On September 27, 2013, Pope Francis gathered catechists from around the world for the International Congress on Catechesis in Rome. For many of these catechists, this was a stirring encounter with the Holy Father. While this department will regularly feature insights of our chief shepherds, in this inaugural issue we begin with those of the chief shepherd. May the following excerpts from the Holy Father’s important address to catechists challenge us to faithfully live out our vocation.
The Requirement of Love
To “be” a catechist requires love, an ever stronger love for Christ, a love for his holy people. And this love can’t be bought in stores, even in Rome. This love comes from Christ! It is Christ’s gift! And if it comes from Christ, it also starts with Christ, and we too need to start anew with Christ, from the love he gives us.
To start anew from Christ means being close to him, being close to Jesus. Jesus stresses the importance of this with the disciples at the Last Supper, as he prepared to give us his own greatest gift of love, his sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches and says: Abide in my love, remain attached to me, as the branch is attached to the vine. If we are joined to him, then we are able to bear fruit. The first thing for a disciple is to be with the Master, to listen to him and to learn from him. This is always true, and it is true at every moment of our lives.
What will become of us if we stay united to Christ?
Starting anew with Christ means imitating him by leaving ourselves behind and going out to encounter others. This is a beautiful experience, and yet a paradox. Why? Because when we put Christ at the center of our life, we ourselves don’t become the center! The more that you unite yourself to Christ and he becomes the center of your life, the more he leads you out of yourself, leads you from making yourself the center and opens you to others. This is the true dynamism of love, this is the movement of God himself! God is the center, but he is always self-gift, relationship, love that gives itself away . . . and this is what we will become if we remain united to Christ. He will draw us into this dynamism of love. Where there is true life in Christ, there follows an openness to others, and so a going out from oneself to encounter others in the name of Christ. And this is the job of the catechist: constantly to go forth to others out of love, to bear witness to Jesus and to talk about Jesus, to proclaim Jesus.
To the outskirts!
Starting anew with Christ means not being afraid to go with him to the outskirts…God is not afraid of the outskirts. If you go to the outskirts, you will find him there…Whenever we Christians are enclosed in our groups, our movements, our parishes, in our little worlds, we remain closed, and the same thing happens to us that happens to anything closed: when a room is closed, it begins to get dank. If a person is closed up in that room, he or she becomes ill! Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes, movements, they take ill. If a Christian goes to the streets, or to the outskirts, he or she may risk the same thing that can happen to anyone out there: an accident. How often have we seen accidents on the road! But I am telling you: I would prefer a thousand times over a bruised Church than an ill Church!
This is fundamental for us: God is always ahead of us! When we think about going far away, to an extreme outskirt, we may be a bit afraid, but in fact God is already there. Jesus is waiting for us in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded bodies, in their hardships, in their lack of faith. But can I tell you about one of the “outskirts” which breaks my heart? I saw it in my first diocese. It is children who don’t even know how to make the sign of the cross.
Dear catechists, I have made my three points. Always start anew from Christ! I thank you for everything that you do, but above all, because you are part of the Church, the pilgrim People of God, and you accompany God’s People on that pilgrimage. Let us remain with Christ – abiding in Christ – and let us always try to be one with him. Let us follow him, let us imitate him in his movement of love, in his going forth to meet humanity. Let us go forth and open doors. Let us have the audacity to mark out new paths for proclaiming the Gospel.
 The full text may be found at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/september/docume...
This article was originally on page 25 of the printed issue