Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on this month’s Just Gospel feature on Pope Francis’s December intention to pray for catechists.
December is the time for waiting, praying, celebrating and drawing to a conclusion. It is also the time for us to join with Pope Francis in praying for catechists, summoned to announce the Word of God: may they be its witnesses, with courage and creativity and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Somewhat sadly, the thesaurus offers three synonyms for catechist: lecturer, moralizer and preacher. Not finding inspiration there, we can turn to the root of the term catechist which is derived from the Greek katekhein. This translates as, “to instruct orally, to resound in someone’s ear, to teach by word of mouth”. Such an inspiring understanding sets the tone for prayer on behalf of those who join us in all the actions of this busy month.
The Book of Wisdom proclaims, “When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word.” (Wis. 18:14-15) This Word who is Jesus is not to be contained or quieted, but is to be announced particularly at this time of year. Pope Francis writes in an Advent address, “God is present in the history of humanity, He is the ‘God-with-us’, He walks beside us to support us.” Ours is a God of action, of participation. His Word leaps down from heaven, not to simply come to rest, but to continue that vibrant movement among His people. This God-who-acts is still with us today and longs to live and work and inspire and teach and preach through us and particularly through the ministry of those who are catechists in a direct way.
But what does this ministry, this calling have to do with the practice of social justice? If we take the Pope’s lead in thinking of catechists as ones who are summoned to “witness with courage and creativity in the power of the Holy Spirit”, then the ties to the practice of social justice become clearer.
In an editorial in America magazine, Rebecca Collins Jordan writes: “We’re naturally waiting these days, for vaccines and outings and reunions with family and live music and normalcy, whatever that once was. I remember when waiting felt countercultural and new, when I had to intentionally pause my life. But I don’t feel that way this year. The need for the Nativity is so clear to me this year—is it clearer for you, too?
Throughout the ages, Advent and Christmas have called people to meditate on what we all are collectively bringing to birth. What might we uncover? How do we birth a kinder, gentler, more just world this year? Advent offers a moment each year to be midwives to new visions of justice, visions revealed in the traumas of the waning year.”
Another catechist, Melanie L. Harris writes in U.S. Catholic magazine: It is time for all of us to live a new way of being with the Earth and with each other. Carrying forth an antiracist, Earth-honoring faith is to map a new way of being. Live more fully into the challenge to be justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Be light. Be justice. Stop and notice.”
Finally, as we anticipate the celebration of the Incarnation and ponder how we can personally help to catechize the world we touch, and pray for those who announce the Word to even further reaches, we may take inspiration from the poem, The Work of Christmas Begins.
When the carols have been stilled,
When the star-topped tree is taken down,
When family and friends are gone home,
When we are back to our schedules
The work of Christmas begins:
To welcome the refugee,
To heal a broken planet,
To feed the hungry,
To build bridges of trust, not walls of fear,
To share our gifts,
To seek justice and peace for all people,
To bring Christ’s light to the world.
– by Michael Dougherty, a variation on Howard Thurman’s ‘When the Song of the Angels is Stilled’
May these December days of inspiration find you pondering the thoughts of Pope Francis as well as these authors and announcing the Word of God as you can with courage and creativity!