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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!
It’s about that time of year to start really gearing up and getting ready for another religious education year to begin. This time of year is always exciting because it is a fresh new year full of potential, promise and your dreams to form students in the Catholic Faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ. I would like to share a few things to keep in mind as you “gear up”.
1. Rely on the Holy Spirit — You can be the most talented of catechists, but without a reliance on what God wants and allowing God to work you will not be the instrument God is calling you to be – Your impact will not be as great. For example – if the topic of the day is the Holy Trinity and you say…”I think this is over the heads of my students so I’m going to talk about how God loves them and how no matter what they do He is their for them”. It is true that you could say some very good things to your students, but helping them understand the mystery of the Trinity is essential to building a foundation for their understanding that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our whole faith depends on the truth of the Holy Trinity – the central mystery of the Christian life (CCC 234). Or if you are really good at engaging with your students because you can get them talking and involved in activities that is a wonderful gift to have; however if you do not seek to be grounded in your own spiritual life which calls each of us to rely on Him your talents will bear less fruit. Offering to God your gifts and seeking an active spiritual life is invaluable to the fruitfulness of your catechesis.
2. The Darn Textbook — Many religious education programs use a textbook. Granted they can be useful and helpful to new and old volunteer catechists, however they are only a tool. Catechists who most often go through each page of the textbook and have students take turns reading out of it are not using it as a catechetical tool, but more as a crutch. In the Third Millennium students are not as engaged when this method is used. The Catechism is a vital source book for catechists to turn to in order to understand how the Church desires to pass on the faith. Each thing you use – video, art, activities and the textbook are all tools to drawing your students into a greater knowledge of God’s plan for them and a deeper personal friendship with Jesus.
3. Bling Bling — In order for the proclamation of the Gospel to be compelling to today’s generation it must be beautiful, it must be attractive, it must use today’s sensibilities to draw students into the ancient and glorious mystery of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who is the source of our salvation. The society we live in is completely saturated with facts about x, y & z. How are we taking the rich deposit of faith and communicating it in a manner that attracts believers to desire to respond to God’s Will, God’s ways, and His call for conversion?
These are just a few things to keep in mind as you gear up for a new religious education year. May the Holy Spirit speak to your hearts and to the hearts of the students who will be in your classes!
I’ve been a catechist for over ten years, and in that time I’ve found a number of helpful books. While nothing beats the essentials, I’ve been thrilled recently with the resources I’ve seen published. Here are three that caught my eye and that I just had to share.
Totally Catholic!: A Catechism for Kids and Their Parents and Teachers
Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND (Pauline Books & Media, 2014)
For adults, there’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For teens, there’s the YouCat. And now, for the rest of us, there’s Totally Catholic! I actually read this cover to cover and enjoyed every bit of it. As I prepared for Confirmation Boot Camp and for some other lessons, I found myself referencing it quite a bit.
Glavich has a knack for making things applicable and relevant. She describes complicated matters of faith in a way that is fun and interesting. For example, in the chapter on the communion of saints, there’s this:
The people in the Church’s three states, like a family, lovingly help one another.
Saints on earth. Did you ever say to someone, “I’ll pray for you”? We can pray and offer our good works and sufferings for people on earth, and they can do the same for us.
Saints in purgatory. We can also pray and offer good works and sufferings for people in purgatory in order to hurry their purification. That is why after someone dies, we have Masses said for them. You can pray for your deceased relatives or even for people in purgatory who might not have anyone to pray for them. Those in purgatory (sometimes called poor souls) can also pray for us.
Saints in heaven. Likewise, we can turn to the saints in heaven and ask them to intercede, or pray for us. Friendship with the saints can help us grow closer to Christ.
