By Anjanette Barr
As children are welcomed back into religious education classes on Catechetical Sunday (September 15), I’ll be joining them as a Sunday school (CCD) teacher for the first time since joining the Catholic Church. This year, I feel a kinship with our children who are discovering new things about God’s work in history and in the Mass, because I’m learning too! Teaching children is my full time job as a homeschool mom, and I have always enjoyed leading little ones to better understand God, but it has been just a year since I completed RCIA myself!
However, years as a homeschool mom has taught me that our education is never complete, and that this is a good and hopeful thing. Watching us learn and grow establishes in our children an expectation of continuous growth for their own future. It takes some humility to keep ourselves open to learning while also accepting the responsibilities of our adult vocations, but I really do think this is what we are each called to do.
The USCCB website has a page of resources for catechists that I’ve been browsing, and it states at the top, “Catechetical Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the role that each person plays, by virtue of Baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel. Catechetical Sunday is an opportunity for all to rededicate themselves to this mission as a community of faith.” And so, I’ve been thinking this week about the universal call to Christians to catechize (hand on the faith) as well as evangelize (be a witness to the Gospel).
“Being a witness to the Gospel,” or evangelizing, is something I’m very familiar with as a convert from “Evangelical” Protestantism, but I’m evaluating anew what it means for me as a Catholic, especially in light of what I have read from St. John Paul II in his Redemptoris Missio about our evangelical duties:
“God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
He goes on to explain what he means by a “new evangelization.” He points to the religious climate here in the US and in other places where, “groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.” He says that those people need something different than just more religious education. For those people, “what is needed is a “new evangelization” or a “re-evangelization.”
In the Protestant world, the “Great Commission” at the end of Matthew (go therefore, and make disciples of all nations…) is heavily emphasized. I was taught to “be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in me” (1 Peter 3:15), and this meant studying the Word. Specifically, it meant studying the passages that helped us clearly articulate the core beliefs that set Christians apart from followers of other religions. And it meant being able to guide another person toward forming a real relationship with God.
I will always be grateful for the foundation in theology (the catechesis, though I didn’t know that word as a Protestant) I received before entering the Catholic Church. Likewise, it has been a joy to read and hear from blessed men like John Paul II, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that great care is taken to align Church teachings with Scripture and with the wisdom passed down continuously from the very first believers.
Rather than feeling a sense of loss upon becoming Catholic and leaving behind the Protestant friends and mentors who so love Truth and the Gospel, I have found a wholeness in the Church that I never dreamed existed. Tradition and doctrine provide the mortar that fills in the gaps between the words set down on paper by our forefathers. They add to the richness of life in Christ. Likewise, the Catholic Church affirms that our sovereign God designed us to need the communion of saints and the living Body of Christ (both His Church and the Eucharist), and so we are surrounded and supported on all sides in this life.
Yet, so many of our Catholic brothers and sisters around the world are abandoning the Church, and often all religion. My friends who have moved away from Christianity often express that they could just no longer see “the point” in living so counter-culturally. The “point” is the Gospel – not just the Scripture readings we so cherish hearing at each Mass, but the Good News – that we are so loved by God that he humbled himself to become man to reunite us with Himself. That he died to atone for our sins, and then rose again to prove his divinity. The Gospel is really rather extravagant, and without a firm understanding of the Gospel, this Christian life does look foolish.
I believe that part of what Pope John Paul II sensed as the impetus of this new era of Christian history is that Protestants and Catholics, when viewed against the background of great diversity in the global community, are now more alike than different. There are so many options presented to us as avenues of faith, that many of us are overwhelmed and content simply being spiritual. This means that we as Christians are also potentially equally in need of evangelization, rather than just catechesis. To move forward, St. John Paul II says that the Gospel must be “re-proposed” to all of Christendom, and then shared with the rest of the world. We must understand the story of salvation that God has been unveiling since the beginning in order to see our place in the narrative, and feel that “burning conviction” to ensure others also see theirs.
I’m here, writing, teaching, and living as a Catholic, in part because I also sense that the field is ripe for harvest. I know I am an imperfect teacher and that I very regularly need to be reminded of “the point” of it all. But I also believe that if we commit as Catholics to study and come to truly understand our faith as individuals, we will be more prepared to then live and share it with our words and deeds. God is able to unify us all under Him in ways never possible before modern technology and travel, if we will choose to be one of His laborers.
The Catholic Church offers the world the means to connect to God and each other through a holistic understanding of the character of God as he reveals himself in history. We have eyewitness accounts passed down orally and in writing (through the creeds and the Bible), insights given by the Holy Spirit to men and women of faith (in the Catechism and teachings of the Saints), and we have the sacraments He has established out of love for us. We should treasure all of these things and desire that our loved ones have access to them, but to share them we must first understand and claim them for ourselves.
Anjanette Barr is a parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle in Juneau, Alaska. She is a wife, mother, writer, and recent convert to the Catholic Church. Anjanette can be reached at http://www.anjanettebarr.com