This is the fifth article in a series about the spiritual life of catechists, inspired by the list of characteristics in the National Directory for Catechesis.
Have you ever met someone who was “on fire” for God? When you encounter someone who speaks about faith with contagious enthusiasm, that’s missionary zeal. It’s memorable—and contagious.
Zeal is not a word we use much today. The dictionary defines zeal as “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective,” but in Scripture it has a deeper meaning. It can describe a fierceness against those who oppose God (see 1 Kings 19:13–14), a kind of passionate obsession such as David’s “zeal for the house of the Lord” (see Psalm 69), or the fervor that energized the prophets such as Isaiah: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent!” (Isaiah 62:1).
Missionary zeal is the great enthusiasm we have for proclaiming the Gospel, a burning desire to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. A person with missionary zeal cannot help but talk about Jesus. It is, according to the National Directory for Catechesis, an essential characteristic of catechists. Pope Francis said that we are “to be truly committed to discipleship and prepared to take risks for the cause of the Gospel.”
Pope Francis also warned about “anesthetized Catholics,” people who are all about the formalities of the Church, but have no enthusiasm. These are people without zeal. “These Christians,” Pope Francis said, “without apostolic zeal are not useful, they do not do the Church well. And how many Christians are like this, selfish, out for themselves? This is the sin of sloth, which is a sin against apostolic zeal, against the desire to give the news of Jesus to others, that newness, which was given to me for free.”
Parish leaders need to look for catechists with zeal, people who have the desire to take risks for the Gospel and have the potential to develop missionary discipleship. We need to stop settling for people content with moving students through the system. Instead, we need to find people under the influence of Jesus. Nurturing the zeal of catechists means they need opportunities to encounter Jesus Christ. Retreats and significant prayer experiences are essential for spiritual growth. Exposure to faithful witnesses unafraid to tell how God has been present in their lives is important, as is learning the skills to share one’s own story.
Here is a simple exercise to help catechists discern where God has been active in their lives. Have them make a timeline of their life marked off in five-year increments, noting times when they had to change, grow, lose something or someone, or make a choice. Then, ask them to pick one of those significant crossroads and reflect about where they think God was for them during that time. How has God used this change to make them who they are today? Have those who are willing share their stories. This will often encourage others to share or to rethink their own experiences. Making such sharing a regular part of catechist gatherings can help develop a spirit of missionary zeal in parish programs.
Read the first four articles in the series:
The Spiritual Life of Catechists, Part 1: Finding and Sharing Love and Joy
The Spiritual Life of Catechists, Part 2: Authenticity of Life
The Spiritual Life of Catechists, Part 3: Personal Prayer
The Spiritual Life of Catechists, Part 4: Dedication to the Evangelizing Mission of the Church