Prayer as Catechesis: An Analysis
By The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, Obl.OSB.
Special to Virtueonline
February 15, 2013
Recent efforts focused upon Anglican catechesis raises a number of cornerstone questions and considerations. Among them, and foundational to an appropriate answer to almost every question raised, is in regard to the role of prayer in catechetical instruction. A recent meeting among leading American and Canadian Anglican catechists clearly emphasized this importance ---- by its pronounced absence of emphasis. Although many important topics were covered, apart from Morning Prayer and Compline very little if any attention was given to the priorities, principles and practices of prayer in catechesis . That is, in other words, the "how to" of catechesis almost entirely overlooked the priority and practices of prayer.
This is unfortunate because, in fact, catechesis exists within and is an extension of prayer. If a theologian is a person who prays well, and if a person who prays well is a theologian, the priority of prayer cannot be overestimated. However, regardless of this philosophic recognition, practical realities (practices) must also be recognized and reasserted. The Secret Seminary (prayer), as Father Brendan Pelphrey has written, must be prioritized in the educational process. Although we all embrace a Lex Orandi - Lex Credenda orientation, how do we put it into practice?
Many Anglicans, especially clergy, recite the Daily Offices. Even casual reflection upon this established process of prayer reveals the formative role of the Apostles' Creed - embedded as it is within the Offices - in spiritual formation / transformation. But, while fully engaging in this important part of our daily prayer life,
have we ever really considered its specific applications to catechetical instruction? An analysis, brief though it will be, reveals several guidelines in the practice of prayer as, and in, catechesis.
Prayer as Catechesis is Scriptural
There is a great mystery in transformed hearts. Just as there is the "mystery of iniquity," so also is there is a mystery involved in forming Christ-like people. The development of Christ-like character, as we are all called to be saints, is the work of God that he shares with his Church. We all appreciate the fact we cannot find God. God must find us. God must reveal himself to us. If this does not occur, spiritual worship (as in Cain's unacceptable offering) would be vain and social babble (as in the Tower of Babel) would rule. This is, in fact, the sorry state of many churches today. The good news, however, is that God has revealed himself (Hebrews 1: 1 - 4). The Creed, rooted as it is within Holy Scripture, proclaims within the context of prayer a defense of the faith, delineation of truth and error, definition of community and definitive (but not exhaustive) outline of belief and behavior --- or, more accurately, belief as behavior. In other words, to recite the Creed within the context of prayer is catechesis at its best. This lesson of prayer as instruction must not be overlooked.
Prayer as Catechesis is Confessional
It is an understood socio-psycho-pneumatic reality that we become what we behold. This visual illustration, highlighted in the importance of the proper place of iconography, has confessional applications. What we confess, as an extension of firmly held belief, is what conforms us. At the end of Romans 11 St. Paul clearly confesses God's greatness by asserting "for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever" (NKJV). What is of note, in Romans 12: 1-3, is St. Paul's well-known outline for "Christian Renewal:" Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed. Interpreted, this implies that a true confession leads to true transformation. Proper doxology leads to biblical deification (1 Peter 1: 4). By confessing Christ and the historic Catholic Creeds - daily, weekly, monthly, yearly - we lay the groundwork for an ongoing conversion to Christ that has profound personal and social applications. Creeds within and as prayer challenge, convict and convert us.
Prayer as Catechesis is Communal
In Praying with the Church Scot McKnight capably distinguishes between praying in the Church and praying with the Church. One of the glories of the Book of Common Prayer, properly used, is that Anglicans know how to pray with the Church even when, technically, we are not in the Church. It is communal even when we use it as an individual, in the "secret" of our "closet."
