The Spirituality of the Catechist
What is the most important element in the catechetical process? Is it the doctrine to be passed on? Is it the method one employs? Is it the catechist’s preparation or the ability to adapt to the age and culture of the students? These are all essential, as the General Directory for Catechesis reminds us. These elements, however, depend on one indispensable and often overlooked factor: the spirituality of the catechist. Why is this so? Unlike subjects in the arts and sciences, the Christian faith cannot be adequately passed on unless the catechist lives that faith—unless it has penetrated his very being and transformed him from within. When this happens, he is no longer merely a teacher, but a living witness to something beyond himself. Like John the Baptist, he points to another, to the Lamb of God. The Guide for Catechists, a wonderful document about catechesis in mission territories, puts it this way: “The work of catechists involves their whole being. Before they preach the Word they must make it their own and live by it. The world…needs evangelizers who speak of a God they know and who is familiar to them, as if they saw the Invisible.”[i] The catechist, in fact, invites those he catechizes to share in the communion he himself has with Christ as a member of his body, the Church. Echoing St. John’s words in his first epistle, catechists can say: what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you, “that you may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:1-3).
A catechist does not merely impart a body of knowledge, therefore; his catechesis “form[s] the personality of the believer.”[ii] The catechist offers his students an “apprenticeship of the entire Christian life.”[iii] The students will acquire from him a way of being, an attitude, a way of relating to the world. Those who have children know that they are deeply affected not only by the content of the words we speak, but by how we speak those words, by how we act, and by our attitudes, in a word, by how we live. Who am I? What gives me joy? What do I love? How do I respond to weakness, to poverty, to sickness, to sin? How do I look at other people in the world? All these fundamental attitudes are conveyed when we catechize. Do our students learn from us what it means to be a Christian?