Between Sports and the Party: When Teaching the Faith Feels Like Babysitting
Editor's Note: A Patheos reader recently emailed us with a heartfelt expression of frustration: seven months into teaching the Catholic faith to third graders, and facing the disinterest of the children and the lack of parental commitment, he felt ready to quit. As his experiences are all too familiar for many catechists, we brought his missive to the attention of Christian LeBlanc, author of The Bible Tells Me So: A Year of Catechizing Directly from Scripture. Below is an excerpt of our reader's email, and LeBlanc's open-lettered response.
I was asked to teach CCD to third graders making their First Reconciliation and First Communion. I am not a teacher. . .but having coached CYO (10-12-year-olds), and also having children (now adults), I agreed.
I have been trying since September to "get into it." I prepare each week, sometimes for over a few hours. There are eleven kids in the class. They mostly show up, [but] if there is a soccer game or ice hockey game, those things [take precedence.]
The parents are polite, but after seven months, I am feeling like a babysitter. The kids are much less knowledgeable and frankly much less interested that I would have thought by age eight. They are fully affected by the society we live in, and the society that I live in is fairly affluent. Instead of feeling fulfilled, I feel resentful. Three weeks after Christmas, most of them did not even know what the Nativity was.
I started giving homework at the beginning, but gave up because I realized that no one did it. I gave them a quiz to take home to do with their parents—basic questions. When I asked them the next week about it, there was basically no response.
When I made my communion so many years ago, it meant everything. To these kids, I am afraid it means a party on a Sunday.
In a few short months, I am finished for the year. [I am not a lukewarm person, but] I don't think I can keep doing this. My question to you is, How much are we obligated as Christians to keep trying?
My heart wants this to be successful, but the rest of me says, "Screw it. Someone else can use my time and help." If you have time, I would really appreciate your thoughts.
Frustrated in Babylon
The Catholic Channel at Patheos asked me to respond to your heartfelt letter about catechizing little 21st-century pagans. I've been catechizing kids for ten years, and as Viv Savage said, I "have a good time all the time." And I think you should have a good time all the time in catechism class too.
So let's see: the parents stink, the kids stink, the curriculum stinks, and your first year of being a catechist stinks. This reminds me of my first year, but also what Marshal Foch said at the Battle of the Marne: "Pressé fortement sur ma droite, mon centre cède, impossible de me mouvoir, situation excellente, j'attaque." ["Pressed hard on my right; my center yields; impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent, I shall attack."]
So everything is bad, except for you and the Holy Spirit. That's actually liberating, because you can just forget worrying about the stuff you can't control, such as your indolent class of kiddies marinating in a decadent culture the other 167 hours of the week. What can you and the Spirit accomplish in a mere hour a week? Plenty!
Contact Christian LeBlanc at firstname.lastname@example.org.