In an old joke, a visitor to New York City asks someone on the street if they know how to get to Carnegie Hall. After a moment’s thought comes the reply: “Practice, practice, practice.”
We might well give the same response when asked how we get to heaven. While we do not believe that we are saved by our works but by Jesus’ work on the Cross, we are also not Gnostics who believe that knowledge saves. Rather, the life of the disciple is one in which faith is not only known, but lived. Jesus does not call us to a life of isolated study, but to live in community with other disciples, as demonstrated by the early Christians: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
And yet many of our catechetical efforts stress knowledge of the faith over practice of the faith. I suspect that this is one reason during our recent parish visits so many DREs and principals told us, anecdotally, that only around 50% of participants in faith formation and students in Catholic schools are attending Sunday Mass on a regular basis.
In his book Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox, author Joe Paprocki gives the great advice that catechesis and faith formation “should be more like Mass than class.” By that he means the process of forming young people (and adults!) involves more than just reading a book or listening to a lecture. Instead, catechesis involves the whole person and should draw upon familiar rituals, prayers, gestures, the Works of Mercy, hymns, and stories so that connections are made between the content of the faith and the way in which we live the faith, especially in the Sunday Eucharist.
As you catechize this year, consider how your efforts are fostering specific and concrete practices in the life of the faithful. Some questions you might ask:
- Are we simply teaching about faith practices, or are we giving children and adults the tools they need and encouraging them to enact those practices once they are off the parish grounds?
- How are we helping families practice the faith in the home, especially through prayer?
- How can we help members of our community encounter the person of Jesus Christ — to know him and not just know about him?