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.