Catechetical Sunday: Praying for those who share faith as catechists

By Sharon Perkins
Guest Columnist

In just about any parish in the U.S. during the month of August, the same sort of plea issues from the pulpit, the bulletin, the parish web site, and the lips of the director of religious education (DRE): “We need more catechists!” 
Having been a DRE in six different parishes over a 25-year span, I admit to doing my share of begging and pleading. The effort to recruit enough committed and trained catechists for our classrooms before the start of the catechetical year is nerve-wracking and sometimes downright discouraging. 
According to Joe Paprocki, consultant for Loyola Press (www.catechistsjourney.com), there are many reasons why people hesitate to answer the call, ranging from the fear of saying something wrong about church teaching, trepidation about handling a group of restless kids, to lack of time, experience or training. And in all fairness, not everyone has the calling to be a catechist. But does the average parishioner really understand what a “catechist” is, and why catechists are so absolutely critical to the preservation and propagation of the Catholic faith in our parishes? 
Many Catholics merely identify a catechist as a religion teacher of children in a classroom setting. But this would be a colossal oversimplification. As one diocesan catechetical manual states, “Catechists are called to share their faith, give witness, pray, model service and build community. Catechists minister to adults, youth, and children in a variety of locations and programs such as sacramental preparation, Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), family programs, Scripture studies, and more. Through word and example, catechists hand on the Catholic faith and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Upon closer inspection, the vitality of parish life is due in large part to the catechists who serve Christ faithfully by witnessing and sharing their faith in a variety of ways. Their recognition and blessing on Sept. 20, Catechetical Sunday, is a public acknowledgment of their service. Whether you have a student, had a student, or are currently a student yourself: when is the last time you thanked a catechist? 
The commissioning of catechists on Catechetical Sunday often includes a sign of support by the congregation in the form of applause or an acclamation. The people are asked to pray for their catechists, and they certainly need our continual prayers. But there are other ways to support them as well. Catechists often need classroom aides or an occasional substitute. They need clerical and financial support. Their work is made more effective and rewarding when parents are engaged in the catechesis of their children and reinforce the weekly lessons and prayers in the home. The saying, “It takes a village,” is particularly valid when it comes to the ministry of catechesis. Is there something you can do to support a catechist this year?
There is always a need for more catechists to share in the work. Some of the great hopeful signs in our parishes are the increasing numbers of children needing sacramental initiation, adults seeking to deepen and enrich their relationship with Christ and the church, and families wishing to connect with one another in their parish communities. The pastor and parish staff simply cannot meet the demand, and enthusiastic, trained, faith-filled catechists are key. Maybe someone has invited you to be a catechist and you’ve been resistant. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is giving you a nudge and you’ve ignored it. Is it time to follow that prompting and to be a catechist?
This Catechetical Sunday — as thousands of children, adolescents, and adults in our parishes renew their commitment to learn about and follow Christ as his disciples — it’s a prime moment of grace. It’s also a reminder to thank a catechist, to support a catechist, and/or to be a catechist.