This is the first article in a series exploring the Beatitudes as they relate to being a catechist.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
Happy are the catechists who can throw away a lesson plan, for they will respond to the needs of young people.
One of my favorite things about being a catechist is lesson planning. I love coming up with activities and discussion questions that lead seamlessly into one another. When I imagine how the lesson will play out, I become excited and full of hope with the thought of how much the young people will get out of the lesson. I begin the class full of energy. Of course, when the lesson doesn’t go as planned, I’m more than a little disappointed. I’m left feeling like a failure at best, angry at worst. In moments such as these, I am anything but poor in spirit.
The beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit” reminds me that my class sessions are not about my lesson plan. The sessions are about Christ. Sure, while my lesson plans might be about Christ, they do not lead young people to him. I do. My goal should not be fidelity to following the lesson I have planned. My goal should be to echo Christ to young people.
To practice poverty in spirit in the classroom, I remind myself that my lesson plan is not a detailed itinerary with a rigid timetable. Rather, I like to think of my lesson plan as a map that highlights points of interest without tracing specific routes on how to reach them.
The reason for this is simple: I need to respond to where the young people are. Yes, I have goals and objectives for the class session, and I have activities that might be helpful in achieving them. But sometimes those activities just don’t resonate with the young people or the activity isn’t as effective as I thought. Sometimes, a young person might ask a question that has no bearing on the lesson but is extremely important to him or her and the rest of the class.
Simply put, there are times when I might have to toss out my lesson plan. This can be difficult to discern. Here are a few tips that will make that task a little easier.
- Gauge your emotions. If I am noticing that I am getting angry or upset that the class has drifted away from the lesson plan, I can stop and ask myself what the Holy Spirit is asking of me in this moment. Is there something that the young people are bringing up that I cannot recognize?
- Respond to their needs. Whatever the young people might be raising, I need to trust that they are bringing it up for a reason. After all, the Holy Spirit is the true teacher in the classroom. While students’ questions may diverge from my lesson plan, they will not diverge from the Spirit’s.
- Glorify God. When I find that we have gone off course, I need to ask myself, “What will bring greater glory to God: getting the class back on the right track or continuing along the present course?” Whichever the answer might be, I need to let go of the alternative, no matter how worthwhile it may be.
I need to recognize when it is important to let go of my lesson plan. After all, my lesson plan really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I can respond to the needs of the young people in my class with love and compassion. I can only do that by being poor in spirit.
Explore how the Beatitudes show us how we can be truly happy and share happiness with others in Finding God, Grade 4, Unit 2.
I have deferred the faith formation lesson plan, until the everyday spiritual understanding of the students are addressed. Very important questions and explanations must be given without delay. Their interest must be rewarded.