I can hardly remember a time when I was not a catechist! It all began when I offered to assist with the Confirmation class in our parish many years ago. As a teacher at one of our secondary schools here in Tobago, I knew many of the youngsters in the programme and I thought that I could help. I could not know that just a few months after my apprenticeship began, the nun in charge would be suddenly relocated and I would be left to “hold on”. That was sometime in 1983. I have been “holding on” ever since!
During those early years I was on a steep learning curve. I had very few resources and I discovered that people were not exactly lining up to teach Confirmation class! So I solicited the help of a few of my friends and together we tried to make it work. I am particularly grateful to two of them (Thanks, Pat and Mervyn!) who were part of the team for several years. Of course we made many mistakes but we were not short on energy and enthusiasm! Together we planned lessons, organised retreats and tried to share our love for the faith as best as we could. I tried to avail myself of any training programmes that were being offered in the archdiocese, and over the years I participated in many. Some of them I will never forget!
I have grown a lot as a Catholic Christian because of my involvement in the ministry of catechetics and I truly thank God for the experience, but as you may guess, the journey has been full of challenges! There have been times when I have wondered if I was making any impact on the lives of the young people, and yes, there have also been times when I have felt so burdened that I have been tempted to give up. I feel sad sometimes when I look around our church on a weekend – there is a noticeable absence of 18-30 year olds, and I agonise – where did we go wrong? But I have discovered that effective catechesis does not occur in a vacuum. Parents and the parish community must play a very active role. And all members of the community must be seriously committed to lifelong faith formation, because growing in faith is the work of a lifetime. I intercede often for the many young people I have been privileged to teach. I carry them in my heart all the time, and I grieve for those who have drifted away and are wandering far from home. “God does not ask us to be successful. God asks us to be faithful.” These words of Mother Teresa give me encouragement on those days when the going is tough.
You may think that after almost 30 years as a Confirmation catechist I should be an expert. I certainly don’t feel like one! Every group presents different challenges and I have learnt that no matter how thoroughly I prepare for my class, the work of changing hearts ultimately belongs to the Holy Spirit. And it is a lesson I have to relearn with every new group! Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of being a catechist. To walk in faith and not by sight . . . To trust God to take care of his own . . . To acknowledge with Archbishop Romero that “we are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.” And to plant the seeds and leave them to grow . . . Dat ain’t easy! But ah holding on! – Bernadette Phillips, Tobago