by Caroline Hu
I attended a Catholic school in Hong Kong and though I knew I was called from an early age, I was only baptised as a grown up in 1993. Throughout these years, catechism was taught individually or in twos at St. Joseph’s Church. When Divine Word Father Joseph Tan, our parish priest, decided to start a catechism class, I was thrilled. I took lessons for six years under the late Columban Father John MacGrath so that when I was asked to be a lay catechist, I saw an avenue to evangelise and began to set goals on what I hoped to accomplish only to be surprised that it offered insights I could not have anticipated.
Orientation was on the first Tuesday in October 2018, when Father Tan kickstarted and set the course on its way. The 63 weekly class sessions were longer than the nine months I spent with the late Maryknoll Father Edward Malone decades ago, but the pace was kinder and most importantly, there were ample opportunities for interaction through questions-answers and sharing within groups of three to four people.
It is unrealistic for any teacher to think that we have mastered catechism in the classroom given the large volume of material in the Bible with its powerful maxims, proverbs, prose, historicity, synopses of arguments and great literature. Written by Father Tan, the material presented through PowerPoint takes knowledge, experience and skill to be able to formulate the course material in a palatable way, by and large, in a classroom. That, in itself, becomes a genuine challenge when one is faced with adult students from different stations of life, spanning a wide age range.
Father Tan invited women and men to give talks to the catechumens about their journeys, some of which were fraught with difficulties. There were social occasions, an outing to visit an elderly home, rosary-making and a final presentation by each catechumen on a topic of their choice which demonstrates a degree of assimilation and application.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said catechism is a precious and indispensable tool, as it gives reasons for belief thereby providing stalwart principles to fall back on for those of us who are experiencing a crisis of faith or life in our contemporary society.
Naturally, in catechism class, we learn about Church doctrine, liturgical life, morality and prayer. But Catholicism is not merely about acquiring knowledge for, taken as an object of attainment, it becomes an impersonal gnosis.
To be a Catholic is actually a process of development from a life of self-centredness to one lived for others and of the friendship with Christ. It is a daily living through the regular reception of the sacraments, and prayerfulness. One must be able to apply sound principles to give direction and meaning to life. Since human beings are relational, with our common origin and our common destiny, it is all the more imperative that we coordinate our personal choices and action in solidarity for the common good.
Indeed, as one catechumen in the class reflected, the course has been for him one of self-discovery. Through it, one may understand how to surpass the material and re-direct our life in empathy and love of others as ourselves. After all, this is an intrinsic part of our personal good and ultimately our relationship with our Creator.