Volunteer catechists are amazing people.
I love them. In fact, I often refer to them affectionately as “my people” because they understand the importance of the challenging work they do, even when it’s hard to see the fruits of their efforts. They’re gutsy, generous people.
When speaking to this particular population, it’s critical for catechetical trainers to communicate–not just thou-shalts and shalt-nots–but a life-changing message they can grasp and envision for themselves in a personal way, a message that impacts not just their teaching but their whole lives.
If it is your happy task to train your parish or dioceses’ catechists, there are five components I consider essential to ensuring that your sessions will be both engaging and motivational.
1. Personal Witness
People like to know a little about you as a person when you stand up in front of them. They tend to open their hearts to you if you are willing to risk it yourself and honor them with some personal testimony. Ask yourself a few questions as you prepare: Why is the Catholic faith the center of my life? Am I a convert? A revert? A contented “cradle Catholic” whose life is proof of the richness of our faith? Has my faith helped me withstand great suffering, given meaning to my life, healed the wounds of my past? Share very briefly about the importance of your faith in making your life holy, happy, and purposeful.
2. Lay a Spiritual and Intellectual Foundation
Emphasize the supernatural partnership that is essential to fruitful catechesis. We need a well-informed, prayerful approach if we want our ministry to bear fruit for eternity. Inspire your listeners to seek a greater knowledge of God and a more intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity by sharing excerpts from Scripture, the Catechism, and the lives of the saints, challenging your team to work with God the way he works with them: via baby steps. Since God draws us closer to him over time, incrementally calling us to deeper conversion in various areas of our lives, we can manage our commitment to growing in faith and love of God by taking a gentle, gradual approach. Any effort we make to move in God’s direction will produce substantial rewards. A bit of prayer time each morning (especially if it involves the Rosary or Sacred Scripture), prayerful CDs in the car, a short reading each evening from a good Catholic book, and a faithful commitment to Mass on Sunday and monthly confessions will add up over time and bring an abundance of graces.
3. Catechizing Attendees
In small, memorable doses, it’s possible to slip in quite a bit of catechesis while you’re sharing the how-to’s of teaching. For example, if I’m sharing tips or lesson plan ideas around the topic of Reconciliation, what better time to address the power of this intimate encounter with the Divine Physician to refresh and strengthen our souls, as it compliments and completes the healing power of the Holy Eucharist. As examples of great classroom content, stirring stories of the martyrs and video clips about Eucharistic miracles or Marian apparitions can inspire a thirst for more knowledge and elicit stimulating questions and comments. While you are encouraging volunteers to share exciting examples of the transformational power of our Catholic faith, you are immersing them in beautiful and intriguing material that thrills their souls and imaginations, inspiring them to take a bolder approach with their students.
4. Provide Practical Tips and Resources
Catechists get precious little training because of time and financial limitations within the parish and in their own lives, so make sure you pack your workshops with tips on areas of particular interest to your volunteer staff: suggestions for improving classroom discipline, understanding developmental issues and learning styles, ways to use music and movement to vary the lessons and bring joy to the learning process, free resources for downloading beautiful works of religious art or inspiring video lessons (see callout). Ideas for explaining tough concepts like the Trinity or Redemption, activities designed to embody abstract ideas like contrition or absolution, memory games, assessment techniques, and encouraging stories of lives changed through the work of dedicated catechists can all motivate your team to bring more passion to their teaching efforts.
Make sure you close your time together with a few words of encouragement from scripture. For example, the Second Letter to Timothy is packed with rousing calls to faithful witness.
And when your workshop is finished, place it all in God’s hands. Take joy in your mistakes and omissions; they are reminders that, through our humility, God’s power conquers all.
My catechetical booklets and other great reads for catechists and DREs
Free audio resources including Bible studies
Free “open access” images of fine art
(This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of RTJs Creative Catechist magazine)