In my last blog, I covered how the Church wants us to use the baptismal catechumenate as a model for all catechetical activity, and within the catechumenate is a period of formation called mystagogy. In mystagogy, we want to focus on three things:
- The Word of God, especially the Gospels
- The Sacraments, especially the Eucharist
Today I wanted to focus on the first goal of mystagogy, inserting teens into the mystery of God’s Word, especially as it is given to us in the Gospels.
The Preeminence of the Gospels
The Catechism is a beautiful, contemporary expression of the deposit of Faith, but cannot be compared to the Scriptures that the Church venerates “just as she venerates the body of the Lord.” (Dei Verbum 21) “For this reason, the Church desires that in the ministry of the word, Sacred Scripture should have a pre-eminent position.” (GDC 127) And among the Scriptures, “it is common knowledge that… the Gospels have a special preeminence, and rightly so, for they are the principal witness for the life and teaching of the incarnate Word, our savior.” (DV 18)
Our catechesis with young people should be saturated with the Gospels. We must see it as our first and foremost goal to explain the stories of Jesus of Nazareth in a way that loses none of the dynamism that rocked the world 2,000 years ago. Jesus was the most incredible, passionate, shocking, and wonderful person who ever walked the face of the earth. We have to show Him this way. As a famous youth minister once said, “It is a sin to bore a kid with the Gospel.”
The Gospels challenge youth’s pre-conceived notions or shallow stereotypes of who they think Jesus is. Think He’s boring? Read about how he made a whip out of cords and knocked over tables in the Temple. Think He’s a merciless judge? Read about the compassion He showed to the woman caught in adultery in John chapter eight. Think He’s weak? Show Him casting devils out of the Geresene demoniac—a huge man that no chains could bind, yet he fell before Jesus whimpering and begging for pity.
Jesus, a Man of Action
I find it most effective when we put emphasis on the actions of Jesus. “The unique consistency and persuasiveness of His teaching can only be explained by the fact that His words, His parables, and His arguments are never separable from His life and His very being. Accordingly, the whole of Christ’s life was a continual teaching: His silences, His miracles, His gestures, His prayer, His love for people, His special affection for the little and the poor, His acceptance of the total sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of the world, and His resurrection are the actualization of His word and the fulfillment of revelation.” (John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae 9) Many students may know the teaching of Jesus, but do they know the life of Jesus? Only the Gospels can provide us this perspective.
In order to convey the excitement of the Gospel stories written in 1st century A.D., we need to convey them with a narrative style that can speak to teenagers today. The literary genre of the Gospels seems terse compared to contemporary styles of storytelling. This is one of the many places that catechists must display the “courage and creativity” necessary for working with youth (GCD 181). We have to engage their imaginations as we bring them to a world that existed 2,000 years ago in a country that most of them haven’t been to. We have to give them the background of what is going on to help them understand why things are happening. And we can help them experience the Gospel stories from different point of views, so that they can find themselves in it.
But most importantly, we focus on the encounter with Jesus. What would it be like to hear His words of mercy while you were hanging on the cross? What would it be like to be blind your whole life, and the first thing you see is the face of Jesus? How would it feel to touch the wounds on His hands and side?
He’s Not Just an idea—He is Alive!
It is essential that we don’t treat Jesus like a historical figure that lived in a distant continent two thousand years ago. We need to witness how He changes our lives today. He is here! He is alive!
If He’s alive, then where is he? This leads us to the other two points of mystagogy. Encountering Christ in the Gospels helps us to encounter Him more deeply in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Seeing his face in the Scriptures helps us to see his face in each other, the community formed by the love of God.
We must connect the Gospels to the Sacraments and the community or else we are just “telling” them about the mystery instead of “inserting” them into it.
More on that in the next blog…