About Jennifer Fitz

Jennifer Fitz is the author of Classroom Management for Catechists, now available for pre-order from Liguori Publications. She is vice president of the Catholic Writers Guild, and writes at CatholicMom.com, NewEvangelizers.com, and on her personal blog, jenniferfitz.wordpress.com.

The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning – Giveaway this Weekend

The Sinner's Guide to Natural Famiily Planning by Simcha FisherQuick book note for you, if you are looking for help with articulating the Church’s teaching on openness to life and responsible parenthood: Take a look at the Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning.  It is absolutely my new go-to book for marriage-prep.

What it’s not: A book about how to practice NFP, nor a tour of the catechism and the going thinking in Theology of the Body.

What it is: An insightful and at times hilarious look at how marriage works, and how NFP fits into that, even when it doesn’t seem to fit.  Sarah Reinhard reviews it here, and I add a few comments about how unlikely it was I’d even read the book here.

I post additional thoughts at my place, where I’m hosting a giveaway this weekend, Nov 1 – Nov 4th, if you’d like a shot at winning a copy.  If you prefer to enter here at Amazing Catechists, you may do so in this combox, just leave your name and a comment.  Be sure to put an e-mail address in the indicated field (it is only visible to the site administrators), so that I can contact you if you win.  Drawing will be, approximately, Tuesday the 5th.

 Update: Congratulations to our winner, Angela!  Thanks to everyone for playing.  The rest of y’all go buy a copy!

Training for Catechists: Ho Kai Paulos by Joe Wetterling

Looking for training for catechists in plain English?  Veteran educator Joe Wetterling has relaunched his catechetical website, Ho Kai Paulos.  That bit of Greek means something to a few of you, and the rest of us can look here for the explanation.

I know Joe from his excellent presentations for the Catholic Writers Guild.  He’s on my favorites list because he’s well-read, and insightful, and hilarious, and a nice guy into the package.  He re-opens his site with a 101 on Objective vs. Subjective. If you need to bring a catechist up to speed, or refer someone for a review of the essentials of the faith, this is the place.

Catholic Crafts and Games for CCD – Arma Dei & the Inklings

I’m not crafty but my 11-year-old is, and that’s how we ended up with a gig preparing demo models of Arma Dei’s Catholic craft kits for our local Catholic bookstore.  I’d seen these before but never used them.  Putting a set together has let me see how much catechesis these kits offer, and how well they’d work with any religious ed curriculum.

The two sets we’ve been working with are Color Me Catholic and the Journey with Jesus kits.  The first is great for first-communion age — nice easy coloring crafts that teach the basics of Catholic vocabulary.

 

Color Me Catholic – 1st – 3rd Grade

Journey with Jesus – 5th – 8th grades

The second set lines up perfectly with the study of the sacraments that was the mainstay of our parish’s 5th grade class, and the activity pages are substantial — so much so that we didn’t have time to look up all the answers, and had to put together a demo using just the easiest pages.  The craft itself — putting together an accordian-style booklet– is a little complicated.  We simplified by using staples rather than glue, and there’s a scrapbook-style option as well.  The Journey with Jesus set would be appropriate for students from about 5th – 8th grade.

The Arma Dei kits are reproducibles, and the copyright gives you permission to make copies for either one class or one family.  The pricing is in line with that: One appropriately-chosen kit is enough to keep your class busy for a full year.

Not all students are wild about crafts, so I’d recommend offering an alternative learning activity, and letting students pick whether they want to be in the craft group or the game group.  A recent find that I really like is Cactus Game’s Inklings board game.  The game is designed to be friendly towards those of us who don’t know our Bible as well as we ought, but let’s be honest: Some of your students aren’t going to have the slightest clue about some of the questions.

I’d recommend first playing the game by just using the quiz questions to let members of the game-group learn and test each other. Then play for points after students have been introduced to all, or most of, the cards.  You the catechist may want to flip through the question cards and do some previewing — some questions are more obscure than others — and decide which cards need previewing, and which students will be able to guess without help.

