The heart of a catechist



“Modern man listens more willingly to a witness than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (St. Pope Paul Vl, “Evangellii Nuntiandi”).

On Sept. 13, our diocese will once again celebrate Catechetical Sunday, which recognizes the formal role of catechists in our parish communities. On this day, catechists are commissioned to go forth and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is true that one’s baptism in Christ calls each of us to spread the Gospel to the world; however, there are those among us who are called specifically to catechetical ministry. It is often very evident by their lives that they have been given the gifts, the grace and passion for this mission.

A catechist is often referred to as a teacher and, in some respects, that is accurate; but it does not describe the depth of their calling – which is that of a witness! The Directory for Catechesis speaks of this distinction very clearly: “We must not think of catechists as agents with expertise in various areas, but primarily as persons who have experienced the love of God and who, for this reason alone, place themselves at the service of the proclamation of the kingdom.” I believe that the title of witness not only gives an appropriate description of the catechist but also describes what sparks them to act.

As we have read in the accounts of the early Church and the lives of the apostles, the love they received from Jesus was so profound that it altered their lives forever. The relationship was so fulfilling and complete that it could not be contained; but this gift, without question, had to be shared with others.

I find this still to be true of those I encounter today in catechetical ministry. It seems as though the joy, contentment and challenge that their relationship with God inspires begs to make its way into the world by the intentionality in which they choose to live out their lives. Their actions speak louder than words; they don’t just talk about service, they serve. The retreats and prayer experiences offered are born out of their own rich prayer lives and a desire to bring others closer to God. Scripture shared with others has first taken root in their own hearts, and has proven to lead them to truth and understanding. And as they seek for themselves the promise of eternal salvation, they equally desire that for those they accompany on this earthly journey.

Make no mistake; a catechist’s “yes” is not an agreement to be present only on Sunday mornings for religious formation, develop a lesson plan, create a retreat or be a presenter for RCIA. Their “yes” represents a commitment to walk with others as they search for meaning and purpose in their lives; to partner with parents as they find ways to pass on the priceless gift of strong faith to their children; and always to celebrate with others the great joy found as they recognize the presence of God in their lives and all that is being revealed. Finally, their “yes” includes holding those they minister to in prayer – asking God to grace them with what they need and asking for themselves the gifts needed to lead others to Christ.

This is the heart of the catechist! How do I know? I have had an honor beyond belief; I have not only been a recipient of such love and care, which was transforming, but I have spent a lifetime in their company as a friend, colleague and a fellow disciple.

I ask you this week to take a moment to pray for your parish catechists. Also, ask for blessings upon the important work that God has called them to.