Online Retreat for Catechists – Week 6: Missionary Zeal

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:


Missionary Zeal

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)

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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. 

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For Further Reflection

Read Pope John Paul II’s homily for the Jubilee of Catechists and Religion Teachers from December 10, 2000.

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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.

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Recommended Reading on the Topic of Missionary Zeal:

Heroic Living: Discover Your Purpose and Change the World (Chris Lowney)

Simple Acts of Moving Forward: 60 Suggestions for Getting Unstuck (Vinita Hampton Wright)

My Best Teachers Were Saints: What Every Educator Can learn from the Heroes of the Church (Susan Swetnam)

The Catholic Passion: Rediscovering the Power and Beauty of the Faith (David Scott)

Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits (edited by Michael Harter, SJ)

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. I suppose my main motivation for catechizing is that I belive that if I understood as a kid/ teen/ young adult what I understand now about Catholicism, I’d have less to regret now.
    I suppose that I’m zealous about giving the kids a sturdy framework of Catholicism that they’ll be able to add knowledge to as they get older. I want them all to become adults who understand and can explain their own faith to others, and not just go through the motions.

  2. Why do I teach? There are so many reasons….I love kids and never have had my own…nieces and nephews who I love dearly….buy why I teach is because I have such a deep love of Our Lord. Growing up in the 50’s, I always looked at Our Lord as unapproachable…if He stood before me I would probably freeze in my tracks and be in such awe of Him that I was not worthy to look at Him….I’ve changed and now if I saw Our Lord (except for having bad knees) I would run to Him….He is so full of love and forgiveness….and is just waiting for us to come to Him….there’s a song…don’t remember the title….but it says… nothing pleases Our Lord so much as His children call Him by name….this is what I try to give the children… not be so concerned that they know their prayers verbatim….but to sit down and talk with Him….tell Him how their day was and ask Him about His….talk to Him as a friend…He wants to hear about everything…be with Him at the altar and share in this gift of Himself to us in the Eucharist…..when I taught 2nd graders one of the things I told them was Jesus is so excited about you coming to receive Him in Holy Communion that He just can’t wait for them….He too is marking His calendar for this special day! He loves you so much and is waiting for them with His arms wide open…..anyway….I could go on, but this is the Jesus I want to share with them!

    • What a beautiful way to talk about Jesus in the eucharist, Karen! Every child knows what it’s like to “not be able to wait” for something special, so that’s a powerful connection for them. Thanks for sharing: I”m writing that one down to use…

  3. I haven’t responded in a few weeks but I have been reading everyone’s repsonse and learning. I keep teaching because Iwant the kids to know they are never alone, Jesus is always there. I started my class this year with letting the students take turns with opening and closing prayer and they could say what ever was in their hearts. It was interesting as no one went for the formal prayer. I want them to know Jesus isn’t just in Church, one can talk to Him anytime, any where. He always listens. I want them to understand even though their prayers might not be answered the way they want or something bad may happen, Jesus is always there to give strength if one just has faith. Like Karen I could go on and on.

    • Dorothy…I so agree with you….I think when we were growing up that everything was so regimental…..I remember going to church with my sister and brother-in-law and their little toddler right before Communion got out of the pew and ran down the center aisle…he didn’t know this was Communion, but he knew Jesus was there and he wanted to go to Him….needless to say my sister was a nervous wreck…the only thing that came to mind was…Sis if Jesus was sitting up there what do you think he would have said….this is what I think he would have said come on up here Jack….and not be so concerned what everyone around was thinking….she said how do you think of these things? I really don’t know. But you and I seem to be on the same wave length….

  4. I too have been following along for the last few weeks but not able to respond – but learning and being inspired by everyone’s responses. Thank you so much! My mother passed away unexpectedly and needless to say I’ve had my own little renewal going on. I guess Jesus was preparing me for it. I felt such a need to understand the good gained by my mom’s suffering for so long and had read many articles and books in the last few months – not realizing how much suffering I was about to experience. But, I’m now pass the suffering road block I was experiencing. Boy, did I need that focus on authenticity last week!
    I feel like the missionary zeal was lit in me during my 6 months of RCIA. It was as if the Holy Spirit took over all my actions and words – my will. I could do no wrong. Not the case now, but the missionary zeal has remained. I started teaching first holy communion and first reconciliation after helping out with my son’s class. The teacher was so uncommitted and unprepared, I ended up teaching the class. At the end of the year, I felt a responsibility to sign up again to teach this important year in our parish children’s lives to help them understand the infinite love God has for them through the sacraments and introduce many of them to Jesus through prayer and the bible. Though I’m taking the big leap to middle school this year, I’m trying to prepare as much as I can. I am starting to begin to look forward to it!

