Catechetical programs have resumed activities or will soon start in most Catholic parishes in the United States. Children, youths, young adults, and adults prepare to return to sessions where they will learn and reflect about their faith.
Just as we speak of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, as essential to nurture our spiritual life, catechesis is essential to nurture our love for our faith and for God’s word.
Central to the work of catechesis are the many women and men of all ages who exercise their discipleship by serving their communities as catechists. They are missionary disciples who understand the importance of passing on the faith.
Although the first and most essential catechists, especially for children and youth, are the parents and other adults who live in a household, catechists expand and enhance that first catechesis by sharing their faith in small groups.
In many cases, catechists play a remedial role, mindful that many parents fall short in sharing the basics of the faith at home with the younger ones.
If you look at the catechists in your parish, you will notice that there is not necessarily a specific profile that restricts this important ministry to a narrow group. We want catechists to be witnesses of what they believe, do their best modeling their faith through their actions, and share the faith with joy.
However, these expectations apply practically to all the baptized. We all are called to be catechists.
Stay-at-home moms, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, farmworkers, administrators, retirees, young adults, grandparents, tour guides, hotel and factory workers, taxi drivers, academics, cooks, nuns, priests, deacons, married couples, single people, among many others, join the ranks of catechists in our parishes every year.
What do all these people have in common? We all love our faith and we all are passionate to share it with others! Nearly all of us do it as volunteers. This is what makes being part of a faith community exciting.
The Holy Spirit moves the hearts of the baptized, regardless of our background or social location, and inspires us to build the church as catechists.
While there are many Catholics who love to share our faith as catechists, the numbers are not always enough. We need many more catechists and thus we have a responsibility to encourage one another to serve our faith communities in this capacity.
At the same time, we should avoid taking our catechists for granted. Our faith communities need to cultivate a permanent culture of support for our catechists.
Here are four practical ways in which we can support this important group.
Pray for our catechists. This is perhaps the easiest way of supporting them. Pray for their wisdom and wellbeing. Pray for their families. Pray for their holiness.
Second, approach a catechist in your faith community and say, “Thank you.” It does not take much effort or time. A word of gratitude is always the best way to encourage others to move forward in what they are doing.
Third, sponsor a catechist or your parish religious education program. Catechists are very generous with their time and expect nothing in return. Yet, we can be gratefully supportive.
Buy a book for them, bring a gift certificate, contribute to a fund to buy coffee or tea when they catechize. Make an annual or monthly donation to support their meetings and retreats.
Fourth, support the continuing education of your catechists. Catechists need constant training. Support a formation program for catechists in your parish or diocese. Some may be ready to study theology at a local seminary or university, and they need scholarships. You can help.
Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.
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