Authenticity of Life for Catechists: What You See Is What You Get

catechist with seated students

Back in the 1990s, competing software companies touted some products as “WYSIWYG” (“wiz-ee-wig,” i.e., “What You See Is What You Get.”) That meant that what you saw on the screen was exactly what you would get when the document was printed. What does that have to do with catechesis? Much, actually.

A catechist should be WYSIWYG at all times: he or she should not profess and teach one thing while living another. The Guide for Catechists (Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, 1993) calls this “coherence and authenticity of life.” The document says:

The work of catechists involves their whole being. Before they preach the word, they must make it their own and live by it…What catechists teach should not be a purely human science nor the sum of their personal opinions but the Church’s faith, which is the same throughout the world, which they themselves live and whose witnesses they are (8).

In order to be authentic evangelizers, according to the Guide, it is important that “the truth of their lives confirms their message.” To support this, it is important that catechists have a relationship with God and openness to the action of the Spirit.

What does this mean on the practical level? DREs should set an example in their lives and help catechists understand that they are engaging in a sacred vocation. Catechists represent the Church and should have a reputation for living according to its teachings in all things. They should act through the love of God, respect others, and, in all things, try to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2011 Message for World Communications Day, described authenticity of life as “consistent witness.” The witness of the life of the person must be consistent with the message of Christ and the Church.

Some examples of failure to be authentic:

  • A catechist who gives his or her own opinion in class or in public (including on the Internet) when it differs from Church teaching.
  • A catechist who does not pray regularly or attend Mass.
  • A catechist who does not act with respect toward those with whom he or she disagrees—in person or on the Internet.

A WYSIWYG catechist is true to the message of Jesus in all things. His/her very person evangelizes. Children and youth can quickly spot when someone is not being real. It is true in reverse that they recognize people who are honest about their faith. Those are the catechists they will most remember and who will be most effective in shaping their faith.

About Joyce Donahue 55 Articles
Joyce Donahue, MA, MPS, is a liturgical catechist and former diocesan administrator. She currently volunteers as parish catechist and musician at St. John the Baptist Parish, Joliet, IL. She blogs at Liturgy and Catechesis Shall Kiss and maintains The Liturgical Catechist website.

2 Comments on Authenticity of Life for Catechists: What You See Is What You Get

  1. I agree with you!!! In fact, I was a catechist in your diocese who was asked to not come back to teach at my parish because I was teaching avidly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a supplement to the text books we were given. Our new middle school director preferred we teach Christianity over Catholicism. She believed that her teachings/writings were better for the kids than those of the Magisterium and the Holy Father in the Catechism and did not want me teaching out of that book. She may have a better formal education, than I, but I challenged her as to the reliability of the Catechism of the Catholic Church over anything she had to offer. The Catechism is error free, and the truth of Our Lord. It is the reference by which all Roman Catholic Bishops are trained and is THE Universal Catechism. Since I would not give up the Catechism as a teaching tool, I was asked to not return to teach until I softened my stance and could be more submissive to her authority. Since I submit to the Catechism as the true teaching of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the Magisterium and the Holy Father, anything less is lacking. If I cannot teach the truth of the Holy Mother Church, it is my soul that I’m forsaking!!! As a catechist, I had an obligation and a duty to teach these truths to form as solid a Catholic youth as I possibly could.

    The diocese is Confirming children that rarely go to Mass, cannot say a rosary or even the prayers that make up a rosary, and they do not know why the Roman Catholic Church is the True Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ!!! Few know the difference between Mortal and Venial sins. …or how to even behave in Church! Admittedly…many at my parish are not fond of the Catechism because rules entail responsibility. …and responsibility is something that few wish to involve themselves with. I do not hold anyone in the Diocesan Religious Education Office responsible because I doubt that they know what is happening (or not happening) at the parishes in detail. I am disgusted that I was asked to NOT be a catechist anymore for 7th graders, when I was the only one who ever opened a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I always keep a copy on my phone, my computer and in book form to assist me when I was teaching. At least there are 50-60 kids that were confirmed who at least know where to find the answers they seek regarding their faith and why the Catholic Church holds the truth of their salvation. That’s a small number, but the best I could do in about 4 years, 3 hours a month for 8-9 months a year. They know the Sacraments, they know the Mass, they know how to find things in a Bible. They know the Commandments, Church History, the difference between a Mortal and Venial Sin, and they can say a Rosary! They know the difference between veneration of the Blessed Mother and worship (which the protestants love to misconstrue). …and they memorized Matthew 16: 18-19 …so they would always know which Church is the True Church of Our Lord, Jesus Christ!

    The seventh graders come knowing nothing of our faith! …and they could care less!!! Unless someone can make sense of our faith to them, they will reject it. If you have any say about what gets done at the parishes, I would at least push for 4 hours a month for middle school kids. 3 hours is not enough time to fill in up to 6 years worth of missed Catholicism. If the Church wants to educate “Soldiers of Christ” it needs to do a better job of indoctrination! …because those protestant boys and girls and their “Christian Youth Services” are very enticing! Not one kid I taught knew it was forbidden for a Catholic to go to a protestant communion. …and the protestants profess to anyone in their services that “Anyone” who has been baptized and believes that Jesus is their saviour can partake!!! Things like this are never taught at our parish!!! I knew this from the time I was in first grade and it was reinforced annually!!! …and if one of them does go to a protestant service, they do not know that does NOT satisfy their obligation to go to Mass!!! Many times I dated a protestant girl who couldn’t understand why I would go to her service…NOT go to their communion…and then excuse myself for a couple of hours while I went to a later Mass! …or why I would go to Mass before I would go to a service with her!?! Many thought I was nuts!!! …but they were wrong!!! I was Catholic…Roman Catholic!!!

    Someday, I hope to teach again. This last year has been very bleak for me. I spend a lot of time trying to educate pseudo catholics online to what the Catechism actually teaches. They call me all sorts of things because they can’t believe the Church actually teaches that some things are wrong! I’m frequently accused of being evil for teaching Catholicism, when all I do is “cut and paste” from my computer based Catechism of the Catholic Church! …and the book automatically adds its own footnote to the quotation. These are people who have supposedly been educated by the Church and are supposedly Confirmed!!! I don’t know…this religious ed business is quite disheartening. I no longer know where the Church is going! When I’m gone and those like me, what will be left? Just a milk toast version of Catholicism, I guess. …and what did the Lord say about the “luke warm???”

    • Well Said! Thanks for believing in Holy Mother Church, and knowing your faith so well that you fear no rebuttal for teaching the truth because of your belief that you stand on SOLID GROUND with the catechism of the Catholic Church!

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