For some time now, I have been sharing thoughts here on Catechist’s Journey about catechists as mystagogues—people who invite and lead others into the Paschal Mystery. Recently, I came across a metaphor from Fr. Kevin O’Brien, SJ, that I believe illustrates the difference between being solely a teacher and being a mystagogue when it comes to passing along a spiritual tradition:
A wise Jesuit friend once told me that tradition should act more like a rudder than an anchor. As an anchor, tradition can immobilize us, much like an anchor keeps a boat from moving down a flowing river. Unwilling to let go of old habits and ways of thinking, we cling to the past, usually out of fear or lack of imagination. We get stuck in one place and time, or in one way of thinking. In contrast, tradition as a rudder gives us something to hold on to, but it does not immobilize us. The past with its wisdom steers us along the river of history without dictating the shore where we will land. We are at play with the freedom of the river…with all its twists and turns, certainties and surprises.
I love this metaphor of a rudder as something that “steers us along…without dictating the shore where we will land” as each of us navigates life’s adventures in our own personal and unique way. This is what we do as catechists when we embrace our role as mystagogues: we offer a rudder to help those we teach navigate through their life journey “with all its twists and turns, certainties and surprises.” To form others in faith is not simply a matter of instilling in them a set of beliefs; it is the art of teaching them to see with the heart, which means to see with a sacramental imagination that finds God in all things and in all people.
In his new book, Seeing with the Heart: A Guide to Navigating Life’s Adventures, Fr. O’Brien, author of the best-selling The Ignatian Adventure, draws from the wisdom of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises to teach us how to see with the heart so that we, as catechists, may do the same for others.