Vatican City ( AsiaNews) - Be "familiar" with Christ, imitate him going beyond oneself to reach out to others and not be afraid to go with Jesus into the peripheries of human existence. This is what it takes to be a good catechist, Pope Francis pointed out this afternoon when he received nearly 2,000 catechists from 50 countries who are in Rome for the International Congress on Catechesis. The event, which ends tomorrow, is being held in the Vatican on the theme of 'The Catechist, Witness of the Faith' and was organised as part of the Year of faith. Francis, who walked among the catechists for a long while, shook hands and exchanged short jokes.
"I too am a catechist," said the Pope, as he mentioned three "elements" for "being" a catechist, "one of the finest educational adventures," with which "the Church is built!"
"Being" a catechist, he stressed, "not 'doing' catechism, since 'being' encapsulates life. We go towards the encounter with Christ with words and life, bearing witness. 'Being' a catechist requires love, ever greater love for Christ, love for his holy people. And this love, necessarily, begins with Christ."
The pope went on to say "I like to remember that Saint Francis said, 'Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words,' before the witness of life." Putting aside his written text, he told catechists not to be "closed" in their environments, but to "go out" despite the danger of accidents on the road. In fact, " I prefer a Church that has an accident than a Church that is sick."
For him, starting afresh from Christ means "to be familiar with Him." Indeed, "The first thing, for a disciple, is to be with the Master: to listen to and learn from Him. This is always the case, and it is a way that lasts a lifetime! For me, as an example , it is very important to be in front of the Tabernacle. It is like being in the presence of the Lord, letting Him look at you. This warms the heart, keeps the fire of friendship alive, makes you feel that He is really looking at you, that He is close to you and loves you."
"I wonder how you are in the Lord's presence. Do you let the Lord look at you? He looks at us and this is a way of praying. But how? Look at the tabernacle and let yourself be looked at. It is a bit boring, and I fall asleep. Let yourself fall asleep, for He will look at you all the same."
This, the pope noted, is not easy for those, for example, who have a family. However, "there are a variety of vocations and of spiritual forms within the Church. The important thing is to find a suitable way to be with the Lord. [. . .] If God's warmth, his love, [and] his tenderness are not in our hearts, how can we, poor sinners, warm the hearts of others?"
The second element is "starting afresh from Christ" which "means imitating him in going beyond oneself to reach out to others. [. . .] The more you become united with Jesus, [the more] He becomes the centre of your life, and makes you go beyond yourself. With him, you open up to others and are no longer the centre of yourself. This is love's real energy; this is the movement of God himself. God is the centre, but he is always the gift of self, relationship, life that is communicated . . . This is how we become as well, if we remain united to Christ. He makes us enter into the dynamics of love. Where there is true life in Christ, there is openness to others, there is going beyond oneself to reach out to others in the name of Christ. "
"This is how it is. Love attracts you and sends you, it takes you and gives you to others. The hearts of all Christians moves in this tension, especially the heart of the catechist." [. . .] "This is the work of the catechist: continuously going beyond himself to bear witness to the lord, [and] talk about the Lord."
The third element is also "starting afresh from Christ", which means "not being afraid to go with him in the peripheries, [. . .] not being afraid of leaving our mind-sets to follow God, because God always goes beyond. God is not afraid of the peripheries. God is always faithful; he is creative; he is not closed, and for this reason, he is never rigid. He welcomes us, comes to us, [and] understands us. To be faithful, to be creative, you have to know how to change. To stay with God, you must be able to go out, not be afraid to go out. If a catechist surrenders to fear, he is a coward. If a catechist stays quiet, he ends up being a statue for a museum; if a catechist is rigid, he becomes shrivelled and sterile."
"When we Christians are closed in our groups, movements, [or] parish, what happens to us is what happens in a closed room. It starts to smell of dampness. And if a person stays in that room, he gets sick. But if we come out, what happens to those who go on road can also happen: an accident can happen. But I say I prefer a thousand times a Church that has an accident than a Church that is sick."
"Watch out! Jesus does not say: 'Go, do the best you can!' No. Jesus says: '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, true apostolic spirit, with parrhesia, He walks with us, preceding us."
"And for us, this is crucial. God always goes before us! When we think about going afar, to a distant slum, having perhaps a little bit of fear, in reality He is already there. Jesus awaits us in the heart of that brother, in his wounded flesh, in his oppressed life, in his faithless soul. Jesus is there, in that brother. He always goes before us."