We have spilled much digital ink on the need for catechesis amongst Catholics these days. I am beginning to think this emphasis is slightly off. In my own case, I have a copy of the Catholic Catechism on the shelf and behind me in a pile are two copies of the bible, the RSV and the Douay Rheims. Nothing compares to my RSV for finding stuff but I still like to refer to the old Douay from time to time. No one has told me to refer to these books and the last time I was in a catechism class was in preparation for my confirmation and that was dull indeed. So what happened between my last catechism class and today?
The answer is evangelization. Some very good people took the time to tell me who Jesus is and they showed me what a difference He made in their lives. In the beginning they were not even Catholic... I still have fond memories of the German Baptist minister who allowed me into his home and gave me the opportunity to watch him and his family. He even deposited me in the arms of the Catholic Church when the time was right! In all of this the key is witness... this is who Jesus Christ is... this is what he has done... come and see!
This idea of witness is central to the Catholic faith. A witness is someone who has seen and whose testimony is reliable. We believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead based on the testimony of witnesses, the truth of whose testimony was sealed with their lives. In our own lives, if we know Jesus Christ at all, it is because we have met someone who has introduced Him to us. In an ideal situation this witness comes from the family of the child presented for baptism. By growing up in a close Catholic family, a child learns first hand who Jesus is... the parents are the first evangelizers of their own children. What then of those situations which are not ideal, where parents are ignorant of the faith or even hostile to it?
My own parents dutifully sent me to church but for the life of me I cannot recall them ever accompanying me. My mother would ask me to bring back a bulletin but I have a suspicion that this was her way of verifying that I had actually gone. When I was old enough to consider myself grown up I emulated my parents and ceased church attendance. My situation was likely an extreme case and there are many who routinely attend mass these days for reasons that are less than ideal. It may be because of an ethnic affiliation where the Catholic Church was the cultural centre of the community. It may be out of fear of displeasing a parent or even out of an abiding sense of guilt. Whatever the reasons, it is probably dangerous to assume that everyone in our churches is there because of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is fertile ground for evangelization.
Catechesis is different from evangelization though hopefully the two go hand in hand. Catechesis is the presentation of the truths of the faith in a comprehensive way that is suitable for the ones being taught. Evangelization is the proclamation of the good news and it can be as simple as "I have found something marvellous... I have seen the Lord...come and see!" Catechesis requires an expertise in teaching, a firm grounding in doctrine and is the necessary followup to evangelization. Evangelization, on the other hand, only requires that you have met Jesus Christ and are willing to share the good news. Moreover it is a task that is given to all of us.
There are still problems though. Perhaps chief of these is the question of where you would send someone for catechesis once the desire to learn more about the faith has been awakened in them. I have no experience with any modern catechesis and would be at an utter loss to recommend something. Fortunately we have the Catechism of the Catholic Faith so at least there is one solid reference.