Sometimes I get the impression that catechists have a bad name for themselves in this country. Probably they’ve done it to themselves. The stereotype seems to be a frumpy middle-aged woman who is expert in “cuddle me Jesus” catechesis – it’s all about being nice and good. No wonder we hear jokes made about catechists, including by priests, who I’m sure have experienced their fair share of badly-formed catechists who love to be involved and who they can’t seem to shake off.
Certainly, this was my own experience of catechesis growing up. At the end of my Confirmation catechesis (where doctrine wasn’t a high priority), and after the tortuous experience of having to paint a stone with something that expressed who I was, I was ready to give up on Catholic stuff. I never stopped going to Mass, but I found more real and authentic the events for teenagers that the evangelical Christians were putting on in our town. It was finally going to a Youth 2000 retreat that showed me that the heart of the Catholic Faith is something real, deeply attractive, and impacts every area of our life: because Jesus Christ is the heart of our Faith.
John Paul II said that when we present Christ as he is to young people, they will be deeply attracted by his beauty, his truth, his love. This is what happened to me at Youth 2000. But before that, I don’t think I was ever presented with Christ as He is, in a way that I could recognise and love Him.
Anyway, the point of this post is: There’s some serious PR work that needs to be done on behalf of catechists. I think catechists need a makeover! I don’t just mean moving away from the frumpy-image (although this would help…). The change clearly starts with the catechists themselves. As with many things in the Church, I think we could benefit from adopting a more professional approach. What training do catechists have? What is the quality of their training? Are they trained not only in content (doctrine) but also in methodology (about which the Church also has a great deal to say)? Are they faithful to handing on what we have received from the Church, and not their personal beliefs? Are they open to being formed in the mind of the Church?
In a couple of weeks, I am excited to be going to the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio for a catechetical conference. As with many things in the Church, there seem to be vibrant pockets of orthodoxy in the States that are way ahead of us in the UK – and one of them is the area of catechetics, especially at Steubenville and with organisations such as the Association for Catechumenal Ministry. Besides the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, there are centres in this country which still seem to be stuck in the 70s. There can be no flourishing new evangelisation without a solid, catechetical centre. There is much work to be done!