There are 39 chapters, two appendices, and an index. It’s arranged much like the big green Catechism, and it’s written for a younger crowd (I would call it middle grade). Each chapter starts with a reference from the Catechism and an introduction. There are “Did You Know?” callout boxes, “BTW” facts, and a “Catholic VIP” highlighted in each chapter. Each chapter has a “Scripture Link,” with a relevant passage from the Bible, “Brainstorm” activities that aren’t hard or weird, and ends with a “From My Heart” and “Now Act!” that could well be assignments.
In fact, I think this is maybe the closest I’ve found to a perfect “textbook” for grade school age kids. (And you should know this: I’m NOT a fan of textbooks for religious education.)
Each chapter has a short bulleted “Recap” list, and it’s laid out in a way that I can only call brilliant. It’s fun to look at and read, and it sure doesn’t hurt that the content is stellar.
The Faith: A Question-and-Answer Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Fr. John Hardon, S.J. (Servant Books, 2014)
If you’re anything like me, you looked at the Catechism and thought, “There’s NO WAY I can read that and understand it, retain the information, have any luck at all.” I was shocked when I started reading the Catechism (after my spiritual director had encouraged me for, oh, three years or so) and it was NOT SO BAD!
Even so, there’s a lot in the Catechism. It’s really more of a reference than a fun reading adventure (though it can be that, don’t get me wrong). What Servant has pulled together here is a great companion to your reference shelf. I caught myself diving into this when I was looking for additional information on different topics for Confirmation Boot Camp, and I know I’ll use it in preparing talks and columns.
This book is designed and arranged to be a companion to the Catechism. It’s easy to use and it’s cross referenced with paragraphs in the Catechism.
Here’s a little excerpt, from Part Two, Chapter Four: Other Celebrations of the Liturgy.
ARTICLE 1: SACRAMENTALS
The Church’s liturgy is primarily the sacraments, which directly confer the grace they signify. Besides the sacraments, however, there are also sacramentals. Both should be seen together, because both are sources of divine grace. But sacramentals were not immediately instituted by Christ. They were, and are, instituted by the Church, which is guided by her Founder, Jesus Christ.
663. What are sacramentals?
Sacramentals are sensibly perceptible prayers, and often actions or things, which resemble the sacraments and which signify spiritual effects obtained through the intercession of the Church. (1667)
664. How do sacramentals differ from the sacraments?
They differ from the sacraments in not being instrumental causes of grace. Rather, they arouse the faith of believers to better dispose themselves for the reception of grace from the sacraments.
665. What is the characteristic of all the sacramentals?
They always include a prayer and normally an object or action that signifies some profession of faith, such as the Sign of the Cross recalling Christ’s crucifixion, or holy water recalling our baptismal incorporation into the Church. (1668)
This is an indispensable guide for all Catholics. Whether you want to learn more about your faith, need a boost in teaching it, or are just curious, this book is sure to provide clear and concise information.
Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction
Diana Jenkins (Pauline Books & Media, 2014)
There are topics that make parents and catechists shudder and quake, and Diana Jenkins has gathered them all in the covers of this book. She’s addressed them with the fearless face of faith and her approach is unique and more than a little brilliant.
“Today’s young teens will face many challenges before they reach adulthood,” she writes in the introductory section, “and they’ll need faith to guide them along the way. But it’s not easy for kids—or adults—to apply Catholic principles to real life when they’re overwhelmed by temptations, peer pressure, media influences, stress, family issues, physical changes, society’s problems, and a culture that is increasingly out-of-sync with Christian values.”
Each chapter includes seven elements:
The Facts: This is the statistical informational part. As a teacher or parent, you may or may not actually share this with students.
Scripture and the Catechism: While this too is designed for the adult leader, many times it will be helpful for the students.
The Story: Each chapter is centered around a fictional story. Depending on your set-up, you might decide to read it aloud, to have students read it on their own, or to rework it a bit.
Discussion Questions: Though I roll my eyes at the plethora of discussion questions in everything these days, in this application, they’re not only helpful, but they’re well done.
Activity: While there’s an activity for each topic/chapter, there’s also an index with ideas for adjusting them too.
Prayer: These are great. GREAT. And let’s not forget that, among the many teaching tools we have as parents and catechists, that prayer is the most powerful.
The Message: This is a round-up of practical suggestions for students to apply the chapter’s issue.
All in all, this is a resource I am glad to have on-hand and which I’ll be sharing with all the parents and catechists I know.
I’ve been a fan of the Youcat since it came out a few years ago during World Youth Day in Madrid.
In fact, I was so inspired by it that I stopped using the textbooks and started relying on it as one of the 3 essential texts of my classrooms.
The Youcat is approachable in its design and its content. Whether they’re 5th graders or Confirmation classes, every kid in every class I’ve had has “gotten” the little flipbook aspect at the bottom that adults rarely even notice.
While that’s not really a selling point for its content, it does speak to the fact that this book is designed with youth in mind. And that makes it a resource that catechists can turn to.
I’ve written my rave reviews of the Youcat in other places, so check those out if you’re not sure about it: commentary about our Confirmation Boot Camp at my blog and reasons I started using it at CatholicMom.com).
Today I’d like to share three ways you can use it in your religious education classroom.
I think you could use it for classes as young as 4th grade and all the way up to adult (or, as I like to think of myself, “older than young youth”).
1. Begin learning your topic.
Much of the beginning part of my own preparation to teach has to do with learning the topic myself, or at least learning it well enough to teach it. To that end, I used to read the material provided in the textbooks. Now I start with the Youcat and follow the references it presents to the Catechism and the Bible.
2. Answer the question as part of your class discussion.
There are times that students have questions about topics. Sometimes they’re not brave enough to ask the question (i.e., “What about gay marriage?” or “Is divorce okay, then?”) or don’t really know how to formulate it. Because the Youcat is a Q&A format, it gives you a way to bring up discussion points and maybe even get the kids talking.
3. Use it as an organizational tool.
Our religious education year is organized around the four pillars of the Catechism, and so is the Youcat, so it fits very nicely with the topics we already have lined up. For Confirmation, we use a different timeline, and the Youcat gives us a starting place for organizing our classes and topics. Whether you’re looking at it for a class or for the whole year, it can be a guide for you.
Do you use the Youcat? I’d love to hear how others use it in their classes!
In the years I’ve been a catechist, I’ve come to realize that there are only three texts that are essential. There are plenty that are nice, some that are even helpful, but only three that I would call “must have.”
The Holy Bible
Don’t be ignorant of Scripture. And help your students not to be ignorant either.
I have a lesson that I do that involves half the class using the missalette and half the class using the Bible. It’s a visual way of showing them that what’s in the missalette is the same as what’s in the actual Bible.
One of my goals when I teach weekly religious education classes with 3rd grade and older is to have them open their Bibles at least once during the hour we’re together. It’s not an easy goal and I don’t always get to it.
All the same, this is the most important book we have at our disposal.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
You can find it online for free and in searchable formats, but there’s something to be said for the good ole brick version. I like to read things out of the actual Catechism every so often, and with the older kids, especially the Confirmation class, I make them all turn to the paragraph.
It’s important to know how the Catechism works, because it’s how all Church documents work. Numbered paragraphs are weird, but they sure are nice when it comes to finding something specific.
And who knew there was so much good stuff in the Catechism? And that it was so easy to read?
I use the Youcat with nearly every single class I teach. It’s indispensable and it’s something that even adults can understand. I tell parents, whenever I can get their attention, that this is a resource they too need to have in their home, one they need to also be familiar with.
The topics are set in question-and-answer format, so everyone who’s a fan of the old Baltimore Catechism can perk up and get on board. The phrasing is modern and there’s an index (which I hope to see improved and expanded).
Best of all, the Youcat cross-references with both the Bible and the Catechism, so you can read more about every topic. It’s a sort of introductory text, but it’s where almost everyone I know (myself included) need to start. If you haven’t already checked it out, I encourage you to do so!