Within two weeks of arriving from Ireland to live in Wisconsin, I found myself standing in front of a room full of tenth graders in a faith-formation classroom. As a new catechist and director of religious education, there were times when I definitely felt overwhelmed and a bit lost. But with mentoring, time, hard work, and patience, I found that I truly felt called to this ministry and that I sincerely enjoyed being a catechist. Here is some advice I’ve received over the years that I hope will help new catechists in the same way it has helped me.
Keep calm and pray! Spending time in prayer is never a waste; prayer is essential for a catechist. Here are three ways to become a more prayerful catechist.
- Ask God to give you the grace, confidence, and strength that you need to be a disciple and witness for your students.
- Pray for each student in your class and their families. Ask for a roster of your students and set aside time to pray for every student by name.
- Pray with your materials and resources. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to new insights for your students.
Ask for Help
Catechists have a special role in the Church. There are thousands of active and veteran catechists throughout the United States. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Here are some places to start when you need support.
- Your catechetical leader is often the best place to seek out information and help. Reach out to her or him as often as you need.
- Ask your pastor and other key parish staff who have expertise in many areas of the Church’s teachings.
- Your parish and neighboring parishes likely have many retired veteran catechists. Their wisdom and insights would greatly benefit new catechists.
- Check this blog and the Catholic Faith Formation Facebook page often for new ideas, insights, and conversation. You can ask questions and hear from others who are working in catechesis throughout the country.
Be a Witness
As a catechist, you have a unique opportunity to shape future generations through your time with students. While it is important to present good content in your classroom, it is critical that you witness to your love for your faith. Simple ways to do this include the following:
- Talk about how you see God moving in your life. This will help to create a culture in your classroom where students will also feel comfortable sharing their faith.
- Share your story of faith. If you haven’t thought about your story of faith, now is a good time to think about it. You don’t have to share your entire story; snippets of spiritual wisdom might be all the students need to see where God is moving in their lives.
- Use the “J” word. Sometimes as Catholics we are afraid of talking about our love for Jesus. There is power in the Holy Name of Jesus. Speaking about the Jesus you know and love will help your students recognize that a personal relationship with Jesus is a normal part of the Catholic faith.
My final advice comes from Pope Francis, and it is one of the most important pieces of advice that I ever received as a catechist. Writing to the catechists in his home diocese of Buenos Aires before he became Pope, he reminded them that, “it is always good to recall that that child, that youth and that adult that God puts on our path is not a glass that we must fill with content or a person to conquer. The Lord already dwells in their heart, given that he always precedes us.” (August 31, 2010) We sometimes forget in our enthusiasm to share our faith that God, the author of life, is already a part of the life of each person, even if they don’t recognize his presence. Critical to our ministry as catechists is the recognition that we are not experts who “fill up” children with information; rather, we are mentors and guides who walk alongside those entrusted to our care. New catechists bring such a breath of fresh air to our parishes. The Church is thankful for the many gifts that they bring.
Have a great tip or piece of advice for new catechists? Share it with us.
Refer to the Catechist’s Handbook section of your Christ Our Life Catechist’s Guide for more on building your knowledge and skills as a catechist.