It took me a long time to think of myself as a catechist. When I was growing up, a catechist was essentially a religious education teacher. I never wanted to be a teacher. I’ve substituted for classroom teachers twice in my life, and I failed both times. I’ve never had formal catechist training. And I wouldn’t be able to write a lesson plan if I had to.
An RCIA catechist has an apostolic mission
When I got involved in catechumenate ministry, I learned there is a difference between a catechist and a religion teacher. The ministry of the catechist flows from the ministry of the apostles. Jesus’s final instruction to his followers was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). That is the essential job description of a catechist. Jesus did not leave an instruction manual. There is no one right method for making disciples. One becomes a catechist not so much by training, but by calling. Jesus calls individuals who have charisms given to them by the Spirit. It is these charisms that make a catechist more so than a textbook or a teaching method.
An RCIA catechist facilitates encounter
The church teaches that, “The catechist is essentially a mediator. He facilitates communication between people and the mystery of God” (General Directory for Catechesis, 150).
Think about what that means for a moment. God is always communicating. It is not our job, as catechists, to tell people what God is saying. Instead, we facilitate communication between people and the Mystery. To facilitate means to make easier. We make it easier for seekers to encounter and respond to the Mystery.
An RCIA catechist is gifted
It takes special gifts to do that. Not everyone has those gifts. When we are looking for RCIA catechists, we won’t find them easily. We cannot, for example, find someone who is able to teach religion and appoint that person as a catechist. The gifts are related but different. Someone can be a gifted religion teacher and not necessarily be able to facilitate an encounter with Mystery.
A catechist doesn’t have a time slot or a schedule on which they catechize. Pope Francis said, “Firstly, catechesis is not a ‘job’ or a task that is external to the person who is a catechist; because one ‘is’ a catechist and all of life revolves around this mission. In fact, ‘being’ a catechist is a vocation of service to the Church” (Buenos Aires, July 11-14, 2017).
An RCIA catechist is a witness
What we are looking for in an RCIA catechist, then, is not someone who is relying on a text or a method to lead others to the Mystery. Pope Francis said:
Words come… but witness comes first: people should see the Gospel, read the Gospel, in our lives. To “be” a catechist requires love, an ever stronger love for Christ, a love for his holy people. And this love can’t be bought in stores, even in Rome. This love comes from Christ! (Paul VI Audience Hall, September 27, 2013)
Three things every RCIA catechist has to be good at
In that same address, Pope Francis said that catechists have to focus on three things:
- Allow yourself to be gazed upon by God. “Now each one of you could ask: how am I experiencing ‘being’ with Jesus? This is a question I leave you: ‘How do I experience this remaining with Jesus, abiding in Jesus? Do I find time to remain in his presence, in silence, to be looked upon by him? Do I let his fire warm my heart?’”
- Go out to encounter others. “The heart of a catechist always beats with this systolic and diastolic movement: union with Christ — encounter with others. Both of these: I am one with Jesus and I go forth to encounter others. If one of these movements is missing, the heart no longer beats, it can no longer live. The heart of the catechist receives the gift of the kerygma, and in turn offers it to others as a gift.”
- Go to the outskirts. “God is not afraid of the outskirts. If you go to the outskirts, you will find him there…. Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes, movements, they take ill. If a Christian goes to the streets, or to the outskirts, he or she may risk the same thing that can happen to anyone out there: an accident. How often have we seen accidents on the road! But I am telling you: I would prefer a thousand times over a bruised Church than an ill Church! A Church, a catechist, with the courage to risk going out, and not a catechist who is studious, knows everything, but is always closed: such a person is not well. And sometimes he is not well in the head.”
When you are looking for RCIA catechists, look for people who are willing and able to do these three things. And let us always keep in mind Pope Francis’s closing words: “Let us have the audacity to mark out new paths for proclaiming the Gospel.”
What have you used as a guide when adding new members to your RCIA team? Is anything keeping your team back from going out to encounter others? From going to the outskirts? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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7 thoughts on “Look for RCIA catechists who are good at these three things”
One of your best reflections. The GDC’s insight about the catechist facilitating encounter and communion with the mystery of God distillates the catechist’s role, and I agree that being/becoming a is a charism–a gift that one can open to and cultivate by allowing/inviting (a la Nicholas of Cusa) Christ to gaze upon/into us!
Tomorrow night four of our team members, who are converts, will be sharing their stories and interacting with the candidates and catechumens. We do this twice a year. One session with converts presenting and another session with cradle Catholics presenting.
Among our 9 team members, 8 of them are couples who have one of each.
Without doubt, it takes more than good teaching skills to be an effective Catechist. I have found that the effective Catechist is not the one with the most knowledge in any given subject; but the one who is able to communicate from the heart and not just the head, the one who is successful in having the listener participate in, share in, their experience. This type of Catechist usually communicates a personal love (of God) which is often infectious to those listening.
You have put accurate words to three things I have only sensed. Thank you.
This is great! As weekly bible study leaders for the past 7 years, my wife and I were recently asked to take over the parish’s RCIA process since the leader was moving away. You’ve spoken to my own instincts to make this a personal journey for each participant. While we intend to follow the Rites, our goal will be as you say, to lead them to the beauty and mystery of the Catholic faith in all it’s glorious depth and breadth. So glad my recently deceased mom’s friend, Wendy, led us to your web site. Mom was a long time member of her parish’s RCIA team and I guess she’s passed the torch on to us. Keep up the good work and may God bless your ministry.
Worlking with those who are choosing to become Catholic is the one part of my “job” at the parish I most enjoy. From our Team members, many of whom approached me discerning a call to join the team, to those who have completed the Becoming Catholic process. We are blessed that, except for those who have moved away, most all of our “graduates” are still involved either coming to Mass and.or other areas of ministry. Moving to the year round process is the best thing we did for those seeking to become Catholic because we can work with them on an open timeline, wthouth rushing to get through by Easter Vigil.
Attentive listening to the Holy Spirit has prompted me to personally ask someone who I’ve known in our parish for years to be on team. This is all our initial endeavor in RCIA. The ministry has fluctuated over the years. I believe that prayer and willingness to encounter and share our faith experiences has helped our team. We have a priest on our team, 3 years ordained who has been learning to be with us on the journey and I see the change in him as well as our Neophytes and us to. It’s been a mutual faith sharing experience and I feel so blessed.