Evangelization and catechesis… for those who have a passion for proclaiming the Catholic faith, these are commonly used words, which makes it all the more surprising that they are commonly misused, or more precisely, “mis-related”.
Let me explain.
If you analyze how most Catholics -- from the average Joe and Jane in the pew to popular theologians to well-formed priests -- use evangelization and catechesis, you’ll find that by “evangelization” they mean the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and by “catechesis” they mean a systematic education in the faith.
At this point, things are okay, or at least seem to be okay. The problem comes, though, when the same people compare or relate evangelization and catechesis: typically, you’ll hear that evangelization comes first, and then catechesis. Sometimes you’ll hear that such-and-such Catholic has been “catechized, but not evangelized.”
This is where the problems arise. Implicit in such statements is an understanding of these two concepts in which they relate to one another as “siblings,” as related but distinct activities.
The problem is that that this is not how the Church formally uses and relates these concepts. This is seen in a number of Magisterial documents, but most simply and clearly in Pope St. John Paul the Great’s document on catechesis, Catechesi Tradendae, wherein he states that catechesis is one moment (or stage) in the entire process of evangelization (the actual quote is, “Catechesis is one of these moments - a very remarkable one - in the whole process of evangelization” [article 18]).
Again: catechesis is one stage in the process of evangelization. This means that the relationship between evangelization and catechesis is not one of siblings -- related but distinct -- but one of parent-child -- one is inclusive of the other. In this case, evangelization is the “parent term,” of which catechesis is the “child”, or subset.
This is an important point for a variety of reasons, one of which I’d like to highlight here: this means that catechesis, as the Church understands and explains it, is evangelical in nature. Catechesis is not distinct from evangelization… it is part of the process of evangelization.
Today we seem to be in danger of reducing catechesis merely to instruction, to a (solely) intellectual activity, to learning the “facts” of our Catholic Faith. As the quote from St. John Paul indicates, this is manifestly not the case: catechesis is, as some aptly put it, teaching (yes) to conversion to Jesus Christ. It isn’t just about learning the Creed, the Commandments, the Sacraments and the prayers so that we (just) know certain truths… it is about learning these truths so that we might grow closer to the Truth, the Way and the Life: Jesus Christ. So, if you’re actually doing catechesis as its intended by the Church to be done, you are evangelizing.
That is not to say that catechesis is synonymous with evangelization, however; again, it is one stage in the process of evangelization, and not the first stage at that. Rather, it follows the stage of primary proclamation, in which the Good News is proclaimed and an initial conversion to Christ is sought after.
Instead of “evangelization followed by catechesis,” then, the Magisterium says, “primary proclamation followed by catechesis, all of which is evangelization.” And at the heart of it all? The encounter and relationship with the God-Man, our Lord and Savior, the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ.