by Joe Paprocki, DMin
Few things can ruin a backpacking adventure as much as having inadequate clothing and footwear for extreme temperatures and difficult terrains. In order to maintain a good pace and withstand the elements, a backpacker needs quality clothing and boots that will not give out. This is no time to try cheap knock-off brands—you want the real thing.
As catechists, we need to be authentic as well in order to withstand life’s ever-changing terrain. When it comes to Christ, we too must be the “real thing.” In essence, we are what we wear and, in baptism, we have put on Christ. Being a catechist is not a hat that we put on and take off as we please. We are not teachers of a subject or a skill set that has nothing to do with the rest of our lives. We introduce those we teach to a person, the person of Jesus Christ, and invite others into a way of life that defines who we are at our very core. The simple fact is, we can’t teach what (or whom) we don’t know. That means that we have to strive to know Jesus authentically, to know his message, and to know the Catholic way of life that leads to him. We need to be the real deal.
The fact is, those we teach are watching us closely for signs of authenticity and coherence of life (consistency). We are very much “under the microscope.” Our students are seeking a consistency between:
• our words in class and our actions outside of class (Do we practice what we preach?)
• our words and our facial expression/body language (Do we look like we are proclaiming the Good News?)
• the words we teach and the way we speak to them and deal with them (Do we preach love, patience, and forgiveness, and then speak or act harshly toward them?)
Those we teach will see the Gospel as authentic if they experience us as authentic. This is what the Church had in mind when it said, in the General Directory for Catechesis that, “No methodology, no matter how well tested, can dispense with the person of the catechist in every phase of the catechetical process” (156). Faith formation can include glossy textbooks, glitzy videos, rousing music, and dizzying internet connections but none of it will mean anything unless the person actually interacting with the learners is an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ. While programs and resources can be a springboard for deepening faith, disciples are formed by disciples.
In my book, 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness, I describe the first and most important key to spiritual wellness as “seeing yourself as you really are.” In essence, unless we have a clear perception of who we are, warts and all, we run the risk of falling prey to the deadly sin of pride. We need to keep it real. Catholic spirituality offers a full menu of exercises designed to help us keep it real—to be authentic.
Here are just a few:
• spiritual direction
• praying the daily examination of conscience
• celebrating the sacrament of penance and reconciliation
• participating in ongoing catechist formation
Throughout our lives as catechists, let’s pray for the grace we need to study Jesus endlessly so that we may pattern our lives after him: the authentic Son of God. In baptism, we were clothed in Christ as a baptismal garment was placed on us. Let us also pray that, as we continue our journey as catechists, we may wrap ourselves in Christ as a backpacker would wrap himself or herself with the clothing needed to survive the elements.
“Before doing the catechesis one must first of all be a catechist. The truth of their lives confirms their message. It would be sad if they did not ‘practice what they preached’ and spoke about a God of whom they had theoretical knowledge but with whom they had no contact” (Guide for Catechists, 8).
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is the National Consultant for Faith Formation for Loyola Press. His new book (co-authored with Julianne Stanz), The Catechist’s Backpack: Spiritual Essentials for the Journey, is available from Loyola Press.
Pray the Jesus Prayer (also called the Prayer of the Heart) at the beginning of each day and at various times throughout the day as a way of asking God for the grace of humility: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” When praying this prayer, synchronize it with your breathing: breathe in while calling out to God (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God) and breathe out while praying for mercy (have mercy on me, a sinner). Repeat the prayer as often as you like over a period of five or 10 minutes, praying it slowly, and pausing between each recitation.
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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, May 2015.
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