BY JOE PAPROCKI
We continue this year’s exploration of Catholic identity in this column by turning our attention to our disposition as Catholics: one of faith and hope, not fear and despair. We are people of the Resurrection, which means that deep down we recognize that we have no reason to despair because God has shown that he can overcome all things, even death.
Catholics are a people of hope. We see the world as good. We have a positive vision, fueled by our belief that God loves us so much that he gave us his only Son, who is with us always through the Holy Spirit. This worldview calls us to be evangelizers, eagerly proclaiming the good news of Jesus to others in word and deed. And so we have a disposition of faith and hope and not despair.
In my book Practice Makes Catholic (Loyola Press), I explain that we Catholics are not doomsayers. By the same token, we do not see the world through rose-colored glasses. We are realists. We see, feel, and experience pain, violence, sadness, hurt, and evil. However, our faith teaches us that God will overcome all and we are not alone. That’s not simply being optimistic or engaging in wishful thinking; it’s a disposition of confidence. We have every reason to believe, every reason to hope, and — when all is said and done — no reason to despair.
In our ministry as catechists, we are called to embody this disposition of faith and hope and instill it in those we teach. In our role as mentors for young people, we strive
to communicate a sense of positive, confident hope that dispels fear and despair. Scripture repeatedly places the words “Do not be afraid” (or some similar wording) on the lips of those who speak on God’s behalf. Jesus himself utters this sentiment on numerous occasions. We are called to speak this same sentiment to those we teach, especially in light of the many circumstances we face in our world that give us cause for concern.
Here are four ways catechists can foster a disposition of faith and hope and not despair:
1. SET AN EXAMPLE A catechist’s motivation must never be fear. Although we face many worrisome things in this world, faith in Jesus Christ — who overcame sin and death — prevails. If we are going to foster a disposition of faith and hope, we ourselves need to be people of faith and hope. When we feel overcome by fear, doubt, and despair, we need to seek the help of a spiritual companion who can help us to reclaim our faith and hope. Then we in turn are called to “pay it forward” by being a reassuring presence to those we teach, exhibiting the fruits of the Holy Spirit and the virtues. When our students encounter us, they should come away feeling like “everything is going to be fine.”
2. INVITE PARTICIPATION IN THE SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY The spiritual works of mercy are ways in which we help others find fulfillment — true happiness — by removing obstacles or helping people overcome them. The Church names the spiritual works of mercy as instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving, and bearing wrongs patiently. One of the best ways to instill a disposition of faith and hope is to invite those you teach to bring this disposition to those who may be overcome by fear and despair. Don’t wait for confirmation to have your students participating in “service projects” or, as I like to call them, “mercy experiences.” No age is too young to begin practicing mercy, and young people need to cultivate a spirit of giving, which then strengthens an attitude of gratitude.
3. SING Imagine if people threw a birthday party for you but decided to skip singing “Happy Birthday”! While it’s true that folks can just wish you a happy birthday, there’s something magical about singing the song. Music and singing have a way of touching our hearts in a way that words alone cannot. As a catechist, one of the most powerful ways you can foster a disposition of faith and hope is to integrate music and singing into your faith formation experiences. For help with this, visit my blog, CatechistsJourney.com, and search for my post “Go-To Hymns” (June 13, 2016) to access my playlist of more than 50 easily singable Catholic hymns that you can download and play in your catechetical setting to lift up hearts.
4. GO ON RETREAT When military troops find themselves under heavy fire and in a bad position strategically, retreating to a safer location where a new strategy can be devised and reinforcements called in can turn certain defeat into an opportunity for victory. As catechists we occasionally find ourselves under heavy fire with our defenses wearing thin. At such times, a spiritual retreat is the smartest thing we can do. To go on retreat is not running away from life’s problems. It’s an opportunity to regroup, refocus, and become renewed so we can head right back into the classroom (and the world) to face challenges with faith — rather than fear — and hope rather than despair.
More than ever, the world needs voices of faith and hope to counteract all of the voices of fear and dread. At the heart of our Catholic identity is an attitude — a disposition — that proclaims, as Julian of Norwich once wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” As catechists, this is the disposition we are called to embody and instill in those we teach since it is at the heart of what it means to be Catholic.
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is the national consultant for faith formation for Loyola Press. His most recent book, A Church on the Move: 52 Ways to Get Mission and Mercy in Motion, is available from Loyola Press. Joe blogs at CatechistsJourney.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist, March 2017.
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