Canned Programs and the Person of the Catechist

Posted on Posted in catechesis, evangelization


Recently the members of our department have been looking at and reviewing some of the new Confirmation programs that have been making the rounds. (We’ll be publishing some general thoughts and recommendations in the coming months; I’ll be sure to share them here on my blog.)

One trend I’ve noticed is that all the programs we’ve looked at try to be “turn key” programs – that is, they are designed to be easy to use with little need to prep or input on the part of the facilitator. Through video presentations and guided discussion booklets, there seems to be little for the catechist to do.

On the one hand this may seem a feature. In today’s busy, fast-paced world, having a program that doesn’t require a lot of time and investment can be helpful, especially for a parish that doesn’t have a lot of trained catechists.

On the other hand, the Church’s teaching is clear that no program, video, or book is able to catechize on its own. The General Directory for Catechesis reminds us that

No methodology, no matter how well tested, can dispense with the person of the catechist in every phase of the catechetical process. The charism given to him by the Spirit, a solid spirituality and transparent witness of life, constitutes the soul of every method. Only his own human and Christian qualities guarantee a good use of texts and other work instruments.

In other words, evangelization and catechesis are primarily human endeavors. They require the cultivation of relationships, not the bright glare of an LCD machine; patience and discernment, not a “one-size-fits-all” approach; and above all the demonstration of a lived relationship with Jesus Christ, not fancy graphics and music.

That’s not to discount the usefulness of programs, videos and books. But it is to remind us that the most important factor in a young person’s faith formation is the people around them who will demonstrate the importance of faith and invite the young person to enter more deeply into that faith. The former are important, yes; but the latter are indispensable.

5 thoughts on “Canned Programs and the Person of the Catechist

  1. This is so very true, Jonathan. I have so many parishes that want pre-packaged programs for teens and for adults – and several publishers are very happy to accommodate that desire for “one size fits all.”

    Did you see Rory Cooney’s take on the “Rebuilt” event in our diocese? One of the things he spotted was that a lot of the questions were about wanting a program – with steps they could replicate – in their parish.
    (I do want to point out that most of those who went to the microphones were from outside our diocese.)

    That speaks to the desire for packaged “plug-in” programs and to the lack of creative energy to let the community build something unique.

    There is hope, however, for those who work a process based on the gifts of their catechists and the resources of their community. I just got back from a meeting with the catechists for 5th grade from our cathedral parish, where they were evaluating an initiative they started last year based on the sacraments and an accompanying experience for each in the cathedral church. (I will have then write about it for our newsletter after they experience some of their revisions this next year.) The leader who made this team approach possible has deep roots in the RCIA and a heart for real evangelization. I wish I could clone her. We need to seek out those who have that gift and let other parishes know that it really should be about “best practices” instead of “packages.”

  2. Jonathan, you are spot on with this post! These programs basically tell the catechist to “press play and get out of the way.” Effective catechesis happens when we properly form, equip, and empower catechists, parents, and the parish community to effectively transmit the faith instead of thinking that it can be accomplished by a program. Thanks for sharing your analysis. I look forward to more. -joe

  3. Thanks for your insights Jonathan. No doubt the catechist is key to the catechetical process. There has been a loss of focus on the formation of those who catechize. However , I do think that the more we can provide for them in terms of ” what to do with the kids, youth or adults can help them to develop their own adult faith. It also can ground new catechists in age appropriate expression of the truths of faith and a catechetical process that helps children , youth and adults to internalize the teachings of Jesus and the Church and thus deepen their relationship as disciples of Jesus Christ. Seasoned catechists can move beyond as their own faith develops and they have new insights. There is also the value of every catechist not doing his/her own thing. Perhaps you, like me, have a few horror stories about the catechists who decided to teach what they deemed important contrary to what the Church expects in her catechetical ministries.

  4. It’s great to have catechists “who will demonstrate the importance of faith and invite the young person to enter more deeply into that faith.” Oh yes indeed. But if there aren’t enough of them to go around, then what alternative is there in the short run but to depend on programs? I’m no DRE, but I see how y’all have to fill slots come September. This always reminds me of people who taught me: the just-ok teachers taught from the textbook. The best ones taught from themselves, with the book as a reference. I don’t know if the difference can be made up with training as much as by experience and motivation, which are harder to come by and quantify.

  5. Thanks for the stimulating observations, Jonathan. You have struck a chord that resonates with catechists and publishers alike! The term status quo comes to mind when publishers produce materials that as you say are “canned” and catechists feel good when they have completed the series of lesson steps. Perhaps publishers and catechists alike may benefit from looking at lessons less as a checklist and more as the opportunity to take our human endeavor of transmitting faith to the place where those who are catechized may go beyond the points of the lesson to recognizing needs and creating new ways to address them. Blessings!

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