To Be Or Not To Be (A Catechist)

CatechesisOn occasion, I receive newsletters and emails about what’s going on in the religious education world.  Normally, they just get skimmed before being either deleted or thrown away, but every so often I come across something worth forwarding along to either my fellow DREs or my catechists.  The passage below came from one such newsletter, and I think it’s worth it for all people who are involved in religious education, catechesis, and youth/young adult ministry to read it.

Dear catechists, good evening!  I am pleased that this meeting was organized for the Year of Faith.  Catechesis is a pillar of faith education and we need good catechists!  Thank you for your service to the Church and in the Church.  Even if at times it may be difficult and require a great deal of work, and although the results are not always what we hope for, teaching the faith is something beautiful!  It is perhaps the best legacy we can pass on: the faith!  To educate in the faith, to make it grow.  To help children, young people and adults to know and love the Lord more and more is one of the most exciting aspects of education.  It builds up the Church! To “be” catechists!  Not to “work” as catechists: this will not do.  I work as a catechist because I teach…But unless you “are” a catechist, it is no good!  You will not be successful…you will not bear fruit!  Catechesis is a vocation: “being a catechist,” this is the vocation, not working as a catechist.  So keep this in mind: I didn’t say to do the “work” of catechists, but to “be” catechists, because this is something that embraces our whole life.  It means leading people to encounter Christ by our words and our lives, by giving witness.  Remember what Benedict XVI said: “The Church does not grow by proselytizing; she grows by attracting others.”  And what attracts is our witness.  Being a catechist means witnessing to the faith, being consistent in our personal life.  This is not easy!  We help, we lead others to Jesus with our words and our lives, with our witness.  I like to recall what Saint Francis of Assisi used to say to his friars: “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.”  Words come…but witness comes first: people should see the Gospel, read the Gospel, in our lives.  To “be” a catechist requires love, an even stronger love for Christ, a love for his holy people.  And this love can’t be bought in stores, even in Rome.  This love comes from Christ!  It is Christ’s gift!  And if it comes from Christ, it also starts with Christ, and we too need to start anew in Christ, from the love he gives us.  What this starting anew from Christ mean for a catechist?  For you, but also for me, since I am a catechist too?  What does it mean? (excerpt from Pope Francis’ address to catechists given during the International Conference on Catechesis on September 27, 2013).

The address in its entirety can be found here.

Jesus ChildrenI think there’s something within this passage that will speak to everyone, but there are a few things that stood out to me as I was reading it that I wanted to share.  For one, I love the idea of focusing on “being” a catechist rather than “working as” a catechist.  Yes, I’m paid to organize and carry out two programs for religious education at my parish, but my position as a director of religious education is more than just a job.  When you work in ministry, that’s always how it is.  And I’m not just talking about the fact that nine times out of ten, you’re working more hours than you’re actually being paid for.  I’m talking about the fact that catechesis is just as much about who are you as it is what you do.  If you asked me what I do on a regular basis, I’d have to tell you that I spend most of my time replying to emails, processing registrations for new children, and covering the logistical details of events for the children, parents, and catechists.  Time-wise, I work approximately 35 hours a week (in addition to my ministry preparations at home), and only about six of those are actually ministry with the children.  But it’s not the hours and hours of paperwork that make me a catechist/DRE.  It’s the time that I spend with the children.  Yes, I have a knack for office organization, event planning, and technology.  I know how to process new children’s registration forms and use Constant Contact for sending emails.  I can write out room set-up forms and place orders for new resources.  But that’s not what makes me a DRE.  I don’t mind doing any of those things (most of the time), but it’s the few hours that I get to spend with the children that I live for.  That’s what makes me a catechist.  My position as a DRE is an extension of who I am.  I am a teacher, a minister, and most importantly, a Catholic who wants to share the faith.  I thrive on my time with the students, leading them in prayer, teaching them about the faith, and helping them to deepen their relationships with the Lord.  I do all the work that is involved in being a DRE so that I can be a catechist for those few hours.  I willingly put in the hours of paper-pushing and email responses for just a few hours of ministering to the children.  I do all the work so that I can be a catechist for my students.  Being a DRE is not just my job; it’s my vocation.  It’s not just what I do; it’s who I am.  Despite the fact that I accepted this job presuming that I would one day secure a position working with older children or young adults, after having worked as a DRE for the past few months, I can honestly say that I can see myself working in the world of religious education for the rest of my life.  Strangely enough, I found my vocation where I least expected it, but now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

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