My early years as a high school religion teacher overflowed with exciting moments of watching teens open up to the Lord in the midst of my efforts to bring them to him. Students’ faces lit up as they understood a truth of the faith for the first time; students expressed a sense that God was speaking to them in prayer; students turned away from serious sin because they realized God wanted more for them. But one year I had an extraordinarily difficult class. None of my previously successful efforts engaged these students, and try as I might to identify other successful means of reaching them, each of those failed as well. I recall sharing a part of my testimony with them, a story that had previously been very effective, and they burst into derisive laughter. While other teachers spoke of this group’s extreme immaturity, I thought I must be a failure as a teacher and a catechist. As the year dragged on, I experienced a growing conviction that I could not reach these students, or any students, and that I did not belong in this ministry. I lost hope that these students could meet the Lord, hope that God was at work in this situation, hope that I was even called to this ministry to begin with. The end of the year found me physically and spiritually exhausted, and hopelessly convinced that God had abandoned me.
Catechetical ministry is often fraught with challenges to hope. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) observed, “The drama faced by our contemporaries is…that of living without hope in an ever more profane world.” The drama we face as catechists is to remain steadfast in our own hope and to help those to whom we minister grow in hope as well. According to Cardinal Ratzinger’s synthesis of Augustine, Aquinas, and others, beauty brings us to an encounter with Christ Jesus our Hope, giving us hope to carry on. By imbuing our catechesis with beauty, we nourish our own hope and create the conditions for realizing the definitive aim of catechesis: “to put people…in intimacy with Jesus,” stirring our “hope [that] he invites us to.”