Enjoy!

What are we doing here? Sam Rocha: A Primer for Philosophy & Education

I accepted a review copy of Sam Rocha’s A Primer for Philosophy and Education with trepidation: Academics tend to write horribly, and philosophers are the worst of the lot.  Well, I found a jewel. Not only can the man write clearly and well, he can think straight, too.  Sam Rocha’s Primer is a treasure trove of measured, thoughtful reflection on what makes education, and how to become educated.

I recommend his book wholeheartedly to anyone who is serious about education – teachers, catechists, parents, principals and directors of religious education, pastors, students.  The reading level isn’t babyish — you have to put on your grown-up and think about what you’re reading — but it’s geared toward the intelligent layman who truly cares about the topic.  Pour a cup a tea, put up your feet, and get your pencil ready to highlight your favorite lines.

Today I’d like to share a few quotes from the book that I think speak to the state of catechesis today, and share my own reflections on what we educators need to consider.

“Students like these are motivated by a sense of entrapment, a feeling that they must go to school and get good grades in order to get a respectable job, good reviews and promotions, a pay raise for having an advanced degree, so on and so forth – to avoid disappointing family and friends.”

This doesn’t just happen in academia, it happens in the parish.  How many teens are cycled through confirmation because it will please Mom & Dad?  How many parents baptize their children in order to silence Grandma’s nagging?

When someone walks through the door seeking sacraments the way they seek a diploma or their 1st Aid certification, we should welcome them wholeheartedly.  And then show them a better way.

“The problem with grades, credentials, and formal schooling is that it generates a culture and mentality of fear, distrust, and paranoia.”

Our diocese, like most, sets out a few minimum educational requirements for persons requesting the sacraments.  These standards are, at their heart, ordered toward a very serious matter: We must ensure that the individual is indeed prepared to receive Our Lord in a worthy manner.  But it is important that we communicate – in our words and in our policies – that what matters is not the sitting in a room or checking off of to-do items, but that the soul be prepared.  Classes are a tool that can help prepare students for the sacraments, and I am grateful for the excellent volunteers who’ve helped my own children grow in their faith.  But education is different than attendance.

“Of course students who attend a school that assigns grades should want to get good grades.  They should obviously not want to get bad ones.  However, you should not confuse this institutionalized process of grade-getting, school-going, degree-worshipping, and job-seeking with what philosophy and education have to offer you. . . . Formal schooling does not have the monopoly on philosophy or education.”

Our courses should be such that students and parents want to attend them.  And in guiding parents and students, we need to direct them not towards the checklist as the measure of spiritual growth, but to the serious questions of heart, soul, and mind.

“Google is full of information, but it has no wisdom of its own. A person who is full of information is not necessarily full of wisdom. . . . To win at games like Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit does not require wisdom, it only requires information.”

In catechesis, information nutures wisdom, and wisdom thirsts for information.  If I love God, I’ll want to know more about Him.  The more I know about God, the more reasons I’ll have to love Him.

We tend to slip into a false dichotomy, setting up hard facts against feelings, or precision against grace.  Not so.  The human mind and soul languish when the scales are loaded on one side only.  Demanding love without knowledge is an arranged marriage; demanding knowledge without love is a business relationship.  In our catechesis, we need to help our students love God in all four ways that He Himself has directed – heart, mind, soul, and strength.

“Read for the truth.  Write and speak to show what seems true.  Ask questions to get at what might be true.  Attend classes to seek the truth.  Do not settle for shallow, impoverished grades, and cheap, degrading awards. . . . Philosophy and education require courage.”

Recently a catechist (not from my parish) approached me privately with a difficult situation: Several fellow catechists in her program had shared with her various ways in which they are freely, and with full knowledge, choosing to act, in serious matters, in ways contrary to the Catholic faith.  They are committing no crimes, and they are not actively teaching dissent in the classroom.  But they clearly do not believe that the Church in her wisdom possesses the fullness of the truth.  The catechist wanted to know what she should do? She didn’t want to be a tattle-tale, and she did want to address the problem in a way that would help her colleagues grow in their own faith and embrace the fullness of the Church’s teachings.

