Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Choosing Catechists for Next Year: More Than Just Filling Empty Slots on the Roster

As the catechetical year winds down, catechetical leaders may find they have a few openings for catechists for next year when some who have been helping step away from the ministry. What is good to keep in mind at this time is that this is much more than just finding "warm bodies" - or even the most willing volunteers -to fill the empty places on the roster. Rather, quality is definitely more important than quantity when it comes to choosing and recruiting catechists. Being choosy will definitely pay off when you find the person who is willing to make the commitment and who has real ability to spread the Gospel well.

Unlike the message suggested in the poster to the left, maybe the "selling point" is that when a person becomes a catechist he or she has an opportunity to use his/her talents to be part of something really big and important - the effort to further the apostolic mission of the Church. It is NOT, however, primarily a matter of the personal satisfaction of the catechist. It is, in fact, the result of a specific charism. It is a ministry of service that should only be performed by those who are qualified by a genuine call and the gifts to carry it out.. Satisfaction may be, in fact, a nice side-effect of service, but it is not the reason to serve. In fact, the vocation of catechist is a holy and important one, which arises from one's baptismal call to evangelize.

The Guide for Catechists (Vatican, Office of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, 1993) has this to say about choosing catechists:

Absolute precedence must be given to quality. A common problem is certainly the scarcity of properly trained candidates. The character of the catechist is of prime importance, and this must influence the criteria for selection and the program for training and guidance. The words of the Holy Father [John Paul II] are illuminating: "For such a fundamental evangelical service a great number of workers are necessary. But, while striving for numbers, we must aim above all today at securing the quality of the catechist". (5)

This short document contains much useful wisdom for the parish leader regarding the choice and training of catechists. It names as key qualities of the spirituality of a catechist: openness to God, openness to the Church and missionary openness to the world", "coherence and authenticity of life", as well as devotion to Mary, who is "living catechism" "mother and model of catechists". Also named are attitudes, such as service, attentiveness to the poor and the aged, ability to play an active role in inculturating the faith for those they teach and "a spirit of ecumenism."

In Part II, Choice and Formation of Catechists, the document goes further:

Importance of a proper choice. It is difficult to lay down rules as to the level of faith and the strength of motivation that a candidate should have in order to be accepted for training as a catechist. Among the reasons for this are: the varying levels of religious maturity in the different ecclesial communities, the scarcity of suitable and available personnel, socio-political conditions, poor educational standards and financial difficulties. But one should not give in to the difficulties and lower one's standards. (17)

The Guide also says this:

Some criteria concern the catechist's person. A basic rule is that no one should be accepted as a candidate unless he or she is positively motivated and is not seeking the post simply because another suitable job is not available. Positive qualities in candidates should be: faith that manifests itself in their piety and daily life; love for the Church and communion with its Pastors; apostolic spirit and missionary zeal; love for their brothers and sisters and a willingness to give generous service; sufficient education; the respect of the community; the human, moral and technical qualities necessary for the work of a catechist, such as dynamism, good relations with others, etc. (18)

So, who do you look for? Don't just take the person who volunteers for everything. Don't "guilt" someone into doing it. Don't strong-arm parents into teaching so they can "follow their kids" through the program. Parents, in fact, may or may not be the most suitable catechists. Instead, look for the "living witnesses" in your community - people with a faith story to share - who are adept at telling that story. Look for those who have authentic lives, who live the teachings of the Church, who have that sense of "apostolic zeal" the Guide refers to. These are your true catechists.

The Guide for Catechists is a hidden gem, well worth the time spent studying it - it explains selection, formation, and standards for catechists, including a key point: "authenticity of life" - the requirement that the catechist does not live one kind of life for church and ministry and another, for their personal fulfillment. It has much wisdom and perspective to offer. If you are in catechetical ministry, put it on your summer reading list.


  1. At my parish I believe the DRE informally maintains a batch of people she has already pre-qualified; so when there's an opening it's more of an opportunity than a problem.

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  3. Wow - that's great, but far from the norm, I am afraid. Many of our people are still "begging" a couple weeks into the start of sessions, but because of the size of most of our suburban parishes, we have many programs here with multiple sessions on several days of the week, so many catechists are needed. In some programs that means they need 50 or more people - one large parish who has no on-site instruction but uses a small group format out in homes claims to have at least 200 sites, for which a catechist and an aide are needed.