RCIA season is in full swing, and because we have a year-round program, I am teaching multiple tracks at the same time. Someone asked me once if I ever felt burned out by the sometimes fever-pitch of the teaching pace. It seemed an odd question then as it does now. Because if one were doing the will of God, then the grace to accomplish the task is infused into the doer of the task.
And certainly, being the unexpected catechist that I am, there is a greater reliance on my part on the grace of God for me to even begin to imagine how to go from day-to-day with the mounting responsibilities.
There is the legitimate question, however, of how does one nourish one's soul so that the teaching, an act of giving, doesn't become burdensome? Pope Benedict XVI's catechesis today on St. Ambrose, a saint whom I love and admire, had this to say about Ambrose and in it had a message for all catechists:
There was always a long line of people waiting to speak to Ambrose hoping to get comfort and hope. When Ambrose was not with these people (and these were only for short periods of time), it was only because he had to eat ['restore his body with the necessary food'] or feed his soul by reading.
In this respect, Augustine expressed wonder because Ambrose read Scriptures silently, only with his eyes (cfr Confess. 6,3). Indeed, in the early centuries of Christianity, reading Scriptures was thought of strictly in terms of being proclaimed, and reading aloud facilitated understanding even for the one who was reading it.
That Ambrose could read through the pages with his eyes only indicated to Augustine not just a singular manner of reading but a familiarity with Scriptures.
So, reading 'in a whisper'- where the heart is involved and achieves a knowledge of the Word of God - is the icon I referred to, in which one can see the method of Ambrosian catechesis: it is Scriptures itself, intimately assimilated, that suggests the content of what one must announce in order to achieve conversion of hearts.
Thus, going by the magisterium of Ambrose and Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from the testimony of one's life. The catechist may also avail of what I wrote in Introduction to Christianity about theologians: He who wishes to educate others in the faith cannot risk appearing like some sort of clown, who recites his lines by rote. Rather, to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose, he should be the like the beloved disciple, who rested his head on the Master's heart and there learned how to think, speak and act.
In the end, the true disciple is he who proclaims the Gospel in the most credible and effective way.