A religious education teacher and a student in St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, display a copy of the Bible, one of a catechist’s most important teaching tools, during a summer 2019 session. Mike Ehrmann photo
A religious education teacher and a student in St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, display a copy of the Bible, one of a catechist’s most important teaching tools, during a summer 2019 session. Mike Ehrmann photo
Catholics “pass on the faith” not only by what they say or teach but also by the way they live their lives. This responsibility belongs to all the baptized faithful, but especially to parents and those who serve as catechists.  

Earlier this year, Pope Francis initiated a renewal of the ancient New Testament ministry of catechist by noting that the mission of proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ is the reason for the Church’s existence, in the words of his saintly predecessor Pope Paul VI, “her deepest identity.”

In his May 10, 2021, apostolic letter Antiquum Ministerium (Ancient Ministry), Pope Francis writes:

“The role played by catechists is one specific form of service among others within the Christian community. Catechists are called first to be expert in the pastoral service of transmitting the faith as it develops through its different stages from the initial proclamation of the kerygma to the instruction that presents our new life in Christ and prepares for the Sacraments of Christian initiation, and then to the ongoing formation that can allow each person to give an accounting of the hope within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). At the same time, every catechist must be a witness to the faith, a teacher and mystagogue, a companion and pedagogue, who teaches for the Church. Only through prayer, study, and direct participation in the life of the community can they grow in this identity and the integrity and responsibility that it entails (cf. Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, ‘Directory for Catechesis,’ 113).”

In our Diocese we have been blessed over the years with any generous Catholics who are eager, in the words of the Holy Father, to awaken “personal enthusiasm” among the baptized faithful within their parishes and to accompany them on their journey of faith as they meet and face the concrete circumstances of their lives.  Good and effective parish catechesis, as the “2020 General Directory for Catechesis” describes, is a ministry that “makes the proclamation of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ continually resound in the heart of every person, so that life may be transformed (No. 55).”

A prayer so familiar to us as Catholics – the “Come Holy Spirit” – invokes the Holy Spirit to “fill the hearts of the faithful and light in our hearts the fire of your love.” Faith-filled catechesis is the channel and means for that light and fire to burn brightly in the parish, the Diocese, the Church and the world.

In recent years, the polarization and resulting confusion that seem to have gripped society at large and even the Church within it, as well as the chaos and suffering in our lives occasioned by the ongoing experience of the pandemic, make the search for truth all the more urgent and vital. To “pass on the faith” and to live it deeply as truth through what we say and do, and how we live and witness the Lord Jesus Christ at work in the world, invites a renewed catechetical outreach that will bring light into darkness, hope into desperation, charity into the experience of alienation and isolation, and clarity of purpose into a world confused by things contrary to the Gospel.

That is the mission of the Catholic Church today and the vocation of her catechists who carry the truth of our faith in their hearts and in their hands as they “pass it on.” Pope Francis said it so well: “Catechists are people who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others (Homily, Mass for Catechists, Rome, September 29, 2013).”