The Catechist and the Church

The Catechist and the Church

  • Today in Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
  • 17 February 2019

I had the advantage of being instructed with the old “Baltimore Catechism” during my formative years. Things were simple and direct in the 1950’s and a Catholic School education was intended to shape the curriculum with- in the context of a Catholic world-view. My third grade music book was published by the Sisters of Providence in 1954 with a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur from Archbishop Paul C. Schulte of Indianapolis. “To God Through Music” was a text that shaped our minds in accordance with Christian principles. It was intended to blend the sacred and the secular into a cultural understanding that was entirely Catholic. This was the mission of Catholic education in the last century and the proliferation of Catholic schools was a testimony to that vision. It was a rare parish that did not have a parochial school. All of this began to change with the 1960’s and over recent decades our Catholic schools have been under enormous pressure to adapt or die. Many have succumbed to the pressure; others have survived and even flourished. Throughout all of this, from the first school for girls founded by St. Elizabeth Seton, to our newest high school, established in this century and named for Mother Theodore Guerin, the catechist is particularly critical.

The education of our children begins at home, and the parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of the faith. Much of this teaching is by example of course… just like any other instruction. Children look and listen, they feel and taste. It is through observation that they learn to walk and talk and behave. The Catholic home is the incubator that prepares us for the rest of our lives and into eternity. Our parishes offer as much assistance as we can to form our children in the Catholic culture, but even with a parochial school, there is only so much we can do to assist the parents. If there is no prayer at home, it is doubtful a child will grow into a prayerful adult. With no Christian symbols in the home, the crucifix or manger scene will have little impression on their future. I am not advocating that being Catholic is simply a matter of adopting a culture. We have enough cultural Catholics already. Catechism is more than just a series of questions and answers. It is a summary of Christian principles by which we can choose to live our lives.

We like to say that our parish is composed of many parishioners. Some of them are active and others less so, but every parishioner is more importantly a catechist. We teach without realizing it…in what we say and in what we do…or sometimes fail to do – like it says in the Book: we really are supposed to be our brother’s keeper. When I pick up a piece of trash and dispose of it properly, I am teaching. When I help with the fish fry or serve at the altar, I am teaching. When I make a Christ Renews His Parish weekend or help on the Confirmation retreat, I am teaching. We are all instructing each other in the ways of the faith…for good or for ill…in the way we care for and care about each other. This is particularly true for our young, impressionable children, but also for our older and more cynical adults. We can learn from the innocence of babes and the wisdom of the elderly. As it says in the Book: we have one teacher, the Messiah; we have one Lord, the Christ. But we should also be mindful that every baptized Christian is both disciple and teacher, student and catechist. Some of us may have the credentials of teacher or the name tag of catechist, but we all have the responsibility. When we have the baptism of infants during mass here at St. Elizabeth Seton, the baptismal candle is ignited from the Paschal Candle and given to the children by their godparents. As the light of Christ is given to the child, the parents and the entire congregation are instructed that: “This light is now entrusted to you…to be kept burning brightly. These children of yours, (these children of ours), have been enlightened by Christ! They must always walk as children of the light. May they keep this flame of faith alive in their hearts…so that when the Lord comes for them, they may go out to meet the Lord with all of the saints in the heavenly kingdom. For the Lord Jesus made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his word and your mouth to proclaim his praise…in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.”