How can we connect better with Jesus?
It’s not about what you know—It’s about who you know.
A pastor I once worked with, Father Joe Colligan, never forgot a name. When he met new folks after Mass, he was always extending a handshake, intently asking their names and where they were from. Then he would turn to a parishioner and introduce the newcomers, while waving to others who were walking by. If people he had recently met returned on a subsequent Sunday, he would greet them and their children by name. The effect of this personal recognition was enormous. This parish was the ecclesiastical equivalent of the “Cheers” bar: the place where everyone (well, at least the pastor) knew your name.
Setting the standard
In his apostolic exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time), Pope John Paul II set a standard for catechesis that is a core value in the subsequent general and national directories for catechesis. Namely, that our task as catechists is “to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (5).
This would seem to be an insurmountable task if it weren’t for the fact that most of us have been blessed to have seen it in action. We have witnessed others make Christ present to us and invite us into his ministry. If it weren’t for Father Joe’s personal welcome and invitation to our family, I doubt I would have volunteered to be a catechist. Catechesis is not just about academics, although the content that we teach is very important. Catechesis is about helping to build a personal, responsible relationship with Jesus Christ, alive and active in today’s world.
Catechetical and catechumenate leaders in the parish may not be able to remember names as well as Father Joe, but the goal is the same: We strive to bring people into intimacy with Christ. It can be a struggle to find catechists who are willing to do this. I worry that most people hang back, declining to offer their gifts because they think they don’t know enough. When we do succeed in reeling in someone to be a catechist, they cling to handouts, catechisms, and textbooks like life rafts, hoping no one asks them a question that isn’t answered in the book.
Finding Christ in parish life
Of course, we have to do a better job of letting people know we are not expecting catechists to have a graduate degree in Christology; if that were necessary, the first disciples would have never made the grade. What we are looking for is people who hang out with Jesus. That means going to those places where Christ can be readily found. We teach the catechumens that there are four primary areas in parish life where that happens: in the word, in worship, in the life of the parish community, and in service to the poor and the marginalized. When we’re looking for potential catechists, we need to be looking for people who are hanging out in these four areas. TP
Prepare yourself for intimacy with Jesus
- Where do you most often meet Jesus?
- Which passages in the Bible are most significant for you?
- How do you pray with Scriptures?
- Is there time in your busy day for quiet prayer?
- What is most important about Jesus that you want to share with others?
- How might you take your catechetical process beyond your meeting space?
*This article appeared in the March 2008 issue of Today’s Parish.