‘If You Are Reading This, Thank Your Catechist’

What they do is simply and sincerely in obedience to the Lord’s last mandate: “Go, teach…!”

They are the nearly 10,000 catechists who follow the final command of Jesus by teaching faith in Him through His Church to our over 100,000 children and young people enrolled in our religious education programs throughout the archdiocese.

During the summer a brother-bishop from Africa was visiting. Over a cup of coffee, he remarked, “We couldn’t do it in Africa without our catechists. They teach our children, lead prayer, prepare our youngsters for the sacraments of penance, first holy Communion and confirmation, get parents ready for the christening of their baby, make sure our couples wanting to get married understand the awe and duties of the sacrament of matrimony, and, perhaps most importantly, model to the village what it means to be a faithful, joyful Catholic.

“For us,” my brother-bishop from Africa concluded, “the vocation of a catechist is one of the highest in the Church.”

Catechists of this archdiocese—hear me say the same thing about you!

You have seen the bumper sticker, “If you can read this, thank your teacher.”

If there are cars in heaven, the bumper sticker will read, “If you are reading this, thank your catechist.”

Bad news from the studies is that people are less than excited about “religion.” Good news is that they are eager for meaning, purpose, “spirituality” and belief.

Our catechists connect the dots: meaning, purpose, spirituality and belief are found in Jesus and His Church.

They have their work cut out for them:

At best, they have 90 minutes on one day each week for 30 weeks a year;

These devoted catechists all have other full-time commitments;

A good number of our kids in religious education would rather be home playing;

And we compete with soccer practice, shopping, piano lessons, and a TV and technological culture that considers religion hardly as important as a new pair of fashion-conscious, expensive shoes.

But our catechists keep at it… and the Church cannot do without them.

Here is the recipe, as we know from experience, for effective religious education:

A committed parish priest with a full-time, professional, paid director/coordinator of religious education;

Enthusiastic catechists who have been properly trained and formed;

Strong parental investment, with Mom and Dad committed to Sunday Mass attendance, family catechesis and the consistent attendance of their child at class;

A content-based catechesis where the children integrate the fundamentals of our Catholic faith, and see it and celebrate it in the Church through prayer, the sacraments and lives of virtue.

Right now, our entire country is engaged in a national conversation about the woes of our system of education.

It should not surprise us that we Catholics are realistically aware of the woes of our religious education programs.

Yes, I have concerns about the depth of our catechesis in our Catholic schools and our religious education programs.

I’m even more worried about the large number of our kids who attend neither!

But the Church has been slugging away at this sacred mission since Jesus gave us our walking orders right before He returned home to His Father.

A couple of years ago, I was visiting the “hot unit”—critically ill—of a pediatric hospital.

As I was leaving, I saw a man in the corner shadows of the waiting room. He looked up and caught my eye. “Father, I’ve got a Ph.D. from Yale; I’ve got more money than I know what to do with. But right now, the only thing that’s keeping me going is the Our Father, the Hail Mary and Psalm 23, all learned in the CCD at St. Alphonsus parish 30 years ago. Could you come and say those prayers with me next to the bed of my little girl on chemo?”

He’ll tell you the value of religious education.

“Jesus asked, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet suffer the loss of his soul?’”

That’s the sacred enterprise of our catechists—they’re preparing our kids not just for happiness and meaning in this life, but for eternity.

So, the stakes are high.