As a catechist, you share the Good News of Christ with others. You invite others to enter into the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith. You participate in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. In short, you are important to the life of the Church and the fulfillment of its mission to evangelize.
In the name of Jesus, you catechize in order to “put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ” (“On Catechesis in Our Time,” noted in National Directory for Catechesis, n. 19B). In today’s reality, you must see yourself as an evangelizer.
Here is my best advice for being an effective, evangelizing catechist:
Pray for your learners and their families. Pray for yourself. Pray privately and within the liturgical/sacramental life of your parish community.
Provide a gentle, firm, consistent presence. Arrive early to welcome each learner by name. Strive to achieve respect prior to seeking to be liked.
Listen to and remember the significant things going on in your learners’ lives. (This presumes that an environment is fostered where learners feel comfortable sharing.)
Create a physical setting that is comfortable and conducive to meaningful learning.
Come to the session well-prepared and thus more confident and relaxed.
Reach out and connect with parents and guardians and families. See yourself as an evangelizer of households and not just a catechist of children. Parents are much in need of re-evangelization and faith formation today. Reach out to them and find ways to bring the learning home for families to continue together.
Minister in relationship to other catechists. The personal bonds and creative sharing will be a blessing to you and your ministry as well as to them and their ministry.
Pray well with your learners. This means: Dedicate sufficient time and quality to the experience; incorporate a liturgical dimension (including ritual action) that fosters a Catholic sensibility in the learners and makes Sunday Mass more meaningful; allow learners to participate in substantial and creative ways; give learners the opportunity to encounter the sacred up close and personal (such as incorporating a meditative silence or involving special items from their families, etc.).
Help learners gain a command of the Catholic approach to Scripture and the distinctive elements of our Catholic faith (i.e., various prayer traditions; the pope and apostolic succession; the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist; Mary and the saints; and social justice teaching).
Remember that everyone learns more and better by doing than by listening—and the most by teaching others. Use this insight to develop creative ways to make learning deep and lasting.
Strive to make connections that show relevance: between the issues of the day, the lives of your learners, and what we believe as Catholics; between what we believe and how we are called to live (discipleship).
Teach Catholic faith fully and faithfully. Share your own faith experience insofar as it can strengthen the process of learning and integration.
See yourself as more than just a medium to Catholic faith. The catechist is an embodiment of Christ and the Church.
Help your learners experience the Catholic faith and community as good news. We learn more when there is joy and humor, enthusiasm and hope.
Be with your learners on this journey of faith discovery. Don’t pretend to have all the answers. Find answers from good sources, when possible, but also help your learners grow comfortable with the concept of mystery and the unknowable dimension of God.
Utilize a variety of learning modes so as to form the whole person. Since catechesis is much more than an academic subject, care must be given to create a learning dynamic that attends to intellect, emotion, spirituality, and human experience in proper balance.
Make creative connections with your parish school, if you have one. Connect catechist to teacher and student to student.
Encourage your learners to be evangelizers—in their actions and in their words, at home and in the world.
Be open to the Holy Spirit in prayer beforehand and during the session. On occasion, you may have to adjust the lesson plan.
See yourself as a work in progress. Engage in catechist formation that develops your knowledge, skills, and interior faith life in ways that are integrative. Seek opportunities to grow as a person of faith, not just as a catechist. (Remember to log your efforts that can count toward catechist certification.)
Tom Quinlan is Director of the Religious Education Office for the Diocese of Joliet, IL.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, August 2010.
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