Communicating Faith in the 21st Century_ tasks and challenges by malj


									                 Communicating Faith in the 21st Century: tasks and challenges
                   Catechesis in the third millennium: tasks and challenges
                       New horizons of catechesis in a mediated world

                                                                                - Gilbert Choondal sdb

       Two national meetings on topics related to communication and faith were held in the last
few months. The theme, Towards a Communicative Theology was held at Ujjain (January 2003)
and was participated in by professors from the field of theology and communications from all over
India. Media as a Language for Faith Formation was also discussed at Hyderabad during the
general body meeting of the Indian Catechetical Association (February 2003). I was a participant in
both the meetings. After interacting with the resource persons and participants, I strongly felt the
need to write down the essential elements of catechesis from a perspective of communication
environment. This is to spot the necessary shifts one needs to make today from a traditional
catechetical paradigm.
       To begin with, let me introduce the ever-evolving phenomena of this new media

1. Emergence of an evolving world-view: media world, digital world and genomic world

        We live in a mass media culture which to some extent has turned the world into a ―global
village.‖ The mass media have given rise to a new language. Aetatis novae correctly pointed out the
universal quality of mass media. ―Nowhere today are people untouched by the impact of media
upon religious and moral attitudes, political and social systems, and education.‖1 The mass media
present a fragmented view of the human person. They not only create reality, but reconstruct reality.
We live in a era in which we are more influenced by image than by abstract thought
        When we get news from these media, a common world-view is transmitted to us. While we
may pay no attention to commercials, game shows, sports, soap operas, or sitcoms, these
programmes, taken collectively, combine to form a huge panoply of images that visualise the Indian
psyche.2 One of the most amazing developments of the past century has been the recent
unprecedented growth of the World Wide Web. The Web is already competing with television. This
has created a new world with a discernible shift from the media world into a digital world. Soon this
world too will disappear as the genomic world where silicon and DNA, human body and computer
chips, brain and digital processor are all going to be in one platform!

2. A new language, a new grammar

        We communicate through gestures, images, symbols, and rituals. The various modes of
communication are interrelated even though they have different techniques, motivations, and goals.
Many kinds of communication exist: personal and interpersonal, private and public. We also speak
of print, voice, visual, audio, electronic and digital communication.
        But this new language and grammar raise new questions and answers in the society and the
Church today. Some questions are yet to be answered. What are the religious connotations of visual
media today? In what ways do these forms conform to or contradict the characteristics of traditional
religious symbols, rituals and icons? The TV and Internet culture have redefined the concept of
time, reality, space and community. Where is the real community in this visual world? In the visual

 Aetatis novae, n. 1.
 Cf. GOETHALS G., Symbolic Forms of Communication, in GRANFIELD P., ed., The Church and Communication,
(Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994) p.69.
media? In the software? In the millions of viewers or participants? Is virtuality a reality? MTV
culture aimed at the teenage world, provides musical, fast moving visuals, and a verbal iconography
that tends to homogenise values. The way one is determined by the way one does. The identity of
persons is determined by what they consume. What to be is totally synchronised with what to wear
and how to behave.3 The media do create this new language and it is going to stay.

3. Salient features of the communication media

         After enumerating the new world views and the new language that exist in this new
environment, let me spell out some of its essential characteristics.
-Modern communication is instantaneous. The speed of communication permits us to know events
in the world in seconds.
- Modern communication is universal. The modern means of communication have made the world
into a global village.
- Modern communication is visual. The mass character of communication is reinforced by the visual
character of mass communication.
-Modern communication is multilingual. The script, angle, visual, words, media, technology,
commerce etc., form part of this language.
         What is the role of catechesis in this instant communication system? Are catechists
competent enough to communicate in a such system? The style of doctrine to be heard, and hence
announced verbally, in order to be believed is replaced by faith that needs to be seen. How does
catechesis get into the process of making faith seen? In the age of images, are we connecting with
reality through our religious use of images? It is in this context of new world views and languages
that one needs to see the new shifts in catechesis from its traditional paradigm. Before enumerating
such shifts, let me bring out the relationship of catechesis to this new environment.

