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!
The first thing is to scrap homework, quizzes, and the textbook. It's fine to use the book as a guide, but reading out of the book in class is a time-killer. Don't let the kids have anything on the desk—no books, paper, pencils, nothing. If only one child shows up, say "Thank you Jesus, for this one," and get fired-up about this great opportunity to help that kid get to heaven.
Now, you're teaching Reconciliation (R) and Communion (C), and I bet you only have six classes to go. That gives you three hours on each subject—practically an eternity—and you're going to catechize and evangelize at the same time.
Here's an idea for three hours on Reconciliation:
R1: Basics of Sin and Forgiveness
Tell a couple of stories from your own life about asking for forgiveness, and granting forgiveness. Get the shame, and pride, and fear and relief into it. You know: you aren't lukewarm! Then ask the kids about when they have hurt their parents' feelings. Maybe like me, a child broke something valuable that he couldn't replace. Do you want to apologize? Why not? Does your mom want you to apologize? Why? Does she already know you've been bad? Will she forgive you? What keeps you from saying you're sorry? Do you fake an apology? Is your mom fooled? Will she accept something less than true repentance? Is it okay to call her on the phone, or text her that you're sorry? Why not? Why does it have to be face-to-face? Why does she even care if you apologize? Does love have anything to with it? Once you say you're sorry and you really mean it what does your mom say? What does she do? How do you both feel then?