Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catechist's Challenge: Instructing the Ignorant, Counseling the Doubtful

Last week, having volunteered to help my parish DRE as a substitute, I found myself in front of a classroom of 16 young teens (all but one of Hispanic descent) who were entering their second year of Confirmation preparation. I assumed this would be a one-night stand (OK 2-3 at the most), as have my prior experiences as a sub, so I jumped right in. Handed a catchumenate-style resource which began with a discussion of what sacraments are, I began the lesson by asking how many had seen a baptism, by connecting sacramental celebrations with familiar rituals such as a birthday party - standard stuff, to be sure.

Students seemed to be understanding the material pretty well until we got to the exercise which asked them to choose something in their life that shows that God loves them and talk about how they would ritualize (celebrate) that.  When I asked if anyone could name something in their life that showed God's love for them, they blinked and stared back. Knowing that teens sometimes have a peer-pressure issue about not talking about personal things, I re-phrased the question several times to make it less threatening. Still nothing. I finally asked how many know that God loves them. Not one hand went up. Shocked at the realization that this was new territory for them, I then "backed up the truck" to have them think over and name - over the next week until the next class - what is good in their life, with the intention of using what they name as a basis for building an understanding of God's love.

When, after class, my DRE asked if I would be available the next few Wednesdays, I said yes... and then she slyly said she was kind of hoping I'd do this for the rest of the year.  Stealth recruitment at its finest, I must admit. However, I was hooked anyway, by the need to do primary kerygma with this group - the opportunity and challenge to evangelize them in a deeper way.

This is part of the challenge to today's catechists. So many of our kids come to us, their parents sending them mostly for sacrament preparation, with no lived understanding of the love of God. They often do not know who God really is... only what they may have been told. Even beyond that, my experience with kids in this culture is that most of them do not even know the basic outline of our faith story - that God created all people, we sinned, Jesus came to earth born as a human baby laid in a manger, and that after teaching us, he died and was resurrected. In past encounters with kids in our parish program, especially those in their first year of formation, I have found they not only do not know the story, they have no idea why this happened... hence, they do not know that God so loved the world... and them.

So, I am in fact hooked. I will be staying on as their catechist, because I feel a call to help them understand the love of God, the reason for Jesus, and how all of this is meant for each and every one of them. It's enough to make me want to haul out that old chestnut, the "Jesus Movie"...


  1. Good luck! I look forward to hearing more about your approach -- keep us updated on your (and the students'!) progress!

  2. Thanks, Jonathan. It IS a great adventure! I am humbled by the opportunity - and pretty sure it's another sign from God that I have a purpose in the world. More later!