1/ Don’t assume your catechumens/candidates or students know anything. I once had the experience of teaching someone who had never heard about the Trinity. He had no frame of reference and no idea what I kept referring to. That experience taught me to ask my students what they knew about a particular area of faith, before we discussed it.
2/ Don’t assume your students know nothing. It seems that every year I am shocked by one person who has been studying the Faith on their own and could probably teach the class! Again, beginning with a question and answer session is a great way to learn what gaps and what knowledge your students have.
3/ Don’t think teaching the Faith is all about knowledge and education. Teaching Faith is more about relationship than anything else. If you connect with your students, establish trust and have a true interest in their spiritual journey, they will be engaged and interested in the information you share with them. Catechism differs from other ‘classes’ they will take in life, as it will become a part of their life. The hope is for your students to not just learn, but internalize and love their Faith.
4/ Don’t think everyone learns the same way. Students tend to learn either auditorally (by hearing something), visually (seeing) or tactically (feeling). Combing different styles of teaching can be more effective to more people. For example, teaching about the Mass, then attending a Mass and discussing it afterwards (or during, if your parish priest doesn’t mind explaining things as he goes along) will help students who learn in different ways absorb the information.
5/ Don’t think you must have all the answers. It is okay to explain to your class that all aspects of Catholic teaching can take a lifetime to learn. We have a finite amount of time to cover all important topics, so if you don’t know something just tell them you don’t know and look it up for the next class. I encourage my adult class to look up the answers on their phone or computer when I don’t have the answers so that we can learn together.
6/ Don’t avoid the tough questions. Most catechists get questions that can make us uncomfortable. When this happens, the best response is to depersonalize the answer and just answer it frankly and honestly, referencing the Catechism (rather than sounding like you are the moral authority). I usually begin by saying, “The Church, in her wisdom and led by the Holy Spirit, states in the Catechism…” If they have an interest in learning about how this teaching has affected me personally I will go ahead and share that with them.
7/Don’t believe that someone else’s faith journey is your responsibility. We have an obligation to instruct, engage and set a good example, but it is the Holy Spirit, and not the teachers, who leads someone to Faith! We can assist the Spirit by increasing in our own knowledge of the Faith so that we are effective instructors, showing genuine Christian love for our students and praying for them. Good luck and God Bless!
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