The Catechist’s Relationship with God
Rejoicing at the Bridegroom’s Voice: The Catechist’s Relationship with God
A few years ago, I was invited to the baptism of a second-grade girl named Evi. Her classmates, just beginning to prepare for their First Communion, were also invited. One seven-year-old boy arrived late and slid into the pew next to me as the priest was beginning his homily: “God loves us so much that he sent his Son. Jesus was born, and when he grew up, he preached the good news of the kingdom of God. He died on a cross for our sins, but on the third day, he rose again.” At this point, the boy jerked, looked up at me and asked, “What?! What did he say?” I repeated what the priest had said. Scrunching up his eyebrows in bewilderment, the boy replied, “That is crazy!” I whispered back, “Yes, you’re right; it is crazy, but it’s true.”
He is Alive!
That child had no idea he was reiterating the sentiments of Saint Catherine of Siena who, many centuries earlier, called God crazy in reference to the immeasurable love he showed us in becoming one of us to redeem us. The boy’s reaction to his first hearing of the good news really made me think. I realized that Jesus’ resurrection had become so familiar to me that I barely noticed how “crazy” it is—He rose from the dead! He is alive!
Recently, I had the joy of hearing the kerygma preached again, but this time by a five-year-old girl in a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium. She looked at me with great intensity and excitement in her eyes and urgently exclaimed, “Jesus died, but then he rose again, and then he went back to heaven and now he keeps on living!” Again I was impelled to think, Do I preach the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with the same conviction and urgency as this five-year-old? It is in fact the truth she articulated that can help us experience the reality of the earth-shattering claim that he rose from the dead. He keeps on living. I know him, he speaks to me, and I can develop a deep personal friendship with him because, as Pope Francis reminds us in Christus Vivit, Jesus is not just “a fine model from the distant past . . . a memory . . . someone who saved us two thousand years ago,” but someone who is alive, right now.
Your Voice Is Sweet and Your Face Lovely
Deepening this personal relationship with God is fundamental to the catechist’s vocation, and I think Saint John the Baptist can be an outstanding model to help us. He became a voice that prepared people for the coming of Christ, he preached conversion of life, and he encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus instead of himself. Isn’t that exactly what we want to do as catechists? What was his secret?
Saint John the Baptist identifies himself as the friend of the Bridegroom who listens for his voice and rejoices when he hears it (see Jn 3:29). This reminds me of one of my favorite images for the catechist: a matchmaker who seeks to help someone fall in love with God. A good matchmaker knows both parties well before he introduces them to each other. Do I really know Jesus as a real, living Friend? A few weeks ago, I asked a six-year-old girl why she thought the Father wants us to bear much fruit on the true vine (see Jn 15). Without hesitating she responded, “Because he loves us so much.” Yes, it is that simple. He loves us so much and he wants us to abide with him as branches on the vine and as friends of the Bridegroom listening for his voice.
Listening for his voice requires a disposition of humility and receptivity. Sometimes as catechists we think it is all about us. If only we plan the perfect lesson, employ the most effective method, or manage to keep everyone paying attention, we will be successful. However, the word “catechesis” actually comes from the Greek word catechein which originally meant “to echo.” An echo does not invent the sound it makes; it reflects what it “hears” from another. To be a good catechist or echo-er, we need to become a good listener so that none of us will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly.”
He Must Increase, I Must Decrease
Gianna Gobbi, one of the founders of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd approach to the religious formation of children, has taught me much about being attentive to the Bridegroom’s voice. The title of her book Listening to God with Children already says it all, but I think the following citation captures her insight beautifully: “In this shared religious experience which we, as catechists, are called to live with the children, there is only one true Teacher, who is Christ himself. Although we have the important task of carefully preparing the environment, presenting the Christian proclamation, and guiding the children in their use of the environment, our most important task is that of patiently observing the children and learning to listen to them and with them. Both our own joy to be living a religious experience with children, as well as our effectiveness as catechists, rests in our desire and commitment to listen to God with the child.” Once I began to focus on listening to God with children and adults in my catechetical work, I was often—and continue to be—surprised and delighted by the voice of the Bridegroom.
Earlier this year I was reflecting with a group of catechists on the parable of the found coin (Lk 15:8-9). We were pondering what or whom the woman and the coin might represent when one of the catechists asked, “What is the broom?” Although I had reflected on these short verses countless times, I had never considered that question. After directing the question back to the group, I continued to ponder it, and suddenly it occurred to me that I am the broom! God works directly in peoples’ lives, drawing them to himself, as we see in the parable of the shepherd who finds the lost sheep (Lk 15:1-6), but it often pleases him to work indirectly in people’s lives through his instruments—us. He wants to use me as a “broom” to sweep the world and bring his lost “coins” back to him. One of the catechists in the group also heard this same message and later gave me a tiny wooden broom with a note: “Thank you for being the broom in God’s hands so I could discover that I am also this broom. God wanted that I discover that beautiful image to help me let him act in my life and in my atrium. He is the Leader.”
A Light Renewed for Eternity
In November I took part in a rather muddled renewal of baptismal promises. A group of first communicants crowded around trying to relight their baptismal candles from the paschal candle. It was not going so smoothly and I began to wonder if they would burn the whole church down before they ever had a chance to say “I do” to the baptismal promises. One boy returned to relight his candle at least four times, but every time he received the flame, he would walk right back to stand in the same spot where the air vent snuffed out his candle all over again. Tempted to get irritated with him, I stopped to listen for the Bridegroom’s voice and heard it loud and clear: the light of Christ is always available for everyone who desires it. No matter what we have done to extinguish his light in us and no matter how many times we have foolishly fallen into the same old traps, he always generously offers his light to us anew.
When we, as catechists, focus not only on speaking but even more importantly on listening, it is amazing what we hear. At the end of Evi’s baptism the seven-year-old boy sitting next to me looked up and whispered, “Who is that guy again, the one who was dead and then came back to life?” Rejoicing at the sound of the Bridegroom’s voice, I responded, “His name is Jesus.”
Sister Theresa Anne Knuth, O.P., ’08 is a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia. She holds a Master of Arts in Theology from the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception and has taught second grade. Currently she serves as a catechist and formation leader of catechists in Europe. She resides at the St. Rosa van Lima Convent in Sittard, The Netherlands and treasures the privilege to tell children about Jesus for the first time. This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Aquinas Magazine.