It is not often that the Sunday readings of Ordinary Time are replaced by the readings associated with particular saints, but this weekend is one such occasion. The feast that we celebrate today is in fact a Solemnity – a feast of the highest rank in the liturgical calendar. What can these two giants of our Church, Saints Peter and Paul, teach us today, even as catechetical programmes are winding down and World Cup fever is intensifying, with the sixteen best teams now engaged in ‘mortal’ combat?
One of St Paul’s well known analogies immediately comes to mind: “All the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither.” (1 Cor 9:25)
At this time, many catechists are anticipating a well-deserved rest from regular classes, but these words of St Paul remind us of the need for the “strict training” demanded by our ministry. As persons who are charged with the serious responsibility of putting people “not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ” (Catechesi Tradendae #5), it is important that we continually work at deepening/strengthening our own relationship with him, and honing our skills as ministers of the word. Throughout the year, there are many opportunities for the latter, but what about our own personal development? Are we nurturing ourselves spiritually as much as we could? Since many catechists are teachers by profession, the long vacation may be a useful time for exploring new forms of prayer, doing an online retreat, or catching up on some spiritual reading or study. Let us not forget the big picture: the “wreath” we catechists are working for is nothing less than the glorious Reign of God, and we are well advised to stay the course and to “strain ahead for what is still to come!” (3 Phil 13-14)
But many are the troubles of the catechist today! Students playing with their ‘tech toys’ during class, impatient parents (Why the programme so long?), dysfunctional families and limited resources are among some of the more common complaints. Adult catechetical programmes are sometimes no less challenging, even if for somewhat different reasons.
In the first of Peter’s two short letters he echoes Paul’s many exhortations to the faithful when he says: “. . . you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials, so that when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold . . .” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
In Chapter Five of the same letter, he continues: “You will have to suffer only for a little while: the God of all grace who called you to eternal glory in Christ will see that all is well again: he will confirm, strengthen and support you.” What encouraging words! Peter was of course writing for all believers, but we catechists can stand on these words of scripture when we feel disheartened and alone in ministry, bereft of new ideas, or just plain tired.
The work of the catechist is hard and often unrewarding, and people are not exactly lining up to join us! Yet our ministry is of vital importance to the life of the Church; indeed, the faithful have a right to be catechised. Like Peter and Paul, may we be so committed to our ministry that when our teaching days are over, it can be truthfully said of each one of us: “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)
– Bernadette Phillips, Catechetical Coordinator, Tobago, www.catechetics.rcpos.org