This weekend the Church in the United States observes Catechetical Sunday, an annual celebration during which we recognize and pray for those who pass on the Catholic faith. This includes parish catechists, RCIA team members, teachers in Catholic schools, and youth ministers.
In his 1979 encyclical letter Catechesi Tradendae, Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ.” (no. 5) That is, the role of the catechist is to pass on a relationship and love of Jesus Christ.
As such, it is of prime importance that catechists themselves know, love, and serve the Lord: “Whoever is called ‘to teach Christ’ must first seek ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 428) But how can catechists come to this “surpassing worth?” How does one grow in the knowledge and love of the Jesus in order to share it with others?
The first way catechists can come to know Jesus is by reading and knowing the Sacred Scriptures, for in them we hear the Word of God echo through the centuries. Catechists should engage in regular reading of the Bible and reflect on God’s word. (The ancient practice of lectio divina is a wonderful tool in this regard.) Catechists should be especially attentive to the story of salvation – how God seeks to forgive our sins, heal the brokenness of our hearts, and reconcile us to him, culminating in Jesus’ sacrificial work on the Cross.
Second, catechists come to know Jesus through a life of prayer. This includes asking God to respond to our needs and the needs of those we catechize, but it also means simply spending time with God so that we can speak to him from our hearts and listen for his response. Whether in an adoration chapel or the quiet of our living rooms, prayer offers us an intimate connection to God without which a true relationship is impossible.
The liturgy is another way catechists grown in their love of Jesus, for it is in the liturgy that we gather as the Christian community to offer praise and worship of God. By participating regularly in the communal prayer of the Church and the sacraments – especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation – God’s grace penetrates our hearts, we are conformed to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and we are commissioned for the work of evangelization.
Finally, it is in the life of the Church that we come to know Jesus, for the Church is the Body of Christ. The Christian life is never just “me and God”; to be a Christian is always to be in communion with other disciples, especially the successors of the apostles. By listening to their authoritative teaching and seeking to reflect it in our lives we draw closer to Jesus.
These four means do not exhaust the ways in which we come to know Jesus, but they do serve as foundations on which a life of Christian discipleship are built. I pray that all catechists and teachers of the faith will grow in their love of Jesus and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit for their ministry!
This column originally appeared in the September 15, 2019, edition of The Catholic Moment.