Professor John Cavadini recently delivered a lecture on “Bridging the gap between the Church and the Academy” to a packed Geddes Hall Chapel. He focused his discussion mainly on a Notre Dame program with the potential to reduce this gap: the ECHO Faith Formation Leadership Program.
First, Cavadini expounded on the nature of catechesis. He stated that catechesis is essentially the passing on of the Creed. Cavadini began speaking about the Creed by referring to a homily given in 410 by one of his favorite theologians, St. Augustine of Hippo. In this sermon, Augustine urged his listeners not to write down the story of the faith, but to learn it thoroughly and leave it imprinted on their hearts.
Cavadini continued by saying that the real story that the Creed tells is a tale of faith and of unimaginable love. It tells the story of the divine act of Redemption, from Christ’s divinity at the right hand of God to his death and subsequent resurrection. The Holy Spirit imprints this story on our hearts through the life of the Church, Cavadini said, and this is the story that catechists in the Church strive to hand on to future generations.
Cavadini also referenced a recent Pew study which showed that a large number of Catholics are not well instructed in the faith. Nearly half of Catholics polled, for example, did not know the Church’s teaching that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation.
According to Cavadini, catechesis should provide both true doctrine and sound formation. The information taught, he said, should be formative, carrying with it the deepest mysteries of the faith. Teachers must create a “catechetical culture.”
He proposed that Notre Dame’s ECHO program helps create this culture.
The ECHO program is an initiative meant primarily for graduate students in theology who wish to focus on catechetical work. During the summer they take classes at Notre Dame. During the school year they spend time in partner parishes, helping with catechesis and learning how the catechetical ministry of a parish works. They also receive mentoring from experienced catechists.
Through this hands-on experience, ECHO students grow in their understanding of the role that a catechist plays in the life of the Church. They take distance study classes through the university and participate in retreats, spiritual direction, and various workshops. Finally, the students will emerge after their two years of training with a master’s degree in theology.
Through the ECHO program, Cavadini hopes to promote a “catechetical culture” which will effectively hand on the truths of the Catholic faith at the parish level. These students will help small parish communities, and ultimately they will be well prepared to offer a substantial contribution to the essential ministry of instruction and formation in the Church.
EJ Sanchez is the resident Spaniard of Morrissey Manor. Contact him at esanche4-at-nd.edu.