When Will My Work as a Catechist Bear Fruit?

The following letter regarding religious education recently came to the Patheos inbox:

Dear Anchoress,

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.

 

The anchoress responds:

One (among many) of the reasons why our religious education programs are ineffectual is simply this: Parents believe they can drop the kids off, and their duty in that department is done.

Grousing about that is easy, and satisfying, but also rather pointless….

Christian LaBlanc also responds:

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!

He continues to lay out an intriguing program of catechesis based on scripture and personal experience.

Jen Fitz supplies an excellent dose of humility to the conversation:

“Just don’t even walk through the door of that classroom until you are resolved to fall madly in love with every single bratty, bored, back-talking precious child of God in there.  That student was made in the image of God…  God doesn’t screw up His work.”

And Dorian Speed, several weeks ago wrote a post that applies very much to the question:

“Can we stop acting like the problems with religious education are Parents and Kids? Because these are not the correct demographics….

Teaching/Catechesis/Evangelizing/Disciple-izing/Whatever-word-we’re-using is about sowing seeds and the long, long view. With some of the places I’ve taught, if I start thinking about where those kids are now, I get really down. But I also don’t know where those kids will be in ten years, when they have children of their own. Maybe, for my CCE kiddos, having had a non-terrible teacher will be enough to make them think about giving Church a try again.”

Her follow-up post is equally worthy of a good read.

 

The only thing I have to add to this conversation is to speak up for the dead-beat parents who get a bad rap in every catechesis discussion (yes, even though Dorian said it’s not about them).

Slacker parents are easy to dismiss, because we never see them. They’re not there, after all–they just deposit their children at the door and pick them up when they’re done at the bar, or their shopping trip, or whatever unworthy activity one would like to imagine for them.

I’m in the same generation as today’s slacker parents, and if their grade-school catechesis was anything like mine, they are not culpable for lack of knowledge about the faith. I was in CCD for twelve years and the one and only lesson I remember was from 7th grade when we watched the Madonna video “Like a Prayer” three times and the class democratically concluded that there was nothing wrong with it.

I learned the faith as a young adult, simply because I ran into the right people when I was ripe for conversion.

But past catechetical failures aside, it might be worthwhile to consider that for people who value sports and their other commitments over religion, there’s no good reason to complicate their lives with an extra hourly commitment just to throw a fancy dress party at the end of it. We live in an era of easy secular ritual. A visit to Comic Con or Chucky Cheese is a much simpler way to dress up and fete a child.

Parents who present their children to the Church for Sacramental Prep or religious education actually are making a leap of faith. They are granting you, the Catechist, with a form of temporal moral authority over their child–and in the wake of sex abuse scandals in the Church, and with the casual heresy that often passes for enlightened spiritual thinking–this is not something to take lightly.

I know many more parents who withhold their children from Parish sponsored catechesis because they either reject the Church altogether, or they don’t feel they can trust the teachers or the curricula to pass on the true faith.

The Church is privileged with the care of these young souls. We have to trust the journey that brought each child through the door because we have no idea what it’s been or where it’s going.

Likewise, the Catechist is privileged to be entrusted with preaching the Gospel and precepts of the Catholic Church, privileged to share in the salvific mission of Jesus.

It’s far too easy to think, “I’m doing this nice favor for Jesus, and he doesn’t even have the decency to make it easy for me.”

I love what Jen Fitz says on this issue:

Teaching religious education can’t be that thing you do because you’re supposed to do it.  It has to be that thing you do because there’s nothing more important in the world to you than helping other souls find their way to Jesus.

Amen to that, even though it’s something I’m just now figuring out myself, after having been a Catechist for most of my adult life. I’m not the best thing that ever happened to Jesus. My time is his time. My efforts are his efforts. If he wills for my work to bear fruit, it will be his fruit.

Whatever program or model your Parish uses to teach the faith, from whatever faith background or demographic come your students, it’s about the long view as Dorian says, and the most necessary work you do as a Catechist might be on your own soul.

About Elizabeth Duffy

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