I don’t know if you ever did this but I had a book in high school that I kept on display because I thought it made me look cool.
It was an entire book on the second law of thermodynamics. Now, the fact that I was the first student in my school’s history to be excluded from mathematics in my senior year (due to a mix of hell-raising and gross incapacity for numbers) did not stop me from leaving this book where people could see it.
I only remember a couple of things. It had a very interesting lurid green cover and it did actually explain the basics of the second law of thermodynamics. It goes like this…
The universe, left to itself is drifting toward entropy. Energy or heat is moving from a hotter state to a colder state since the Big Bang. So blah, blah, blah. What has this got to do with Catholic schools and specifically renewing catechesis in Catholic schools?
Basically, any system left to itself, without fresh inputs is always winding down. It is always moving from a warmer state to a cooler one. You can now see, I hope, where I am heading with this.
Any Catholic school, left to itself, with no fresh inputs is always losing its fervour and missionary focus. It’s just the way of things. Committees and principals can draft all the mission statements they like but without actually doing something to create renewal then the second law of thermodynamics kicks in.
Last week’s edition of Going Deeper explored this concept in detail as we continued our journey through John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae. He offers the following four points for renewing catechesis in Catholic schools:
1. Broadening of its concept:
If you’ve been paying attention in recent weeks on Going Deeper you’ll remember that catechesis refers to the direct teaching of the faith but also to the broad formation of the human person. John Paul reminds us that while it is crucial that our students receive formal and high quality catechetical instruction it’s also important that we see catechesis in the broadest possible light. This light includes a way of relating to young people, a way of pastoral care that elevates the dignity of the person and views them in light of their identity in Christ.
For so many schools, catechesis is seen as an old fashioned word and religious formation is seen as something only done by RE staff rather that then task of the whole school community.
2. Revision of methods:
What’s working, what’s not? What could we safely send to the back of the cupboard and what could we try more of? What new initiatives could we consider? Also, you need to know who in your school actually knows the answers to those questions. Where are the real operators at the coal face and the wise heads who have been working with young people in this area and know the way things really are.
I think it’s fair to say that for too long we may have been persisting in the belief that if we keep doing exactly the same thing then all of a sudden our churches will be overflowing with young people. We need to be open to new approaches but, as I will explain next week, we also need to be careful of a craven desire to be cool and hyper-relevant. I’ve been saying for years that the fastest way to burnout in youth evangelisation and catechesis is to try and ‘out-entertain’ the most entertained cohort of young people in world history.
3. Suitable language:
As I explain in this week’s Going Deeper video there is nothing quite so sad and cringeworthy as a teacher who tries to connect with young people by trying to sound cool. It’s the fast track to educational, pastoral and personal irrelevance with students.
What John Paul II is referring to is simply that we need to frame catechesis in language that most effectively engages our audience. For me, this is not so much about the words we use but about the way we frame catechesis to the real questions in the lives and hearts of today’s young people. So many young people deal with questions of belonging, isolation, anxiety and sadness alongside a desire to do great and noble things in the world. For me, John Paul’s call for suitable language is a call for language that speaks to the needs of the human heart at each moment in history.
4. New means of transmitting the message:
At the time that John Paul wrote Catechesi Tradendae he was reflecting upon a world moving gradually into the arena of mass social communication. He could sense, it seems, that the ways that the vast human family was communicating were about to undergo seismic change. He was right. There is a plethora of new thinking about how catechesis might take shape under the new forms of social media but one thing seems clear. I have argued for a long time that much of what we see on social media is a desire for belonging, for relationship, perhaps a veiled grasping at communion with others. We need to be aware of that fact. How can we leverage that desire for connection into channels that are life-giving rather than toxic?
Questions For You:
Below are four quick questions on each area highlighted by John Paul for you to ponder or discuss with other staff:
1. How are you going with the broad concept of catechesis? Is it still something just for the RE staff or is everyone aware that they have a role to play either in direct sharing of the faith or the wider message of the value and dignity of the person as made in God’s image?
2. What’s working for your school in terms of faith formation and what’s not? Who are the key people in your school who really know the answers to these tough questions? Are their voices being heard?
3. Are we deeply aware of the lives and language of our students as well as their deep needs and aspirations? Is the message we share about Jesus speaking to these very real and very human concerns?
4. How are we going with new means for transmitting the message? What is best practice? What are other schools doing successfully? What could we try that might be new or even daring?
Please take a moment to share your insights and thoughts in the comments box at the bottom or consider using the sign-up box below so you stay in the loop with upcoming posts. Also, if you have not joined the fast growing Going Deeper platform then click HERE to find out more.
Renewing catechesis in Catholic schools is an exciting and desperately needed journey we all need to take.