4. Catechesis as a language of communication

        Catechesis is not just the transmission of a message. It is an action that deals with the social
and ecclesial elements that we believe in. Catechesis has the role of transmitting the divine message
to societies and individuals who live in history and make history. Biblical studies have long
emphasized that literary forms moulded the Christian faith from the start. Bible contains at least five
dominant genres – story, law, proverb, psalm, and oracle. Each of these forms has communicative
potentials. More importantly, because religious language is the language of metaphor and symbol,
an integration of this language is absolutely essential for catechesis and evangelisation. God-talk
moves back and forth between the world of common sense and the world of imagination.
        Catechesis has always been related to communication. But, people often reduce catechesis
to a limited perspective of incorporating audio-visual elements (slides, videos, music) into the
techniques of catechesis. Is catechesis only a language game that makes little difference to fact and
faith? I have observed this dangerous tendency among some experts. My observation is that some
consider technology the hallmark of communication, though it does have a role to play. Applying
audio-visual methods to an unchanged approach in catechesis is ineffective. One needs to reflect
whether such incorporation affects the very concept of catechesis.
        According to Gabriel Moran and Maria Harris, catechesis involves language and form. That
means one needs to go beyond words and ‗schooling‘. The early Church employed a variety of
forms in catechesis. Community, prayer, worship, proclamation of the word, works that serve
justice have always been forms of educating in the church. They are named, for example, in Acts 2:
44-47, where the apostles are described as continuing in ... the teaching (didache) of the apostles
(kerygma) and in the communion (koinonia) of breaking the bread and the prayers (leiturgia) as
 Cf. GOETHALS G., Symbolic Forms of Communication, in GRANFIELD P., ed., The Church and Communication,
(Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994) p.11.
well as being concerned about and aware of anyone who had need (diakonia). This view is again
stressed in the General Directory of Catechesis as an essential task of catechesis. At the same time
proclamation, witness, teaching, sacrament, and love of neighbour are essential dimensions of
catechesis.4 This perspective of catechesis leaves us a new catechetical world-view.

5. Catechetical world-view

       If this is the understanding of catechetics, the world of catechesis is much larger than we can
imagine. It involves a variety of actions, perspectives, attitudes, and environments. Just taking the
conceptual world of catechesis from the variety of terms we use at times for catechesis, we can
understand that catechesis is not just a single, simple factor. It‘s enough to glance through the
various conceptual understanding of catechesis today.

Conceptual world of catechesis

Concepts                   Related themes
Catechesis5                Faith, tradition, history, Word of God, magisterial transmittance, human life
Religious education        Religions, education, psychology,
Christian education        Christianity, education, psychology, ecumenism
Catechetical               Tradition, education, faith, story and vision of faith, communication
Faith education            Faith, education, educational psychology
Faith formation            Faith, formation, human person
Leiturgia                  Celebration, prayers, sacraments, aesthetics, affectivity
Kerygma                    Transmittance of knowledge, proclamation, Word of God, subject matter
Koinonia                   Interaction, unity, fellowship, relationship
Diakonia                   Service, sensitivity, and ethics, action

        Catechesis operates in these worlds using a symbol system to communicate. That means
catechesis is done within the four worlds: the catechists, the catechised, the universe of faith in the
divine word, and the universe of living in the world.6 This indicates that catechesis is a multi-
lingual, multi-milieu and multi-operative act. In short, faith is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional.
Hence the task of the catechists7 is far more demanding.

6. New roles of catechesis and catechists today

        The basic task of catechesis is to interpret the symbols that are used in Christian traditions.
Symbols become more meaningful if they are part of us. That is to live, learn and grow visually.
According to Tad Guzie, ―Catechetical educators have found that if they can talk people into
making one meal a week a real family meal, a ritual meal with a blessing and a sharing of thanks
and a cup of wine passed around the table, catechesis on the Eucharist becomes easy sailing.‖
Catechesis, the act of communicating the faith is not an abstract exercise. ―To communicate the
Christian message‖, writes Bernard Lonergan, ―is to lead another to share in one‘s cognitive,

