Online Catechist's Retreat – Week 4: An Openness to the World

Welcome to Week 4 of our Online Catechist’s Retreat (The Spirituality of the Catechist) as we take a look at the third characteristic of our spirituality: An Openness to the World.

Thanks so much for insights posted last week on the theme of our openness to the Church! It is so enjoyable and enriching to read your thoughts and to converse with you. If you’re just joining us, you can go back and “catch up” and then come back to jump in to week four.

As we do each week, I invite you to begin this week by viewing the following brief video introduction on the theme of An Openness to the World.

An Openness to the World

Sheep, fishing nets, pearls, coins, buried treasures, wine, wineskins, yeast, mustard seeds, fig trees, vineyards, tenants, banquets, etc.

These are just a few of the images that Jesus used when he taught. They are images that were familiar to Jesus’ audience. Jesus spoke in such a way that he was able to capture the imagination of the crowds – speaking to their everyday experiences to help them find God in all things.

Ipod, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, gigabytes, texting, webinars, bandwidth, Bluetooth, download, DVD, Blu-Ray, eBay, Google, GPS, MP3, etc.

Do any of the above words mean anything to you? For many of us, these words may seem like a foreign language. To the young people we teach, however, they are part of their everyday vocabulary!

No doubt, if Jesus were preaching to crowds today, telling them parables, he would draw from images that are current, everyday images. As catechists, we are called to teach as Jesus did. This means that, just as Jesus had an openness to the world in which he lived, we too are called to have a spirituality that is characterized by an openness to the world.

From his humble beginnings, Jesus showed an openness to the world. The Incarnation is an example of profound openness to the world. God did not disdain the mundaneness of this world but rather, he “so loved that world that he sent his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16).

Jesus was sinless, yet, he entered into the Jordan River to be baptized with sinners. He did not need forgivness, but he chose to stand shoulder to shoulder with sinners.

In Jesus’ time, it was customary for Jews who were traveling betweem Judea and Galilee to avoid passing through Samaria. John 4:4, however, tells us that Jesus did no such thing: “He had to pass through Samaria.” He had to? The only reason he had to pass through Samaria was because it was part of his mission.

Now THAT’S openness to the world.  Jesus himself did not flee from the world. Rather, he plunged headlong into the ordinariness of life in order to reveal the extraordinary presence of God there. Jesus did not tell his followers to run and hide or to separate from society. Rather, he said, “Go!”

That same commission comes to us. As catechists, we are sent forth into the world. Or, perhaps I should say, the world comes to us! Each time we teach, we are called to enter into the world of those we teach. We may not fully understand “their world.” We may not approve of everything that is happening in “their world.” However, we must not think that somehow God is more present in “our world.” Our task is to enter into their world and to help them uncover and recognize the God who is already there.

I have never traveled to a foreign country where English is NOT the primary language. I believe that anyone who does so is participating in a profound conversion experience: to let go of your own language and seek to comprehend the language of another is profoundly challenging. And yet, when you are able to do so, new experiences become possible.

Quite often, those we teach “speak a different language.” In some cases, that is literally true! In most cases, it is metaphorically true. Being open to the world means learning to speak the language of those we teach. In doing so, we become capable of doing what St. Ignatius of Loyola taught his catechists to do: “enter through their door, but be sure to leave through your door.”

During this week, let’s pray for ourselves and for one another that we may have a true openness to the world – not disdaining it, but entering into it as Jesus did so that we can help others recognize God in their midst.

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Week Four Reflection Questions (click here for week-4-reflection-questions) – over the next few days, feel free to ponder these reflection questions pertaining to this week’s theme. Then, return here to Catechist’s Journey and share some of your reflections with your fellow retreatants.

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For Further Reflection: Read the Preface and Introductory Statement of Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Consititution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council.

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Spiritual Exercises – During the course of this week, practice one or more of the following spiritual exercises designed to deepen your openness to the world. Feel free to share the fruits of your exercises with your fellow retreatants by posting your comments any time this week.

  • Spend this week praying with the daily news (whether you receive that through the TV, newspaper, Internet, or Twitter!). Scan the news to observe what is going on: events, trends, tragedies, triumphs, and so on. Then, bring these all to prayer. Ask God to help you recognize the needs of the world. Ask for the grace to see how you can bring the current experiences of the world into dialogue with the Gospel in your catechesis.


