Recently, I was talking with an administrator of a Catholic high school who was telling me what a difficult time they were having finding a qualified teacher for the their Religion Department. We, as a Church, are not doing a very good job of encouraging vocations—not only to priesthood and religious life, but also to pastoral ministry in general. There is no clear career path for someone to end up as a catechetical leader or religion teacher; many tend to “fall into” these positions (or, as one friend describes it, we get “sucked in!”). What too often happens, however, when parishes and schools are looking for quality pastoral ministers and religion teachers, is that they end up with less-than-ideal-candidates.
So what can we catechists be doing to correct this? We can and should be encouraging young people—beginning with our young catechist aides—to consider pursuing pastoral ministry as their vocation. Catechist aides are generally young people who have felt a stirring of faith in their hearts and are seeking to explore further. Yes, they may be doing it to “get service hours” for high school Confirmation, however, there are a number of ways to get those hours. To select a catechetical setting indicates that the young person has a comfort level in that venue, which is a good place to start when discerning one’s calling.
This means that we should think of our catechist aides as apprentices, not just as “gophers” who handle menial tasks such as taking attendance and distributing pens and pencils. In every lesson, aides should be invited to lead a portion of the class and to chime in with their insights and experiences. They should be invited to lead prayer and to lead discussion after watching a DVD. They should be invited to work. We should give them good reading materials to enrich their faith lives and deepen their spirituality. We should encourage them to go on retreats and attend workshops (with their parents’ permission, of course) and other faith-enrichment experiences suitable for young people.
Back in the day, the religious women who did most of the teaching in Catholic schools and religious education programs were very proactive in identifying and encouraging potential vocations in ministry. Now, that responsibility falls to us. Let’s begin apprenticing young people in pastoral ministry so that, when the time comes, they’ll be ready to step up and take our places in a long line of people who are privileged to work in this splendid ministry!
Called by Name focuses on what catechetical leaders need to be, as opposed to what they need to know or do, if they are to lead effectively.