In most parishes the process of finding catechists is pretty simple: we ask, even beg, for people to fill empty slots and some come forward. If that fails, we may tap former catechists or aides, or ask parents of children in the program to fill the needs. Failing that, we may even resort to guilt: “If no one volunteers, our children will have no one to teach them the faith.” Too often it seems we settle for the willing folks with only minimal examination of their qualifications, because it is so difficult to find people. We hope that as long as they are people of reasonably good will, they will grow into the role of catechist with some guidance.
While many will grow into the role, what if we were more intentional about discerning who is called to be a catechist? The Guide for Catechists (1993, Vatican, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) speaks of the sacred vocation of the catechist and the importance of proper choice: “Right from the beginning, a high quality must be set. Pastors should be convinced of this as the goal to be aimed at and, even though it may be achieved only gradually, they should not easily settle for less” (17). The qualities the document names are:
faith that manifests itself in their piety and daily life; love for the Church and communion with its Pastors; apostolic spirit and missionary zeal; love for their brothers and sisters and a willingness to give generous service; sufficient education; the respect of the community; the human, moral and technical qualities necessary for the work of a catechist, such as dynamism, good relations with others, etc. (18).
The criterion of “openness” is used throughout the Guide for Catechists: openness to the Word, to God, to the Church, and a “missionary openness” to the world. Catechists also should possess authenticity, missionary zeal, and devotion to Mary, the Mother of Catechists (6–10). In short, we are looking for people of faith willing to grow, who have a deep sense of spirituality and service to the community.
So how do we foster the vocation of the catechist in the community? Pastors (or their delegate, the DRE) should:
…prepare the community, and especially the young, by explaining the role of catechists, so as to awaken an interest in this form of ecclesial service. It should not be forgotten either that the community’s esteem for this service will be directly proportional to the way in which pastors treat their catechists, giving them worthwhile tasks and respecting their responsibility. A fulfilled, responsible and dynamic catechist, working enthusiastically and joyfully in the tasks assigned, appreciated and properly remunerated, is the best promoter of other vocations (17).
Well-chosen and well-treated catechists are actually the parish’s best recruiters—who knew? Tell people what’s expected of catechists. Treat your catechists well. And next time when looking for new volunteers, why not have happy and enthusiastic catechists invite others through their joy in serving?