“Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46).

We have come a very long way in the two millennia since the Church was formed. It seems that the further we moved from the simple witness of a disciple to programmed catechetical gatherings, the more difficult it has become to evangelize. 

Every year at this time desperate coordinators of our Religious Education programs search for people who can serve as catechists, and resort to the “any warm body will do” solution. This has become a crisis in some parishes to the extent that they have opted to do away with an organized program in favor of giving the parents the responsibility to teach the faith at home. 

Somewhere through the centuries since Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus and the Apostles set up communities of the faithful an important element of evangelization has been lost.

Faith is not taught, but witnessed. Catechesis has become tantamount to meting out doctrine, not the echoing of faith that the term conveys. Every pope of the second millennium has been exhorting us to focus on evangelization at every chance we get. 

Pope St. John Paul II stated in Catechesi Tradendae that “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” 

Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” 

Pope Francis has exhorted us to begin with the simple proclamation that Jesus loves us and died for our sins, but lives with us today because of the Resurrection. If we think this is going to be conveyed to this generation by handing a book to someone and ask them to “teach religion,” then we will have the results that have plagued us for decades. 

St. Oscar Romero made this clear in a homily he delivered a few years before his martyrdom. “Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed, rules to be followed or prohibitions. Seen that way, it puts us off. Christianity is a person who loved me immensely, who demands and asks for my love. Christianity is Christ.” 

Note the use of the words “me” and “my.” Christianity is not something that happens to someone else, it is my story and yours.

The challenge for us is not having enough catechists, but finding people who are willing to witness their faith. We need to raise up a cadre of mentors who will journey with us as we grow in faith. 

When the young adults gathered for the Synod on Youth in 2018 they complained that there were not enough adult mentors to help guide them on their Spiritual journey. The use of the term “mentor” was interesting, since they intentionally left out words like catechist or teacher. Their insight into the characteristics of such role models is helpful as we look for people who will serve the role. 

The youth want people who are faithful Christians who engage with the Church and the world. Mentors are people “who constantly seek holiness; someone who is a confidant without judging.” This desire to be heard without being judged came out loud and strong. Many felt that they were not given the freedom to travel their Spiritual journey because too many adults expected a standard of perfection that was difficult to achieve. 

The youth asked for mentors who “acknowledge their own humanity,” recognizing that they are human beings who make mistakes: “not perfect people but forgiven sinners.” 

We all know people who are natural evangelizers. These are the people who exhibit joy and unabashedly offer to pray for us when we are in need. They are the faithful parents who make sure their kids’ friends are taken care of. They are the friends who arrange to drive the sick to doctor appointments and chemotherapy. They are the visitors to the sick, the cooks at the feasts and volunteers in the shelters. They may not have the time or talent to teach a group of children from a religion curriculum, but they might be willing to give a witness talk. 

We may need to restructure our Faith Formation programs so that they are less “schools of religion” and more like support groups. They can be inter-generational or age-appropriate, but all people in the parish need to hear the Good News as witnessed by you. 

As St. Peter tells us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you a reason for your hope.” 

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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