Today I’m honored to have a guest post over at the indefatigable Margaret Felice’s blog. Margaret is a religion teacher by day and opera singer by night; she’s hosting a series of guest posts highlighting favorite songs that have a spiritual significance to the authors. The song I chose, “Come On Up to the House” by Tom Waits, is a song that has long haunted my prayers:
Waits’ tune – mournful and hopeful at the same time – reminds me that, no matter what we suffer and endure, those hardships will one day be transformed by God’s mercy: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24)
The crowds who heard the first proclamation of the Kingdom of God by the Apostles on Pentecost reacted by thinking that the Apostles were drunk – they clearly seemed to be operating in an alternate reality. What else would explain the seemingly reckless behavior of this small band of men eagerly announcing their allegiance to a convicted criminal who was recently executed as a traitor to the Roman Empire? It was the transformation of the hearts of this small group of followers that caught the imagination of the crowds. They looked and sounded perfectly secure and fearless in the face of real and enduring danger. They exuded the one thing we all desire: security.
The reason the crowds considered the Apostles inebriated was their lack of inhibition. Alcohol, of course, is known for reducing inhibitions. The Apostles, who had been in hiding for several weeks out of fear for their own lives, were now totally uninhibited in proclaiming their allegiance to Jesus Christ. It is this inhibition that is characteristic of folks who “dwell” in the Kingdom of God. As catechists, we are called to be uninhibited proclaimers of the Kingdom, showing total inhibition when it comes to…
putting our own needs aside in order to tend to the needs of others.
having a lightness of being; not flippant, but possessing the ability to brighten up a room.
carrying an unwavering sense of serenity, even in the midst of turmoil; being unflappable.
winking at the foibles and shortcomings of others instead of putting them in their place.
finding the energy to repay even the grumpiest of people with graciousness and civility.
always having the best interests of others in mind, even when we fail.
staying on message even under duress.
remaining even-keeled and reasonable in the face of conflict.
The Kingdom of God that we proclaim as catechists is a reality that is in our midst, albeit unseen. Unseen, that is, until Kingdom-dwellers exhibit uninhibited wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence, and awe – the Gifts that flow abundantly from the Spirit! May we and those we teach become inebriated!
Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 25 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including the best-selling The Catechist’s Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith. Joe recently received his doctor of ministry degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL. Joe serves as an 8th grade catechist and blogs about the experience at Catechist’s Journey. He and his wife, Joanne, and their two grown children live in Evergreen Park, IL.
If I had to pick one word to describe Jared Dees it would be indefatigable. Besides working for Ave Maria Press, writing for multiple blogs, completing a master’s degree this past year, traveling to various conferences around the country, and taking care of his growing domestic church, he’s also written a new book called 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator. The profusion of his writing is matched only by its quality and I’m happy to host his guest post today.
One of my favorite things about Jonathan’s blog is his discussions about the relationship with catechesis and evangelization. I think he would agree that during this Year of Faith we have seen so much progress in the realization that you can’t have one without the other. We can’t do catechesis without evangelization. We can’t be catechists without being evangelizers.
The question is, how does this affect the way we think about the call of religious educators to teach the faith? For many of us, the new reframing of our role as not only catechists but evangelizers, requires some thought about the way we think of ourselves as teachers and the way we form catechists and catechetical leaders.
The Call to Be Catechists
We have many, many good willing volunteers in our parish religious education programs in the United States and around the world. They are dedicated individuals sacrificing their evenings for class sessions as well as the time it takes to prepare each lesson. These men and women, whether they realize it or not, have been called to the classroom. God is the one reaching out to them inspiring them to be teachers and leaders.
The details of that call seem pretty simple, right? You get your textbook and a classroom assignment. You show up each week and teach a lesson. The kids learn about their faith and move on to the next grade after you’ve finished. Hopefully you’re able to make a lasting impact on them before they go.
The Call to Be Evangelists & Witnesses
Yet in today’s Church, we need something a little more from catechists. We need witnesses.
We’re in the midst of what popes are calling the “new evangelization,” which means we must not only go out to the world where Christ is unknown but evangelize people in areas of the world where Christ is already known. In particular, we must evangelize those who’ve already been catechized!
Let’s turn to the words of Blessed John Paul II:
“But in catechetical practice . . . the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain mnumber of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit . . .
