Bishop Robert Barron’s recently published comments urged his brother priests to restore the “intellectual content of our religion classes in Catholic schools, our religious education programs, RCIA, confirmation preparation, etc.” The Catholic intellectual tradition is robust. However, it is often difficult to engage a de-Christianized dominant culture, one confused by unexamined, philosophical-anthropological views that are inconsistent with the truth of the human person. There is also, similarly, a need for a renewal of the image of the catechist, and the training and preparation of catechists, so that they may fully embrace the remarkable task of catechetical ministry.
The General Directory for Catechesis affirms the universality and unity of catechetical instruction: “The Church, ‘universal sacrament of salvation,’ born of the Holy Spirit, transmits Revelation through evangelization; she announces the Good News of the salvific plan of the Father and in the sacraments, communicates his Divine gifts” (no. 45). Pope John Paul II also expressed the particularity of catechesis in his apostolic exhortation, “Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time),” reminding the faithful that “Catechesis is one of these moments — a very remarkable one — in the whole process of evangelization” (no. 18).
Catechists unprepared to engage the public dialogue or faith inquiry, without robust and regular reflection on Catholic teaching and theology, may rely upon false or incomplete perspectives that would deprive catechetical instruction of its essential Christocentric characteristic — intimacy with Christ. Pope Francis challenges the faithful to accompany others and encourages the task of mission and hospitality; acting on the words of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who emphasized love and truth as inseparable: “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by attraction.” Without knowledge of the rigorous intellectual and theological foundations, a ministerial catechist risks proselytizing (understood in the contemporary meaning as a mission of power or influence, rather than the salvation of souls), or unknowingly, would fail to recognize profound implications of the questions posed by inquirers and catechumens. We should be mindful that people are rarely attracted to words emptied of truth and love, or pronouncements presented as “club rules.” Rather, human hearts yearn for an invitation to Eucharistic love, which rejoices in the communion of persons.
It is true that catechesis is the responsibility of all Christians, but in the specificity of the role of a catechist in ministry, it is distinctive in its vocational origin. Our parishes ought to take seriously the role of catechists and faith formation leadership. John Paul II wrote, “in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.”
Furthermore, the magisterium set forth the methodical, foundational, and dialogical concerns in catechetical ministry that necessitate professional competence, solid ongoing formation, spiritual discernment and sensitivity, and docility toward the apprehension of the mystery of revelation of Christ. If the intellectual content of catechesis is to be restored, then the renewal of the image of the lay catechist in parish ministry should also be restored, and understood as an integral, pastoral and missionary activity of the Church as a whole.