What would you say if I told you that none of us are actually catechists or teachers? That’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
In catechesis … “It is Christ alone who teaches — anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips.” (427)
The Catechism goes on to say that whoever is called “to teach Christ” must first know Christ. That might seem obvious at first, but challenge yourself to think more deeply about what this means. As catechists, we are not striving to know about Jesus. We strive to know the person of Jesus, intimately, sharing in both his sufferings and in the power of the resurrection.
Think of a loved one in your life and how you feel when they suffer. Think how you feel when they are joyful. That’s what enables you to know your loved one, intimately. That’s how we must know Jesus if we are going to teach Jesus.
The absence of Christ
We have a difficulty however. Our loved ones are physically, bodily present to us. And, in that sense, Jesus is absent to us. We experience the same absence that Mary and the disciples felt at the tomb on Easter morning. The physical body of the Jesus is no longer there. So how then can we know Jesus intimately if there is no body?
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus gives us the answer. The two disciples also experienced Jesus’s absence. And then their experience of Jesus’s intimate presence was restored in the breaking of the bread. We experience the full presence of Jesus sacramentally.
How do catechumens come to know Jesus?
Knowing that Jesus is present to us sacramentally presents another challenge that is specific to RCIA catechists. The catechumens cannot yet participate in the sacraments. So how can they come to know Jesus the way we know Jesus?
The teaching of the Second Vatican Council helps us here. We, the church, are a sacrament (see Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1; also Catechism of the Catholic Church, 774). As church, we are the bodily presence of God in Christ, strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The church is not just a religious organization. We are the embodiment of Jesus.
To teach Jesus, be Jesus
As church, we are called to be the visible sign of the invisible presence of Jesus in the world. Therefore, the way to teach Jesus to the catechumens is to be Jesus. The more clearly we embody Jesus, the more clearly Jesus is the teacher and we are the instruments of Jesus’s teaching.
It won’t take more than a minute’s reflection on that truth to realize that we don’t very clearly embody Jesus when we try to teach with lectures and PowerPoint presentations. We embody Jesus when we do what Jesus did.
Ten ways to teach Jesus
Here is a brief list of ways we, as church, embody Jesus for and with the catechumens:
- Gather to pray, especially on the Lord’s Day
- Listen to God’s word, especially in the liturgy
- Living like Jesus in our families, especially by saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”
- Accept loving correction and guidance from our fellow Christians
- Join our sorrows to the suffering of Christ
- Find joy in the power of the resurrection
- Embrace the poor and those who are different from us (encuentro)
- Seek solitude to pray
- Thank God for all our blessings
- Boldly share the good news of salvation with those most in need
If, through our example, we teach these ways of being church to the catechumens, Jesus, alone, will truly be the teacher.
How do you teach?
What ways does your parish embody Jesus? How does your RCIA team teach by example?