[This article first appeared in Catechist's Connection 12/2 (October, 1996):1-2]
Mary brought more than a casserole. She supplied the recipe too. Actually, she shouldn't have brought anything. After all, it was Mothers' Day.
Mothers' Day shouldn't frighten me the way this one did. We have a great family, and all the mothers truly deserve to be honored. But when my sister called in late April to say, "You know, you haven't had the family over at your house in a while," my heart beat faster at the very thought of Mothers' Day.
Like most of the priests in our diocese, I live alone in a large house. I love having guests, even when they bring children. But the prospect of having a large number of guests and a large number of children here all at once--well, it sent a storm alert to my peaceful home.
In the end, I got off easy. I just had to provide an appetizer (I pulled the plastic wrap off some leftovers), the grill, the drinks, and the table. My brothers and sisters brought everything else.
Everything else, that is, except the casserole. Mary brought that. Mary is my sister's mother-in-law. And even though she should have done nothing on Mothers' Day, she cooked. She wanted to share a new recipe. We're glad she did. Her combination of rice, parsley, and cheese landed on every plate, and pleased every palate.
"I'll give you the recipe," she promised. And she delivered. (It takes a cup of parsley.)
My hat goes off to a woman who will learn a new dish, work like everyone else, enjoy the holiday, and teach you how to do it too. In one afternoon, Mary had opened all the ingredients that mix into successful catechesis.
Let me explain.
Ingredients for Catechesis
My favorite exposition of catechesis comes from paragraph 75 of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Although this book primarily describes the preparation of catechumens for the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, it relies on four principles of formation, described in paragraph 75, which can be applied to all Christians: 1) "A suitable catechesis is . . . planned to be gradual and complete in its coverage." 2) "They become familiar with the Christian way of life." 3) "The Church, like a mother, helps (them) on their journey by means of suitable liturgical rites." 4) "(They) should also learn how . . . to spread the gospel." Catechesis demands more than learning content. It includes community, worship, and mission.
1) Catechesis should be gradual and complete. It doesn't happen all at once. But in time, it should cover the territory. If you cook, you know you don't always get the recipe right the first time. And if you've learned desserts but have never learned vegetables, you're not ready to have friends over for dinner.
So it is with our faith--we don't get it all figured out the first time. The church reveals its central mysteries to the faithful in celebrations spread throughout the entire liturgical year. Easter, Christmas, and All Saints fall in different months of the year with good reason. We can't take it all in at once. Year after year we spend weeks of preparation in Advent and Lent. Year after year we enter the mystery of Christ more deeply. Good Christians are always learning something new about our faith. Our catechesis will never end. So we explore the mystery throughout our lives, gradually and completely.
2) The Christian way of life is living in community. We're not in this alone. We learn from others what to believe and how to behave. We support others by our actions. Potluck dinners have a whole different feeling than dinners where you're completely the guest. When everyone brings a dish, the diners bond not just by eating, but also through mutual service.
To be formed in Christianity means learning about our religion, but it also means letting it guide our behaviors. The opinions we hold, the choices we make, the values that speak to us--these we share in community; these make up the Christian way of life. If you enter libraries to read recipe books, but never enter a kitchen to try them, you're not a cook yet. If you read catechisms but never live them, you're not a Christian yet.
3) The liturgical rites that form our worship gather believers for our most important action--giving thanks to God. Though many, we form one voice to praise one God. Through worship we experience God with others who share our faith.
At meals, we can experience ourselves as family in a unique way. We share stories, we share food, we share responsibilities, we share prayer—we celebrate who we are. The meal actually makes our family stronger. Taking part in liturgical prayer strengthens our Christian family. Through ritual celebration, our whole formation becomes saturated with the presence of God.
4) When we spread the Gospel, we prove how strongly we believe through mission. If faith has really taken root inside us, we'll want to share it with others. When something excites us, we become "apostles" for its cause. Some people seek new members for their political party, their homes association, their bridge club, or their bowling league. Other people share new recipes. In all cases, they've found something so wonderful they have to tell about it. Sharing expands the joy of our discovery.
Families grow on the same principle. Parents find their love so beautiful that they want to share it with children. We prove we believe when we share our faith.
Paragraph 75 of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults reminds us that formation demands several dimensions: catechesis, community, worship, and mission.
Sometimes a catechist wonders, "When have I taught enough? How do I know that I've taught faithfully?" Others never become catechists because they fear the responsibility of Christian formation.
Good catechesis: Living Life
However, the recipe for catechesis makes it easier than it seems. Good catechesis is not about teaching enough things. It's about living a way of life. It's about prayer. It's about sharing something exciting. Do you encourage participation in your parish community? Is prayer part of your work? Do you accept this ministry because somehow, someplace, God first spoke to you? Then you're a catechist. You're a catechist before you've ever opened a book. We don't have to know it all. We do have to live what we believe and inform the faith we have. Catechesis is "know-how" not just "know-what". It's a whole way of life.
Mary had done it all that Mothers' Day afternoon. She had learned something new, she took part in the responsibilities of the community, she celebrated the day, and she happily shared the source of her joy so others could cook up a casserole too. Catechesis, worship, community, and mission.
Mix well and serve.
Questions for Discussion
Which one of your hobbies has turned you into an "apostle" for its cause? How do you most effectively weave worship with catechesis? When have you experienced the support of your community for something you strongly believed? When do you feel most satisfied as a catechist?