We come to Week Four of our online retreat, the Spirituality of the Catechist. In this week, we explore the third characteristic of a catechist’s spirituality: An Openness to the World.
You can join this retreat at any time, starting with today’s post or going back to catch up on earlier weeks. You might also like to return to a previous week to share some thoughts in the comments section. Your sharing makes this retreat more fruitful for us all.
An Openness to the World
Sheep, fishing nets, pearls, coins, buried treasures, wine, wineskins, yeast, mustard seeds, fig trees, vineyards, tenants, banquets.
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.
Smartphone, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, gigabytes, texting, emojis, Bluetooth, download, DVD, Google, GPS, apps.
Do any of the above words mean anything to you? For many of us, these words may have seemed like a foreign language when they first came into use. (Some still might!) To the young people we teach, however, they are part of their everyday vocabulary.
No doubt, if Jesus were preaching to crowds today and telling 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, “God so loved that world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus was sinless, yet he entered into the Jordan River to be baptized with sinners. He did not need forgiveness, but he chose to stand shoulder to shoulder with sinners.
In Jesus’ time, it was customary for Jews who were traveling between Judea and Galilee to avoid passing through Samaria. John 4:4, however, tells us that Jesus did no such thing: “He had to go 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 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. 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 the world. However, we must not think that somehow God is more present in “our world,” as if we’re not all here together. Our task is to encounter the world and the culture of our students to help them uncover and recognize the God who is already present.
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 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.
Week Four Reflection Questions
Over the next few days, 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 catechist-retreatants.
- What are some recent advances in society or technology that have “made your head spin?”
- If you were to make a time capsule that captures the experience of living in this day and age (and the place where you live), what would you include in it? Why?
- How would you describe the “door” you need to enter through in order to get into the lives of those you teach? Think about: What are they most concerned with? occupied with? worried about? having fun with? engaged by?
- What are some examples of ways that you have engaged your students where they are?
- What is the greatest need of those you teach?
- Who was a teacher you had who was open to the world? How can you emulate her or him?
- How can being open to the world make you a more effective catechist?
- What will you do in the days ahead to strive to be more open to the world?
During the course of this week, practice one or more of the following spiritual exercises designed to deepen your openness to the world. Share the fruits of your exercises with your fellow retreatants by posting your comments any time this week.
- Pray with the daily news—whether you receive that through the TV, newspaper, or Internet. 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.
- 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 with which your learners are familiar. Take some time to explore social networking sites popular with students. Pray for the courage to better understand these new places, not to become proficient in using them, but simply to be aware of what your learners are finding there.
Recommended Reading on the Topic of Openness to the World
In All Things: Everyday Prayers of Jesuit High School Students edited by Michael J. Daley and Lee P. Yeazell
Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses by Ginny Kubitz Moyer
They Come Back Singing: Finding God with the Refugees by Gary Smith, SJ
Jesuits Telling Jokes: A (Serious) Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality by Nikolaas Sintobin, SJ
Movies That Matter: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith by Richard Leonard, SJ
Remember you can share your thoughts in the comments at any time. Come back on Thursday to read John Gonzalez’s reflection on our topic of openness to the world.