Welcome to the 5th week of our online retreat focusing on the spirituality of the catechist.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at the unique openness that we catechists are called to incorporate into our spirituality: an openness to God, to the Church, and to the world. Thanks so much for all of your wonderful and inspiring comments!
This week, we focus on the 4th aspect of our spirituality, what the Church refers to as an authenticity and coherence of life.
If you’re just joining us, you can go back and “catch up” and then come back to jump in to week five.
Here’s the video intro for this week:
An Authenticity and Coherence of Life
In 2008, Time Magazine featured an article titled “10 Ideas that are Changing the World,” and listed at number 7 was authenticity. Marketing experts are telling us that, in today’s economy, consumers are craving authenticity. It seems that the more we experience things going on around us as virtual or contrived, the more we insist on experiencing something that is real – authentic. While still concerned about availability, quality, and cost, consumers are more concerned about authenticity: someone or something they can identify with.
Now, I’m not suggesting that faith is a commodity and that our students are consumers to whom we are trying to sell. However, as catechists, we do have a “brand” that we are striving to promote. We can learn a lesson from the world of marketing which tells us that, put simply, authenticity is what results when there is a harmony between what one is and what one does. In order for us to be effective catechists, we must strive to be sure that there is no gap between who we are as human beings and what we do as catechists. When our lives reflect a harmony between the two, we telegraph a coherence – a consistency between what we say and how we act.
The issue of consistency is precisely what was at the heart of the recent Notre Dame controversy. Many Catholics were livid with the idea of a Catholic university honoring President Obama because his stance on abortion is inconsistent with a what it means to be pro-life. On the other hand, many people criticized the Church for being inconsistent on moral issues, i.e., loudly condemning abortion but remaining silent about our country engaging in a preemptive war that resulted in the deaths of countless innocent lives. Others simply dismissed the Catholic Church’s moral authority in such matters claiming that the Church lost all credibility as a result of the priest sexual abuse crisis – a glaring inconsistency between what the Church teaches and how the Church acted. Without getting into the politics of these issues, I’m sure you can see that the main arguments of BOTH sides was and continues to be one of consistency.
So what does all of this have to do with us as catechists? The fact is, those we teach are watching us closely for signs of authenticity and coherence of life (consistency). They are seeking a consistency between:
· our words in class and our actions outside of class (do we practice what we preach?)
· between our words and our facial expression/body language (do we look like we are proclaiming Good News?)
· between the words we teach and the way we speak to them and deal with them (do we preach love, patience, and forgiveness, and then speak or act harshly toward them?)
Those we teach will see the Gospel as authentic if they experience us as authentic. This is what the Church had in mind when it said, in the General Directory for Catechesis that,
No methodology, no matter how well tested, can dispense with the person of the catechist in every phase of the catechetical process. (156)
To have an authenticity and a coherence of life is not to be confused with being perfect! In fact, paradoxically, the first step to articulating authenticity and coherence of life is to humbly admit that we are sinners – we have, at times, been inauthentic and inconsistent and we earnestly seek forgiveness so that we may become more authentic followers of Jesus. In striving to present ourselves as authentic, we must avoid allowing ourselves to become like the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” (Lk 18:11-12) To prevent our quest for authenticity and coherence of life from turning into self-righteousness, we must practice humility as did the tax collector who prayed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Lk 18:13)
Likewise, we become more authentic by virtue of our engagement in ongoing formation through which we strive to continually conform ourselves to Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of authenticity and coherence of life. This is precisely why Jesus uttered the words, “it is finished” before he died on the Cross. He was not uttering words of failure but of triumph: he had completed his mission of remaining authentically and coherently faithful to the Father’s will.
In the coming week, let’s pray for the grace we need to be authentic followers of Jesus who have a coherence of life so that those we teach may recognize the Gospel as a viable path for their lives.
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Week Five Reflection Questions (click here for week-5-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 Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on how catechists are called to live what they preach: http://www.zenit.org/article-21721?l=english (Article no longer available.)
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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 authenticity and coherence of life. Feel free to share the fruits of your exercises with your fellow retreatants by posting your comments any time this week.
· During this week, practice what St. Ignatius of Loyola called the Daily Examen – a way to prayerfully review your day to see in what experiences you have been authentic and consistent as a follower of Jesus and in what experiences you have not. Take 10-20 minutes near the end of your day, and follow these simple steps:
o Quiet yourself and recall God’s presence
o Review your day and give thanks for God’s gifts
o Review your day again and identify those moments you were most authentic as a follower of Jesus and those moments when you may have been inconsistent/inauthentic.
o Ask forgiveness for the times you were inconsistent/inauthentic.
o Ask for the grace you need to have an authenticity and coherence of life in the day to come.
· Pray the Jesus Prayer (also called the Prayer of the Heart) to begin each day and at various times throughout your days as a way of asking God for the grace of humility: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. When praying this prayer, synchronize it with your breathing: breathe in while calling out to God (Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God) and breathe out while praying for mercy (have mercy on me, a sinner). Repeat the prayer as often as you like over a period of 5 or 10 minutes, praying it slowly, and pausing between each recitation.
· Do an Examination of Conscience in preparation for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Choose an opportunity to go to confession in the days or weeks ahead and, before you do so, prayerfully do an examination of conscience using any of the following or one of your own choosing:
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Recommended Reading on the Topic of An Authenticity and Coherence of Life:
Heroic Living: Discover Your Purpose and Change the World (Chris Lowney)
Here’s My Heart, Here’s My Hand: Living Fully in Friendship with Jesus (William A. Barry, SJ)
Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life (Lonni Collins Pratt and Fr. Daniel Homan, OSB)
Living the Mass: How One Hour a Week Can Change Your Life ( Fr. Dominic Grassi and Joe Paprocki)
Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (James Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II)