The Church has called on catechists to “enlist witnesses for Jesus.” As the first catechists of their children, what does this call mean for parents?
by Cindy Coleman
Although Catechetical Sunday has passed, the reminder still endures that by virtue of our baptism we are all called to share the faith and be a witness to the Gospel. Nowhere is this role is most clearly seen than in parents, who the Church calls the first and best teachers of the faith.
Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus
When I read the theme for this year’s Catechetical Sunday, “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus,” I thought, “Say what? Enlist? Am I joining the Marines? Witnesses? Who is on trial?”
Ok, so I am kidding (a bit). But let’s unpack these two simple words — and how they apply to me (as a catechist) and you (as a parent).
It took me several years to realize that I was called to be a “catechist” and not a “teacher.” Did you notice that subtle difference in language? As a catechist I am introducing children to Jesus, not just teaching a subject. I am doing much more than just transmitting information to be learned.
Looking at the official page for Catechetical Sunday gives insight into this year’s theme. It is in response to the current situation of the Catholic Church in the U.S., even before the devastation of our “summer of scandal” that has caused more to question their trust in the Church.
The Church is losing baptized Catholics at a shocking rate, and many of these now identify as “nones,” a term used for people with no religious affiliation. Those who self-identify as atheists or agnostics (“nones”) now make up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population. The yearly number of baptisms, Church weddings and weekly Mass attendance are continuing to shrink alarmingly.
I am sure you have friends or family that are parents of adult children who are “saddened to report that their children are leaving the Church after preparing for and celebrating initiation sacraments, and after years of Catholic School or parish religion classes.”
This year’s Catechetical Sunday theme is in response to these realities.
Enroll for Service
Not only catechists in formal settings but all baptized Catholics, especially parents, are called to enlist as witnesses for Jesus. Enlist means to enroll for service. Most of us did not have a firm grasp of the scope of service we enlisted for when we signed up to be parents. Maybe we had a good idea about parenting a baby, toddler or young child — but teenagers and adult children. Did I sign up for that? But in enlisting, it was a responsibility that we took on freely of our own accord.
In some sense the word enlist did strike me as peculiar in this theme. But then I had my ah-ha moment. We are called to enlist in God’s army here on earth as a source of good. When we enlisted as parents we signed on to raise our children not only for success in this earthly life, but to gain an eternal place in heaven with Jesus Christ. This is what we promised at their baptism.
Declare the Truth
A witness is someone who provides personal testimony. A witness speaks what they believe, what they know to be true. A witness is not just relaying factual information; a witness is transmitting their own declaration of the truth. As witnesses for Jesus Christ we are called to be witnesses not only with our word, but with our very lives.
Both words and actions matter.
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”Pope Paul VI (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)
Ways to Enlist as a Witness for Jesus with Your Family
Now that we have unpacked this beautiful theme, here are ways to embark on the call to be catechists at home with your families.
- Teach your child the words to formal prayers and pray with them as a family and have them see you pray.
- Tell your child about the beauty and power of the Eucharist, but also go to Mass as a family every Sunday.
- Help them practice how to go to confession as they prepare for their first penance, and let them see that you celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.
- Practice with your child as they memorize the Ten Commandments.
- Show them how in your everyday life your actions demonstrate love of God and love of neighbor through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Lord Jesus, help me to be a witness for you with my life. Let my words and my deeds speak of your beauty, truth and goodness. You are my Savior, let all I say and do glorify You. Amen.