In this time of turmoil, I wonder what attracts people to the Church.  And for all our good works and carefully prepared liturgies, it still comes down to one thing — the person of ¬≠Jesus Christ.  

This week we give thanks for those who share His story: our catechists and our teachers. 

I believe faith develops differently in a person’s mind then when I was growing up.

For me, there was no separation of Christ and the Church. And while many of my friends did not attend Church, it was only the wild-eyed and, I thought, purposefully obtuse people who would deny God. It is not that unbelief was an option I rejected; it was impossible for me to fathom. And ultimately, I am grateful for that sturdy and ardent faith in God which, of course, matured, was challenged, but has only grown stronger.

Some families and some places might be like that to this day, but it is not the sense I get from my parish. People in my parish are challenged by unbelief all the time. I was confident that my beliefs were held by a vast majority of those I knew and my faithfulness, although perhaps not emulated by all, was respected. Now nothing is taken for granted and practicing our faith is popularly challenged.

People today will have to make a decision about Jesus; whether He matters or not, whether He is Lord or not.  And our catechists, both for children, youth and adults, are the critical interface with Christ. And this indeed is our greatest hope for the good news of Jesus Christ is all we have to rely upon. We trust in it because ultimately we know that humans were meant and even built to receive this good word and to thrive with it. 

Therefore, the catechist is not just a teacher but a witness. All Christians are called not just to tell the story of Christ, but to be Christ. Pope Paul VI caught the modern thought well when he said in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses more than teachers, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

A catechist is a Christian who shares a living faith in the Lord. It is a faith grounded in the Church and supplemented by materials that help to explain it. But no lesson plan, no textbook can replace the joy of a believer, the smile as they unveil another truth of Christ or the energy and passion their faith supplies. The catechist’s doorway is an invitation to fall in love with Jesus Christ; to desire to follow Him.

As Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger reminds us, we are rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus.  We do not put faith in a “religion” but in a person. Then our Catholicism unfolds the story and draws us closer to the Lord. But I think before anyone makes a decision about the Church, they will first make a decision about Jesus Christ and there we must be laser-focused.

When others are seeking the truth about our Church in this time of turmoil, when they strain to see the light that comes forth, we have one place to point, one person from which the light emanates:  This year, let us lift the name of Jesus on high!

Rev. Robert Longobucco is Vicar General, collaborating with Rev. David LeFort, also Vicar General, to provide expanded support for parishes; Vicar for Catholic Faith Formation and Education and pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, Schenectady.