On June 25 of this year, Pope Francis, through the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, gifted the Church with a new Directory for Catechesis. Like the preceding directories, the General Catechetical Directory of 1971 and the General Directory for Catechesis of 1997, this new directory sets forth an inspiring and challenging vision for “catechizing” — sharing the faith — in our own day and time. Recognizing that much has happened in our world and in our Church since the publication of the last directory, Pope Francis has wisely sought to provide for a renewal of catechesis, which is itself “an essential part of the broader renewal that the Church is called to bring about in order to be faithful to the command of Jesus Christ to proclaim always and everywhere his Gospel.” (no. 1)

Lest one think that this renewal of catechesis is a matter to be left only to pastors, parish life coordinators, or parish catechetical/youth ministry leaders, the directory clearly recognizes “the fundamental role of the baptized.” We are all called to be both “active participants in the catechetical initiative,” and “authentic missionary disciples.” (no. 4)

How, then, can we all contribute to the renewal of catechesis? Some key themes in the new directory offer us some ideas.
The directory calls us to make the kerygma (the proclamation of the faith) “the essential dimension of every moment of catechesis.” (no. 57).  Stated many ways throughout the centuries, Pope Francis offers this beautiful definition of the kerygma: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” (no. 58) As missionary disciples, we are called to share this message with others through our actions and our words. Before all else, sharing faith means sharing our friendship with Jesus in new ways that can truly speak to our contemporaries be they adults, youth or children. And we must do this as Jesus did — by deep listening and respectful dialogue.

For reflection: Have I ever shared with others about my friendship with Jesus? What might be holding me back? How might I take one step toward doing or deepening such sharing?

Accompaniment — walking alongside others on the journey of life and faith — is yet another theme the new directory highlights for the renewal of catechesis. This is no surprise given how much Pope Francis values accompaniment in the life of the faith community. In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis calls accompaniment an “art … which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” (Joy of the Gospel, no. 169) In other words, God is somehow already there in the other’s heart and life. 

We help to nurture what God has already begun. A renewed sense of catechesis, then, should respond to “the actual life story of the person who grows and matures over time.” Indeed, “the Church, patiently accompanying her children and respecting the pace of their maturing, shows herself to be an attentive mother.” (no. 64) The practice of accompaniment calls us to humility. We must recognize that we are all loved sinners who live the Christian life as “a journey of conversion” growing ever more deeply in love with Jesus and in more faithfully living his Gospel. (no. 64)
For reflection: Who has accompanied me on my journey of faith? How have I grown in faith through my life story? How might God be calling me to accompany others on their journey of life and faith?

“Catechesis forms believers for mission … making them aware they are missionary disciples, called to participate actively in the proclamation of the Gospel and to make the Kingdom of God present in the world …” (no. 50, emphasis original) In the earliest days of the current coronavirus pandemic, when we could not safely gather in our church buildings, a meme was going around social media that read something like this: “The Church is not closed! It is deployed!” This captures well what the new directory means when it speaks of mission as one of the main reasons why we catechize. As Pope Francis has said countless times, the Church needs to see herself first and foremost as being in “a permanent state of mission” — always deployed for the sake of the Kingdom of God. 

Our world is filled with a throwaway view of human life, angry division, outright hatred, systemic racism, deep-seated economic inequality and the list goes on. More than ever, we missionary disciples need to make present the Kingdom of God — the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed and lived: welcoming inclusion, true justice, self-emptying love and peace beyond any human understanding. To be a true friend of Jesus is to be a missionary disciple following in his footprints, whether we are single, married, lay ecclesial minister, consecrated religious or ordained. Imagine what our Church and our world would be like if every single one of us really saw ourselves as missionary disciples, and even more, lived as such with conviction, enthusiasm, and joy!

For reflection: Do I see myself as a missionary disciple? How can I live more intentionally as a missionary disciple? How might I encourage others to grow in their understanding of being and living as missionary disciples?

David G. Amico is the diocesan director of the Office of Lay Ministry & Parish Faith Formation and this column is a the first in a series of monthly reflections on the new directory.