Knowing Jesus as a Catechist

This weekend the Church in the United States observes Catechetical Sunday, an annual celebration during which we recognize and pray for those who pass on the Catholic faith. This includes parish catechists, RCIA team members, teachers in Catholic schools, and youth ministers.

In his 1979 encyclical letter Catechesi Tradendae, Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ.” (no. 5) That is, the role of the catechist is to pass on a relationship and love of Jesus Christ.

As such, it is of prime importance that catechists themselves know, love, and serve the Lord:  “Whoever is called ‘to teach Christ’ must first seek ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 428) But how can catechists come to this “surpassing worth?” How does one grow in the knowledge and love of the Jesus in order to share it with others?

The first way catechists can come to know Jesus is by reading and knowing the Sacred Scriptures, for in them we hear the Word of God echo through the centuries. Catechists should engage in regular reading of the Bible and reflect on God’s word. (The ancient practice of lectio divina is a wonderful tool in this regard.) Catechists should be especially attentive to the story of salvation – how God seeks to forgive our sins, heal the brokenness of our hearts, and reconcile us to him, culminating in Jesus’ sacrificial work on the Cross.

Second, catechists come to know Jesus through a life of prayer. This includes asking God to respond to our needs and the needs of those we catechize, but it also means simply spending time with God so that we can speak to him from our hearts and listen for his response. Whether in an adoration chapel or the quiet of our living rooms, prayer offers us an intimate connection to God without which a true relationship is impossible.

The liturgy is another way catechists grown in their love of Jesus, for it is in the liturgy that we gather as the Christian community to offer praise and worship of God. By participating regularly in the communal prayer of the Church and the sacraments – especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation – God’s grace penetrates our hearts, we are conformed to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and we are commissioned for the work of evangelization.

Finally, it is in the life of the Church that we come to know Jesus, for the Church is the Body of Christ. The Christian life is never just “me and God”; to be a Christian is always to be in communion with other disciples, especially the successors of the apostles. By listening to their authoritative teaching and seeking to reflect it in our lives we draw closer to Jesus.

These four means do not exhaust the ways in which we come to know Jesus, but they do serve as foundations on which a life of Christian discipleship are built. I pray that all catechists and teachers of the faith will grow in their love of Jesus and be strengthened by the Holy Spirit for their ministry!

This column originally appeared in the September 15, 2019, edition of The Catholic Moment.

Training Disciple-Makers

An apprentice is a novice student who learns under the tutelage of a master of an art or craft such as painting, carpentry, or baking. The novice works closely with the master over long periods of time to learn the techniques, skills, and knowledge needed to become a craftsman. In medieval times the novice might even live with the master in order to soak in his lifestyle and daily routine.

Like medieval craftsmen, catechists are called to be formed in their craft. But instead of buildings, bread, or paintings, catechists are crafting disciples of Jesus Christ! Even so, the Church recognizes the links between faith formation and an apprenticeship model.

Read the rest of my article from Catechist magazine…

Book Studies for Catechists

I’m a big believer in reading as a vital component of personal and professional development. This is especially true for catechists and catechetical leaders — reading, sharing, and discussing good books is a great way to form ourselves as disciples and disciple-makers.

Recently my office compiled a list of books that would be appropriate for group study by catechists and Catholic school teachers:

(We also correlated the books to our diocesan Catechist Formation Process.)

My hope is that our parishes and schools will organize book studies for their catechists as a path for continued formation.

Have you ever participated in a catechetical book study? Are there any books you would add to our list?

Building a Better Catechist Formation Workshop

This month I have an article in NCCL’s Catechetical Leader magazine reflecting on our diocese’s experience in catechist formation on the Roman Missal, Third Edition. The text of the article is presented here:

In the fall of 2011 our diocesan Office for Catechesis, in cooperation with our Office for Worship and the Catechumenate, sponsored a series of regional workshops helping Catholic school teachers and parish catechists to understand the (then) upcoming implementation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition; examine the changes in the English translation; and prepare the faithful to embrace these changes through their catechetical programs.

We knew that this would be a challenging workshop, due both to the inherent pain and grieving many people experience when their mode of worship is altered, and a history of poor reception of such large, regional workshops. With those considerations in mind we made a conscious effort to change our approach from past workshops.