She also knew instinctively about the essential relationship between education and truth: You can’t teach something you don’t believe is true.

***

Read the whole book. Beautifully written, and the whimsical line drawings create delightful moments to pause and reflect.  Well worth your time.

Remain with Us, Lord: Reflections on the Mass in the Christian Life

Screenshot ImageFor years I’ve been wanting a good video that explains the holy Mass from start to finish, in an accessible overview — something that will help the ordinary Catholic understand and thus enter into what’s happening during the liturgy.

Midwest Theological Forum has recently released a DVD (also available as a download) that does just that: Remain with Us, Lord: Reflections on the Mass in the Christian Life is a short (approximately 35 minutes) walk through the Mass, with footage from several parishes around the United States and Ireland.  A collection of priests (including notables like Fr. Barron) provide comments about what is happening and what the deeper meaning is, and parishioners share their experiences of connecting with God in the Mass.

Something I particularly liked was that the video tackles the problem of human suffering head on.  The faith isn’t just about feeling warm and happy, but about receiving God’s life even in the midst of our worst difficulties.  The personal stories — some joyful, some heartbreaking — add a layer of discipleship to what would otherwise be merely very good catechesis.

Highly recommended for confirmation and RCIA prep, as well as discipleship programs in the parish, and of course for catechist formation.  I would estimate the video is geared towards teens and adults, but children who are settled down and attentive would enjoy it — nice shots of first communicants.   For elementary-aged children, this video will work well for parent-child viewing, either at home or at small parish gatherings of just a few families at once.  5th grade and up will benefit from the viewing the DVD in class, if the students have been prepped in advance with basic background facts and vocabulary.

DVD Image

Great video to have on hand.  I truly enjoyed watching it, and felt my own faith was bolstered a bit in the process.  Well done.

Virtues in Practice – Free Curriculum — from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia

Click the sisters’ logo to see their free virtues curriculum.

 

A friend of mine just pointed me towards this free K-8 curriculum from the Nashville Dominicans, Virtue in Practice.  There is a parent guide, and then PDF workbooks for four age groups: preschool – kindergarten, grades 1-2, 3-5, and 6-8.  The program works on a three-year cycle, with one class a month from September through May.  All students study the same virtue, but with a different patron saint at each grade level.

How I’d like to use it: Over the summer, a group of families from our city has been meeting to discuss the book Forming Intentional Disciples, in conjunction with CatholicMom.com’s book club.  We determined two important things at our most recent meeting:

1.  The first thing we need to do is work on our own personal relationships with Jesus, before we can hope to share our faith with others.

2. Our kids make a lot of noise.

We wanted to continue meeting family-to-family, but were overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of young children not sitting quietly watching a DVD while we tried to talk.  So we’ve decided to try a split-session format.  One week the men will get to meet for serious discussion and study, while ladies occupy the kids.  The following round, ladies will get the peace and quiet, men get the kids.

I have no idea what the guys have planned for their turn with the kids — I imagine it involves touch football.  But what I’m going to propose to the ladies is that we put together a plan for the kids.  I was thinking of music and a craft, and was looking for some kind of discipleship study for the kids.  We’ve used Little Flowers materials in the past, but we needed something co-ed this round.  The sisters’ virtues study looks like just the ticket.  And the price is right.

I’ll propose that we start with opening prayers and music time, introduce the virtue to the whole group, then break into to age-groups for a short discussion time.  We’ll pick one of the activity options that works well in cramped quarters.

In the past, we’ve had good luck with this group of children doing a repeating craft activity every month.  I know that many of our families will be studying medieval history this year, so I may propose that we do an illuminated-manuscript type craft for the monthly activity.   That tends to scale up well — each child can make his manuscript as simple or elaborate as he likes.  (I like The Art of Calligraphy by David Harris for learning historic lettering techniques.) Some of the other moms may have better ideas — maybe mining some ideas from Catholic Icing.

