Next Sunday (Sept. 15) is Catechetical Sunday and the theme chosen for this year is Open the Door of Faith. It is a wonderful theme because the role of the catechist is to invite others by their words and witness to discover Jesus and through him the Father. Pope Francis reminded his catechists shortly before he was elected to Peter’s Chair that the catechist is first of all a joyful witness. He wrote,” It is good to realize that today, more than ever, the act of believing must allow the joy of Faith to shine through.”
As I mentioned the catechetical role is more than rote teaching from a book, it is witnessing to the faith joyfully and teaching the Word accurately. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:
“Some are of the opinion that the teaching of religion requires no preparation and that anything is good enough for the child. Asking catechism questions and listening to the child’s recitation of the memorized answers–exercises which are considered as constituting the whole process of catechization–are in their estimation, after all, very simple tasks. … Unfortunately these exercises of verbal memory, instead of inflaming the child with a love of God, leave him as cold as do the drills of the multiplication table.” St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catechetical Instructions.
Enthusiasm and desire are starting places for catechists, but that is not enough. They must be people of prayer, lovers of Scripture whose lives reflect Christian compassion, charity and justice. Formation of catechists and catechetical leaders includes courses in methods, catechesis and theology and it is a continuing process. Catechists, as do lay ministers and all of us, require lifelong catechesis to grow in Jesus.
Catechesis today must take place in a loving faith community where the Gospel is lived and not only preached. Becoming a catechist requires more than enthusiasm and faithful practice, it requires a personal relationship with Jesus and an understanding of the teachings of the Church. That means that faith formation is not only for children. Catechetical Services for the Diocese of Dallas provides resources for parishes and conducts training programs for catechists, formation programs for those with special needs and continuing faith formation programs for adults and lay ministers.
Programs are polylingual and are adapted to the many ethnic groups represented in the diocese. Safe environment sessions for catechists and students are an essential part of all curriculums.
In addition to these faith formation programs, parishes offer the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) which not only provides introduction and initiation into the Church for those from other faiths, but enriches the faith of parishioners who participate as sponsors and teachers.
Finally, we are blessed with the many offerings of the University of Dallas School of Ministry which offers a variety of graduate and undergraduate programs, a four year Bible Study and advanced faith formation programs and an annual ministry conference.
As Chief Catechist of the diocese, I invite you to join in your parish’s observance of Catechetical Sunday this weekend, thank your catechists and catechetical leaders and prayerfully consider beginning formation as a catechist to share in this wonderful expression of discipleship.
Parents, do not forget to register your children for religious education classes at your parish this weekend.