Redeeming the vocation of catechist

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.

Youth 2000 retreat - young people encounter the Real Presence of Jesus

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!


About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

7 responses to “Redeeming the vocation of catechist

  • claireasdaisies

    Your ‘paint a stone’ project made me laugh because it took me back to a time when I was part of a group who were handed plaster-scene/play dough, and told to make an image that expresses who God is, for me. Completely and utterly pointless, and I can only now laugh at it when I look back.

    I think sometimes presenting Christ as who He is can be so close to the nerve than we, the educator, can assume it won’t be taken well, or that somehow it’ll make the conversation awkward, when in actual fact, its doing just as JPII said, which captures the heart of the listener and opens that door to something so much more profound that one can easily think ‘and all this time I’ve been missing out!’

    Great post! I pray your trip will be a very fruitful one!
    Cb Cheryl

  • transformedinchrist

    Thanks Cheryl. I hope more teenagers nowadays are spared from painting stones and praying through clay… 🙂
    Thanks for reading!

  • Marc Cardaronella

    Wonderful insights! I’m so happy to find your blog!

    I studied catechetics at Franciscan University and have a catechetical blog too. I’m going to the conference in a few weeks as well. Is it the Amicitia Catechetica and Bosco conferences you’re attending? I would very much like to meet up with you and talk.

    I think you’re so right about catechetics being stuck in the 70’s. It’s like that in the U.S. as well. Perhaps not as much as in the UK, but it’s definitely there. The leadership in the national organizations is definitely like that. But we’re slowly gaining more ground. Great blogs like this will definitely help with that!

    Thanks for the great post! Looking forward to reading more!

  • transformedinchrist

    Marc, thanks for your comment! It’s great to see your blog too. I am new to blogging and didn’t know there were other catechetical blogs – this is GREAT! Yes, I will be at both conferences you mentioned. We will have to meet up.

  • Brendan Vaughan-Spruce

    Sadly, I think you are perpetuating the ‘bad name’ of catechists with your caricature of the ‘cuddle me Jesus’ catechist. In my experience catechists are a very mixed bag, as perhaps we should expect, but I have only met a small number who would fit your caricature. This does not mean that they have all been well formed in the faith. I agree that more should be done to prepare people well to be catechists before they are let loose on a group of young people, and the primary responsibility for this preparation surely lies with the parish priest. It seems to be common for a priest to be only too happy to allow willing parishioners to just get on with it. So perhaps instead of poking fun at catechists the priests should make it their business to ensure that a good process of formation is in place for catechists, and to take an interest in the courses they are running to ensure that they are in harmony with the teaching of the Church.

    • transformedinchrist

      OK, perhaps I was over-exaggerating slightly with the catechist caricature, but I stand by it, because it’s important to be aware of this image so we’re careful to avoid it. I don’t think that perpetuates the bad reputation there may be.

      Regarding the role of the parish priest, clearly, the buck stops with him when it comes to catechesis in the parish and it is his job to make sure that catechesis delivered is sound and the people delivering it well-chosen. However, realistically, most parish priests probably have a very meagre choice when it comes to catechists. I agree that energy, time and money should be dedicated to forming them. However, having said all this, I think we can overemphasise the role of the parish priest when it comes to lay formation. Every adult Catholic has a responsibility to ensure that they are both formed and that they are handing the faith onto others – in whatever their calling. That is our vocation as lay, baptised Catholics. Catechists especially should not wait for the priest to suggest they undergo some formation. This should be a constant component of our lives as adult Catholics. The greatest gift a catechist could make to their parish priest is to ensure that they regularly receive formation and are constantly increasing their knowledge of doctrine and their spiritual life. The resources are out there. It is not too hard to find them – we shouldn’t wait to be fed by someone else!

  • Jude Vaughan-Spruce

    I like the point that the priest should take more responsibility – it worries me that anyone can become a catechist in a parish and teach (to an extent) whatever they wanted and this can end up being quite bad.

    Sadly I think there is a generation of Catholics, stereotyped by the frumpy older women, who just haven’t been formed enough in their faith – perhaps they were handed a penny catechism and that was the extent of their formation – and wouldn’t be aware of the fact that a lot of the things they’re teaching are incorrect and that perhaps they require greater formation.

    But with the current priest shortage, how realistic is that? There is so much demanding the priest’s time, they can’t approve every little thing a catechist does and I imagine most parishes just don’t have the money or the resources to train a catechist. So where do you from there?

    Hannah I’m fully expecting you to create a renewal of orthodox, well-formed catechists in the country! :p

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