A couple days ago, I wrote about three problems surrounding American Catholic youth ministry, as found in a book by a current youth minister (and my former classmate!). On both my facebook page and the comments section on the original post, there’s been some pushback. Now, some of the people commenting haven’t even read the book nor the solutions it presents and some were more open than others to understanding what the author is actually advocating for. But one commenter keeps standing out to me. He keeps saying that when he was in catechesis it was “just the basic facts” and that he turned out just fine. I do not know this man at all, so I will not comment on him personally, but I do want to address the problem of catechesis presented as “just the basic facts”.
The problem of “just the basics” is that it is incomplete. Christ, God, isn’t “just facts” nor will basics get you very far in the Faith. God is infinite! But even more so, God is relational. The Triune God, God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity! Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God and were told to be fruitful and multiply as a reflection of the Trinity. Adam and Eve, and us by extension and purpose, had to be in relation with each other, communion with each other, to fulfill the command God gave them and to image Him more completely. So “just the basic facts” doesn’t cut it; we must also have a relationship with God.
Question 6 of the first lesson in the Baltimore Catechesis asks, “Why did God create you?” The answer for everyone in every time and in every place is: to know, to love, and to serve Him, and to be happy forever with Him in heaven. The part “to know” is (more or less) easily remedied in knowing “the facts” of the Faith. “To serve Him” could also be rather easily achieved through blind obedience or out of a feeling of duty. But to love Him? To love someone you must have a relationship with that person. Facts will not instantly get you a relationship, service will not instantly get you a relationship, but these elements can lead us deeper and towards a relationship. And they should! But they must be ordered towards the good of loving God with all our beings.
Just because a youth ministry is centered around relationship and communion does not mean that it will be devoid of facts and service. The youth ministry we have seen over the pat few decades in America, and the one that Fritz cautions against (and, ironically, the commenter who is against Mr. Fritz’s ideas and advocates for a “just the facts” catechesis) is one of over-indulgence in the emotions without the proper balance of knowledge of the Supreme Other. This is in reaction to the “just the facts” approach that has left most people devoid of any true connection to God or His Church. However, youth ministry in this country has largely turned loving God into a reliance on the emotional connection. You can’t love someone if you don’t know the person! Knowledge and love go hand-in-hand. Love spurs the person to know more about the other; knowledge increases love. Christ adds a new element to this, that of sacrificing yourself (an act of service) for the good of and in love for the other.
So I advocate, as the Church often does and as Mr. Fritz does, for a both/and approach. Seriously, pick up his book and read it, you’ll be surprised and excited. And don’t even think about taking me on in this until you’ve read the book!