  • Spend this week in the “shoes” of those you teach…as far as your prayer goes. Try to get into the mindset of those you teach. What are they concerned about? What worries do they have? What joys are they experiencing? What events are taking place in their lives? What needs and desires do they have? Bring all of these to prayer, asking the Lord to help you know the minds and hearts of those you teach and to be sensitive to their needs.


  • The early disciples of Christ prayed for the courage to venture into new territories – lands they had never before visited – in order to bring the Word of God to others. Pray this week for the courage to enter into new “territories” – perhaps you can venture into some new technology that your learners are familiar with. Take some time to explore “places” like Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, and other popular social networking sites. Pray for the courage to better understand these new places, not in order to become proficient in using them, but to simply be aware of what your learners are finding there. 

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Recommended Reading on the Topic of Openness to the World:

Movies That Matter: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith (Richard Leonard, SJ)

They Came Back Singing: Finding God with the Refugees (Gary Smith, SJ)

Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor (Gary Smith SJ

In All Things: Everyday Prayers of Jesuit High School Students (Michael J. Daley and Lee P Yeazell)

Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before (Jean M Twenge, Ph.D.)

Youth Culture 101 (Walt Mueller)

About Joe Paprocki 2747 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

29 Comments on Online Catechist's Retreat – Week 4: An Openness to the World

  1. Joe,
    I don’t know if it is just my computer or everyones, but when clicking on the 4 week questions, Adobe Reader said, ” This file is damaged and could not be repaired.”

  2. “Our task is to enter into their world and to help them uncover and recognize the God who is already there” … love this. Great job description for “catechist.” Working with teens, this is even more a challenge. I find that many times my time and energy is spent in programming according to what I perceive as young people’s needs, or their parents needs, or the parish’s needs …. making the starting point young people and their needs, their world, their hurts, their concerns is so important. Lord, help me to jump in and swim with the young people. Be my swimmies, help me to go the distance, help me brave the cold water sometimes.

  3. I used to teach compuer technology and the religion classes would come to me to make powerpoints such as scriptural rosaries, stations of the cross, religious web sites, and so forth. I made a really good one of The Stations using the Passion of the Christ which was really popular a few years ago. I regularly use my Ipod and my cell phone which can play mp3 files as spiritual resources. I look at Creighton’s Daily Meditations and listen to Pray As You Go. I obviously look at web sites such as Catechists Journey. I have found that most religious text books do not have enough “meat” in them but this supplement should be just what I needed.

    • It’s great that you can use technology to enhance your lessons. You may want to consider doing workshops for catechists to show them how to incorporate technology into their lessons.

    • Steve ~
      I LOVE making powerpoints…but what directions do you give these young adults –
      I teach 8th grade – about their powerpoints, e.g. Stations of the Cross? Do you
      grade them? Also, could you share some of the websites that you use to
      assist you? Do you share any with the students?
      I appreciate any help you can give!
      God Bless!

    • Steve: I would really be interested in seeing what you have prepared as I am currently working on putting together a Lenten program for 10th graders and have been asked to so something involving the stations of the cross.

  4. I think we are missing out on a huge opportunity if we don’t utilize technology to teach our kids about our Faith! I certainly look forward to other comments on this (like Steve’s) as I could use some ideas in this area. Not sure about anyone else’s parish but I think the suggestion of bringing a computer into our classroom to teach my 7th graders might send my DRE to the ER. Joe’s line of “watch out, here come the catechists” sums it up best!

    I am a big believer that the good can overwhelm the bad. For example, we (as a society) spend so much time worrying about our kids online and the predators or porn or violence that are out there. These are real threats to our kids of course. But if we can promote the good stuff and show our kids how much “cool” stuff there is online related to the faith, I think we can overwhelm the bad stuff.

    I know my 17 year old was floored when I was looking at the bible online once and he was so intrigued. I was on the USCCB site at

    I guess a worthy goal would be to get young folks searching these sites much like they do the search engines or other sites. I’m sure I’ll have more to post later…..I always feel like I’m asking more questions than I am offering answers on these postings!

  5. The time capsule I would put together would express the way things look, and ways of the world.
    A television guide,
    Our church bulletin, showing the progress on the new church they are building.
    An aerial view of the town I am from. (lots of open land yet)
    A clothing catalog,
    Pictures in our home of appliances we are now using.
    A news paper,
    “Endtime magazine”
    Then some books, “Get us out of here”, “The Shack”, and “Hell” by Bill Wiese
    Maybe I should print out from the computer the articles on Dec. 21, 2012.

