Saint Faustina received mystical encounters with Jesus in which she painstakingly wrote down his words. In one of her reflections, Jesus expressed his sadness for those who are in a state of bored indifference to His sacrifice for them.
Today bring to me souls who have become lukewarm and immerse them in the abyss of My mercy. These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls (Diary 1228).
Jesus’s message to St. Faustina echo his warning to the church in Laodice. “So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation. 3:16).
Being swarmed in the hubbub of everyday secular life one can fall spiritually adrift into a bored disinterest to the faith. We are ensconced in our 9-5 jobs and countless monotonous tasks, yet, we instinctively detect that there exists more fulfillment in being involved in noble work. What can shock people out of their spiritual slumber of this lukewarm state and into a sense of spiritual momentum?
Psychologist Janell Evans writes how a well-defined mission statement rightly engages people and gets them out of a lethargic rut. Therefore, a call to action in which one receives a sense of mission, of purpose, allows one to tap into their inner drive – to become alive. Here, one receives a rush of energy to act while simultaneously stripping off the chains of spiritual complacency.
Pope Francis’s recent move in dedicating the job of catechist under the formalization of a lay ministry also serves as a call to awaken the soul outward. To make a role a ministry is a big deal in the Church. The word “ministry” means an authorized service of God in the service of others, according to norms revealed by Christ and determined by the Church. So to be involved in a ministry such as a “teacher” gives one a calling with a divine stamp of approval.
The pontiff’s apostolic letter titled, Antiquum Ministerium ,(Ancient Ministry) traces the ancient service of catechesis back to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where the apostle refers to “teachers.” These “teachers” he references play a prominent role in the Church’s mission to save souls.
With this move, one who transmits the faith to others through religious education, RCIA, or any other teaching structure receives an important job within the mystical body of Christ (i.e., the Church). Graced with this mission one encounters a resurgence of the faith for no longer do they stand aloof walking in a ho-hum manner void of any drive. They are formally called to act. Doing a highly important spiritual mission of the Church will elicit meaning, purpose and reinvigorate them to move with a holy urgency.
This nudge of attaching a catechist into a ministry allows those that dabble in the faith to dive deeper and admits Christ’s teaching to ascend their soul to a greater eminence.
Catechist As Teacher
A catechist plays a prominent role in forming the intellect. Helping shape the intellect is no small matter for when the mind grasps the faith, the faith will necessarily begin to take off. As St. Paul announced, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, cf. CCC 74). The prophet Hosea made it clear that the reason people are spiritually bankrupt is because they have no knowledge of God. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you” (Hosea 4:6).
In fact, that personal encounter with Christ that we all crave will happen best as one gains knowledge of Christ. As the renowned philosopher, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “You cannot love what you do not know.” Therefore, to enhance one’s faith, one’s love for God, there needs to be a transmission of knowledge that takes place.
St. Augustine’s motto was that if you know the faith then you are better moved to experience and live the faith. There exists a spiritual physics in that once you know or experience the faith your next move is to pass it on to others. Therefore, the catechist that implants Jesus’s teaching into people’s minds is involved in a high-stakes mission built to positively affect others’ spiritual journey all the while helping their own.
It follows suit that the role of a teacher is important because one of Jesus’s main titles is that of “teacher.” Give the Gospel stories to an atheist with a cursory view and he’ll tell you that one of Jesus’s main functions was teaching. The majority of a Rabbi’s work is entrenched in teaching which is why Jesus was constantly in teaching mode. A few examples will show us.
“And he went out about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues” (Matthew 4:23)
“He opened his mouth and began teaching (Matthew 5:2)
“For he was teaching them as one having authority, (Matthew 7:29)
“and he began to teach them many things”(Mark 6:34)
“Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher“(John 3:2)
During the feast of the Jews, Jesus went up to the temple and taught”(John 7:14)
“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues” (Matthew 9:35)
Now being full of zeal for the mission of teacher a slice of apprehension surfaces into the catechist’s mind. “I’m no expert in theology! How will I do this?” Such a question is reminiscent of Moses’s plea to God when God gave him an important mission. Moses’s reply, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11, see also 4:10). God’s reply, “I will surely be with you.” This don’t fret response from God acts as a ricochet to the catechist – in doing God’s work, you’ll always be helped.
