By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

Catechists serve as directional signs for people who are on the spiritual road seeking heaven, according to clergy, catechetical leaders and professors of theology in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

The celebration of Catechetical Sunday, which was Sept. 15 and themed “Stay with Us,” was a time to reflect on each person’s role, by virtue of baptism, to hand on the faith and be a witness to the Gospel, according to Dina Dow, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

Dow noted the word catechesis is rooted in the Greek word for “echo.”

“As catechists we’re echoing back, proclaiming what has been handed down to us from the apostles that was given to them through Jesus Christ,” she said.

The beginnings of a call to become a certified catechist begins simply and grows, through the family  which Dow emphasized are the first teachers of faith  parish faith formation programs and online and social media supporting church teachings.

Once people grow in their knowledge and love of God, they develop a “missionary heart” to proclaim the Gospel outside of the home setting, said Dow.

The first step to knowing the specific way one is called to catechize is to pray about it, she said.

“Even before we are called into the role of catechist we are called to get on our knees in humble prayer and God will catechize us,” said Dow.

Those wishing to train and become certified catechists and coordinators of religious educators in the parishes and Catholic schools, or to simply to enrich their faith, can do so through programs offered by the diocese and at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Baton Rouge.

“Some people are called to go to the next level.  That’s where the Diocese of Baton Rouge supports the process of growing and becoming a certified catechist,” said Dow. “There are basic and intermediate level (Ministry and Theology or MAT) courses, so they can become a more knowledgeable and faithful witness of the word of God.”

The MAT courses are written in house by people with master’s and doctorate degrees in theology and taught by people with a master’s in theology, according to Dow. They are offered all year throughout the diocese onsite as well as online.   

Additionally, FranU offers a certificate in Catholic theology and catechesis and undergraduate theology degree, according to Dr. David Whidden, professor of theology.

Whidden said he learned as people explore the intellectual component of their faith, they grow in their love for God and neighbor.

“Their instruction has a spiritual impact on their relationship with God and how they minister in their parish and in their lives,” Whidden said.

Exploring the overall question of “Why do we need catechesis and catechists?” Father Paul Yi, pastor of St. George Church in Baton Rouge, referred to an encounter between St. Jean Vianney and a boy who helped St. Jean find his new parish in the village of Ars, France.

According to Father Yi, who is also chancellor for the diocese, St. Jean said, “Young man you have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to heaven.”

“These days you don’t have to stop a person to ask for directions when you’re lost,” Father Yi said. “Turn on Google Maps, and it gives you turn-by-turn directions. As the acquisition and accessibility of data accelerate, however, the road to heaven seems more distant and irrelevant than ever.”

Father Yi said the mysteries of heaven can only be known by the revelation of Christ, and through PSR and the study of Scriptures, theology and lives of the saints people can grasp “what empirical science cannot fathom.”

Many diocesan priests and seminarians have engineering backgrounds, Father Yi said.

“Perhaps these former engineers have come to appreciate that God created a very complex, orderly, systematic universe that in someway is knowable yet the true depth of its complexity and creativity can be known only by the love of Christ. It is love of God that redeemed this universe. All of us are in a state of ‘already but not yet.’ We need religious education in all seasons of our lives, not just when we’re kids. We need someone to show us the way of heaven,” Father Yi said.

To find out more about MAT classes and certification requirements, visit evangcatbr.org.

For more information about the certificate in Catholic theology and catechesis certificate and theology degree requirements, look under the Academics tab at franu.edu.