And of course we’ll finish with playtime — kids need fellowship too!

“How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating,” by Brett Salkeld and Leah Perrault

how_far_can_we_go_book_cover

I tend to be rules-based thinker.  I am an accountant by training, the kind of person who can read an IRS form and say, “Oh, this makes perfect sense!”  So when I think about chastity, simple, practical rules appeal to me.  Don’t hold hands unless ___­­____. No kiss until _________. Follow the method and it’ll all work out.

Which would be a great system, if only chastity were an accounting method.

How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating by Leah Perrault and Brett Salkeld is the answer to a thorny question: How do I teach my children to discern the right way to live chastely?  I need my kids to develop a mature faith, not just follow a set of simplistic dictates about whether it’s okay to to hold hands 2.3 years into the courtship.  But that doesn’t mean we devolve into saying, “Whatever you decide is fine.”  Some choices about displays of affection most definitely are not fine.

To ground those decisions, the book includes a primer on the basics of chastity: What is it, and why does the Church teach it?  Typical questions, such as, “Can I use birth control pills to treat a medical condition?” are answered with a mind for both theological accuracy and common sense.  A whole chapter is devoted to, “What do I do if I’ve already gone too far?”  The answer: It’s never too late to start living chastely, and the Church offers us the sacrament of reconciliation to get us started on our renewed life of grace.

For all these basics, I found the friendly, readable, and compact format to be very handy.  It’s Theology of the Body, sex-topics version, in a palatable package you can realistically give to a busy parent, parents can give to teens, and harried catechists can use to catch up on the essentials without having to wade through piles of academic literature.

But what’s most radically different about the book is the answer to the “How Far Can We Go?” question.  The reader learns how to draw hard lines at essential points: Anything that’s going to lead us into sin is a no-go, and that may mean backing off of what we thought was an acceptable practice.  But the reader also learns how to choose an appropriate display of affection that accurately reflects the reality of the couple’s relationship.  Couples learn to talk through differences in expectations – perhaps one comes from a very outwardly-affectionate family, and the other tends to be very reserved – and how to use good communication to clarify the meaning of our actions.

What age for this book?

Mature teens and up.  This is a resource catechists can recommend to parents of teens, for both the parent and teen to read and discuss together.  Young adult groups (18 and up) would find it a good book study choice.  The style is readable, and the content suitable for someone with no background in Church teaching on sexuality, but the authors never speak down to the reader.  The assumption is that you’re an intelligent person who wants to do the right thing, and you’re interested in learning some approaches for making the right thing happen.

Theology of the Body for Everybody

Body + Soul = A Theology of DiscipleshipAlso worth a look: A second book by Leah Perrault, Theology of the Body for Everbody, is not a book about Catholic Sex Ed.  It’s a great book though — in fact it’s my #2 go-to book as a primer on evangelization and discipleship.  My review of that title is at NewEvangelizers.com.  (#1 is Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples, of course.)

–> For a second opinion on How Far Can We Go?, here is the book review at Darwin Catholic that originally called my attention to this work.

 

Evangelization, Discipleship, and the Work of the Catechist

Lawn Chair Catechism at CatholicMom.com

I’m guilty of a woeful consistency: When someone tells me that Child XYZ has bad attendance at religious ed, my response is a persistent, “So what’s going on with the family?” There’s always a story behind the missing child.  There’s a whole family of stories.  A group of people who, for some reason, are drawn to the religious education program.  They want something that your catechsim class offers — or something they think they might find there.

But they don’t meet spec for a Model Parish Family.  Bad attendance.  A kid that hates the class.  A parent who can’t do the drive this week. A competing obligation.  Something’s gone wrong.

Now it isn’t always possible for the catechist to find out what the problem is, let alone solve it.  I often don’t meet the parents of my students until after the school year is over — if ever.  The parent may not be comfortable talking to the DRE — or to anyone.

But that doesn’t mean we as a parish have done our job, if people are revolving through our doors like a parade of lemmings, looking into our lobby and then popping back out again.

Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell This summer, Sarah Reinhard & I have put together an online discussion group of Sherry Weddell’s seminal work on evangelization in the parish, Forming Intentional Disciples CatholicMom.com has graciously sponsored the event, and Our Sunday Visitor is offering the book at a substantial discount.

Catechesis and evangelization are two different, but overlapping, functions of the parish.  One of the things I like about Sherry’s book is that that it shows me when my catechist-mode is helpful, and when it’s better to shut up and listen for a few minutes.

I’d like to invite you to join with us in studying this topic during your summer break.  You can read about all the options at the Lawn Chair Catechism landing page, here.  There are choices for those who want to read the book and discuss online, those who want to do a parish book club, and those who don’t have the time or energy to read a whole book, but just need an overview of the essential ideas.

–> Tip for you: Our online study is going to run 13 weeks altogether — one week for each chapter.  For most parishes, you will not want to do a real-life book group that way — who is going to be home every single week this summer?!  The book can be thoroughly discussed in just two or three get-togethers.  I also recommend erring on the side of hosting several smaller groups, rather than a single one-size-fits-nobody event.

(Online, the week-by-week format works well, because it lets you lay out your ideas a few at a time.  But I assure you, very few of us catechist types will turn out at a book club and only say 500 words all evening!)

I hope you’ll join us, here at Amazing Catechists, and over at CatholicMom.com, and around St. Blogs.  I look forward to hearing about your tales of triumph in the New Evangelization.

An Examination-of-Christian-Formation Using the Great Commandment

My first year teaching religious education, our textbook emphasized the “Great Commandment”.  It’s a term that refers to this passage of the Gospel:

One of the scribes heard their dispute, and, finding that he answered to the purpose, came up and asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 Jesus answered him, The first commandment of all is, Listen, Israel; there is no God but the Lord thy God; 30 and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with the love of thy whole heart, and thy whole soul, and thy whole mind, and thy whole strength.[a] This is the first commandment, 31 and the second, its like, is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.[b] There is no other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:28-31

It’s been a formative verse for me.  As a fan off all things theology-for-laypeople, what struck me most was, “Love the Lord your God with . . .  all your mind.” Needless to say, I wrote a long-winded “Hurrah!” when I saw this post from William O’Leary at Catechesis in the Third Millenium, on the importance of studying theology.

When we say, “Christian Formation”, though, we’re talking about forming the whole Christian.  Theology is an essential part of that — there can be no saying, “Well, if we just teach them to love Jesus (heart), that’s all they need.”  Christ says otherwise.  If we say, “They’re learning the theology of service (strength) by doing their volunteer hours,” again we’ve got an incomplete picture.

When I consider what I, or my children, or my students need next, in order to become more like Christ, I can use the Great Commandment as a four-part examination.

Heart:  What will help this person grow in their love of God? 

A few possibilities:

  • Being treated with kindness and respect by others in the parish and at home.
  • Learning to cultivate thankfulness for God — including the very hard and painful lesson of thankfulness during times of suffering and loss.
  • Developing a love for Jesus, by meditating on His life, death, and resurrection.
  • Learning, by practice, how to pray informally to God, and how to talk about God to others — a topic many Catholics are uncomfortable with.  Doesn’t it grow your love when you can tell others something good done by the person you love?  Or have a heart-to-heart talk with that person?
  • Learning songs, prayers, devotions, and Bible verses that focus on Christ’s love for us.

Many youth programs today have a strong “heart” focus — and that’s great.  It’s a strength we need to preserve and cultivate.

Soul:  What will help this person worship God more fully?

