This may seem like an obvious question, but there is a not-so-obvious answer I’d like to explore. To get to that answer, let’s look at another vital activity in human life—marriage. If I asked why betrothing is important, I think our answers would be qualitatively different than when I ask why catechizing is important.
The initial answer to asking about the importance of catechesis might have to do with things like knowledge of the faith, preparation for a lifestyle, or ability to resist temptation and sin.
What do we love about love?
There are corollaries to those kinds of things when we get engaged and married. We do want to learn more about our future spouse, prepare for a life with him or her, and strengthen our ability to forsake all others. But these are not the first things that leap to mind when we ask young lovers, “Why do you want to get engaged? Why do you want to get marred? Why is that important?”
The answer, of course, is, “Because we’re in love with each other; we’re crazy about each other; we cannot imagine life without each other.”
What do we love about faith?
Our answer about why catechesis is important should be similar. We have fallen in love with Jesus and the people of Jesus who are the body of Christ. We are crazy about each other, and we cannot imagine a life without each other.
We catechize because we have a deep longing in our hearts that can only be fulfilled by the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And we know that everyone else has that same longing, even if they don’t yet know what the fulfillment of that longing is. We are compelled to share the joyful good news with everyone we encounter. And having shared it, we are then obligated show the full beauty and glory of the Way, the Truth, and the Life to those who seek it.
RCIA is about rights as much as rites
Pope John Paul II said people “have a right to hear the full content of [the gospel] message” so they will truly know Christ. We catechize so their relationship with Jesus will be as deep and intimate as ours is.
Catechesis is, certainly, all of the educational and moral development things we often first think of when we hear the word. But catechesis is only education and moral development that flows from a true conversion to a person—the person of Jesus Christ.
The word “catechesis” often carries with it a heavy programmatic sense. Almost every parish has a committee that is in charge of catechesis. But we would never think of having a committee in charge of falling in love. Falling in love is just what we do. It doesn’t get codified into programs.
The heart of the matter
When we say that catechesis is important, we are saying it is only important if the way we do it leads seekers to a more profound experience of the mystical body of Christ. If instead, the way we do catechesis leads folks to jump through hoops, put in minimum effort, and disappear completely once they get their sacrament card stamped, whatever is we are doing is thoroughly unimportant.
Life in the mystical body of Christ is a life of abundance, a life of joy, a life of passion. Once we know that life, any other kind of life seems dark and small and is ultimately no life at all. That’s why catechesis is so important. It offers seekers a life that saves them from having no life.