Last week I heard someone talk about the difference between evangelizing and catechizing. He suggested that too often we rush to catechesis before someone has been evangelized—or has experienced the “Gospel kerygma.” Blessed John Paul II describes this as “The initial ardent proclamation by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by faith.” (Catechesis in Our Time)
As youth ministers, we need to be offering opportunities for both. We need to make sure that we are inviting the Holy Spirit to lead our youth into moments of conversion. At the same time, we are blessed that U.S. Bishops have given us a catechetical framework so that we can make sure we are covering all the basics as we help educate them.
How do we balance the two? All of us can name youth who seem to be at either extreme. There are some that love the emotions that come with “conversion type” experiences and whose faith seems more like an emotional roller coaster they keep getting in line for. Then, there are other teens that seem to know it all when it comes to the Catholic faith, but their hearts have yet to experience Christ in a real way.
As youth ministers we need to remember that our youth need both and that the two are directly related. “Let us first of all recall that there is no separation or opposition between catechesis and evangelization. Nor can the two be simply identified with each other.” Are we offering opportunities for both conversion and catechesis? In fact,
“Catechesis is built on a certain number of elements of the Church’s pastoral mission that have a catechetical aspect, that prepare for catechesis, or that spring from it. These elements are: the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching through the kerygma to arouse faith, apologetics or examination of the reasons for belief, experience of Christian living, celebration of the sacraments, integration into the ecclesial community, and apostolic and missionary witness” (JPII, Catechesis in Our Time).
This can be a sort of checklist for us as we plan and evaluate youth ministry.
I also think it means we also need to be aware of where each teen is on their faith journey. If I am doing good relational ministry, it should not be difficult to know the answer. Then, taking that into account, it will help me not only in knowing how to better minister to that particular youth, but it will also help me to know what events are best suited for that individual.
As I was thinking about my upcoming summer trips, I wondered if I was too eager to have teens sign up and fill spots or if I discerned which teen was called to which trip — depending on where they are in their conversion process. It is hard to share your faith if you haven’t come to a real experience of the Lord.
Many years ago I was part of a mission trip that had too many youth on it about whom we said, “The trip will be good for him.” That doesn’t work well on a mission trip that is all about those we serve and not about the teens going. Despite that experience, I’ve made that sort of mistake on other youth ministry trips. It is not one I want to keep repeating.
I need the Holy Spirit to help me in discerning where each teen is. And to make sure I am following the Lord’s lead in ministry, not my own, as I plan events and invite youth to be a part. If I do that, I will hopefully be offering both opportunities for evangelization and catechesis. God willing, it also means the youth will become faithful witnesses, who both love and know the Lord.