This is important. How do people change? Generally speaking, change does not occur simply because someone tells us to change. Hearing the Ten Commandments does not make us want to keep them. Education, strictly speaking, is not empowering. Information is not, strictly speaking, transformational. Instead, it is my relationship with Christ (and the Community of the Godhead) and others (the Community of the Church) that motivates and encourages change. These communities, these relationships, lend authority and ability, desire and fulfillment, to the Commandments when they are proclaimed. When the Shema ("HEAR") is read in community, with others who share a
common Christ and Creed, with those with whom I share a common life by the Holy Spirit, I am inspired to change. We are born from (the Trinity), through (the family) and to (the Church) community. It is important to keep this in mind. The Creed is Trinitarian. The Creed is familial (WE believe). The Creed is communal (Catholic). The Creed is a pray-as-say-and-lived communal document. It is from and through these communities, in and at prayer, through which change occurs.
Prayer as Catechesis is Celebrated
This emphasis, just referenced, is carefully and prayerfully articulated during the office of Holy Communion. After the Liturgy of the Word, and following the Creed and common prayer, we pass the peace. In other words, the "hinge" between Word and Sacrament is relational reconciliation. In order to properly participate in the Eucharist we ritually (= ritual toward relationship) seek to be in right relationship with other Christians.
This is a powerful catechetical tool. T. S. Eliot is quite right, "Between the idea / And the reality / Falls the Shadow." We have all experienced the ideal of community as opposed to the realities in which communion is lived. However, the Administration of the Lord's Supper seeks to bridge the idea of Holy Communion with the reality of the unholy communion in which we all (at times) live. The Passing of the Peace is a physical education intentionally designed to demonstrate (also articulated in Eliot's "The Hollow Men") that "Thine is the Kingdom." The catechesis of Holy Communion is toward - and in some ways stems from - the holy communion of saints living in dynamic and transformative reconciliation. This, again, is how education towards transformation
occurs. Liturgy is, in practice, life. Pray-saying counters our philosophic and impractical nay-saying. Holy Communion demands a holy communion. Remembrance demands reconciliation. This is a functional catechesis.
Prayer as Catechesis is Communicated
St. Francis of Assisi tells us that we should preach the gospel and, when doing so, sometimes use words. While this statement can (and has) been misused, there is a large measure of truth contained within it. Far too often Christians proclaim the faith without living the faith. We say it but we do not do it. This is hypocricy (a hypocricy that we have all at times participated in) that communicates a false gospel. Always, but especially today in our post-Christian and anti-Christian culture, people want TRUTH TRUTHFULLY LIVED
Our lips must communicate Christ. Our lives must communicate Christ. Lips and lives must speak together. Prayer, in and as practice, must be the same. This is illustrated in a prayer attributed to Thomas More. He writes, "The things that we pray for, good Lord, give us grace to labor for; through Jesus Christ our Lord." In brief, if we "pray it" and "say it" we must be prepared to "live it" and "labor for" it. If we give the good news "lip service," it should also be articulated through "life-service."
This is true catechesis. As the disciples lived with our Lord, as they observed what he said and how he lived, they said "Lord, Teach us to pray." Such should be the supplication of those with whom we share our lives. By seeing us, by listening to our lips and lives, other people should be led into lives of prayer. This form of lifestyle catechesis, again referencing Thomas More, will "set the world at nought" like no other
form of instruction. Marilyn Chandler McIntyre in Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies suggests that the use of words is a moral issue. This is true. Catechesis must be communicated by lips and lives together as one cohesive and coherent voice. Creed creates character just as, in some way, the messenger is the message.
Prayer as Catechesis is Crucifixion
Finally, this brings us to the source of effective catechesis: Self-Sacrifice rooted and grounded in Christ's sinless life, salvific death, empowering resurrection and sanctifying ascension. If the Catechism is to be effectively taught, if effective catechesis is to occur, the catechist must be crucified. The crucified life is the catechetical life.
This too will be found in our lives of prayer. To pray implies, among other things, that sacrifices must be made. If I pray I will need to give up some time - or my entire life - to do it. If I pray "thy kingdom come," my self-centered inclinations will need to be undone. If I pray "We believe" I must in some way suspend and sacrifice the kingdom of my Self upon the Christ's uncompromising altar. If I pray "forgive us our sins" there are exacting expectations associated with it. IF I believe in liturgy my life must be "in Christ" in Gethsemane and Golgotha.
Prayer is crucial to effective catechesis. It is not a tool, it is the method. Have we prioritized it as such?
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