September 16, 2016

Religious Education Supplement

Authentic catechetical renewal seeks to bring faith and life together

Children and Father J. Peter Gallagher are all smiles while surrounding a chocolate chip cookie rosary on July 1 during vacation Bible school at St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg, where Father Gallagher serves as pastor. The vacation Bible school program, which Father Jonathan Meyer helped develop, is an example of the authentic renewal of catechesis that has taken place in the Church since the end of the Second Vatican Council, and which has taken on new energy since the mid-1990s. (Submitted photo)

Children and Father J. Peter Gallagher are all smiles while surrounding a chocolate chip cookie rosary on July 1 during vacation Bible school at St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg, where Father Gallagher serves as pastor. The vacation Bible school program, which Father Jonathan Meyer helped develop, is an example of the authentic renewal of catechesis that has taken place in the Church since the end of the Second Vatican Council, and which has taken on new energy since the mid-1990s. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Catholics across central and southern Indiana—indeed around the world—have “a right to solid, effective catechesis,” says Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis.

He has worked hard over the past nine years to continue an authentic renewal of catechesis in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis so that this right is respected.

And he’s also been doing this at the national level for the past year and a half as president of the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership.

“It’s invigorating,” Ogorek said. “It’s not without its challenges. As a parent, I’m familiar with what we sometimes call ‘growing pains.’ And so growth often involves a bit of struggle.

“Having said that, it’s invigorating and a blessing. I just ask for prayers that authentic catechetical renewal will continue by God’s grace in our country and beyond.”

Ogorek and other catechetical leaders in the archdiocese and beyond spoke recently with The Criterion about the importance of the authentic renewal of catechesis for all the faithful.

He sees three “key traits” of catechetical renewal that began after the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, and took on new strength in the mid-1990s with the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Vatican’s General Directory for Catechesis.

The first trait is what Ogorek describes as “affirmative orthodoxy.”

“We acknowledge that the basic doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church are not only true, but they’re also good and beautiful and helpful, because God loves us,” he said.

The next is that Church “abhors false dichotomies.” At different times in the Church’s history, he said, difficulties in catechesis have cropped up because there was too much of a focus either on the content of the faith or the experiences of the person being catechized. These should not be seen as opposed to each other, Ogorek said.

“Yes, there are things in life that are either/or, especially in the area of moral absolutes,” he said. “But a lot of the mystery of our beautiful faith is a both/and dimension. It’s head and heart. It’s teaching and witness. It’s the Gospel and everyday life.”

Ogorek also said that authentic catechetical renewal celebrates human experience, but also acknowledges its limits.

“When we teach the faith, we certainly need to incorporate and address human experience,” he said. “There are some aspects of God’s infinite majesty where human experience is always going to fall at least a little short.

“Sometimes we just need to proclaim divinely revealed truth and then perhaps use it as a starting point to shed light on our human experience, rather than believing that, in all cases, we can start with human experience as a key to unlock every aspect of our faith.”

Father Robert Hater, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, has worked to shape the authentic renewal of catechesis for more than 50 years.

At 82, he could easily enjoy his golden years in retirement. But he continues to teach at a seminary and college in Cincinnati, assist at a parish there and serve as a theological consultant for a catechetical textbook publisher.

In his 2014 book, Common Sense Catechesis: Lessons from the Past, Road Map for the Future, published by Our Sunday Visitor, Father Hater emphasized the importance of the preparation of catechists to ongoing catechetical renewal.

He said they require two things: a knowledge of the basic teachings to be taught, and ways to present it clearly and effectively.

“The catechist in today’s society has to be well prepared,” Father Hater said. “They’re busy people. They’re not professionals. They’re being asked to do something that is sometimes quite challenging.”

A growing number of people who came of age during the mid-1990s when catechetical renewal took on renewed energy are now taking leadership roles in passing on the faith in parishes across central and southern Indiana.

Jackie VandenBergh, coordinator of adult faith formation at St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, was a young adult during that time and tries to bring faith and life together in all she does.

“Seeing a connection between our faith and our daily lives makes a great and often immeasurable difference in our lives,” she said. “For some, questions about faith, God and the meaning of life are born in the midst of tragedy, trial, trauma, illness or a life-altering experience.

“Having both a relationship with Christ and the perspective that comes with our faith, we are able to see and encounter God working in our daily lives to the point that we could even experience gratitude in the midst of suffering.”

Father Jonathan Meyer, pastor of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, was a young college seminarian during that period and looked forward to passing on the faith with vigor and conviction as a priest.

“There was a great drive within me to be involved and even create, if need be, programs or experiences to help young people know the Lord and serve him,” he said.

In recent years, Father Meyer has helped develop a distinctly Catholic vacation Bible school program focused on Scripture and the mysteries of the rosary that he has used in his parishes and has started to spread to other faith communities.

“It works as a really good way to drive home a theme,” he said. “Every day, the music, game, snack, color of clothing the kids are asked to wear, points to the biblical passage which is [related to] the mystery. If kids go home and know the five mysteries of the rosary for that year, we are winners.”

Kristina Vogt, director of religious education at St. John Paul II Parish in Clark County, is even younger than VandenBergh and Father Meyer, coming of age when Twitter and Facebook were becoming commonplace social media platforms.

She now tries to keep up with newly emerging digital media to pass on the faith effectively to the people of her New Albany Deanery faith community.

“You’re not changing content,” Vogt said. “It’s about adapting your method to reach those people. We just have to present it in the right way.”

Ogorek said that the efforts of catechetical leaders across the archdiocese and the country to further authentic catechetical renewal are building on a foundation laid in large part by Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein.

“A lot of the fruit of those efforts in the 1990s are part of our heritage,” Ogorek said. “In some way, they’re the gifts that keep on giving.”

Archbishop Buechlein worked to put catechetical renewal on solid footing in central and southern Indiana after becoming shepherd of the archdiocese in 1992, and later led the influential U.S. bishops’ Sub-Committee on the Implementation of the Catechism.

This committee made sure that catechetical textbooks were in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“I think that Archbishop Daniel helped catechists be clear on what it is that we are supposed to teach, the content of our teaching,” Ogorek said. “His support of good assessment encouraged catechists to think about the extent to which they were getting through to the folks they were trying to teach.

“Archbishop Daniel was also supportive of faith formation commissions. A parish faith formation commission helps the parish catechetical program improve each year in response to the real expressed needs of the faithful in the parish.”

Ogorek said that Catholics across central and southern Indiana all have a part to play in continuing authentic catechetical renewal.

“Pray for catechists, for parents who are doing their best to pass on the faith to their kids,” he said. “Affirm really good catechesis when you see it. And If you see something that is well-intended but maybe not as effective as it could be or should be, I think the faithful should feel free to speak the truth in love to folks who are leading catechesis in their parish and the archdiocese.”
 

(To learn more about catechesis in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit www.archindy.org/catechesis.)

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