The Catechetical Joyful Mysteries
Quite often the stresses, problems, and pressures of our work as religious educators and catechists can be such as to deaden us somewhat to the true joys and glories of our sublime ministry. The real meaning and purpose of what we are engaged in can all too easily sink beneath a mountain of lesson plans, evaluations, timetables and the like. From time to time, however, we realise that we need to rise above the immediate demands and deadlines of our work in order to try and recapture something of the vision and spark of what it is really all about. One manageable, gentle, and effect-ive way of doing this is by adapting the Five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary to our lives as catechists and religious educators. Each of the following reflections on the various mysteries will begin with the situation of Mary and then move on to our own. Hopefully, when praying the Rosary with our work in mind, the effect of this exercise will be to inspire, encourage and challenge us anew.
1. The Call
Mary was conscious of her call from God. After receiving the clar-ification she had sought from the angel she surrendered fully to the divine will for her. People become catechists and religious educators for a variety of reasons. For some, the call from God can come in a mysterious and mystical manner as in the case of Mary. For most of us, however, the circumstances of our calling to this ministry of the word can be much more mundane. Whatever the circumstances of our calling, however ordinary or extraordinary, some constants always remain. First of all, the call to be a religious educator comes from God. The ministry of teaching and the mandate to hand on the faith goes all the way back to Jesus himself. Secondly, as with every call of Christ, there is a promise attached, in this instance, ‘I will be with you’. Mary was assured the Lord was with her. Such promises are a welcome consolation especially when things are not going so well but they also a challenge to us to strive to reach higher and higher. Like Jeremiah we can ferret about for an excuse to try and avoid acceptance of the divine call or, alternatively, we can utter our own personal ‘Fiat !’, like Mary, and respond generously to whatever it is the Lord wants of us.
2. The Other
It is said that when God takes up residence in a heart He does not remain there idle. One notable feature of call events in the gospels is that of ‘immediacy’ of response. No sooner had Mary heard of Elizabeth’s condition of expectancy than she was off to visit and assist her. The true religious educator is ever and always an other-oriented person and like Mary endeavours to be a ‘Good Samaritan’ to those in need of catechetical ministrations. The difficulties and traumas which come our way from time to time in the exercise of this ministry often can be overcome only if there resides deep in the heart a genuine love for those we are catechizing.
John Powell in his book, He Touched Me, tells the story of an entertainer who, before taking the stage for her act, would stand in the wings and face towards the audience saying over and over, without their hearing her, of course, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you!’. St. Paul, in his dealings with the Elders at Ephesus, exemplified this othermindedness to no small degree as is illustrated in his own words to the Ephesians, ‘For three years I never failed to counsel you, shedding tears over each one of you’ (Acts 20:31).
3. The Birth
‘This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was. . . found to be with child by the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 1:18). The third joyful mystery rejoices in the birth of Jesus – a work of partnership between Mary and the Holy Spirit. Bringing Jesus to birth is what religious education is ultimately about. All subsequent ‘spiritual birthings’ of Jesus are also a work of partnership with the same Holy Spirit. Catechetically speaking, two birthings need to come to fruition.
First of all there is the coming to birth of Jesus within the heart of the catechist. A vibrant personal relationship with the Lord is a given for the religious educator. This is both a prelude to and a pre-requisite for the ongoing catechetical ‘birthing’ of Jesus in the minds, hearts and lives of those for whom we are responsible. Again it is Paul who puts the point eloquently: ‘I am in labour pain until Christ is born in you’ (Gal 4:19). Such religious bringing to birth of Christ in others in our day can also involve the shedding of no small amount of sweat, tears and blood!
4. The Presentation
Mary presented Jesus in the Temple to God (Lk 2:22). The heavenly Father presented Jesus his Son to a waiting world at the River Jordan
(Mt 3:17). Finally, the parent, catechist or religion teacher presents Jesus in the home or classroom. In a certain sense the religion classroom or Sunday schoolroom is the catechist’s ‘temple’ of sorts. It is a holy place, a place where prayers are said, religious truths are imparted, human and divine relationships are deepened, and where, above all, the story of divine goodness is told. It is here that the teacher lives out the words of Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper discourse, ‘I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full’ (Jn 15:11). And it is here, in this ‘temple’, this ‘womb’, that the religion teacher comes to merit the consoling promise found in the Book of Daniel which announces that ‘those who instruct many in the ways of virtue will shine as stars for all eternity’ (Dan 12:3).
5. The Finding
For the catechist the most significant aspect of this mystery is the context in which the parents of Jesus found him. He was sitting among the doctors of the Law in a setting that was clearly one of learning and teaching with questions being asked and opinions being offered. In this scene we get a glimpse or foretaste of the later ministry of Jesus as teacher. As a teacher, he had but with thing in mind, namely, that his disciples would come to know God and that this knowledge would be for them a source of joy and new life. Indeed, it was the sharing of such knowledge of who God was which established the bonds of friendship between them, ‘I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father’ (Jn 15:15). The criterion of friendship was this sharing of the understanding of divine goodness.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who lived in the fourth century, once said that ‘teaching is food even for the one who teaches’. Every teacher knows this. The faith-filled religion teacher is one who is enriched spiritually through engaging in the ministry of sharing catechetically. By occasionally praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in this fashion we can be re-rooted again and again until eventually we come to hear the final welcoming words of Christ whose love ever impels us, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world – for anyone who welcomes a child in my name welcomes me and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me’. (see Matthew 25:34 and Luke 9:48).
Raymond Topley lectures in Religious Education and Liturgy at St. Patrick’s College of Education, Dublin.