  Cf. GDC., n. 46.
  Catehesis is normally used by Catholics. Religious education is used mostly in the context of USA denoting mainly
catechesis in schools. Christian education is normally found in protestant circles. Catechetical education is the
concept coined by Thomas Groome after his catechetical approach of shared praxis.
  Cf. BOURGEOIS H., Christian Catechesis as Communication, in GRANFIELD P., ed., The Church and
Communication, (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994) p.125.
  By the term, catechists, I mean all those who are in engaged in catechising in whatever form or context.
constitutive, effective meaning.‖8 Communication of faith takes several forms: the witness of an
authentic Christian life, preaching, catechesis, the sacraments, and the utilization of mass media. 9
To make faith more plausible, attractive, and credible, we need to develop a meaningful and
convincing language, symbols, and images.10
        Pope John XXIII made that clear in his address at the beginning of Vatican II. He said: ―the
deposit of faith is one thing; the way it is presented is another. For the truths preserved in our sacred
doctrine can retain the same substance and meaning under different forms of expression.‖11
        Catechesis has been renewed to a great extent over the last sixty years. Still it needs to move
forward confidently, if it is to make an impact in this age of communication. The age of question-
answer is over. The age of verbal/oral messaging is being transformed. The catechised are not
passive objects in catechesis. They are active subjects in the process. Interactive language system,
the multimedia messaging, short and fast visual communication that exist in the society is yet to be
the language of catechesis today. Catechesis is a relationship. It is the interaction of two worlds: the
social world and the ecclesial world. The ministry of the Word is basically a communicative
        Preachers and catechists must process the Word as storytellers: ―The more we can turn to
the picture language of the poet and the story-teller, the more we will be able to preach in a way that
invites people to respond from the heart as well as from the mind.‖12 The catechist is sometimes a
preacher, an exegete, a teacher but, he must always be a poet and artist. Rahner says that the reason
why preachers today do not ignite the hearts of the people and do not read the signs of the times in
the light of the Gospel is because they have never become poets.13 This brings in the role of visual,
mediated language in catechesis.

7. Need for visual language in catechetics

        In the early twentieth century Wassily Kandinsky viewed art as a protest against
materialism. He was convinced that art could be a source of spiritual reform. He believed that
abstract forms, lines, and colours communicated a common religious language, transcending
national values and orientations. For Van Gogh the whole of the physical world was spirit-filled;
thus a still life, an interior scene, or landscape could communicate a religious vision.14
        The early icons were the gospel of the poor, so said Pope Gregory the Great. But Suger, the
Abbot of St. Denis and a contemporary of St. Bernard, went a step further from the didactic nature
of icons saying that the material beauty (in objects and images) sets us on a path of self-
transcendence.15 The questions which need to be answered today by catechetical educators are: Do
our communities know anything about the symbols that appear on the walls, vestments, or
sanctuaries? The greatest challenge to catechetical educators is to understand and impart the
meaning of the pervasive symbol system in which we all exist.
        A significant innovation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in comparison to the
Roman Catechism, is its use of the works of Christian art. The CCC employs five images: the logo

  LONERGAN B., Method in Theology, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972) p. 362.
  Cf. GRANFIELD P., Theology of Church and Communication, in GRANFIELD P., ed., The Church and
Communication, (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994) p.10.
   Cf. GRANFIELD P., Theology of Church and Communication, in GRANFIELD P., ed., The Church and
Communication, (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994) p.11.
   Cf. JOHN XXIII, Address at the Opening of Vatican II, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 54 (1962) p. 792.
   See NCCB Committee on Education, To Teach as Jesus Did (Washington: USCC, 1972) n.44.
   Cf. RAHNER K., Priests and Poet, in The Word: Readings in Theology (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1964) p.
   Cf. GOETHALS G., Symbolic Forms of Communication, in GRANFIELD P., ed., The Church and Communication,
(Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994) p.71.
   Cf. GOETHALS G., Symbolic Forms of Communication, in GRANFIELD P., ed., The Church and Communication,
(Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1994) p.77.
on the cover, and four pictures, two of frescos, one of a sculpture, and one of a painting, each
introducing one of the four main sections or ―pillars.‖ The use of art in catechesis teaches the
catholicity of our faith in time. We can learn from and be inspired by the expressions of faith from
earlier times and other cultures because our faith is essentially the same as theirs. In iconography,
for example, the colour red is a symbol for humanity and blue stands for divinity. In the icons of
Christ, the Lord is often depicted as wearing both a red and a blue garment. This teaches that Jesus
is fully divine and fully human. In contrast, Mary, who is a human person, is portrayed as wearing
blue, since she participates in divine life by grace.
        Mass media are a mixed blessing. Mass communication has a great value for the Church. It
enables the church to preach and communicate the Word to vast audiences.16 It has a negative side
with regard to faith as well. William Kuhns in his book, The Electronic Gospel makes a troubling
        ―The entertainment media has transformed the ways in which we believe and are capable of
believing. An absolute kind of belief, as well as a belief in absolutes, becomes increasingly difficult
as the entertainment milieu trains people to believe tentatively and with elasticity… The very
concept of belief – to believe in that which you cannot see and cannot understand – comes with
difficulty to a generation that has depended, as perhaps no generation before, on its senses.‖ 17 To
have a renewed language that is apt and clear, some of the basic requirements are imagineering
and multiple-learning system in catechesis.