  1. We dumped the single-speaker approach. In the past we’ve hired individual presenters to lead our regional catechist workshops. This year, because we increased the number of workshops and spread them out over the course of six weeks, hiring a single presenter from outside the diocese didn’t make logistical sense. Instead, the members of the sponsoring offices took responsibility for pieces of the workshop. As a result participants heard from five different people over the course of the session.
  2. We kept things moving. At three hours long the workshop could have dragged on for participants. Instead, as we broke down the agenda for the workshop, we intentionally kept the individual sections short and to the point. No individual section was longer than 30 minutes and some were as short as five minutes long. Combined with the multiple speakers, participants were always being presented with something new to hold their interest.
  3. We utilized interactivity and multimedia. To help participants come together as a group we began the workshop with a 15-minute Liturgy of the Word. We also had a reflect/pair/share exercise early in the session and presenters asked feedback questions throughout the workshop. In addition, besides using traditional PowerPoint slides, we played short clips from ICEL’s Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ DVD in between major agenda items to either highlight ideas from the preceding presenter or to set up the next one. These short clips gave participants an opportunity to stand and stretch or just œreset  before the next part of the workshop.
  4. We eliminated technological variables. As we went around our diocese we brought our own laptops and projector. Even more importantly we invested in a portable PA system that allowed us to forgo using unreliable and outdated sound systems in the parishes. This ensured that, regardless of the setting or size of the room, participants would always be able to hear the presenters clearly.
  5. We gave them resources to use. In the past the biggest criticism of our formation workshops was a lack of resources to œtake back to the classroom.  This was especially true of school teachers, but parish catechists also expressed a desire to have relevant materials that they could take back and use in their programs. Because we didn’t hire a presenter, our budget allowed us to purchase booklets and other materials to give to catechists to take back with them. These were handed out in folders by grade level (K-6 or 7-12).

Implementing these changes meant working outside our established patterns, but in the end it made for a more effective and engaging catechist formation experience. Our future workshops will build on and refine this model.

Guest Post: Catechist Formation: We Owe it To Them!

Joe Paprocki is the catechist’s best friend. In addition to serving as a National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press and authoring some great books, including The Catechist’s Toolbox and Practice Makes Catholic, the “grand poobah” of catechetical blogging is celebrating five years at the keyboard this month. It’s a pleasure to be part of the celebration by hosting this guest post!

5 years may not seem like a long time, but in blog years, I guess that’s ancient! Back in 2006, when I was asked to begin a blog (to accompany the release of my book The Catechist’s Toolbox), my first reaction was, “What’s a blog?” I had heard of blogs but was not at the time following any. Now, 5 years later, I have written over 1200 posts! I guess I learned what a blog is after all.

If I’ve learned anything over the past 5 years of writing Catechist’s Journey, it is that catechists are incredibly dedicated and creative but are in need of support. Over the years, I have received countless emails from catechists who find themselves struggling as they attempt to transmit the Good News to a new generation. Just recently, I received the following email from a catechist looking for help:

I am a new Catechist as of this year. I teach an 8th grade class and my biggest problem is getting the kids to pay attention and show some interest in the subject matter. About half of the 8th grade book is about Church history. My problem with just following the book is that reading bores the kids. They don’t pay attention, they talk, they pull out their phones and text when I am not looking, etc. I need help!

I make a habit of replying personally to every email such as this that I receive, offering whatever suggestions and insights I can to help them turn the corner. One might ask, “Where are their catechetical leaders and why aren’t they helping their catechists?” The fact is, many of our catechetical leaders are struggling as well. In too many parishes, pastors seeking to cut costs have let their professional catechetical leaders go in favor of volunteers or program secretaries who know how to order text books and make class lists but have little or no training in forming catechists which is a critical responsibility of the DRE. I have spent almost as much time responding to emails from novice catechetical leaders as I have novice catechists.

Suffice to say, the catechetical ministry needs all the support it can get. If my blog, Catechist’s Journey, and the various Webinars I have offered over these past 5 years have in some small way contributed to the care, nurturing, and support of catechists and catechetical ministers, I am indeed grateful. Let’s pray that the Church continues to find ways to support all those in the catechetical ministry. We owe it to them!

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.