    I am 60 now, of course all the new technology makes my head spin. I remember the first time one of the students brought a Ipod into class. I wanted to see it and had so many questions about it. He was glad to tell me.

    The disturbing trends are with society. The drugs for one. And that children are being brain washed by television. It is in the cartoons also. Expressions of attitude, flirting and knowing where it will lead to. They show children that it is the norm. This is the way to handle problems. There is nothing wrong. This is what your bodies are made for. Everything is natural.

    What I see good is:
    That all christian religions are attempting to reach the young through radio and TV and the computer.
    The door I try to reach them through is the world they live in. The first part of “Following Christ” goes through the commandments. The examples we talk about are what they deal with.

    I think the greatest need of the children is love and understanding. They need to know it is ok not to go along with the crowd. It is ok to be different. Each one is special. We are one family. The church is there for them. They need to find Jesus, and know he is really there. And that he will help them through this world, now and anytime in their lives.

    Joe talked about how Jesus talk with things of the day. True the people were sowers and fishermen and shepherds. Yet, they are still present in this world. He talk with things that are still of this world, not just passing trends. People had attitudes, and remember the woman with many husbands. They were living together out of marriage. What is different is the media to spread what people are doing. Then more people see it as the norm everyone is doing it. It is OK.

    • Our keynote speaker for a youth retreat weekend was the author of “The Shack”, William P. Young. Sharing his personal story was an amazing faith experience for all of us … how God has ben working through this book from the beginning …. knowing his personal story gave a new dimension to reading the book. Hoping to follow up with a book study at the parish … does anyone know of anys study guides for the book?

  6. I feel so blessed to own a PC and to teach in a school that has a PC in each classroom and has an actual computer classroom on site as well. Thus far, I haven’t used the PC’s with my evening Religious Education Classes.

    Even in First Grade, I promote on-line activities located on our Sadlier’s website (e.g. matching activities, word scrambles, multiple choice). To date, I have only suggested that parents use the on-line activities as a tool for enjoyable and educational learning at home with their kids. For the parents/kids who have a PC at home … some use and enjoy the activities.

    I’ll be suggesting that we consider using the PC’s located in the classroom or be able to take the kids to the computer room so that we may use on-line activities as a teaching tool with the kids during class this year.

    • Thank you for the information on the Sadlier’s website. I didn’t know about it. I went to the page and now have it in my favorites for later reading.

  7. I would like to respond to question #9. If as a catechist we don’t keep ourselves updated on all that is happening around us whether it be the war in Iran, or abortion, or the rights of gays then how can we be effective as catechists? We must be on our toes with this age group. And, when teaching these young teens, we need to listen to exactly what they are telling us.

    Yes, the computer is an excellent tool but our children are heavily influenced by their peers, TV, music, etc. I always think of myself as an instrument of God’s extended hand because many parents do not work in unison with all that we are teaching these kids.

    At St. Mary’s in Plainfield, we have a new program which asks the parents to join with their children in daily prayer and to keep a daily journal. One third of my students did not fulfill this requirement because of lack of parental time. Clearly, as catechists we can only do so much with influencing and instructing each student but if the parent(s) doesn’t participate then our task becomes difficult.

    One of the biggest problems in today’s society is that both parents need to have jobs in order for the family to have food on the table. I can certainly empathize with the parents to a point but how about turning off the outside distractions such as the TV and cutting back on the computer access and keep the house quiet for daily prayer?

    I don’t have a solution but we need to continue to have the energy, wisdom, and understanding to continue to stress to our children how very important and powerful prayer is.

    • Mary Ann,
      I agree with you. I teach 6th graders. The parents sign the children up for CCD yet, not many of them attend Mass. We teach, but if what we teach is not enforced by the parents, is it just lost. My prayer for them is that the seed we plant will grow when they need it. Years ago when I taught CCD in a different town, the children had to bring to class a report of what the Priest talked about the Sunday before. The parents knew of this when they signed up for CCD. It helped for a better attendance at Mass. The younger children had to do it in picture form.

  8. I think one of the greatest challenges that our students face is some parents lack of taking their children to church. They bring their children to Sunday School, drop them off and pick them up. That is it! Very few of my students actually attend church on a weekly or even a monthly basis. I have explained to my students that I don’t make it to church all the time….I may miss a week or even two, but I make it a lot more than I don’t. I make it a priority for my family to attend. I even ask my students to meet me at church. I just wish more parents made church a priority. We do our best as teachers to educate the word of God, but we can’t do it all. We need and want the parents help and support.

