St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold
Feb. 3, 2018
I want to engage your imagination for a moment. Suppose the Lord God appeared to you in a dream and said to you what he said to young Solomon in the First Book of Kings (1 Kings 3:4-13), Ask something of me and I will give it to you. What do you think you would say? Does a response come to mind immediately? There were no conditions or boundaries attached when the Lord God spoke to Solomon … there wasn’t a lot of time either. Ask something of me and I will give it to you.
Now Solomon had his whole life ahead of him. He was already rich. He came from a prominent family, one of three sons of the great King David. He was heir apparent to the throne of Israel and Judah, “a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.” He had access to power over their lives. In other words, he was a “player.” Probably not too many of us here today -- perhaps none of us -- have those kinds of credentials, but imagine you’re getting the same question as he. Put yourself in his sandals: What would you ask for?
The answer is not really important to me. It should be to you, however, because it probably says a lot about you and what you value most, a self-revelation. You’re the only person who knows, who can give your particular answer. More important to me than what you might say is what you -- what we -- just did. You/we just placed ourselves in the middle of God’s Word. That’s where the experience of Christian catechesis begins. That’s what we have come here together to think and talk about today.
The National Directory for Catechesis states: (Christian) Catechesis links human experience to the revealed word of God, helping people ascribe Christian meaning to their own existence. It enables people to explore, interpret, and judge their basic experiences in light of the Gospel (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis. Washington, DC: Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005, p. 98).
That quotation identifies what good catechesis accomplishes as a primary goal.
Back to Solomon again. What did he ask the Lord God for? Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
And the Lord God said: Because you have asked for this -- not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right -- I do as you requested. I give you a heart (so) wise and understanding …
Let’s go back to our Scriptures today, to the Gospel of Mark (Mark 6:30-34), where the Lord Jesus gathers his Apostles together and invites them: Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. They were all so busy. Mark tells us that people were coming and going in great numbers and they had no opportunity even to eat. They needed a break but the crowds pursued them. Mark writes: When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them many things.
Place yourselves, once again, in the middle of God’s Word and reflect upon your work as a catechist. His Word and work surround you as does the crowd who come to you for catechesis. It may not be vast; they may not be hastening from all the towns. But they come from our parishes and families. What is in your heart as you see them? Pity? Care and concern? The desire to shepherd them by your role? That is what was in Jesus’ heart. So what did he do? Mark tells us that he began to teach them many things. And that is what you do, what we do, as his disciples. As catechists we teach many things from hearts that are full.
Teachers teach and students learn. The purpose of catechesis is to proclaim the Gospel and to draw people closer to God. That is the simple dynamic of our responsibility and calling as catechists and that is what fills our hearts. We teach the Gospel to draw people closer to God. Can any Christian have a greater calling? God calls us to be catechists and we respond by calling on him and by teaching others to do the same.
St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans (Romans 10:14): But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?
Christian catechesis gives witness to this convinced, constant, enduring dialogue between the One who calls, the ones who are called and the ones whom they call to learn and share their faith, to be engaged in their faith and to live what they learn in confident hope and joyful witness.
As catechists, then, always place yourself, center your catechesis and those you catechize -- as we began these reflections -- in the middle of God’s Word, living and active and true. The Second Vatican Council challenges us to serve the Word of God by teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, November 18, 1965, art. 10).
Keep in mind, then, the words of our Holy Father Pope Francis: This is the job of the catechist: constantly go forth to others out of love to bear witness and to talk about Jesus, to proclaim Jesus. This is important because the Lord does it; it is the Lord who impels us to go forth … being a catechist is not a title …it means abiding in the Lord’s presence and letting ourselves be led by him. (Address of Pope Francis to Participants in the Pilgrimage of Catechists, September 27, 2013).”