This means that “catechesis” must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith.” (Catechesi Tradendae, 19)
What does this mean for the call of catechists and religion teachers? Pope Paul VI said it best:
“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)
In this age of the new evangelization, we must become witnesses more than teachers. We must train and inspire our catechists to be witnesses to the faith not just teachers of a textbook.
How does this shift in vocation play out among catechists? Consider the following:
Religious educators must live the faith daily by personally connecting with Christ through prayer, spiritual reading, and the virtuous life.
Religious educators must think of themselves as disciples first before thinking of themselves as teachers.
Religious educators must be willing to share their personal faith story.
Religious educators must be willing to share the Gospel story in compelling ways.
Religious educators must be open to constant conversion, following the prompting of Holy Spirit in each moment of their lives.
Most of all, as religious educators (catechists, religion teachers, catechetical leaders), we must remember that our vocation is always to love Christ and with the help of his grace, share that love with his children.
We’re never alone. We never succeed through our own efforts. We always have the help of Holy Spirit who leads us and speaks on our behalf.
Let’s go make disciples of Christ rather than students of us!
Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher, a popular website dedicated to sharing practical resources and teaching strategies for religious educators. He is the author of the new book, 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator, which guides religion teachers and catechists through thirty-one exercises and meditations to help them live out their calling to catechize and evangelize God’s children.
As some of you may know from following me on Twitter, my wife and I recently welcomed our sixth child into the world. As a result I’m taking some time off from blogging as we get acclimated to this new reality.
But fear not! In an effort to raise the usual standards on this site I’ve lined up a series of guest posts from some of my catechetical friends. Starting today and over the next few weeks you’ll be hearing from:
John Rinaldo is one of those people that I would probably never have met if it weren’t for the internet. In fact, I often have to remind myself that we’ve never met face-to-face! But his writing on ministry and leadership have helped me to reflect on my own work as a diocesan director and made me more effective in the work of catechesis.
You are in front of a large group of teenagers facilitating a session on the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. This group of teenagers are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation.
You are well prepared for this topic. You have a fun opening community builder that is connected to the theme, you created a dynamic, ritual prayer experience, and you are armed with multiple strategies to engage the youth including the use of a cool video clip, small group reflection questions, and a bit of teaching from you.
You are proud of the session you have created. You delve into the topic with great enthusiasm and gusto! You pour all your energy into the session.
Then, it happens.
You look out at the faces staring back at you. All they do is stare. They are not engaged. They are not excited. They look like lumps on a log.
At the end of the session, you are exhausted! You planned well and you thought that for sure the teenagers would get into the topic.
Yet, for all your planning and energy, you feel like you failed. You begin to wonder if you’re any good at this. Then you start to think that you should quit.
I don’t have enough hands and fingers to count how many times I’ve felt this way! The reality is that, for all the energy you put into any session, there are times that you don’t connect with your intended audience.
There’s a reason for that. Here are 3 reasons your audience is not ready to be engaged in your faith formation program:
Their parents do not engage them in faith conversations or prayer at home. Most parents rarely have a conversation around faith at home or initiate a family prayer. For many, faith is something that happens in church and church alone. Since parents are the primary influencers, the parish needs to give them tools that will help parents. Until faith is a regular part of family life, it will often be difficult to engage your audience.
They are not interested in learning about the faith. This is a readiness issue. Sherry Weddell, in her book Forming Intentional Disciples, suggests that learning about faith comes after two things happen in people’s lives: 1) they have developed trusting and open relationship with other members, and 2) they have had some sort of conversion where they have experienced God in their life in a real and genuine way. These two things lead people to engage in conversations and topics of faith. Growing an Engaged Church suggests, “Belonging leads to believing.” If that is the case, which I believe it is, you and I need to spend some serious time building community. The other statement I believe to be true is, “Faith seeks understanding.” A conversion experience leads to faith. Faith leads to the desire to learn more and understand.
They’re tired. It’s not a surprise to you that children and teenagers are heavily scheduled, especially on a weekday. They’ve had a really long day with school, tests, sports, and they just scarfed down dinner 2 seconds before they arrived. Finding a way to bring people out of their hectic day into a more peaceful place of prayer and focus is essential if you are to successfully engage them.
Question: What changes can you make that might help people become more engaged in the faith formation sessions you develop?