    Also Joe, your video kept fading in and out today. It also took a long time to download. I tried it twice and it happened both times. Not sure if it is a problem on my end or yours.

  9. We are changing to a Family Faith Formation program in September. “Bring to class a report of what the Priest talked about” is a great idea. I wonder about having a special bulletin board for the reports to be displayed … when ready to take down and put up the next week’s reports, send the finished reports to the pastor to see … very cool.

    • The Parish Priest did read all the reports each week. For the Priest, they were able to see if the point they were making was understood. For the students it was a way to make sure the parents had them attending mass. It still was not 100 percent attendance but better than it had been.

  10. I personally am very big on technology. My lesson plans are all on my computer and I consult the web for supplementary materials (especially Catechist’s Journey!) for my class. I would be lost if my only tool in class was the text that we use. That being said, I think that it is important for my class of 7th grade Religious Ed students who seem almost overwhelmed with cell phones, Ipods, MP3 players, texting, sports and their normal school classes to be able to come into our class to quiet all of the outside distractions and discover through discussion how whatever topic we are studying that evening applies to them. My hope is that they will take some portion of whatever we have discussed and carry it into their everyday lives.

  11. Question 6, the greatest need of those I teach. I think it is giving them a “space” where they can freely express their opinions without embarassment. I’m shocked at what 7th graders know about our faith….I just have to pull it out of them and it does take time. I keep telling myself to keep up the energy level as much as I can in class because, at the very least, I’m hoping it rubs off on even a couple students and they may share that excitement with their parents. In our secular society, it seems like kids (and now adults) are almost embarassed to talk about Jesus in public. Getting rid of that embarassment is a huge need.

    I was with a group of coworkers the other day in a social setting and someone joked about not talking about religion or politics (we’ve all heard that one) and someone else said “why the heck not!?”. It was great. He said maybe that is EXACTLY what we should be talking about. Definitely something to ponder.

    Question 9. How can being open to the world make me a better catechist. I’ve thought about this for a few days now. Maybe openness to the world doesn’t mean I have to have a PC in class. For me, maybe it means I’m a little more up on the teen scene with regard to issues….and not being afraid to bring them up in class. I did some “moral dilemma” exercises last year and I know I could go a lot deeper on some of those topics. I guess it’s not all about technology but, rather, focusing on what these 12-13-14 year olds face today…..more thought needed on that one but just sharing where I’m at right now.

  12. Joe, you mentioned the situation of going to a foreign country where English is not the primary language. My wife is from Poland and we go there every few years. Once, I ventured out to Mass alone (a rather safe venture for any Catholic I’d say…even in a foreign language) and because I don’t speak Polish (and many Poles in the areas we were in don’t speak English), I paid so much attention to different things in the Mass. The look on the priests face at the consecration, the intonation of people voices throughout the Mass. The singing. It was like losing one of my senses and enhancing all the others…..a great experience. Anyway, that’s a great point you make about being somewhere that no one speaks your language.

  13. We see many here, too, who drop off for CCD then run to other activities instead of attending Mass. I really wish that would change. Some of the littles coming in don’t know the seemingly simplest things like how to make the Sign of the Cross.

    #4 Regarding what they are most concerned with — Hannah Montana! LOL I have be careful to not roll my eyes to far when they go overboard with her 😉 So I guess that leads into Reflection #10 — I will act more like I like Hannah Montana 😉

    (Sorry, I know I’m a bit behind. Week # 3 was so good I kind of got lost in it).

  14. In the beginning of the school year, I have my 2nd graders fill out a simple questionnaire . Name , age and such , but then we get to the heart of it and ask:
    Whats your favorite movie, food, tv show..if God were here right now what would u ask him ( always a great one )..what did you learn last year in CCD and what did u like to do while in class ( always an eye opener ).. This is how I begin to learn about the kids and their interests, sometimes about their home-life and how I will begin to engage with the class based on some of the answers I receive.
    Sometimes it takes awhile for the kids to open up about their individual needs, BUT the key to every new class is to listen carefully each week , the needs do come to light and I usually try to focus as they do..

  15. I would be really interested in viewing the stations of the cross presentation that Steven spoke of. I will be preparing a lesson for my 10th grade confirmation candidates and have been searching for just like that. Any help would be greatly appreciated

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