Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. Luke 24: 50 – 53) is about the actual ascension. The “Great Commission,” as Luke expresses it, is in Acts: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8). This is part of the first lesson for Ascension Thursday.
What grabbed my attention this morning was the following: “‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures….” (Lk 24: 44-45)
I often take special note of passages that have Jesus referring to the fulfillment of the words of the Hebrew Scriptures. Matthew and Luke are especially good at this. This may be the only passage that adds the psalms to the usual reference to the Torah and the prophets. The story of the Road to Emmaus is the other Lukan passage that I often remember. In that one, as in this one, he opens the disciples minds to understand the Scriptures.
These descriptions of how Jesus guided (more than taught, in our usual understanding of “taught”) are the model of how to catechize in the catechumenate. The catechist helps open the minds of those seeking greater understanding of the Christ Jesus. We help facilitate, rather than do this by ourselves because we understand that the Holy Spirit guides our ministry. We do this for each other as well as for the catechumens and candidates for whom we are responsible. We do this while we are open to being catechized by all in the group. We do this by guided reflection. The structured reflection of Lectio Divina works well; there are probably other ways.
The catechist does not teach about doctrines and dogmas or about church history or textual criticism and exegesis, unless these matters arise in the course of the reflections. Then the catechist needs to be able to discern if the move to the “facts” of doctrines and dogmas, of church history, of textual criticism and exegesis is an attempt to avoid the indwelling of the Spirit. For example, this passage goes on to say that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his [the Messiah’s] name to all nations…” (vs 47). This is an opportune time to discuss how forgiveness of sins is celebrated in the Catholic Churches, including the Episcopal Church. It is an opportunity to understand the General Confession in the Mass and the pastoral office of reconciliation. It is also a moment to explicitly talk about repentance or conversion or transformation (all three express the same concept). The catechist needs to be open to these opportunities but should not force the topic. What is discussed and how the faith sharing develops and proceeds is up to the guidance of the Spirit. We must trust in the work of the Spirit in our midst.
The catechist must prepare for these moments through prayer and reflection. A quick perusal of the text just prior to the meeting is not adequate. The catechist must develop the art of reflection and prayer with Scripture. The catechist must develop the gift of discernment. The catechist must devote prayer and reflection on the passage for hours prior to the meeting. The catechist must be able to guide the reflection as the Spirit would have it. Otherwise we will not teach as Jesus did.
In the past, when I read this litany of “musts” in books on spiritual development and catechesis, I have been skeptical. As I have begun to realize that the catechumenate is primarily about spiritual formation, I have begun to appreciate the litany.