I am a Catechist. I am not God’s lawyer

Christ, King of Kings (Greece, c. 1600)

Sophia Cavalletti (1999, p. 4), writes that “a plan has always existed in the mind of God, the aim of which is to bring humankind to the full enjoyment of God”. The Christian confesses that in the fullness of time, that plan has a human face; His name is Jesus Christ. Revelation, which Dei Verbum teaches that is God’s manifestation of Himself in time through words and deeds, finds its culmination in Him (DV no.2).Christ, King of Kings (Greece, c. 1600)

As a Christian, I certainly did not invent this story. Rather, I am inserted into this story which is necessarily open and meant for all humanity. As the first sentence of Redemptor Hominis makes clear, “Jesus Christ is center of the Universe and of history” (RH no. 1). It is only in Him that “the mystery of man take on light” as “He fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (RH no. 8). I am invited to make my personal pilgrimage, to approach Him, to understand myself thoroughly “not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards.” Even in the midst of my “unrest, uncertainty weakness and sinfulness” I should approach and “appropriate and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find myself” (RH no. 10). In other words, to taste and see and testify that the Lord is really good. (Ps 34:8)

This has implications for my catechetical craft, in the area of identity and mission, i.e who the catechist really is and flowing from that, what his mission is.

I tell my students that as a catechist, I do not see my as “God’s lawyer”, i.e making the case for God’s existence/God’s goodness against those who would accuse him (whoever they may be). Neither am I “God’s debator”, making the case for God to the cheers or jeers of a public audience. Rather, I understand my role, to borrow an image from Lumen Gentium, as simply a co-pilgrim, with my own restlessness and sinfulness. I am on the same boat as my students in the common journey of life.

Nevertheless, as a co-pilgrim, I have found the Catholic path to be a path of joy and hence, I want to share this with others: on why, at least as of today and with God’s help, until the day I die, I found this path, this Catholic vision of life credible and worth taking. Such an approach de-centers the catechist and centers the lesson on the Person of Christ. It is also less intimidating and “takes the pressure” off the catechist to answer every single question students might have on the spot. Not that the catechist should not try to find out and put his heart into bettering his craft. But he knows that faith is not solely dependent on being able to “answer questions satisfactorily” and he can share from his experience why a particular question does not shake his own faith even though he might have difficulties answering it at the moment.

The Catechist’s mission then is to testify to his students why he found God’s revelation credible, especially in the person of Jesus Christ. He clears the clutter so that his students may also personally encounter Christ. Personally, there are five anchors in my faith journey and whether I share them explicitly or not, they will necessarily color my presentation of the faith.

These five pillars are, namely:
i) That it seems more historically credible to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus than alternative theories.
ii) That miracles continue to happen in recent times and even today, e.g. the incorrupt body of St Bernadette, Fatima, Lourdes etc.
iii) That the lives of the saints, e.g. Mother Teresa, Blessed Miguel Pro etc., show how a life totally devoted to Christ can be a beautiful and fulfilling one and that they too struggled with darkness and doubt.
iv) A deep personal awareness (not mystical!) which occurred to me one day in a particularly clear manner that God loves me as a Father because I am “his child” and not because of any achievement on my part and inspite of the wrong things I have done. I will always be his “son” if, in spite of the wrong things I do, I still call him Father.
v) That Colossians 1:15-20 is not mere poetry but literally true that Christ “is the firstborn of all creation… in Him all things were created… in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities… all things were created through Him and for Him… and in Him all things hold together.”

The last pillar I am now finding particularly fruitful even in my own work as a school teacher. The whole of reality has a Christocentric stamp. I can show how secular subjects find their deepest meaning in Christ, thus bridging the “secular subjects” vs “religious subjects” divide which is often implicit in my students’ minds. In my catechetical class, I can do it explicitly. In a non-Catholic school, I can do it only implicitly but the insights into the human condition offered will (and has been!) “out of the box” and of interest to my students.

Ordinary things like going for a cruise, helping a poor person, having a family meal, my job as a teacher, and more dramatic things like religious fanaticism, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the Earth which is both beautiful and destructive, take on light. Their deepest meaning can surprisingly be discerned in the light of the Person of Christ. It seems to me a type of everyday mysticism.

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Image: Christ, King of Kings (Greece, c. 1600)/PD-US

Nick Chui

Nick Chui

Nick Chui is happily married and teaches history and Religious Education in a Catholic secondary school in Singapore. He has a Masters in Theological studies from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne.

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2 thoughts on “I am a Catechist. I am not God’s lawyer”

  1. Nick Chui , well said . As a catechist in Florida I’ve developed a simular style with world history as a secondary supplement to my Christology with my students. I witness myself often : Puerto Rican from NYC , drug addict at 16 Y.O with many vices. They listen, for I’m like them in many situations in there life. They see my love and joy in Jesus always , my zeal. I always close my class prayer like this : ” Oh my GOD, I know that today nothing can happen that you and I can’t handle together.” Amen.

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