A parish DRE gave each catechist a mug which read, “World’s Greatest Catechist.” One person commented, “Mine should only say ‘A Good Catechist.’ I don’t even aspire to be great.”
“If you don’t aspire to be great, you never will be,” the DRE answered. These mugs aren’t a reality. Yet. But I hope they will be some day.
What very good catechists do
Let’s take a moment to think about catechetical greatness. I’m sure everyone has been hearing, reading, and thinking about all the things GOOD catechists do:
- Brush up on classroom management—How are we going to arrange seating, have children move from one activity to the next, or deal with children who misbehave?
- Study our catechist’s manuals, whether they are new to us or are old familiar texts. We need to be familiar with the design of each lesson and aware of the overall theme of the book.
- Attend catechist meetings and adult classes; read professional articles and other Catholic publications, and review articles from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that pertain to our subject matter.
- Sync our personal calendars to the religious education program calendar to ensure we’re available for each session or have gotten a sub for any session we can’t attend, and that we can be free from regular duties on class day, in time to arrive early for class.
You might ask, “What?! All this and I’m just a good catechist?”
Yes. Do everything listed above—and add a few things you or your DRE might add—and you will be a good catechist. A very good catechist, in fact. But a GREAT catechist? On the way, but not there yet.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we read: At the time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:1-4)
What an amazing paradox! In order to be GREAT, we have to be humble; we have to “become like children.”
A GREAT catechist is honest about her humanity (that’s what humble means)—she knows her place in the scheme of things. She is not “on top” in the classroom, not the smartest person in the room. A great and humble catechist is a learner in the classroom. She wants to find out more there is to know—about her students, about God and the Church, and about herself. She sparks wonder for learning in her students when they recognize it in her. She not only asks questions they sometimes can’t answer; she acknowledges when they’ve asked something she can’t answer. In fact, she delights in finding the answer and in coming back to tell them.
There are people who become catechists in order to gain a captive audience. A GREAT catechist knows he is not the center of attention. He genuinely listens and responds to what students have to say and insists they do the same. And he truly knows the truth of Jesus’ statement:
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:20)
Jesus must be at the center
In a GREAT catechist’s classroom, Jesus becomes the center of attention, week by week, as students pray together, work on projects together, learn each other’s gifts and true worth. A GREAT catechist never walks into his classroom without first spending time with Jesus, praying for the students, asking for help with the lesson, and above all, thanking Jesus for being there in their midst.
Here’s the greatest paradox of all: A GREAT catechist isn’t even the real teacher in that GREAT classroom. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
In catechesis “Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God,…is taught-everything else is taught in reference to him—and it is Christ alone who teaches-anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips…Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” (CCC paragraph 427 quoting Catechesi Tradendae)
Of course, you need to keep students focused on you when you are speaking. But try this at least once in each session: Sit down at your students’ level and listen while they explain or read something. Reflect: Can I be a student before God? Do I see Christ in these students?
Peg Bowman is Director of Evangelization at Sacred Heart Parish in Marengo, Illinois.
This article was originally published in RTJ’s creative catechist September 2013.
Image: Weedezign, istock