It’s tempting to wrap up heart & soul into one package, and I imagine Christ intentionally asks us to take the two apart, and cultivate  the work of each.  I can build up the life of the soul by:

  • Learning more about the Mass,  and all the rituals and practices of the Church, so that I can worship with greater understanding, and a better ability to follow along and participate.
  • Studying traditional devotions such as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and Eucharistic Adoration (I’m running out of space — can’t list them all).
  • Practicing those devotions! We learn to pray by praying.
  • Learning and practicing the various forms of meditative prayer, including lectio divina, and written prayer.
  • Singing — even memorizing — hymns that have their focus on the worship of God.  We have many inspirational songs in our Catholic tradition that treat other themes.  There’s nothing wrong with those songs!  But we must set apart for study and the liturgy music that is God-centered, because the human soul needs to worship God.
  • Expanding our ability to worship by studying chant, Latin prayers and music, and other traditional modes of worship that are lesser-known in many contemporary parishes, but that have much to offer the soul in search of beauty and reverence.
  • Developing an understanding of Catholic spiritual thinking: That is, training the soul to come to Christ.

The human soul is capable of tremendous depth and breadth.  We needn’t be afraid of faithfully-Catholic devotions that aren’t familiar to us, or aren’t commonly practiced in our local parish.

Mind: To Know You Is to Love You

The mind is the traditional province of the catechist, though as we’ve seen, Christian formation is something much bigger.  Still, it’s essential that we Christians learn to use our minds in the service of God, and in understanding the things of God, by:

  • Memorizing essential prayers, hymns, Bible verses, and teachings of the Church, so that we have them at the ready in the time of need.  (Want to get that annoying refrain of “Louie Louie” out of your head? Sing a different song you’ve memorized.)
  • Studying the Scriptures at an age-appropriate level, according to our intellectual capacity.  How many students read Twilight, but never the Song of Songs?  How many adults have a college degree in _____________, but insist the Bible is just . . . too . . . haaaaard.  Nonsense!
  • Learning theology, with the same seriousness we devote to any other subject. We’d never settle for a 2nd-grade math education, or a third-grade reading level.  The mind needs to know God — that’s what theology is — as thoroughly as it knows any other subject, or the intellectual vacuum will be filled some other way.
  • Understanding the reasons for the Church’s moral teachings, the reality of Church history, and how to mount a proper defense of the Faith via apologetics.
  • Meeting our models in the faith by studying the lives of the saints.  If you’re not sure how much an adult wants or needs to know about the saints, use a copy of People Magazine as a reference.  Turns out people really do want to know about the lives of other people.

Strength: Serving God in the Context of Our Vocations

How do I spend my time and energy? If I’m married, I owe the bulk of my time to providing for my family, overseeing the education of my children, and cultivating the relationship of love within the family.   Priests, religious, and single persons have different responsibilities.  All of us owe our “extra” to God, performing whichever spiritual and corporal works of mercy we can.  A properly ordered life is built by:

  • Learning what the works of mercy are, so we know them when we see them.
  • Identifying ways we can perform good works, according to our state in life and our God-given talents and resources.
  • Practicing! There’s a hump to be overcome, a ball to get rolling . . . jump in and try one.
  • Cultivating a lifestyle that enables works of mercy.  Good discipleship includes helping each other discern whether we have our priorities in order, and what we might change to make more room for service to God.
  • Maturing.  Mandatory “volunteering” sometimes has a place, in helping those young-in-the-faith get physical practice at acts of service.  But let’s not confuse indentured servitude with freely-given service. (As any kid made to wash the dishes will tell you, the purpose of having children is to breed a household full of slaves, right?) What we want to nurture is the desire to give of ourselves generously, from the . . . heart.

In all of these, I’ve focused on the positives.  But of course we must also learn how to identify and flee the sins that would destroy each of our four pillars of Christian life. Sins that destroy the . . .

  1. Heart: Envy, bitterness, jealousy.
  2. Soul: Despair, pride, indifference.
  3. Mind: Apathy, willful ignorance, intellectual laziness.
  4. Strength: Unchastity, gluttony, greed.

Christian formation means forming Christians.  That’s us — people who are prone to do what is wrong, and must be taught how to do what is right.

Catechism Class Cannot Do the Job Alone

That little four-part examination makes a huge list!  My biggest weakness as an instructor — yours may lie elsewhere — is the temptation to try to do everything.  That’s not my job.  I can’t possibly offer Total Christian Formation in an hour a week.  What is my job?  To figure out which needs are best met by my class.

