Fr. Johannes Hoffinger was a significant figure in the catechetical movement of the 1950-70’s. One of the books he wrote was called Evangelization and Catechesis : Are We Really Proclaiming The Gospel? In his discussion of evangelization and catechesis he asks the question: How do we accomplish the catechesis of children? He wrote:
On the one hand, we must avoid all exaggerated demands by requiring more of children than they can achieve at their age. Such demands sooner or later almost always lead to dangerous crisis in religious or moral life. On the other hand we must take advantage of the great and genuine religious capacity of children and leave them as they are able, to a deep and sincere adherence to God and preparation for later commitment. We must avoid the great error of assuming that their youth allows us to content ourselves with the mirror external expression of faith on their part. Despite their immaturity, children have a marvelous capacity for systematic development of a solid interior adherence to God.
I want to share, what I see, as some important realities that he spoke of 40 years ago that are relevant today. First, over the last 50 years we have learned that requiring too much from a young child can lead to a crises of the religious or moral life of children. However, today we’ve practically gone the other way and required so little from young people regarding what they should know and learn – according to their age that they have a limited understanding of what they believe. Today young people struggle to acquire a basic knowledge and understanding of foundational truths of the faith or an interior disposition of faith that fosters genuine and continual conversion to Christ in their lives.
The Church has worked hard over the decades to help children encounter Christ and have a sense that they belong and are of great value. The challenge has been fostering both a welcoming environment that is also accompanied by a level of rigor in the classroom and within the family where they can come to interiorize their love of God and know the truths of God’s plan. Thirty to 40 years ago catechesis was centered on what I will call the “teddy bear Jesus” era and the era of “we’re glad you are hear and Jesus loves you”. The vast majority of children received this as practically the only message from their religious education in the 70’s and 80’s. Secondly, it was an unfortunate reality that we did not take advantage of the natural disposition and capacity of children to want to grow and interiorize their faith. Their potential was limited by our rejection of excessive doctrine and our over-emphasis on God’s love without giving much reason for why this love was inviting them to encounter Jesus Christ. Today, we have to capitalize on this natural disposition of children so our catechesis will be engaging and life giving.
What do we do today?
1. Present the kerygma to young people and their parents. It can’t only be a classroom lesson on the basic Gospel message, although that is an improvement from generations past who were not given the basic message of the apostolic kerygma and announcement of Jesus Christ. Parents need to know that their mission is to continually present Christ and his ways and life to their children and to foster that interior life through personal prayer and a awareness of God’s presence in their lives.
2) Parents and parish/school catechists must continue to help children understand, per their age level, the truths of the faith. For example a 5 year old should know that it’s good to say I’m sorry when they do something that they should not have done and how Jesus is sad when we disobey Him. Another example is to assist a 9 year old to be aware how they can examine their conscience to determine how they are loving God and neighbor or are not living God or neighbor.
How can we better evangelize in our catechesis.