Welcome back to our online retreat, the Spirituality of the Catechist. In this week, we focus on the fifth aspect of a catechist’s spirituality: A Missionary Zeal.
If you’re just joining us, you can go back and catch up on earlier weeks at any time. You might also like to return to a previous week to share some thoughts in the comments section. This online retreat house is always open for your questions and insights.
A Missionary Zeal
As catechists 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 should develop a frantic style of teaching or employ a delivery like an infomercial pitchman. 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, as we discussed last week.
I once observed a catechist 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 two off from being a catechist. Other times it means moving to another age group that we might be more successful 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 now in July, we’re beginning to feel the stirrings of excitement about the possibilities of another year. I emphasize 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. (80)
Week Six Reflection Questions
Over the next few days, 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 catechist-retreatants.
- What do you have zeal for in your life?
- On a scale of 1–10, where 1 is running on empty and 10 is on fire, how would you rate your missionary zeal at present?
- What increases your missionary zeal? What inhibits it?
- What can you do in the days and weeks ahead to increase your missionary zeal?
- Who is someone you know who has extraordinary missionary zeal? How can you emulate him or her?
- Why do you think missionary zeal is important for catechists?
- Recall a time when your missionary zeal enabled you to overcome hardships or obstacles in teaching God’s Word.
- How can your missionary zeal inspire those you teach?
During the course of this week, practice one or more of the following spiritual exercises designed to renew your missionary zeal. 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. Put into words your understanding of the mission you’ve been entrusted with by writing your personal mission statement as a catechist. Do this in a prayerful manner. Begin by praying with Matthew’s account of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20). Then, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to a deeper understanding of the mission with which you’ve been entrusted. Compose a simple catechist’s mission statement that’s about three to five 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 three 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 Isaiah 40:28–31, and use it as your “mantra” for the day, recalling it often, repeating it silently as well as out loud, and praying for a renewed missionary zeal.
- 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. Pray the Prayer to the Holy Spirit each day this week, 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 Church of Mercy by Pope Francis
Under the Influence of Jesus by Joe Paprocki
Simple Acts of Moving Forward by Vinita Hampton Wright
Housing Heaven’s Fire by John C. Haughey, SJ
Developing Disciples of Christ by Julianne Stanz
Remember you can share your thoughts in the comments at any time. Come back on Thursday to read Patrice Spirou’s reflection on our topic of missionary zeal.
Being excited about our faith and the students that we teach will come across in our body language and our smiles and just the way we talk and share the Good News. The students will know if we are really serious about our faith or not. We have to be aware of how we are perceived by our students.
At the end of the school year, to feel my students sadness shows me they enjoyed coming to class. Their enthusiastic participation week after week gives me fervor of spirit. I know the Holy Spirit is present and touching these children. I feel these kids have grown in the faith and hopefully will come back next year! This is what keeps me coming back. It’s the end of July and I am ready for September.