    • Katharine, please accept our sympathies on the loss of your mother. It sounds as though the Lord was indeed preparing you.

      Best wishes as you venture into middle school. Your story is inspiring!

    • Katherine….please know my prayers are with you….losing anyone, but especially a Mom is so difficult…God bless you.
      Congratulations on giving of yourself to the kids you are going to teach….the Holy Spirit has definitely worked in you and I know you will be an inspiration to them.

  5. Oh my, Lord … there you go again .. making things happen, opening doors … and finally I get more of the picture and realize His handiwork. Last Friday, opened up an email with a plea from a fellow youth minister, who is leading up a summer mission trip to Chicago leaving July 19, if I could possibly step in. She just found out that she has to handle a medical condition, now. Unexpectedly (ha), I’m free in July and still free during that week, have worked with the same organization before with mission trip, in the middle of a virtual retreat that is focusing on missionary zeal in week 6 … oh my!
    Reading through Joe’s input on Monday has a whole different perspective as I get ready for mission trip with about 20 teens and their parish priest (which I am still in awe and dropping my jaw every time I think about it, the PASTOR is coming!).
    Please keep us in your prayers, virtual friends.
    It’s great, kinda scary, exciting, awesome when you are a backseat driver, letting the Holy Spirit take the wheel … where to next, Lord? Hopefully, for ice cream

    • God speed on your journey….enjoy the ride…it will be an experience of a life time and one I am sure you will not trade for anything. Looking forward to you sharing this time! And welcome to Chicago!

  6. What increases my missionary zeal? Many times throughout the school year I often feel older than my 65 years and think to myself that this will be the last year I teach but as I continue to look into the eyes of these children who have been entrusted to me by their parents to share with them my love and knowledge of our Creator, I somehow get a new jolt of energy and enthusiasm to bring the living Christ into their daily lives.

    This may not be a good analogy but children in general remind me of sponges. They keep absorbing as much information into their little hearts and minds as we adults give to them. Every Monday when they enter our RE class, I can see that they have wrung themselves out and the sponge is ready to start filling up once again! For me this is very exciting and encouraging and if I am able to convey a person who loves and knows their Catholic faith, then I have done my job well.

    What inhibits my zeal? I’m frustrated with the parents’ role in not bringing their children up as practicing Catholics but rather as Christmas and Easter Catholics!

  7. * My mission is to teach the youngsters about what the Catholic church teaches, so that my students will know what the truth is and not what some uninformed person might say on a television talk show.. I will do this by doing my best to find out and also trying to come up with interesting methodology especially using technology.
    * As a catechist, I value truth, humility, and effort because facts, effort and a certain degree of humbleness are necessary. Accordingly, I will try to follow these values myself as well as teach them to my students. My personal spirituality is a mixture of Ignatian and Benedictine. I will try to be energetic. It is difficult to be “burned out” if you were never on fire in the first place. This web site, several of Joe’s books and a couple of Jesuit retreats this summer will be part of my “schooling.” (or school of prayer)

  8. My greatest zeal is to try to do My Jesus’s will in my daily life. Since it is a daily reality it’s a 10. Watching the eyes of others as the light comes on, when His words become understanding, increases my zeal. Having to close myself up when I realize His words have no hearing in another, inhibits it. My zeal is told in real life stories. If you live it, you can relate it. By continuing on my journey to be changed by Him. A passion about something lends its Truth a validity. By constantly returning to Him in prayer for guidance and direction, all hardships are overcome. When you speak the truth with passion, another way to see the world becomes possible.

  9. My mission is to BE CHRIST to my students, whether I’m teaching them about the church’s teaching or mathematics. My mission is to be available to God so that he can love the children through me, leading them to truly trust and love Jesus with their whole hearts. I will do this by attending daily mass, praying for a deeper prayer life and doing my best to plan engaging lessons.

  10. Eagerness, zeal, enthusiasm are all contagious. If we as catechists, can pass along this passion for our faith, not only to our students, but to all whom we encounter in our community, imagine the possibilities!

  11. As a catechist, i value these: simplicity in living, the Truths of the Gospels, and compassion for my fellow~man; because i believe in the saying that goes, “what i do not have, i cannot share with the children/youth..”
    Accordingly, i will try my best to live an authentic Christian life, by continued spiritual reading; by being in close association with fellow catechists (so we could inspire each other constantly); by receiving the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist as often as possible; and making each moment of the day – a Prayer.
    Thank you, Joe, for leading us all into “illumination”, unquestionably inspired by the Holy Spirit. After a year of absence from catechetical teaching, I am ‘on fire’ again, Thanks be to God!

    • Thank YOU, Johnny! This is a wonderful mission statement and we’re all so happy to know that the Spirit has set you on fire again! Thanks for sharing!

