time that welcomes during its full duration—longer than a 38-minute class period and greater than a lifetime—a rich, compelling, and sustaining pedagogy of faith for our students.
The essential binding force for catechists and for those whom they teach is that of the “holy Mysteries,” particularly the Eucharist.
But what, we may ask, does mystagogy have to do with the pedagogical formation of the catechist? Do the terms mystagogy and pedagogy share only the Greek root agogos, meaning “leader”? I would argue that in matters of faith both have to do with God’s continuing presence among us. The catechist in this instance welcomes a mystagogical role as one of guiding and walking with the learner, uncovering doctrinal truth, meaning, and mystery through the experience of the sacraments. For this carrier of the Gospel is more than a practitioner, more than one pursuing measurable ends to “easily-scored” eternal mysteries.
For the Catholic high school student, the walk of daily life is a walk sustained by “the power to walk in newness of life,” experienced each day in the hallways of your schools and in narrow and broad hallways of life beyond the classroom. Mystagogy promotes faithful participation in this transforming time offered in “the eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, §11).
4. Faith-filled catechists promote both orthodoxy and orthopraxis for the good of the student, the school, and the entire Church.
As noted earlier, the term “pedagogy of faith” incorporates a harmonizing of essential elements of catechesis: “an encounter with the person of Christ, a conversion of the heart, the experience of the Spirit in the ecclesial community” (Message to the People of God, 11). What might we make, then, of what some might describe as a dualism between content and method, between orthodoxy and orthopraxis? How might our Christian identity be handed on? Again, we turn to Catechesi Tradendae: “It is useless to play off orthopraxis against orthodoxy: Christianity is inseparably both” (CT §22). And later:
The irreducible originality of Christian identity has for corollary and condition no less original a pedagogy of the faith. . . . The science of education and the art of teaching are continually being subjected to review, with a view to making them better adapted or more effective, with varying degrees of success. There is also a pedagogy of faith, and the good that it can do for catechesis cannot be overstated. In fact, it is natural that techniques perfected and tested for education in general should be adapted for the service of education in the faith. However, account must always be taken of the absolute originality of faith. (CT §58)
Properly understood, both content and methodology are rooted in the living faith of people formed in faith. A vibrant “content-method” coupling often is rooted in family, and I urge catechists and teachers everywhere to rely on and renew family communication on behalf of their students. I probably learned more at home from my mother about Catholic faith and life than from any other source. I remember watching her venture out weekly with another parishioner to visit Catholics struggling with the life of faith. While my late mother knew that she enjoyed the support of the parish and Catholic school, she also knew that local support was no substitute for parental responsibility. She modeled for me both the message of faith and approaches for handing on the faith with vigor.
What is my point in sharing this anecdote? To affirm the importance of content is to affirm the importance of the experience of people coming to faith. To affirm the importance of sound catechetical approaches is to affirm the importance of the experience of people coming to faith. Said differently, to deny either is to deny the benefits to be derived from both.
Several catechetical benefits accrue to the school when Eucharistic mystagogy becomes a partner in the content-method conversation. Emerging from the experience of the Eucharist, mystagogy builds links between mystery and methodology. With its fundamental reliance on reflection on the sacred mysteries, mystagogy demands that content and method “get along.” It does so by a catechetical probing of both divine and human methodology.
A mystagogical perspective sets a sacramental context that frees up the individual’s and community’s gifts of multiple intelligences for understanding, thereby offering a predisposition to methodologies that otherwise might be overlooked. For example, the six tasks of catechesis identified in the catechetical directories and the understanding of catechesis proposed within the RCIA offer multiple perspectives for a comprehensive approach to catechesis. The grounding or starting point is anticipation and experience of the sacraments.
Catechetical methodologies enliven the entire catechetical enterprise when applied with mystagogical awareness. Just think of all that can be probed when linking the experience of the sacred mysteries to “learning through human experience, learning by discipleship, learning within the Christian community, learning within the Christian family, learning by heart, making a commitment to live a Christian life, learning by apprenticeship,” and “learning through the witness of the catechist” (see NDC §29). As the National Directory for Catechesis asserts, “Religion teachers in Catholic schools not only teach the Catholic faith as an academic subject but also bear witness to the truth of what they teach” (NDC §§54, 9c).
The pedagogy of faith invites us into God’s own way of catechizing through his own self-communication and especially in the gift of the Incarnation. “The action of the Holy Spirit in the Church continues the pedagogy of God. The Holy Spirit unfolds the divine plan of salvation within the Church” (NDC §28a). This powerful unfolding nourishes and sustains the Church as faith steps lively in this age of New Evangelization.
