I. Introduction: Planning
It has been my experience that the two most common pitfalls for Catechists, for myself and others, are prayer and planning. I will only speak briefly on prayer since this article is about planning. We get busy. We all get busy. There is a temptation to sacrifice times of prayer in preparation for a catechetical class. Instead of our ministry as a Catechist being the fruit of prayer, we can sometimes rush in and catechize from a place of our own energy. This temptation is even more common among volunteer catechists. Our catechetical ministry must always have enough foresight to prioritize times of prayer for our students, their parents, their godparents, our parish, and the particular class in the coming day or week.
We also have the temptation to not spend sufficient time planning for future classes. We may be able to say, “I am teaching First Confession and First Communion class. This year is about Confession and the Eucharist. First semester is on Confession and second semester is on Holy Communion. I have my textbook. And I know what subject I want to cover next week.” This is all well and good but is lacking the preparedness that makes for an Amazing Catechist. If we move from subject to subject or week to week, we have no real means of monitoring growth and catechetical learning. There is no synthesis throughout the overall year.
The common objection that may arise is: “I can tell you want to encourage lesson plans. But lesson plans get in the way of the Holy Spirit. If I plan too much I will not be going where the Holy Spirit wants me to go.” First, I would say that keeping prayer as the context for our motivation and planning for the classroom will keep the Holy Spirit involved in the process. Second, just as the Spiritual Masters teach us regarding prayer, planning and methods are good but we can make alterations if the prompting of the Holy Spirit arises (in accord with proper discernment).
II. The 4 Key Questions
I would not dare to compel you to create lengthy lesson plans like those used in schools. All I invite you to do is to answer four questions with each unit. A unit may span the time of a month or two.
- What is the theme of this unit?
- By the end of this unit, what should my students know?
- By the end of this unit, what should my students love?
- By the end of this unit, what should my students be able to do?
These questions can work for small children, teens, or adult participants. Answering these questions provides a system, rooted in prayer, that allows us to evaluate all decisions we make in the classroom. Will this lecture or activity or project help to catechize on the theme of the unit? Will this lecture or worksheet or coloring page or discussion help my students achieve the three categories of goals for this class unit? This prevents us from making decisions “just because it seemed right.”
Perhaps it may be helpful to provide some examples of answers for the four key questions for lesson plans.
- The Sacrament of Confession for 7 year olds. (Unit Theme)
- They should know the biblical foundations for Confession, the role sin and reconiliation play in our relationship with God and others, what happens when we go to Confession, and the form and words of Confession.
- They should love forgiving others, love receiving forgiveness, and love the opportunity to encounter the Good Shepherd in the confessional.
- They should be able to summarize the Sacrament of Confession to others, be able to make an examination of conscience, and tell me what they need to say/do when in Confession.
- Oil and Laying on of Hands in Confirmation for teens. (Unit Theme)
- They should know the Old Testament and New Testament uses of oil/anointing and the laying on of hands as they pertain to Confirmation.
- They should develop a love for the Holy Spirit.
- They should be able to pray to the Holy Spirit, articulate to their peers the meaning of the sacramental signs of Confirmation in relation to Scripture, and be able to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in their life.
III. Conclusion: Be an Amazing Catechist
As you can see, this 4 Question approach prevents that catechetical classroom from being solely intellectual. Worksheets, crafts, and presentations will not accomplish all the goals for the unit. The traditional assessments of a quiz or test or worksheet will only accomplish assessing one category of goals: What they should know. The other categories require the use of discussions, reflections, meditation, mentoring, presentations, and guided prayer. This is the recipe for an Amazing Class, made possible by an Amazing God, and made possible because of the prayerful preparedness of an Amazing Catechist.