The month of September always fills me with anticipation, promise and energy brought on by the opportunity to begin again. There is also a slight sadness to see the tempo of summer give way to the pace of autumn, with its crowded calendar, schedules and commitments.

As families organize for school beginnings, parish catechetical and youth ministry leaders, Catholic school teachers and administrators and diocesan staff prepare for a new catechetical year.

Traditionally, parishes, schools and dioceses plan the catechetical year under the annual theme selected by the U.S. Catholic bishops and celebrate this beginning on the third Sunday of September, which is designated as Catechetical Sunday.

This year's theme is, "Catechists and teachers as agents of the new evangelization." On the weekend of Sept. 15-16, dioceses, parishes and schools across the country will announce and celebrate this theme in homilies, prayers, and blessings.

I found the choice of the word "agents" unusual, as it is not an ecclesial or "churchy" word. It initially seems to conjure up images of a secret agent, not a minister of the Church.

Webster's Dictionary takes the word to a different level. An agent, it says, is "one who acts," is an "instrument" or can be a "person acting for another." My college (and therefore very old) dictionary offers, "one who performs something that will produce a certain effect."

I began to see the word "agent" in a new light.

Several words in this year's Catechetical Sunday theme need definition and discussion. "Catechist" is a familiar term to families with children and young people in parish catechetical programs; we also meet adult catechists in marriage and baptism preparation programs, Scripture study and reflection groups, and adult formation experiences.

The word "catechist" comes from the original Greek word meaning to "echo or proclaim." Catechists "echo" the Word of God in this new place and time. We accept this responsibility as a vocation and prepare for it through formation programs, prayer and the Eucharist, and the guidance and mentoring of the Church.

The pope, our bishops, pastors, diocesan and parish leaders, parish catechetical and youth ministry leaders, parish and Catholic school women and men of all ages all share this rich and awesome title. We minister to adults and youth by:

•  teaching the doctrines and traditions of our faith;

•  preparing children, parents and adults for sacraments;

•  sharing the rich prayer life and liturgy of our Church;

•  inviting all to become active members of our faith communities; and

•  leading those we teach to live out their everyday lives in love and service to others.

The word "teacher" in the Catechetical Sunday theme is an intentional reference to those called in our schools, colleges and universities to instruct, to share knowledge, to guide and mentor the rich traditions of our Catholic faith. "Teacher" has a more inclusive and deeper meaning as it includes parents, family members, coaches and youth leaders, and people from all walks of civic life who teach by words and witness.

We are all called to be agents of God's Word, of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and instruments of healing, justice and compassion.

My college dictionary defined "agent" as a "person who acts for the other" - and the "other" we are placed on earth to act for is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The task or mission of the agent is to embrace, teach and witness to the "new evangelization." Evangelization has been the mission of the Church since Jesus commissioned us to "go and teach" as He prepared to ascend to His Father.

This 2,000-year-old mission has risen to a new prominence and urgency in our world today. Most of us grew up believing that this mission was for others, but not ourselves - for those who through ordination or profession to religious life were sent to far-away places to instruct, baptize and initiate others into the Catholic Church. We prayed for these evangelizers and supported them with our resources, but did not see ourselves called to this mission.

Beginning with Pope Paul VI in 1972, each Holy Father has called us all to embrace the mission of bringing the Gospel and person of Jesus Christ to the world. We have begun to understand the urgency as we see that those in our own families and communities have grown distant from the faith.

We see our parishes merge or close as communities diminish and the numbers of our priests and parish leaders decrease. Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI have proclaimed that it is time for a "new evangelization" - one that is directed to our own faith communities.

We are called to embrace our faith with a new enthusiasm and ardor, to be formed in our faith as adults, to enrich our spiritual lives with the Eucharist and prayer, and to witness our faith in joy, passion, commitment and service to the world in which we live.

The catechist and teacher have been entrusted to partner with parents and family members to bring children, youth and the adult community to faith through teaching, prayer and witness. Through baptism, we are each called to be agents of Jesus Christ in this world.

There is no retirement from baptism or this mission, but the rewards are life-giving and everlasting. On Catechetical Sunday, believe that you are also blessed and commissioned and commit yourself to the mission of evangelization. It will be quite a trip - and we are all in this together.

(Mrs. Schrempf is director of the diocesan Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life.)