Tomorrow marks the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)’s annual celebration of Catechetical Sunday. I suppose doing this annually in September serves as an unofficial kick-off to parish catechesis, which generally follows the academic calendar. Blessing and commissioning of catechists at Sunday masses is great. Catechesis is an extremely important part of the Church’s cycle of evangelization, yet Catechetical Sunday just seems like a yawn. Different annual theme, but so what? I don’t see a lack of catechetical themes as hobbling evangelization in the United States. The most critical problem seems to be catechesis that forgets the kerygma, neglects the essentials of formation that foster personal conversion–the conditions that make it unexceptional for a child or adult to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord in a catechetical setting.
So here’s my nomination for an annual “theme” for say, the next decade (we’ll re-evaluate in 9 years 😉 ) — personal conversion to Jesus Christ. This is what recent popes have been teaching in so many forms, from the General Directory for Catechesis, which reminds us that catechesis must have a style “of integral [meaning essential] formation rather than mere information; it must act in reality as a means of arousing true conversion” (§27) to St. John Paul’s wonderful statement, Catechesi Tradendae.
Conversion cuts to the heart. In the New Testament it’s called metanoia. And the true and radical conversion that is metanoia doesn’t happen when an individual merely hears, learns, or articulates certain facts. It’s life-change. All the information and planning for themes in catechesis is no substitute for this fundamental reality.
Some conversions are really big. Like the initial, fundamental conversion every Christian must have–when he or she encounters Jesus Christ as Lord and says “yes” with one’s life (Deus Caritas Est, §1). Other conversions as part of the life of faith and formation in catechesis are proportionately smaller–wrestling with God over a challenging teaching and as a result forming a deeper relationship with Him, turning from a particular sin, claiming a new promise of God for one’s own life (versus just hearing it as an informative doctrine of a catechetics class), and more.
I don’t think “Catechetical Sunday” is going away (and it doesn’t need to, as the blessing and commissioning of catechists is a great and important moment in every parish). But here’s what counts–no matter what the theme of “Catechetical Sunday,” no matter what series or curriculum you use, evangelization means we must ensure that catechesis is never “mere information,” but always becoming, ever more fully “a means of arousing true conversion.” Explicitly. Directly. Without a doubt. So that while a child or adult might not always choose to accept the invitation, no person walks away unaware of the kerygma or unaware that Jesus their loving Savior stands waiting for their personal yes.