If I had to pick one word to describe Jared Dees it would be indefatigable. Besides working for Ave Maria Press, writing for multiple blogs, completing a master’s degree this past year, traveling to various conferences around the country, and taking care of his growing domestic church, he’s also written a new book called 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator. The profusion of his writing is matched only by its quality and I’m happy to host his guest post today.
One of my favorite things about Jonathan’s blog is his discussions about the relationship with catechesis and evangelization. I think he would agree that during this Year of Faith we have seen so much progress in the realization that you can’t have one without the other. We can’t do catechesis without evangelization. We can’t be catechists without being evangelizers.
The question is, how does this affect the way we think about the call of religious educators to teach the faith? For many of us, the new reframing of our role as not only catechists but evangelizers, requires some thought about the way we think of ourselves as teachers and the way we form catechists and catechetical leaders.
The Call to Be Catechists
We have many, many good willing volunteers in our parish religious education programs in the United States and around the world. They are dedicated individuals sacrificing their evenings for class sessions as well as the time it takes to prepare each lesson. These men and women, whether they realize it or not, have been called to the classroom. God is the one reaching out to them inspiring them to be teachers and leaders.
The details of that call seem pretty simple, right? You get your textbook and a classroom assignment. You show up each week and teach a lesson. The kids learn about their faith and move on to the next grade after you’ve finished. Hopefully you’re able to make a lasting impact on them before they go.
The Call to Be Evangelists & Witnesses
Yet in today’s Church, we need something a little more from catechists. We need witnesses.
We’re in the midst of what popes are calling the “new evangelization,” which means we must not only go out to the world where Christ is unknown but evangelize people in areas of the world where Christ is already known. In particular, we must evangelize those who’ve already been catechized!
Let’s turn to the words of Blessed John Paul II:
“But in catechetical practice . . . the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain mnumber of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit . . .
This means that “catechesis” must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith.” (Catechesi Tradendae, 19)
What does this mean for the call of catechists and religion teachers? Pope Paul VI said it best:
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)
In this age of the new evangelization, we must become witnesses more than teachers. We must train and inspire our catechists to be witnesses to the faith not just teachers of a textbook.
How does this shift in vocation play out among catechists? Consider the following:
- Religious educators must live the faith daily by personally connecting with Christ through prayer, spiritual reading, and the virtuous life.
- Religious educators must think of themselves as disciples first before thinking of themselves as teachers.
- Religious educators must be willing to share their personal faith story.
- Religious educators must be willing to share the Gospel story in compelling ways.
- Religious educators must be open to constant conversion, following the prompting of Holy Spirit in each moment of their lives.
Most of all, as religious educators (catechists, religion teachers, catechetical leaders), we must remember that our vocation is always to love Christ and with the help of his grace, share that love with his children.
We’re never alone. We never succeed through our own efforts. We always have the help of Holy Spirit who leads us and speaks on our behalf.
Let’s go make disciples of Christ rather than students of us!
Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher, a popular website dedicated to sharing practical resources and teaching strategies for religious educators. He is the author of the new book, 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator, which guides religion teachers and catechists through thirty-one exercises and meditations to help them live out their calling to catechize and evangelize God’s children.