The Greek word for “catechist” means “to echo.” To serve as an echo is to simply repeat God’s teaching so it reiterates in one’s mind. Here, we come into the transmuting of minds that happens in teaching. The whole manner of teaching is that you’re importing your knowledge into someone else’s mind. Therefore, it behooves the teacher to make sure his or her mind is ordered towards God’s teaching. Simply put – that your brain’s file folders are full of God’s stuff. As the adage goes, “you can’t give what you don’t have”, thus, you’ll need to have a grasp of the faith before you can effectively give it to others. But, as Jesus teaches it is always in the self-less giving to others that we are immersed into God’s graces (see Luke 6:38).
We’ve all heard the popular Spider-Man proverb “with great power comes great responsibility.” Interestingly, this motto was derived from the Parable of The Faithful Servant. “From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48). Therefore, as a catechist, the duty of teaching the faith should not be carried out with a haphazard incompetence. Rather, the Book of James presents a catechist as an elite group that will be judged using a much higher bar (see James 3:1) And yet the benefits of a catechist make the task at hand well worth it for being a catechist forces one to sharpen their spiritual and theological senses. In point of fact, as you begin to learn and pass your knowledge on to others, you will witness an ascent of your faith and a conversion taking place.
Yes, the role of a catechist is not glitzy. It is at times challenging and often goes without deserved recognition. But, like a workout program the perceived hard-aches and spiritual strains end up forming a healthy well-crafted soul.
Before departing, Jesus gave us what is known as the great commission:
“Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 18-20).
The role of “baptizing them” is performed by the clergy while the role of “teaching them” is performed by clergy and laity alike. In Pope Francis’s Antiquum Ministerium he maintains that the catechist’s role will not eclipse “the bishop’s mission as the primary catechist in his diocese one which he shares with his presbyterate, or the particular responsibility of parents for the Christian formation of their children.”
Obviously, the catechist is not to be equated with popes, bishops, priests, and councils. They play a role in articulating the content in the deposit of faith and condemning errors that poison her members, but it is a supporting role. Yet, in their supporting role, laypeople have always had some skin in the game. Pope Paul VI wrote in Apostolicam Actuositatem: “The hierarchy entrusts to the laity certain functions which are more closely connected with pastoral duties, such as the teaching of Christian doctrine, certain liturgical actions, and the care of souls. By virtue of this mission, the laity are fully subject to higher ecclesiastical control in the performance of this work.”
Especially in our time, the task of bearing witness to the faith and passing it along to new generations is a job for fathers and mothers in the family. Throughout the centuries, in the absence of priests, the faith has been kept alive thanks to fathers and mothers, and the army of catechists who have spent and even sacrificed their lives to transmute the faith to others.
The Church has built an integrated structure in which those members in the mystical body serve, teach, and counsel one another – especially those who are young. The young then, in turn, repeat this pattern to the generations following them. Thus, the faith blossoms through a continuous receive and give model where we imitate what has been given to us by faithful men and women through the ages.
Deep down there is a yearning within to go out and teach – to make a difference. I have heard people grapple over their sense of calling on how to do this. The ministry of catechists now beckons out to all to find their calling as a teacher.
In the spiritual life, if you don’t press forward you will get sucked into a lethargic mode. With this announcement of a catechist as a lay minister gone is the bland state of lukewarmness that Jesus warned about. The wishy-washy soul that lives in a dull, stale, uninspired place is now infused with purpose, vigor and ready to grow in splendor of his or her God-given abilities.
The question remains, will you answer the call to this new ministry?