Helping Youth Encounter Christ in the Gospels
Youth and Young Adult Catechesis
By Bob Rice
‘The definitive aim of catechesis is intimacy with Christ,’ wrote John Paul II in Catechesi Traendae. At Franciscan University, we repeat that phrase so much to our students that it becomes a cliché. But the reason we repeat is so often is because it is so often forgotten. There seems to be so many other things to talk about! Our Lord’s words to the busy Martha can often be applied to our catechetical work as well: ‘You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.’ (Luke 10:41-2)
Martha’s sister Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to have a deeper encounter with Him. How can we help our youth have the same kind of encounter today? The answer is in the Gospels.
The Scriptures: The Catechism is a beautiful, contemporary expression of the deposit of Faith. The main source upon which the Catechism draws is the Scriptures - these the Church venerates ‘just as she venerates the body of the Lord.’1 ‘For this reason, the Church desires that in the ministry of the word, Sacred Scripture should have a pre-eminent position.’2 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.’3
Focus on the Gospels: 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.’
Challenge stereotypes: 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 8. Think he’s weak? Show him casting devils out of the Geresene demoniac- a brute of a man that no chains could bind, yet he fell before Jesus whimpering and begging for pity.
Life as well as teachings: 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.’4 Many students may know the teaching of Jesus, but do they know the life of Jesus? Only the Gospels can provide us this perspective.
Narrative style: 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.5 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.
Personal encounter: 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?
Joining the Who to the What: There are people who intellectually agree with Jesus’ teaching, but that doesn’t mean they love him. I remain convinced that one of the biggest problems we face in catechesis today is that it is possible to spend too much time talking about what God wants of us than who God is. By driving our catechesis with Gospel stories, they can experience the Who of revelation: Who was, Who is, and Who is to come. And the more they fall in love with who He is, the more they will want to do what He asks.
1. Dei Verbum 21
2. General Directory for Catechesis 127
3. Dei Verbum 18
4. Catechesis Tradendae 9
5. General Directory for Catechesis 181
Bob Rice is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Franciscan University, Ohio, where he teaches Biblical Catechetics, Evangelization, and Youth Ministry. He is also an author, international speaker and musician. To learn more visit www.bob-rice.com.