That means talking to parents and students.  It means consulting my DRE and pastor.  It means obeying the directives of my bishop.  I can figure out what kind of class I’m good at teaching, and offer that class.  I can look for ways my class isn’t helping students, and try to improve.  And as I see needs around the parish, I ask: What would help most here?

I use the Great Commandment to help me identify those needs — in the people I’m called to serve, and above all, in myself.  The more I grow in the four ways of loving God, the more I can succeed at Command #2, loving my neighbor as myself.

Mixed-Menus: Charisms, Virtues, and Catechists

This fall a friend phoned and asked if I couldn’t lend a hand for a little reception she was throwing.  The time and place were convenient, the cause worth supporting . . . sure, why not?  My mind went straight to work thinking about logistics — traffic flow, signage, efficiency.  She showed up with flower arrangements and table cloths and beautiful glass lemonade dispensers.  Lemonade?  I didn’t even know how to make it.

We have different charisms — different gifts.  The reactions to our newly-elected pope are an interesting study in charisms.  Most of us media-commentators know virtually nothing about the man, and in any case, you never can predict how anyone will carry out his office.  So what we learn from the comments is more about ourselves than about Francisco: “I admire this kind of gesture,” or, “I’m afraid of policies that lean that way.”

It’s easy to deceive ourselves with our comments. We might think that if we find the display of a certain virtue appealing, that we somehow possess that virtue — as if admiring an Olympic gymnastic performance somehow made us more flexible and graceful.  It doesn’t.  (But resolving to exercise more, inspired by that gymnast, might indeed improve our physical condition.  Likewise for the virtues.) The reverse is true as well.  If our Francis-Blot Test reveals that we sorta miss Pope Benedict’s  vestmentary panache, that doesn’t make us shallow, elitist liturgical snobs.  It means we have a fondness for the rich symbolism that our retired holy father mined so effectively.  Why shouldn’t we have?

In papal personalities I happen to like it all — give me my JPII, my B16, my Francisco — I’m loving it.  But I’ll admit that when it comes to catechesis, my tastes are narrower.  I like academic presentations, I like hard facts, I like lots of carefully-documented history . . .  not so much personal caring-n-sharing and touching anecdotes.  And I like it at just the right sweet spot, not too Ivory Tower, not too populist.  I’m the picky eater of the catechetical world.

But here’s the rub: I know that other people love Chicken Soup for the Catechist’s Soul.  I know that those little exercises where everybody holds hands and then we . . . you know the one . . .  Other people learn from that stuff.  Other people love those types of classes.  And not because they’re     insert derogatory comment here  , but because they have a different style than me.  A different kind of teaching reaches them.  A different kind of teaching meets their spiritual needs, and thus pushes them to grow in the faith.

I get a lot of students who love my classes.  I get parents whose elder child took my class, who then request my class for the younger siblings.  But I also get students who would rather be anywhere but in my classroom.  Because what they need is not the kind of class I teach — even though other kids need it and relish it.  If I’m lucky enough to hear about the problem early on, I can try to make a few changes to make my class more suitable for them.   I can also, if appropriate, point them to a different catechist’s class that’s more their speed.

One thing I have treasured in the DRE’s I have worked for is an openness to the gifts and personalities of each catechist.  I’ve been given a framework and direction, but have been encouraged to develop my class in a way that builds on my strengths as a teacher.  I’ve found my own children have benefited from that, getting to take classes with a variety of catechists, each one imparting the faith — the same faith — from a different angle. We grow that way.

Likewise, the most helpful catechist-training sessions I’ve attended weren’t the ones where I learned how to do something I already did easily and well; they were the classes that pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to add to my repertoire.

Whether it’s a new pope, or a new textbook, or a new teaching partner, we all have times when we feel a little pushed.  A little uncomfortable.   If you sometimes feel like a Hamburger catechist in a Sushi world, don’t panic.   Your religious education program needs the full menu.