Magazine article Momentum

The Bishop as Chief Catechist of the Diocese

Magazine article Momentum

The Bishop as Chief Catechist of the Diocese

Article excerpt

Being the chief catechist of the diocese means, in very clear terms, to teach as Jesus did

In June 2003, I announced my intention to convene our first diocesan synod. Formally opening in November 2005 and concluding in January 2007, the synod was a time to commemorate our silver jubilee. It had been 25 years since the Diocese of Metuchen (New Jersey) was established by Pope John Paul II. It was my hope that this first synod be a time to celebrate, to reflect upon the past and to plan for the future.

The term "synod" derives from the Greek words syn (together) and nodos (road or way). In the Catholic Church, a synod is an assembly of elected and appointed priests, deacons, religious and laity. The goal of any diocesan synod is to advise the bishop as he seeks to teach, sanctify and lead all entrusted to his care. Every synod is an historic process in the life of a diocese to affirm where we have been faithful to our mission as a Christian community and to identify areas where we can better communicate the truth and hope of the Gospel.

Truthfully, it was hard work and required the expertise and dedication of many, many people. After the close of our synod, the most difficult task was still ahead of us: putting into action the 59 norms that surfaced as a result of our prayer, listening sessions, self examination and attentiveness to the culture around us. As time goes on, I am determined that we, as a diocese, will be responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit that became clear as our diocesan synod progressed. Through our synod and the implementation that continues, we are attempting to become true disciples of Jesus Christ.

I share this story because bishops take very seriously their role as chief catechist of the diocese. The "General Directory for Catechesis" (1998) says "The Second Vatican Council gave much importance to the proclamation and transmission of the Gospel in the episcopal ministry: 'Among the principal duties of bishops, that of preaching the Gospel excels/ In carrying out this task, bishops above all are 'heralds of the faith/ seeking new disciples for Jesus, and 'authentic teachers' transmitting the faith to be professed and lived to those entrusted to their care. Missionary proclamation and catechesis are two closely united aspects of the prophetic ministry of Bishops" (222).

Catechesis is from the Greek word katechein, meaning "echo." Our mission is to "echo" the faith to all generations. This echoing is just as important to the spiritual development of clergy, religious and lay ecclesial ministers who also continue on their faith journey. By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to be evangelizers and catechists. "Whatever be the level of his responsibility in the church, every catechist must constantly endeavor to transmit by his teaching and behavior the teach- ing and life of Jesus" (Catechesi Tra- dendae 6 [CT]). In addition, I think it essential that the vocation of cat- echist be demonstrated by the chief catechist of the diocese, the bishop. Everything we do as leaders in our church evangelizes and catechizes. The way we pray, preach, teach, counsel and reach out to the margin- alized, care for the poor and hurt- ing must echo the life of Jesus. What does it mean to be the chief catechist of the diocese? In very clear terms, it means to teach as Jesus did. "St. Paul declared, 'For to me life is Christ/ Jesus Christ himself is always the first and last point of reference in catechesis because he is 'the way and the truth and the life'" (National Directory for Catechesis 19B [NDC]).

Jesus, the Master Catechist

Jesus transformed hearts and minds through personal encounter and by serving others. Personal relationships are the foundation for catechesis. For Jesus, teaching came after the relationship was established, after initial conversion, after evangelization. In the Emmaus story, Jesus' encounter and subsequent relationship with Cleopas and his companion not only made them believers in the risen Lord, but proclaimers of his resurrection. …

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