By Petra Alexander
September is recognized as the month of the catechist. After experiencing the effects of COVID-19, we look with new appreciation at this ministry so old and essential in the life of the Church.
During the difficult time of 2020, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization published a new Directory of Catechesis (a book that lays out guidelines and norms to help catechists and pastors in their mission to evangelize). Why is this new edition important? Let us say that this new Directory is a key to the training of the Christian people.
This is the third occasion that the Church has updated the Directory. Why is the Directory updated if our faith is the same? Because the questions that today’s pastoral care raises are different. The Church has wondered in several consultations whether the way to catechize is effective. Questions have been raised about evangelizing diverse cultures. Then there is the challenge of new technologies and new generations’ unique mentalities.
From its beginning, the Church received a mission, and in each epoch, with the impulse of the Spirit, it renews its strategy to fulfill that purpose. The new Directory emphasizes the concept of “missionary disciples” for all the baptized. To begin in faith means to make sure that we deposit in minds and hearts the seed of the living and pulsating Gospel, that it generates relationship, friendship and encounters with Christ. The fruit of these seeds is communicated, shared and generously given to others.
For this reason, the missionary work of a catechist is crucial. Catechesis always maintains the goal of initiating new members of the Church into knowledge, into celebrating the mystery of our salvation. But it also initiates us in devotion to the community of faith, to belonging to serve within and outside this community. Catechesis is urgent because it plants the seeds of the moral life. Discernment is the response that must be given to all cultures and at the same time to the inculturation of faith.
Of special importance in this new Directory is the third chapter regarding the catechist, whose identity is based on the call that comes from the Word of God. A believer energized by the message of the Word responds to that call from faith: training himself or herself to be a good catechist, serving generously and pledging to bear witness in his life and in his teaching.
We encourage all catechists to take this resource offered to us by the Church seriously. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has already published the version for the United States, and those who cannot yet get the text can view it for free on the Vatican’s website. The resources are at hand; let us ask the Spirit, who, through the animation of the Body of Christ, inspires the gifts and charisms, to provide numerous vocations for catechesis, and preserve our faith across the centuries.
Petra Alexander is the Director of Hispanic Affairs for the Diocese of San Bernardino.