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“The important ministry of a catechist,” Bishop Sullivan’s message

Hats off to the women and men in our parishes who teach religion to children, teenagers and adults. No easy task — teaching religion. They are known as CATECHISTS, a word whose Greek root means instructor and whose use in church means instructor of religion. The ministry of a catechist requires study, patience, prayer, preparation, witness and a serious commitment of time and talent. The goals of the ministry are to facilitate an encounter with Jesus Christ, to form in Christ the hearts and souls of students and to pass on knowledge about the Catholic faith.

Catechetical Sunday offers an opportunity to recognize the importance of catechesis for the student and for the church and to thank all who are involved with catechetical ministry. These women and men generously give of their time and their talent to instruct their students in the faith. Teaching the faith is to hand on the truths of what we believe according to the age level of the student, so that it is understood and affects the life of the one who has received what has been handed on. A catechist is a witness to that faith.

In addition to the formal venues where the faith is handed on, such as parish faith formation programs and Catholic schools, handing on the faith primarily takes place in the family. Parents are key to the catechetical ministry because they are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith. This is the vocation of a Christian parent. Yes, parents must provide all that a child needs to grow and mature physically, intellectually and emotionally, but Christian parents must also see to the spiritual growth of the child. It goes without saying, but needs to be said, that it is essential that parents believe in Christ and His Church and give evidence that they are His followers by the manner of their lives.

In the case of a child whose parents are not connected to Jesus Christ and His Church, it is extremely difficult to achieve the goals of catechesis. There are parents who themselves need to be evangelized in order for their children to benefit from catechesis. It is slightly different for teenagers and very different for adults because they do not need the same level of parental accompaniment.

Some of our parishes observed Catechetical Sunday on Sept. 17; others are observing it this weekend. This year the theme is “Living As Missionary Disciples.” A Disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ. A Missionary is one who goes out to others on behalf of the Lord. A Missionary Disciple has had an encounter with Christ and desires to share with another the joy and fulfillment of that encounter. That kind of sharing happens during a catechetical session when information that is faithful to the Catholic tradition and the teachings of the Catholic Church are exchanged between the catechist and the student. That sharing by the catechist should inspire the student to desire a relationship with the Lord Jesus and His Church.

Then begins the lifelong formation of the student in the ways of faith and in the living of it. Catechesis is not just for the young or for preparation for Sacraments. We grow in our faith until the day we die. Too many Catholics are stuck at childish levels of faith which do not help them to deal with the complexities of life. Our diocese and many of our parishes offer programs for adults who want to grow in their knowledge and understanding of our faith. Those who enroll in these programs are usually surprised at how much they grow spiritually and in the knowledge of the Catholic faith.

Each catechist faithfully instructs; attempts to form and inspire his or her students according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. It is a sacred ministry and essential for the life and the future of our Church. While it can be challenging for the catechist it is also rewarding. Its ultimate goal is to get each student into Heaven.

Perhaps, after reading this, you would offer gratitude to a catechist in your parish for the important ministry he or she does on behalf of our church.

Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden