This text was originally published on our blog on 09/08/2014.
As a parish catechetical leader I am responsible for the formation of catechists. I used to focus primarily on methodology and classroom management because the catechists seemed to have the most questions in these areas. Now, however, I have a different perspective.
One of the catalysts for my changed focus is Pope Francis’ address to catechists in September 2013 during the International Congress on Catechesis. He called catechists to view their ministry not as work, but rather as a vocation.
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. (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/ en/speeches/2013/september/documents/papa-francesco_20130927_pellegrinaggio-catechisti.html)
Even if catechists have great skills with lesson planning and classroom management, if they don’t have a personal knowledge of, love for, and commitment to Jesus Christ, they will not be effective catechists. When catechists have a genuine love for Christ, their learners pick up on the enthusiasm they exude and are drawn to Christ themselves.
These days, my catechist formation focus primarily on Scripture, Prayer, and Witness.
First, catechists need to know Jesus. They come to know Jesus through the stories about Jesus and the stories he told. They learn these stories in the Scriptures, primarily the Gospels. Every catechist formation session should include a reflection on Scripture.
Second, catechists must have a personal relationship with Jesus. As with every other personal relationship, this involves regular communication. Communication with Jesus is prayer. Catechist formation sessions must include an opportunity for catechists to spend time talking with Jesus, both personally and communally.
I would guess that most of our formation sessions already include Scripture and Prayer. The third focus, Witness, might be a little more challenging. We Catholics are not good at witnessing. Ask a catechist – or any Catholic – to share a personal experience of Christ with others, then listen for the crickets! I encourage catechists to get comfortable with their personal stories of faithby first writing their Witness stories, then practicing sharing those stories with others. Catechists must be comfortable sharing how they experience Christ in their everyday lives.
Of course, catechists also Witness Christ by their actions and attitudes. How catechists act expresses their connection to Christ. If catechists have a close relationship with Christ, their actions will mirror Christ’s love and mercy. They will handle difficult situations with grace. They will call on the Spirit of Christ to inspire them and guide them to know what to say and how to respond to their learners and all of the people they meet.
Through Scripture Catechists know Jesus. In Prayer, they grow in relationship with Jesus. With Witness, they share Jesus with others through stories andlived example.As they share their knowledge of, love for, and example of Christ Jesus, catechists most certainly are evangelizers.