Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Scholars who critically study the origins of the Christian faith ultimately come to the same conclusion. The Church would never have come into existence had the first followers of Jesus not been totally convinced that Jesus had been truly raised from the dead. Believers steadfastly witnessed to the Resurrection, even to the point of death. Unbelievers relentlessly challenged it. The Resurrection of Jesus is the very center of the Christian faith. (cf. Gary R. Habermas, The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus, (4Truth.net)
Beginning with Easter morning, Jesus kept appearing to the disciples for 40 days. The gospels list 12 different occasions when the Risen Lord appears to the disciples. In 1 Cor 15:3-8, Paul provides the earliest written record of the Resurrection appearances. According to the tradition he hands down, the Risen Jesus appeared to more than 500 individuals. These Resurrection encounters lead them to accept the most fundamental truth of the faith: Jesus “was handed over for our transgressions and was raised for our justification” (Rm 4:25). Only at the end of the Resurrection appearances does Jesus tell his disciples to go out and teach all that he had taught (cf. Mt 28:16-20).
In this, Jesus himself has set the pattern for us, as his Church, to pass on the faith. He has modelled for us the best way to bring the light of faith into a world darkened by sin and doubt. Only after the fact of the Resurrection is accepted can there be a solid instruction in the truths of the faith. Evangelization before catechesis!
Thus, the work of the Church begins with evangelization. As Peter does in his Pentecost sermon, we must first boldly announce that God has raised up Jesus, whom we crucified by our sins, as “both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The first step in the journey of faith is conversion. It is turning from sin because one accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. Today those who engage in the ministry of catechesis need to be aware that many who come for sacramental preparation have not yet been truly evangelized.
Catechesis follows evangelization. It seeks to mature the initial conversion to Christ, to deepen the knowledge of the faith, to foster a virtuous life and to incorporate others into the community of faith, most especially in its celebration of the Eucharist. Many times today, it is not simply the young who need to be properly formed as good Catholics, but their parents as well. An effort must be made to reach out to those parents who limit their children’s practice of the faith to the mere preparation for the sacraments without any concern for the Sunday Eucharist. We need to build on their good intentions to want their children catechized and make an effort to evangelize the parents as well.
In our present cultural situation, evangelization and catechesis cannot be separated. Both are moments, sometimes simultaneous, in bringing others to a vibrant faith. Both seek to open others to the goodness of God who embraces all creation in his goodness. Both do not shy away from the reality of sin that clouds our understanding, distorts our vision and numbs our conscience to the power of evil in ourselves and in the world. Ultimately, our work as Church in evangelizing and catechizing leads others to the Risen Lord.
Our mission is to help others, not simply to know about Jesus, but to know him personally and to be a faithful member of his Body, the Church. Our vocation as Christians is to fire up others, by the witness of our lives, to believe in Jesus, to accept his gospel and invitation to be one with him in the Church and, thus, cooperate with God in establishing his kingdom among us. True religion is no spectator sport!