The church needs good catechists, who love Christ, live out the Gospel in their lives and courageously go to the margins of society to share the gift of faith with others, Pope Francis told catechists from around the world on Friday.
“Let us follow him, imitate him in his dynamic of love, of going to others, and let’s go out, open the doors, have the audacity to strike out new paths to proclaim the Gospel,” he said in a talk that was both improvised and drawn from a text.
Seated behind a large wooden desk facing his audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall, the Pope joked that he was going to make just three points, “like the old-time Jesuits used to do: one, two, three,” he said to laughter.
Many in the audience hall took notes, closely following the pope’s words. Hundreds of catechists were in Rome for a three-day international congress hosted by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
The Pope thanked them for their service to the church and said being a catechist isn’t a job or a title, it’s a vocation, an approach to life.
It starts first with being with God, getting to know him and conforming one’s life to the Gospel — a task that lasts a lifetime, he said.
Being close to God means praying to him, talking with him and letting him “watch over you,” he said, which “warms the heart and keeps the fire of friendship with the Lord alive.”
Not everyone, especially busy mothers and fathers, can spend a lot of quiet time in prayer before the tabernacle, where Christ is truly present, he said.
But everyone can find some way to be and stay with Jesus because, if not, “if there isn’t the warmth of God, his love, his tenderness in our heart, how can we — poor sinners — warm the hearts of others?”
The second thing catechists need to do, he said, is imitate Christ by going outside of themselves and be there for others.
Receiving the gift of faith and having Christ at the center of one’s life, “pushes us out,” compels Christians to go outside their ego and reach out “to others in Christ’s name.”
This dynamic of receiving and then giving is like the diastolic and systolic pressures at work in the bloodstream, he said. Without both of these forces at work, the catechist’s “heart stops beating, he cannot live.”
But this gift of faith must be total, 100 percent: “You don’t take a cut for yourself,” he said, “This is not a bargain.”
The third thing to do is to not be afraid of striking out into the unknown, like Jonah was when God told him to preach to the pagans in Nineveh.
Jonah’s fear, the pope said, was because “he was rigid” and thought he had the truth staying right where he was.
But “God is not afraid of the outskirts,” he said, and “is always beyond our mindsets.”
“God is creative, he’s not narrow-minded, and for this he is never rigid,” the pope said. God “welcomes us, comes to us and understands us.”
While the Gospel does not change, catechists need to be creative and know how to change themselves, adapting themselves to the people and circumstances they encounter.
“To stay with God it’s necessary to know how to go out, to not be afraid of going out” into the world, he said.
“If catechists let themselves be taken over by fear, they’re wimps, and if catechists are laid back they end up being a statue in a museum, and we have plenty of them, right?”
When a room is closed up tight, the air gets stuffy and the people inside get sick, he said. A similar sickness occurs when Christians are closed up within themselves, their group, their parish or their studies, he said.
But Jesus did not say, “Go and make do,” he said, “Go, I am with you.”
“This is our beauty and our strength: If we go, if we go out to bring his Gospel with love, with real apostolic spirit, with (confidence), he walks with us, goes before us.”
Even though it may seem too far away “and perhaps we are a little hesitant, in reality, he is already there. Jesus is waiting for us in the heart of that brother, in his wounded flesh, in his oppressed life, in his soul that lacks faith.”