by Marlene Sweeney
I have often reflected on the story of the young Jesus teaching in the Temple. “And all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). The wisdom of the youthful Jesus comes to mind when I consider the controversy over what age one should be before he or she can take on the full responsibility of being a catechist.
In the region where I live, some parishes establish clear and definite policies; all catechists need to be at least 18 (or 21) years of age, citing legal and safety issues. Other communities use teenage teachers quite liberally, applauding the enthusiasm and energy they bring to their programs. One DRE admitted that she counts on teens from the local Catholic high school to be catechists. The teens are able to complete service hours while supporting her sparse volunteer base.
Whenever DREs discuss this issue of teenage catechists, you likely will find as many opinions as there are solutions to this difficult ministerial issue. Is a young person’s desire to share his or her faith enough of a reason to supply an audience? Can a high-school-age person responsibly manage a group of young children, relate to parents, and cover the structured curriculum of most religious education programs? Does what makes an excellent catechist have anything to do with age?
What Brings Them?
Teen catechists often come from families in which people are committed to the ministry of teaching. In some parishes where I have served, certain families included several children who showed an interest in becoming catechists at a young age because of the lives of faith they witnessed every day.
While some young children might have memories of going to sporting events or academic endeavors with their parents, these teens remember helping their parents host a faith circle that met in their home every Saturday morning, or helping Mom or Dad pass out materials at religious education classes. Their desire to share the Good News of Jesus has been a deeply ingrained part of their own faith formation. They know what it takes to be a good catechist.
Such an energetic teen is quite different from the adolescent who appears in your office needing to fulfill an obligatory service requirement and so is looking for a “project.” You are going to want to know what brings this young person to this ministry. Can this young person articulate in some way the call to be a catechist that he or she is experiencing?
As seasoned leaders, we would not want to dismiss the Spirit’s prompting due to our own uncertainties and apprehensions. Finding the right fit—the right responsibilities—may be all that it takes to welcome these enthusiastic young people to the ministry of catechesis.
Be Honest and Realistic
Catechesis is a call, and developing that call requires experience and hard work. A catechist must have knowledge of the faith and a deep commitment to the Church, the parish, and the children. These expectations are universal for anyone aspiring to be a catechist.
Nevertheless, some candidates will not meet these expectations. Some, both young and old, will struggle with walking the walk. Their desires will not match their actions. The events of daily life will crowd out their good intentions. DREs deal with these situations regularly, involving enthusiastic people of all ages.
Sharing a realistic vision of what being a catechist entails in your particular parish is one way to address this issue. Being totally honest about the time required for attending meetings, lesson preparations, in-service diocesan trainings, prayer time, and community gatherings helps give an enthusiastic teen a true picture of what is expected of him or her as a catechist.
In their eagerness to share the faith, new volunteers—of any age—can underestimate the time commitment, resulting in misunderstandings later. Knowing that teens often juggle school, extra-curricular activities, and even jobs, we do them and the entire religious education program a great service by making sure they understand the extensive expectations of being catechists.
Explore All Options
When an enthusiastic young person expresses a desire to be a catechist, explore all your options. Some of the best success stories I have witnessed in catechesis come from pairing up a new recruit with a seasoned catechist.
Teens work well with experienced adults who are good mentors and who are willing to share their classes in ways that involve the teens’ unique gifts and skills. Such team-teaching allows teens and adults to learn from each other, to brainstorm strategies in difficult situations, and to pray for and with each other. Together, teen and adult offer learners different ways of exploring and learning about our Catholic faith.
Scripture tells us that when Mary and Joseph found Jesus teaching in the Temple, they were astonished. A person’s wisdom is not always dependent on his or her age. Teens bring God’s gifts to their ministry. Working together, we can influence each other to be the kind of catechist we all strive to be.
Marlene Sweeney, MEd, MA, is a Certified Pastoral Associate in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Marlene is a writer and poet whose works have appeared in numerous books and periodicals. E-mail Marlene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2012, Bayard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Bayard, Inc.
This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, February 2012.
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