There is the story told of a man who sat for hours weaving at a loom. Day after day he toiled, throwing the shuttles back and forth, straightening the threads and following the details of the pattern. But he had not been the one to set the loom up, or begin this particular weaving and he had no sense of what it would look like—he saw only the pieces that he was weaving. He found the work tedious and boring and he would drift often, losing his concentration and dropping portions of the tapestry. And so one day the man who was in charge of all the weavings took him aside and took him on a tour of the weaving room—showing him all the pieces of the tapestry, as each person worked on their piece and then he showed him the whole design in its magnificence. The man was stunned and amazed—and looked immediately to see where his small piece would fit into the overall pattern. The tapestry told a story, gave a history of a people and brought the telling up to the present day so that it could continue through the weavings of others on into the future—and they would be free to change the story, add to it, and alter it as they chose. That break from his work changed everything. Now he was not just working on his small piece, he was part of a masterful and amazing piece of history, art and a communal endeavor. He no longer just toiled. Now he worked and he dreamed and he hoped for wholeness and possibilities for the future.
This story describes the relationship between catechesis and social action. We have a tendency to separate them out, and think of them as two separate realities that might impinge on each other, through chance, at certain vectors. But the Gospel is the whole story, the entire tapestry and justice, or social action—often called hands-on-justice are the threads that are woven throughout the whole. When we work, each laboring in an area of social action, charity, community organizing, justice, research or a project we tend to see only what we are working on, rather than see our piece, our story, our chapter in the larger telling. There are a number of ways to integrate catechesis and action for justice.
The first one is to connect daily to the larger structure and community of the universal church through the daily Lectionary. The Church worldwide reads the same texts of the earlier and the New Testament, reflecting upon the whole story of God’s weaving in and out of our lives, individually and as a people bound to him in a covenant of justice/compassion and truthfulness. We need to singularly read these portions of the Scripture and together, weekly, study and pore over them in a small group that draws us deeper into the larger reality of the Kingdom of God that is already among us. We need to remind one another of where we fit—and that what we are doing is not an end in itself, but a way to witness to the reality of the presence of God in our world. And we need to remember that it is our honor and privilege to be a part of this work.
Catechesis is woven through the way we work, revealing the heart of what we believe. What we do and its results matter little if we have not shared our belief with those we have worked with and those we serve. Catechesis, in Greek, means the source of the answers that a catechist asks a catechumen—and the source of all our work, relationships and hopes is our faith and its practice—being the graceful presence of Jesus the Crucified and Risen Lord in the world. No matter what we do for a living, we live in the presence of the Son of Justice and the God of compassion and truth, revealing that reality. And as Francis of Assisi was fond of saying to his brothers and sisters: You must preach the Gospel daily, incessantly, passionately, without fail; but only as a last resort use words.” We are the Gospel, the Good News of God (catechesis) that the world longs to hear proclaimed in their midst. Come, let us go forth to be what we proclaim: the Good News of God.