September 19, 2014

Catholic Education Outreach / Ken Ogorek

When we teach, we must evangelize, too

Not too long ago, you might have heard someone say that evangelization always comes before education in religion. In other words, first you get evangelized, then you start catechesis.

Recent guidance by the magisterium—coupled with the experience of teachers—tells us that evangelization is an ongoing process. Even practicing Catholics enrolled in Catholic schools or involved with parish catechetical, youth ministry, young adult or college campus ministry programs need constant re-evangelization.

When we teach, then, we must also evangelize. Numerous books, articles, blog posts and other resources address the question of what it looks like to evangelize while you teach. Here are three traits of evangelizing Catholic education:

Jesus

Mention Jesus early and often. Speak his holy name at every reasonable opportunity.

It’s humbling to reflect on a teaching experience when I’ve explored one Christian doctrine or another without ever mentioning Jesus Christ!

In Catholic education, teachers of various subjects—not just religion—can and should incorporate Jesus in their interaction with students. Certainly teachers of religion, as well as youth and young adult ministers should make clear how every aspect of our Catholic faith draws us to Jesus, who shows us the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bad News

It might sound counterintuitive, but reminding students regularly that we’re wounded by original sin and need to be saved from sin and death can make them more receptive to the Good News by God’s grace.

Certainly the experience of sin is familiar to anyone with a reasonably well-formed conscience. It’s very compassionate to reassure students that our vulnerability to temptation isn’t necessarily our fault, so long as we’re prudent about avoiding situations likely to incite sinful behavior.

It’s life-changing to proclaim that sin and even death are ultimately defeated by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus!

The Paschal Mystery

From the ultimate bad news—the Son of God was murdered!—comes goodness almost unimaginable: He is risen!

After hours of suffering and three days stone cold dead in the holy sepulcher, Jesus gloriously arose to new life. He spent time with his disciples, ascended to our Father and helps us every day to see the good on the other side of struggles, to glimpse light after periods of darkness, to experience new life after what seemed like certain death.

When the Paschal Mystery—especially its culmination, the Resurrection—is mentioned often in our teaching, students both sense the need for salvation and are reminded that we have in Jesus a sacred Savior—a Holy Redeemer. A bonus side-effect: Students can see the value of persevering through life’s many small deaths, knowing that God helps bring growth, healing, goodness and new life.

In evangelization, we sometimes identify three groups: the unchurched, the alienated, and practicing Catholics.

The archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education presumably works primarily with the latter. Yet there are days when we or our students might feel or seem a little alienated. We might even have dark days when the overall feeling is one of being unchurched.

Teachers who evangelize while they impart knowledge of the faith, though, can shine the light of faith and share the joy of the Gospel with students at various points on their journey of evangelization, on any given day. Thank God for our many evangelizing teachers, catechists and ministers of Catholic education!
 

(Ken Ogorek is archdiocesan director of catechesis. He can be reached by e-mail at kogorek@archindy.org.)

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