8. Need for Imagineering in catechesis
        Walt Disney had a group of people called, imagineers. Their job was to be engaged in
imagineering, that is, to engage in constant creative thinking about the work they were missioned to
do. We need to put new wine into new wineskins (Mt. 9: 17) if our communicating of faith is to be
sustained in the future. What are these new wineskins and conditions required for catechists to be
imagineers? First of all we need to shift from the perspective of working with old wineskins. We
need to realise that students become lifelong learners in the progression of their faith life. Thus they
are expected to take more responsibility for managing their own living. Through the emergence of
computers, students are beginning to learn to work in groups and pairs and they are no more passive
learners, but interactive subjects in the learning process. Many projects have used computers to link
networking among the students. We are beginning to see that as catechists develop more experience
with computers and the Internet as learning and thinking tools, they realize that these tools could be
a vehicle for restructuring our traditional understanding of the parish and school curriculum and
classroom practice.
        The expanding opportunities of the Web demand that catechists not move slowly in bringing
the Web into our catechetical processes. In Communicating Christ to the World, Cardinal Carlo
Maria Martini wrote: ―For authentic communication of the message to be possible . . . in a world
that is reaching the dimensions of a ‗village,‘ we must, in every field, commit ourselves to
improving our competence in communications in order to place it at the service of the Gospel.‖

9. Need for multiple learning styles in catechesis

        It has been more than twenty years since Howard Gardner began popularising his theory of
―multiple intelligences,‖ based on his understanding that there is not just one form of cognition that
governs all manner of human thinking. When Gardner published Frames of Mind in 1983, he
directed attention to the ways people learn and to the strategies that parents and educators use in
teaching. He proposed eight ways of knowing: verbal/linguistic intelligence, logical/mathematical

  Cf. C.D., n.13.
  Cf. KUHNS W., The Electronic Gospel: Religion and Media (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969) p. 165-166. on
this topic also see two books by Gregor Goethals, The TV Ritual: Worship at the Video Altar (Boston: Beacon, 1981),
and the Electronic Golden Calf: Images, Religion, and the Making of Meaning (Cambridge: Cowly Publications, 1990).
intelligence, visual/spatial intelligence, body/kinaesthetic intelligence, musical/rhythmic
intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence and naturalist intelligence. 18 The
traditional approach to catechising was built on verbal/linguistic intelligence—question and answer,
storytelling, memorization. This approach encouraged the rational methods associated with
logical/mathematical intelligence. This MI theory teaches that it is unethical to teach all the students
in the same way. Gardner's research raises a question: Is the verbal/linguistic approach suitable for
everyone? Is there a better way to catechise individuals, children and adults, whose strengths are
sensory—that is, visual/ aural rather than verbal/logical? How does catechesis address those who
learn by doing? Shouldn't catechesis be concerned with inner dispositions? Isn't it the catechists'
responsibility to develop the skills associated with interpersonal intelligence? In short, can
catechesis employ multiple communicative systems to catechise?
        Our traditional way of teaching (catechesis) has at times been based only on the linguistic
(language) and logical (analysis). In order for students to become successful learners, Gardner held
that we need to develop their particular giftedness (intelligence). What specifically does this mean
for our catechetical environments? In order to succeed in the catechetical process, catechists need to
nurture skills for creative problem-solving (discernment), critical thinking (theological reflection at
the appropriate age level), and empathetic community building (communities of faith and service).
        Every person develops and uses a mixture of learning styles throughout life, usually flexing
and adapting styles to fit various contexts and to meet a variety of learning demands. The more a
learning style is used and stretched, the more developed and powerful it becomes, whereas a
learning style that is used only minimally will not develop fully. New learning styles are
strengthened through practice. As catechists become more literate in understanding the new
learning styles, based on the impact of the multiple intelligences theory and as we apply these
learning styles within our catechetical experiences, we discover that our students become more alert
and responsive to the message of the Good News.