A living catechesis rooted in God’s loving self-disclosure relies on and benefits from a variety of ways and means of learning as it “‘carries out [the] complete work of initiation, education and teaching’” (NDC §28, quoting GDC §144). To the benefit of the pedagogy of the faith, mystagogy bridges initiation, education, and teaching as we view in adolescent eyes and hear in maturing voices Truth come alive. Students savor sweet understanding of the Word of God and offer with confident fortitude the humble fervor of Christian witness. This rich pedagogy fosters doctrinal clarity and living doctrinal application as we remain ever mindful of “God’s own original methodology of faith: his gradual Revelation of the truth that is Christ” (NDC §55).
Our students are living examples of an enduring Catholic identity that the entire school and diocese celebrates, cherishes, and exemplifies. This is no disconnected identity, for “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” As emissaries of the New Evangelization, we seek to enable our students to swell in faith, to rouse and support them during crises of adolescent identity, and even at times to carry them to the table of the Lord in the Eucharist. As we do this, we need not worry about filling Christ’s shoes (or, actually, sandals). He fills ours, and then he carries us as our catechist, our teacher, the One who “passed on to [his disciples] his pedagogy of faith as a full sharing in his actions and in his destiny” (GDC §140).
Hear this, all you peoples!
Give ear, all who inhabit the world,
You of lowly birth or high estate, rich and poor alike.
My mouth shall speak wisdom,
my heart shall offer insight. (Ps 49:2–3)
Blessed be God!
Editors’ Note: This text originated as an address given to the Theology Department faculty members of the Catholic high schools of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend as part of the Institute for Church Life Catechesi Tradendae Study Day (March 5, 2012). It was subsequently published in Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization, volume 2, issue 2.
Featured Image: James Tissot, The Sermon of the Beatitudes (1886-1894); courtesy Brooklyn Museum.
 Limited portions of this essay are adapted or derived from: Gerard F. Baumbach, “What Will Tomorrow Bring for Catechesis and Catechetical Leadership?” in Momentum (The Official Journal of the National Catholic Educational Association), Vol. 36, No. 3, September/October 2005; Gerard F. Baumbach, “Faith in a Self-revealing God” in Catechism for US series (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger, November 2006), www.FranciscanMedia.org; and Gerard F. Baumbach, “Eucharistic Mystagogy” (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011).
 National Directory for Catechesis [NDC] (Washington: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005), §54B9c.
 “Message to the People of God” [MPG] in Origins, Vol. 7, No. 21, November 10, 1977 (Washington: National Catholic News Service), 11; italics in original.
 Congregation for the Clergy. General Directory for Catechesis [GDC] (Washington: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), §144.
 Cf. GDC §238.
 Bruce Harbert (trans.), The Augustine Catechism: The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1999), 39.
 Margaret N. Ralph, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church: A Theological Reflection” in Theological Reflection: Catechetical Sunday, September 21, 2008 (Washington, DC: Department of Education, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2008), 4.
 NDC §28; cf. Dei Verbum §15.
 Introduction to the Letter to the Ephesians, New American Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1987), 1329.
 See GDC §140; NDC §28.
 NDC asserts that “The incarnation of the only Son of God is the original inculturation of God’s word” (§21A). I would propose that catechists apply to the local environment the assertion of the NDC that “inculturation involves listening to the culture of the people for an echo of the word of God” (§21C).
 Leo P. McCauley and Anthony A. Stephenson (trans.), “Procatechesis 16” (tr. Stephenson) in The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1969).
 Leo P. McCauley and Anthony A. Stephenson (trans.), “Catechesis 5:12” (tr. McCauley) in The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1969).
 Footnote that follows “instituted” reads: “Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7: ‘Christ is present in the Sacraments with his own authority, so that when one baptizes it is Christ himself who baptizes . . . ’.”
 Congregation for Catholic Education (Rome). The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School (Washington, DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, United States Catholic Conference, 1988), 78.
 Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) (International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. (ICEL) ©1985), 244; cf. NDC §35D.
 Cf. MPG, 11.
 See Ambrose of Milan, The Mysteries 9:53, in R. J. Deferrari (trans.), Saint Ambrose: Theological and Dogmatic Works (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1963).
 Leo P. McCauley and Anthony A. Stephenson (trans.), “Mystagogical Lecture 2:8.” (tr. McCauley) in The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1970); cf. Rom 6:4.
 Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (Washington: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2003), §1.