  12. What increases my missionary zeal? My students certainly do as they validate what I’m trying to do in teaching them about our faith. But, ironically, fellow catechests sometimes increase my missionary zeal as well. I can get frustrated listening to fellow catechists complain about our religious ed programs saying that the protestants are so much better at entertaining the kids and drawing them in. That may be true, but for me (and this where my zeal takes an uptick), I try to explain that OUR enthusiasm (as catechists) about the sacraments and the Catholic church are what our students can pick up on. We should be trying to teach foundations that our students can keep coming back to, not just entertaining short term ideas that will kill an hour of class time. I know sooo many cradle Catholics that have come back to the faith because of the foundations they were given when they were younger. And I mean no offense, but the grass isn’t always greener on the protestant side of the fence.

    As far as people I’ve met that have missionary zeal. Actually, it’s people like Joe P. (our catechist blogger and retreat master) or my DRE. I’ve picked up on a pattern in listening to people like this in that they don’t seem to get rattled by those who insist that the sky is falling because something (or someone) doesn’t go our way. I read a lot of Catholic / Faith oriented media and, much like those in the political arena, there are a lot of people with strong opinions. But in following this blog, for example, or by listening to someone like my DRE, I’ve learned that holding true to the “center” of our Faith, really keeps me on track.

    • Greg, thanks so much for your kind words…this really means a lot to me and inspires me to greater zeal!

    • Great post….you are right, to see the kids understand the whys and hows of faith is a terrific encouragement to any catechist. Funny I didn’t think of it that way myself, because after every class I come home pumped up & tell my wife what amazing thing one or more of my students observed/ concluded/ asked/ understood.

      When the kids are engaged they are capable of greatness.

  13. At this point in the summer, my missionary zeal is about a 10. ( Isn’t it funny that at the end of the school year, our excitement level goes way down, not because we don’t enjoy what we do or the students we work with, but quite honestly, we are tired and worn out). Thanks, Joe, for this opportunity to connect with other catechists. This online retreat has been the “shot in the arm” that I needed before the upcoming school year. I have long felt a calling to be a teacher/catechist, but now I have a renewed excitement and stronger commitment. I really think that it’s important for us to have enthusiasm if we expect to reach our students. If we’re not excited about our faith and our relationship with God, how can we convince our students? I do think authenticity goes hand-in-hand with missionary zeal;kids have to believe that our faith is genuine too.

  14. I have often thought Catechists as missionaries. The reason for this is, in a lot of cases for our children , we are the face of our Church, of Jesus goodness and for the peace and harmony that alot of the kids need and don’t receive any where else but through us , one hour a week ..
    Most of my kids do not go to Mass and do not receive much instruction at home, and usually the kids are quite receptive, when they get settled into the year and realize why their family drops them off for the hour.
    Thanks for the scripture reading above , its really wonderful ..

  15. I haven’t been a catechist for very long (4 years), and I’ve sometimes asked myself (and God) why I continue to do this (especially after a rough night of class, teaching first fifth graders, soon to be 8th graders, my daughter included). But, it’s amazing how, once I begin to prepare the next class, that “fire” begins to burn in me, and I get all enthusiastic and can’t wait to get to the next class. I have kicked off each year with a very brief speech (borrowed from ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale) where I encourage my students to remember the “3 E’s” throughout their lives, and to apply them to whatever it is they are involved with at the moment. The “3E’s” are Energy, Enthusiasm, and Excitement. If they can remember to apply those to any endeavor they may take on (including religious ed class), they will get so much more out of that endeavor, and it will have so much more meaning for them. I often use that as motivation for myself. And it has already proven to be quite rewarding! Whenever we are asked to “double up” with another class whose catechist is absent for the evening, at least half of my class volunteers to tell our temporary classmates the “3E’s” story!
    And, as more time goes by, I find that the “fire” I feel in my heart to help spread Jesus’ Good News is unquenchable. And, as a previous comment stated, one of my goals is to insure that these young students are getting the “real” facts about our faith, not some distortions or misinformation that might be found in the mainstream media. And I also pledge to continually increase my knowledge and understanding of those truths by my own constant education. This website, Joe’s blog, and his publications have already been a great source of knowledge in the brief time I’ve been aware of them. So thank you again Joe for hosting this online retreat which will serve a great purpose, not only for these past few weeks, but well into the future!

    • Henry, thanks for sharing your great story about the 3 E’s…what a great idea. You’re so right about the fire becoming unquenchable….the sure sign of a true vocation. I’m glad that the retreat, etc. have been good resources for you.

  16. Pithy post, Henry.
    It’s funny how nice it is to have the summer off, but also good to be teaching during the rest of the year.
    It’s hard to imagine not catechizing….one of the best ways I can be a conduit of the Holy Spirit.

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