There are many ways to evangelize and catechize, many elements of both. One of the problems, both past and present, in figuring out how to do both of these things is the temptation to push everyone through a narrow gate -but the wrong kind of narrow gate. The gate that presumes all people are the same, that they learn in the same way, that the God-shaped holes they are trying to fill are exactly the same.
Which doesn’t work because whoever dug those holes used different shovels and worked with varying degrees of ferocity to varying depths.
This has been the theme of most of my conversations with my favorite Youth Ministry Guru, who now works in a parish doing evangelization. When churches deal with “youth” they want to place them all in a single box and then find a ministry “program” that can keep them there. Forgetting, of course, that while some youth might be turned on by icebreakers and fun, the same activities might prompt other youth to run for the hills. But that’s another subject.
So it is with the task of evangelization and catechesis in general. It takes all kinds and a variety of efforts, which seems to me a basic fact that any Catholic should not even have to learn, considering that the Catholic life is in this sense almost defined by variety, most obviously embodied in our religious orders, as well as various spiritual movements past and present. Communion and Liberation is not Opus Dei, and that is fine.
So when we take it to a less, say, organized or formal level, the same truth applies. In some circumstances more affectively-oriented approaches are called for, in others more cognitive. I have never, ever understood why this is a big deal for some people, or, more accurately, why some working in one approach have a need to disparage another approach. Yes, if someone is claiming that their approach is the Be All And End All and is The Solution – sure, they deserve to be disparaged.
So take the general distaste for apologetics. Oh, a lot of you really dig apologetics, but to be honest it’s got a bad rap out there in professional Catholic land, and you know it. Apologetics should not be the primary focus of anyone’s catechesis or faith formation, but it is a legitimate, important aspect of catechesis. To me, it’s simple. Things exist for a reason, mostly because of need. So if apologetics exists and, in the present day, seems to be flourishing, there’s a reason. Instead of sneering at the apologists, why not tackle the reason that apologetics websites and books seem to be so popular? Maybe because people have…you know…questions?
All of that is by way of introduction to another, smaller point, a point to consider when evaluating these different modes of talking about and passing on faith.
Perhaps I am delusional, but it strikes me, in reading and listening to many contemporary evangelical, emergent, and even Anglican-centered conversations over the past few years, all of this in the added, interesting context of Pope Benedict’s excellent catechetical style and the growing interest in things papal over the past couple of years, that there is an odd little potential Catholic moment here.
The questions about authority are mounting in many Christian traditions, as some go off the rails, and not just because of the homosexual wars that every mainstream denomination is fighting. They are mounting in evangelicalism as the Word Faith and emergent forms of Protestantism bear heavy and sharp criticism from fellow Protestants, leaving some observers wondering, “on whose authority” can any of this be critiqued? Interest in ritual and traditional worship, even monasticism, the Divine Office and praying beads is rising among Protestants. Serious evangelicals continue to be deeply interested in Patristics. Some are questioning the relationship between Protestantism of all kinds, and the culture, for various reasons.
In this context, the people who are exploring these issues are serious Christians. They are not strangers to Jesus. Their “affective” faith is strong but they are wondering about things.
And sometimes their wondering leads them, if not to the door, at least to the outside gate of the Catholic Church. Sometimes they seriously explore it, sometimes they can’t even imagine doing so and quickly turn away. But in many of these conversations and musings and explorations, one of the points you run across over and over is that the Catholic Church is appealing for countless reasons that go very deep, but what is off-putting, in the end, is its “un-Scriptural doctrines.” That perception is a real deal-breaker. You can say all sorts of things about it, and suggest all kinds of approaches to remedying it, but one thing seems clear, as you listen:
Apologetics and other ways of talking about and explaining you know….doctrine and teachings…..might just have a place. Because seekers are asking.
To answer those questions, lovingly and with an open spirit…that’s a good thing.
You might even call it…. seeker-friendly.