10. Need for media literacy

        Media literacy is another critical arena demanding our attention. Our children spend more
and more time engaged with the media culture. Media literacy enables our students to have a clearer
vision to understand the many levels of meaning in a mediated message. New terms such as Web-
based literacy, electronic literacy, digital content, and digital learning are beginning to show up in
our everyday vocabulary. These terms represent a trend toward new dimensions of literacy and
curricular goals. In Digital Literacy, Paul Gilster defines digital literacy as ―the ability to understand
and use information in multiple formulas from a wide range of sources when it is presented via
        Media consciousness in our ministry is supported in Communio et progressio: If students
for the priesthood and religious in training wish to be part of modern life and also to b e at all
effective in their apostolate, they should know how the media work upon the fabric of society, and
also the technique of their use. This knowledge should be an integral part of their ordinary
        If computers and the Internet and their application to our catechetical environments seem
overwhelming, why not invite the students to assist us in finding innovative ways for shifting our
learning paradigm? This new environment is already user-friendly to them. It is imperative for
catechists to have the knowledge to understand the Internet and to navigate it with ease. For this we
need, imagineers to help enter into this new world, that is already existing in the children to whom
we communicate faith. This leaves many questions that need to find answers from our catechetical
world: how creative and flexible are we in our catechetics? What steps need to be taken in our
catechesis as imagineers of faith?
     Cf. SANTROCK J., Educational Psychology (New York: McGraw Hill, 2001) p. 131.
     Communio et Progressio, n. 22.
11. Conclusion

        As I conclude, let me summarise the essential tasks and challenges of catechesis today. In
catechising our students toward a new way of being the Church, I recommend few strategies for
shifting the paradigm of our catechetical processes.
1. Integrate pastoral communication formation and planning into our catechetical ministry
formation programmes—at all levels of ministry.
2. Define new methodologies for catechesis enriched by the media culture.
3. Integrate media literacy into catechist formation programmes, as well as our catechetical
programmes at all levels.
4. Establish a sound base-operating budget to support a new catechesis using the new media.
5. Redesign our catechetical learning environments in the light of the communication technology of
visual language resources, which include LCD projectors, laptop computers, screens, white
boards/smart boards, charts, music, drama, Internet access, proper lighting, and flexible learning
environments—tables, chairs, etc.
6. Create a network of catechetical ‘imagineers’ (diocese/parish), keeping abreast of the rapidly
evolving research and developments in new learning environments and learning styles.
7. Define new ways for utilizing computers and the Internet for catechesis.
8. Encourage, support, and reward catechists to pioneer new methodologies for catechesis in the
parish (financial, technical, and personnel support).
9. Develop new approaches for collaboration and for partnerships offering adult faith formation
distance learning experiences.
10. Train the catechists in various learning styles that will equip them to be more competent in

        But we need to remember that we cannot categorically define catechesis as communication
of faith. First of all, it is God alone who can enable a person to believe. Secondly, catechesis is
more a communication in faith than a communication of faith. But, catechesis involves a variety of
worlds and networks. It is upto catechesis to realise this context in which it operates and recognise
its identity without secluding itself in some artificial hothouse. It is important however, not simply
to instrumentalise the media for religious purposes. In the words of John Paul II, ―it is also
necessary to integrate that message into the ‗new culture‘ created by the modern communications
with new languages, new techniques and a new psychology.‖20
        Avery Dulles began saying several decades ago that ―the Church is communication.‖21 That
means, we need to empower our communities to a new of form of interactive communion which
removes passivity in communications, in society and in churches. If we are to catechise effectively,
not only must we witness to our faith and be willing to share our faith story with those we are
catechising, but we must also employ the best pedagogical tools. Remember that we may decide to
walk cautiously into the new media frontier, but we cannot ignore the possibilities or opportunities
it has to offer our catechetical ministry. I am reminded of the Chinese proverb which is still
relevant today: I hear . . . and I forget. I see . . . and I remember. I do . . . and I understand.

     Redemptoris missio, n. 37.
     Avery Dulles, The Church is Communication, in Catholic Mind, 69 (1971) p.6.

To top