In the popular book “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” author Stephen Covey wrote, “The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act.” This is true of our teens and of us as catechists.
Before we take on the task to evangelize others let us – seriously – ask ourselves, how do we see things? How do we perceive the world? But to be able to answer these questions with any accuracy we must take stock of how we spend our time. What “things” do we expose our senses to? Because it is through the senses that we perceive the world. Many people summarize this concept with the simple question: “Are you a ‘the glass is half-full’ or ‘the glass is half-empty’ type of person?” Well, before you can even get there, you have to be honest about one thing — how do you entertain your senses? This includes the types of TV shows you watch, the music you listen too, the types of conversations you hold and the books you read. Also, how much time do you spend speaking about Christ? How do you pray and for how long?
Our senses are “eating” all the time; consuming, and absorbing. Some say “garbage in, garbage out,” others “you are what you eat.” Scripture tells it positively and clearly: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) This should be the goal of all catechists – to train our senses to see God, and thus how we think and act. Not that we live in a cloud but that we become the type of person for whom God and the Church are first and foremost.
Covey, also wrote about seven habits that can be followed in order to achieve effectiveness in business. Be proactive, Begin with an end in mind, Put first things first, Think win/win, Seek first to understand, then to be understood, Synergize, Sharpen the saw. How can those habits be transformed into Habits of Successful Catechists? Here are some ideas:
1) Prayer and Sacraments: Any degree of resourcefulness and initiative that you bring to your work as a catechist will come from prayer. Not only will you get inspiration during dedicated prayer, but prayer will open your ears and eyes to the good ideas that others can offer. How? Dedicate at least one hour a week to pray for your students, and pray for openness to God’s will. In college a 3.0 credit class – to be successful – you should spend three hours outside of class studying. Same concept here. If you teach one hour a week, pray one hour a week. The ideas, the courage, and Christ’s peace will come.
2) Have established goals: Select a theme or a set of goals you want to achieve by the end of the catechism year. Write these out and post them or have them handy; refer to them often. Share them with your students, parents and the director of religious education (DRE). During catechist’s Confirmation year, confirmation promises serve as their goals. Just like married people keep their marriage vows in mind as they live their daily lives, Confirmation promises should be kept in mind.
3) Be involved. Ask your students how they are doing. What challenges are they facing? Know when they are having finals; when the next dance is; when the next big game is. These are teen’s “holidays” of sorts. Just like you get a surge of joy when you see one of your students at Mass , they will get the same surge of joy when you show up to the big game or give them a prayer to say before their big exam.
4) Be positive. Nobody likes a grumpy Christian. There are no grumpy saints. Having a positive outlook is crucial to evangelizing and it serves as an example to our teens. Although sometimes one has to scold or correct in class, this can be done positively, explaining why the behavior is wrong, being clear about the consequence and following through with those consequences. Include praise as part of your instruction, especially if you have guests in class. Teens like to know you notice their good habits and awesome personalities.
5) Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This one I have to leave the same, after all, St. Francis said it first. And, it is very good advice when dealing with teens and their parents. Parents are a very important key to the work of evangelization. Be on their side; seek to understand the pressures they face. Be a good listener. Dedicate time in class to pray for teens and their parents. The relationship between teen and parent determines a lot of how they relate to God and anyone in authority. Find something positive about each student and half way through the year call parents and share an uplifting message about their teen.
6) Teach what the Church teaches. The Church gives us direction. As long as you teach what the church teaches, you’ll never go wrong. The church has dealt with every issue in history. A copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a must for any catechist, and if you don’t have one, get one and read it. If you’re serious about evangelizing then you have to know the Church.
7) Learn, renew, and stay informed. Many dioceses have classes or talks for catechists. Parishes have parish missions, bible studies, and speakers. Know your faith. Read Catholic news daily. You don’t need to know everything, but being a resource for others is a means of evangelizing. Good parents always want to know how to be better parents. Good spouses always seek to be better persons for the sake of their spouse. It’s no different when you’re a catechist. At least once a year, if you can, go on pilgrimage or on a weekend retreat. It will provide you renewal and the stamina for yet another year. Being a catechist takes personal commitment. And if that is your call, whether for one year or twenty, you’ll have some degree of success if you follow these habits.
2010 Maria Rivera