The answer might seem obvious. But if you think so, ask a few people and note their answers. A catechist has a vocation. We tend to use that word in the context of ordination or profession to a religious orders. When we are asked to “pray for vocations,” the clear intent is that we pray for more priests and sisters.
Sometimes some of us lay folks will throw marriage in there. Don’t forget about marriage, we might say. Marriage is a vocation too.
The vocation of a catechist
Catechists, however, have a vocation more like artists. We are all artists, in a way. But a few of us have a true vocation to art. The artists among us see the world in a new way and they are able to communicate that vision through their art. Catechists, those with a true vocation, all see the world in a new way. And they, too, communicate that vision.
Artists vs. art teachers
This is much different from teaching. I had an art teacher in junior high school who taught us how to mix colors and think about perspective and notice balance in a painting. I had an art history teacher in college who taught me about the different eras of painting and sculpture and what the conventions were for successful art at different stages of history. But these people were not artists, nor were they teaching us to be artists. They were teaching us about art.
I think we confuse catechists with art teachers sometimes. Many people teaching religion today are teaching about the faith — which is not at all the same thing as teaching faith.
More than just rules
The General Directory for Catechesis says that the catechist is supposed to “transmit the Gospel” (235). This is akin to saying the role of Picasso is to transmit the joy of life. There are rules about how to be joyful and how to live life and how to communicate that to other people.
And yet, you can’t just go by the rules. There is an intangible something that the artist knows and feels and is able to say or show through his or her art. Someone once asked a famous dancer what her dance meant. She replied that if she could say it with words, she wouldn’t have had to dance it.
I can tell a catechist what he or she is supposed to say and do. In fact, I’m about to do just that. But there is an intangible thing that I can’t say, just as the dancer can’t put her dance into words. I’ve tried to teach many people how to be catechists, but only a few became catechist-artists. And for those folks, I really didn’t have to teach them much.
Five life-saving skills
Here are the essential, life-giving, life-saving things a catechist must know how to do. You can find these in the General Directory for Catechesis, paragraph 235:
- proclaim Jesus Christ
- show us how Jesus got here (unfold the story that led up to Jesus)
- explain the mystery of how God became human and why
- make all of this matter so much that the person being catechized falls in love with Jesus
- repeat endlessly over a lifetime
I know a lot of people who can teach about these things. But who can teach them in a way that makes us want to dance? That is the vocation of a true catechist.
What do you think
Do you believe catechists have a vocation? How would you describe the vocation of a catechist to someone who is thinking about this ministry?
Photo credit: “Happy Smiling Little Girl Playing With Colors” by Jeanne Claire Maarbes | FreeDigitalPhotos.net
5 thoughts on “Why are artists and RCIA catechists important?”
Absolutely a vocation and gift from God. Teaching is the expression of the divine in all its creativity and wonder.
We (RCIA apostolates) are the canvas of our art. If the candidates do not see the truth, beauty and goodness of the Christian life in us and thru us nothing we have to say will matter. The world does not need more teachers. It needs witnesses.
The words attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi ring true here:
“Teach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
Thank you for an fine article.
I must take exception, however, to “Artists vs. Art Teachers.” I am a practicing artist who has exhibited professionally; I am an art teacher who has worked with all ages from pre-school through grad school; and I am a catechist and parish catechetical leader, including RCIA, who now works as a diocesan consultant.
It is true that some art teachers are not artists. It is also true that some artists are not teachers. Lastly it is true that sometimes the same person is both artist and teacher.
That last category is the one to nurture: people who can mentor others in discipleship AND teach.
it doesn’t have to be a “versus” or an “either/or” but rather a “both/and”, whether in the arts or in catechesis.
I understand the point you are making; but I had to respond.
Thank you for all the fine work that comes from Team RCIA!
Hi Judi. I agree with you 100%! Thanks for clarifying. And thanks for all you do to support this ministry. All the best.