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…

Five Things Every Catechist Should Know

The Catholic Church in America recently celebrated Catechetical Sunday, an annual celebration of the faithful catechists in our parishes who witness to the faith and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With that in mind, here are five things that all catechists might reflect on about their role:

You are an indispensable tool in passing on the faith. While we are grateful for the variety of excellent textbooks, videos, activities, and other resources at our disposal, ultimately it is disciples that form new disciples. Catechesis occurs person-to-person as catechists model and witness faith in Jesus Christ. As such, the role of the catechist can never be reduced to “reading the book” or “pressing play on the video.”

You help parents in their role as primary evangelizers. While the catechist is indispensable, our mission is first and foremost to assist parents in passing on the faith they promised to share at their children’s baptism. Parents should never feel that they are outsourcing their child’s religious education to the parish or Catholic school. Conversely, we must see the formation of domestic Churches as an integral part of catechesis by giving families concrete resources and practical ways for living the faith in the home.

If your students see Christ’s love in you, you’re doing your job. The personal witness of a catechist is a powerful formation in the faith. Even more than a systematic knowledge of Church teaching (although that is important too!) catechists must pass on a faith that is lived and practiced in the day-to-day routine of our lives. Let Christ’s love shine through you and your students will learn to love and follow Christ.

You and your students are part of the story of salvation. This is one reason catechists must learn to love Sacred Scripture: not only does it reveal the history of salvation, culminating in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but it reminds us that we, too, continue that same history in our own lives. Knowing the stories of biblical figures, the saints, and our families helps us find our place in God’s Kingdom.

The life of a catechist must be rooted in prayer. It is a truism that you cannot give what you do not have. As such, catechists must have a deep, abiding, and joy-filled relationship with Jesus if we hope to pass the same to the young people in our charge. This relationship begins with prayer – especially through the Church’s liturgy – but also in the Rosary, lectio divina, novenas, and other means of fostering an ongoing conversation and living relationship with God.

This column originally appeared in the October 8, 2017, edition of The Catholic Moment.

The Catechist as Kingdom-Dweller (Guest post by Joe Paprocki)

Joe Paprocki needs no introduction.

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.

beer taps - photo by ricciardella | morguefileThe 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.
  • practicing mindfulness.

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.

Heaven’s Bumper Sticker

You have seen the bumper sticker, “If you can read this, thank your teacher.”

If there are cars in heaven, the bumper sticker will read, “If you are reading this, thank your catechist.”

Bad news from the studies is that people are less than excited about “religion.” Good news is that they are eager for meaning, purpose, “spirituality” and belief.

Our catechists connect the dots: meaning, purpose, spirituality and belief are found in Jesus and His Church.

:: Timothy Cardinal Dolan, “If You Are Reading This, Thank Your Catechist”

Getting Our Knickers in Knots about Catechesis

Thinking aloud today:

In the middle of a conversation on journalistic standards during the latest episode of This Week in Tech, panelists John C. Dvorak, Leo Laporte, and Jeff Jarvis (whose blog post on the subject sparked the conversation) discussed the ideal of objectivity versus the reality of partisanship. I’ve edited out the relevant section here:

The part that struck me was Jarvis’ statement there at the end: “We in journalism get so much with our knickers in knots about ‘What is journalism?’ whereas the world says: ‘What’s information? What do I need to know today?'”

Anyone who follows the media world knows that traditional news outlets are suffering. Newspaper  circulation  is waning; fewer people tune in to the evening news; and radio seems a quaint format. People don’t seem to care where their news comes from — they are more concerned about getting information that they need right now. Why else the rise of Google and Wikipedia? They allow us to have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips.

I wonder if there isn’t a parallel with catechesis, and adult faith formation in particular.

It’s no secret that catechesis of adults is a difficult ministry. No matter how many programs or classes we offer it seems like it’s the same people who come. They are eager and grateful, to be sure, but I’ve heard many catechetical leaders ask “Where is everyone else? Why aren’t they coming?”

Yet we’ve seen an explosion in recent years of Catholic blogs and podcasts seeking to promote and explain the Catholic viewpoint on a variety of issues. While I doubt that many of these bloggers would claim the label “catechist,” that is exactly what they are — they are, in their own way, evangelizing and catechizing to their readers and listeners.

These blogs and podcasts are obviously filling a need that our catechetical programs do not. Convenience may be one explanation — it’s  certainly  easier to read a blog post than get to the parish center for an evening — but I’m not sure that explains it all. I also wonder if bloggers and podcasters aren’t better at targeting the specific needs and questions of the faithful.

Take, for one example, Fr. Barron’s YouTube video series. Each video takes a single question, issue, or piece of media, and examines or explains it from a Catholic viewpoint. Many are questions that the faithful in the pew may have asked or heard from others: What is the Real Presence? Why do we celebrate the Ascension? What spiritual insights can we learn from The Dark Knight?

Those of us involved in the catechetical ministry may be tempted to worry and fret that, even for many engaged Catholics, their primary avenue for catechesis is what they get from such online venues: “But it’s not systematic! It’s too focused on popular theology! There’s no oversight or review of the content!”

To which we might respond:    “We in catechesis get so much with our knickers in knots about ‘What is catechesis?’ whereas the world says: ‘What’s faith? What do I need to know today to be a better follower of Christ?'”

He is risen! Alleluia!

Again make sure of a coherent narrative – burial in a rock-hewn tomb, sealing of tomb, the guards, the Resurrection early on Easter morning, the holy women, Magdalen, the disciples on the way to Emmaus, the appearance to the Eleven in the upper room. Don’t do this casually – get your facts right – this is the event on which Christianity is built.

–  Rev. F.H. Drinkwater,  Doctrine for the Juniors (1933)

Your Advent Homework

There are many ways in which the Church is out of step with our secular culture, but I think in no way more obvious than at this time of year. While the wider culture seeks to rush us towards Christmas (carols on the radio before Halloween? Really?!), the Church asks us to slow down and wait. While lights are strung and increasingly outrageous decorations are mounted on the front lawn, we light candles on the Advent wreath. While television commercials entice us to buy more and bigger, the Church points to a child born in poverty in a manager.

This is a great time of year to remind ourselves — and the families in our Catholic schools and parish catechetical programs — about what is really important.

If I could make a small request, I would ask every catechist and catechetical leader to invite your families to Christmas Mass. Not with a note or Sunday announcement, but a face-to-face invitation. I know not every Catholic family is in the habit of attending Mass every Sunday. But if we could encourage them to start out the Christmas season on the right foot — not by tearing open wrapping paper, but by giving thanks to the God that has blessed them — we just might start a few more on that path. And what a glorious gift that would be.

Video: Catechizing Digital Natives webinar

This is a video of the webinar I offered earlier this month on strategies for passing on the faith to the “net generation.” For further reading on this subject I have also compiled a list of books, useful articles and tools referenced in the video.

Catechizing Digital Natives from Jonathan Sullivan on Vimeo.

Scripture Resources for School Teachers

Today I concluded my five-week class on Sacred Scripture for Catholic school teachers in Springfield. I really enjoyed breaking open the Bible with this great group of catechists!

The following are a few of the resources I recommended to them:



Class Handouts (PDFs)

Tomie DePaola’s Book of Bible Stories