What's needed in catechesis?

Claire, one of the frequent participants in our dot-Commonweal conversations, teaches catechism in France to eighth-graders, 13 or 14 years old. The other day I sent her a link to a website that specializes in catechesis. She was unimpressed by it and its materials, and, with her permission, I pass on her remarks in the hope that they might prompt a general reflection.

I've read a few of the texts and their proposals do not at all match the needs of my kids.Those texts emphasize the spiritual, experiential and community aspects, but that's what the Mass (in particular) is for. I try to prepare them so they can get more out of the Mass, but I cannot substitute for it, and I don't want to.Those texts downplay knowledge, but my youth are plagued by ignorance.When last month they had confession (for the first time in several years for most of them), the preparation consisted in giving them a long list of possible actions and asking them to think about whether each was good or bad, sinful or not; and in giving them a print-out of the words to be said by them and said by the priest, like a script of the event. But the words were not really explained and the sacramental aspect not mentioned, so, although they went to confession, they had the experience but not the understanding of what they did. That's ignorance.When we studied the Creed, I asked them: 'When at Mass we read the words "and was made man", sometimes at that point the people in the assembly do something. What is it?', and the only ones who had an answer offered: "Yes, at that point, we beat our chest." That's ignorance, too.The last but one session, I asked them what mission Jesus had given to his disciples. The more knowledgeable kids answered: "To announce the Good News". I asked: "And what is the Good News?" - Nobody knew, nobody could suggest an answer, even a wrong answer! That's profound ignorance.So all those texts from that website, with their insistence that the catechist is not a teacher, that the dynamics are different, that there are no lessons to be memorized by the children, that catechism has completely changed and is no longer about teaching facts and doctrines, those texts do not convince me. I have many uncertainties about exactly what to teach and how best to teach it, but not about whether to teach.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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