Question: How can I describe to my fourth grade class what it means to be a missionary disciple? How can they practice being on the Christian mission? — Timid Catechist
JONATHAN F. SULLIVAN RESPONDS …
That’s a great question, Timid Catechist, and one that gets to the heart of what it means to pass on our Catholic faith. There is a tendency to reduce catechesis to knowledge of doctrines taught in a classroom, when the Church’s understanding of catechesis includes a wide range of activities, from personal and liturgical prayer to participation in the works of mercy.
Fortunately, describing what it means to be a missionary disciple is as easy as telling stories about the saints! Through their lives the saints give witness to the variety of ways of following Jesus Christ, from St. Teresa of Calcutta’s care for the poor and dying to St. John Bosco’s work to educate youth and St. Francis Xavier’s zeal to evangelize in Asia. Coming to know the saints through their lives and prayers will help young people recognize the ways in which they might respond to Jesus’ call.
Likewise, there are a variety of ways in which fourth graders can practice being on mission, although they will depend on the needs and resources of your community. Using the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as inspiration, you might have your youth visit a nursing home and “interview” residents about their lives (prepare questions ahead of time). Many communities offer opportunities to clean up trash from parks or beaches, giving catechists an opportunity to discuss the Church’s respect for the environment. Or students could identify and log the simple ways they help their friends and family, offering up these sacrifices for a particular intention. (You could keep a poster board chart in your classroom so students can keep a running tally of their sacrifices.)
Regardless of the activity, be sure to prepare well ahead of time and offer opportunities for simple theological reflection afterward. Help your students to see that the Church’s apostolic works aren’t just “something nice” to do, but a response in faith to our baptismal call. This can be especially effective if you can connect the activities to stories in Scripture and engage the students in reflection on the connection between the stories and their mission.
JONATHAN F. SULLIVAN serves as the executive director of pastoral ministries for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana. You can find him online at JonathanFSullivan.com.
PHOTOS: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/SHUTTERSTOCK
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, April-May 2018.