The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in schools being shut all across the world. It is estimated that globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. Talk to any educator, they will all most likely say that nothing replaces face-to-face teaching. Even students in the past who may have dragged their feet going to school and would have preferred to stay at home, now I hear so many of them can’t wait to go back to school. Though we have had to be adaptive and transformation in these times, there is something different about interacting face-to-face – teaching and learning.
Teaching was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry and He was known for His teachings not only because of the varied methods that He used but more importantly the message that He preached. Throughout His teaching ministry, Jesus used a variety of methods that made His teachings striking and memorable, understandable and provoking., adaptive and transformative. That is why in the Gospel today (Mark 1:21-28) the crowd will remark that not only was His teaching “new” but it also came with great authority. For them to have said those words, Jesus’ teaching must have made a great impression on them.
Though the major portion of the Gospel narrative today is the casting out of an unclean spirit in the Galilean village of Capernaum, Mark presents the beginning and the end of this narrative with statements about the teaching of Jesus. Throughout his Gospel, this inspired author will present Jesus not primarily as the miracle worker but rather the great teacher. Jesus came into our world so that He could teach us the way to salvation through faith and Christian living. Unlike other teachers of His time, Jesus speaks with authority (Mk1: 21-22). The people who heard Him, admired Him possibly because Jesus didn’t just repeat what others may have said earlier but He teaches the Scriptures freely, in an original and inspiring way.
This Sunday we celebrate Catechetical Sunday in our churches – a day we are reminded not only of the Catechism classes in parishes and its teachers, but more importantly, it is the teaching ministry in the Church. The word ‘catechesis’ comes from the Greek word katekhesis, which means, ‘instruction by word of mouth’. To catechise (instruct) does not belong exclusively to a select few. In fact, it is a responsibility on every follower of Jesus. We need to reframe our thinking towards catechesis. To catechise is not solely about instruction and information, but that which gels both of this together is inspiration. One may have all the knowledge and skills, but without the ability to inspire the other, it could be counterproductive.
How did Jesus inspire others? Here are three things we could do like Jesus to inspire others to know Jesus. Firstly, Jesus valued every person. No matter who came to Him, sinner or saint, He treated them with compassion and love, never judgingly. There is no room for exclusion but always inclusion. Let us also like Jesus help each other by making the people around us feel valued, especially the ones we often take for granted. Secondly, Jesus inspired others by His actions. In fact what you do will matter far more than what you say if you wish to inspire others. Hypocrisy is a sure way of failing to catechise others. That is why Jesus was often in conflict with the religious leaders of His time. The is no doubt that we fail, we sin. But we must strive for authenticity. Thirdly, inspiration must be founded on humility and prayer or else there is a temptation it will fall into inflating one’s ego. Jesus never draws attention to Himself – the glory belongs to the Heavenly Father – the source of all goodness, compassion, kindness, and love. In short, Jesus has the message, he had the skill to deliver the message, but what left an impact was His charisma – that inspired others to God.
As we celebrate Catechetical Sunday, let us not jump to point the finger at what has not worked in the catechetical ministry of the parish or as I keep hearing that the syllabus is outdated. The primary question that needs to be addressed and certainly brought to mind today is the catechetical ministry of every baptised follower of Jesus – have I been an effective catechist and “catechised” about Jesus to others? Am I an inspiration to others? Does my community inspire other communities? We can change the instructional model or even information content, but if each of us is not inspiring each other, we will remain pietistic Catholics and not inspirational Catholics. What the world and Church need today more than ever are inspirational Catholics who are driven by a passion for the love of Christ.
31 Jan 2021 (Catechetical Sunday)