Welcome to the 6th week of our online retreat focusing on the spirituality of the catechist. Last week, we looked at the characteristic of an authenticity and coherence of life. Thanks so much for all of your wonderful and inspiring comments! This week, we focus on the 6th aspect of our spirituality: missionary zeal.
If you’re just joining us, you can go back and “catch up” and then come back to jump in to week six.
Here’s the video intro for this week:
Let’s be clear about this from the start: to have a missionary zeal is NOT the catechetical equivalent of going “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!”
We’re called to show zeal – not OVERzealousness. Zeal is defined as “fervor; eager desire; enthusiastic diligence.” The missionary zeal that is part of our spirituality as catechists does not mean that we have to develop a frantic style of teaching or employ a delivery like the recently deceased pitchman Billy Mays. It means, however, that we clearly express passion for what we are saying and that we show our eagerness to proclaim the Gospel (and that we do so in a way that is authentic…remember last week’s topic?).
I observed a catechist once whose body language said, “I’d rather be anywhere else but here right now!” This catechist was tired not only from a long day of work but from several years of teaching some very tough groups of kids. The fire had gone out. When that happens, we need to seek renewal or seek a change. Sometimes that means taking a year or 2 off from being a catechist. Other times it means simply moving to another age group that we might be more sucessful with. It always means seeking to do all we can to deepen our faith so that we are never content with our knowledge of God.
One of my favorite lines from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in our Times) says,
Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn. (24)
As catechists, we have received the Word of God – a Word that has transformed our lives. It is “unthinkable” for us to accept this Word without feeling passionately drawn to share it with others. It is a passion that many of us are feeling right about now: we finished teaching in April, May, or June (and thought, “Thank God I thought the year would never end!”) and now, in July are beginning to feel the stirrings of excitement about the possiblities of another year! (emphasis on stirrings…full-blown excitement in July is a rare gift!)
This missionary zeal is what brings us back year after year (ask some of the folks who are participating in this online retreat and, in their introductions, revealed that they’ve been a catechist for 30, 40, even 50 years!). It is this missionary zeal which brings us back one week after we vowed “never again” because of a difficult class. It is this missionary zeal that drives us to put some time into our planning to come up with an engaging and effective lesson so that those we teach will truly experience the transforming power of God’s Word. It is this same missionary zeal that drives us to go to seminars, workshops, conferences, and classes to continue our own formation and deepen our understanding of the Catholic faith.
As we move through the coming week, let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will rekindle the passion – the zeal – that we need to be effective catechists. Let’s pray for ourselves and for one another. And let’s turn, once again, to the words of Paul VI from Evangelii Nuntiandi:
Let us therefore preserve our fervor of spirit. Let us preserve the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow. May it mean for us- as it did for John the Baptist, for Peter and Paul, for the other apostles and for a multitude of splendid evangelizers all through the Church’s history- an interior enthusiasm that nobody and nothing can quench. May it be the great joy of our consecrated lives. And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world. (81)
* * *
Week Six Reflection Questions (click here for week-6-reflection-questions ) – over the next few days, feel free to ponder these reflection questions pertaining to this week’s theme. Then, return here to Catechist’s Journey and share some of your reflections with your fellow retreatants.
* * *
For Further Reflection
Read Pope John Paul II’s homily for the Jubilee of Catechists and Religion Teachers from December 10, 2000.
* * *
Spiritual Exercises – During the course of this week, practice one or more of the following spiritual exercises designed to renew your missionary zeal. Feel free to share the fruits of your exercises with your fellow retreatants by posting your comments any time this week.
- To have missionary zeal means, of course, to have a mission. An exercise that can help you put into words your understanding of the mission you’ve been entrusted with is to write your own personal mission statement as a catechist. Do this is a prayerful manner. Begin by praying with Matthew’s account of the Great Commission – Mt 28: 16-20. Then, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to a deeper understanding of the mission that you’ve been entrusted with. Compose a brief, simple, catechist’s mission statement that’s about 3-5 sentences long. And remember: mission statements are supposed to state the obvious! Use one of the following templates to assist you:
- My mission is to _______________ [what you want to achieve, become, or do], so that ________________ [describe the reasons why you want this]. I will do this by _______________________ [describe specific behaviors/actions you will use to achieve this].
- As a catechist, I value _________________ [identify 3 important values] because ____________________ [ explain why these values are important]. Accordingly, I will ___________________ [describe how you will put these values into practice].
- Each day this week, choose a line from the following Scripture passage and use it as your “mantra” for the day, recalling it often, repeating it silently as well as out loud, praying for a renewed missionary zeal:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Is 40:28-31 RSV)
- Our missionary zeal does not come about through our own efforts. Rather, it is through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we receive the grace we need to be zealous. During the coming week, pray the Litany to the Holy Spirit each day, asking the Spirit to renew you and to fill you with the fire you need to proclaim the Gospel as a catechist.
* * *
Recommended Reading on the Topic of Missionary Zeal:
The Power of Pause: Becoming More by Doing Less (Terry Hershey)
Heroic Living: Discover Your Purpose and Change the World (Chris Lowney)
Simple Acts of Moving Forward: 60 Suggestions for Getting Unstuck (Vinita Hampton Wright)
Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits (edited by Michael Harter, SJ)
Housing Heaven’s Fire: The Challenge of Holiness (John C. Haughey, SJ)