As we continue our summer series, Preparing Hearts and Minds: 9 Simple Ways for Catechists to Cultivate a Living Faith, we explore apprenticing those we teach in laying down their lives for others.
Strategy #4: Invite a leap of faith.
It is a fairly common practice in advertising to garner attention by making a claim about a product or service that is counterintuitive and requires a “leap of faith.” For example:
- a diet plan promises that you can lose weight in 30 days while eating all the bacon you want;
- a light beer promises robust flavor with only 64 calories;
- a body lotion promises to physically reshape your body;
- a bracelet promises to relieve arthritic pain.
While these claims sound too good to be true, they also pique our curiosity; we want to see for ourselves.
At the heart of our proclamation of the better way of Jesus is a claim that defies all reasonable thinking and requires a leap of faith: The key to eternal life is dying! We basically ask of those we teach, “Can I interest you in eternal life?” and when people express interest, we show them a crucified man. In other words, we proclaim the Paschal Mystery, which teaches that death is not the end but is the key to transformation that brings about new life. And it begins with laying down one’s own life. For us to effectively till the soil of people’s hearts and minds, we need to teach people of all ages how to lay down their lives, which means setting our own needs aside in order to tend to the needs of others.
It is our job as catechists to teach people how to lay down their lives. In Ignatian spirituality, this is known as being “people for others.” We instill this notion of being people for others by providing our learners with opportunities to practice selfless love. Whether we call them service projects, mercy experiences, people for others projects, or something else, we must be about the work of apprenticing those we teach in acts of selfless love—in laying down their lives for others.
A good example of a faith formation program that is embracing this notion of self-giving love as the heart of its curriculum is St. Joseph Parish in Manchester, MO. The parish website “advertises” service opportunities as one of the hallmarks of its program beginning in early childhood classes. Some of their service experiences include:
- Early Childhood Learning Center: Collect gently used and new books and stuffed animals for Ready to Learn.
- Kindergarten: Make and send get-well cards to parishioners who are sick.
- First grade: Make craft kits for Shriners Hospital so that the patients may create their own crafts, and collect new coloring books, markers, crayons, and small games for them as well.
- Second grade: Make fleece blankets to be donated to Nurses for Newborns.
- Third grade: Engage in a pen pal correspondence between the children and older parishioners.
- Fourth grade: Make sandwiches in November for the Winter Shelter Sandwich Program and organize a book drive after the first of the year for St. Augustine’s School in Wellston.
- Fifth grade: Organize a used-shoe collection for Clean Water Mission to raise funds needed to drill wells for water in various disadvantaged countries.
- Sixth grade: Engage in various behind-the-scenes service activities that involve sacramental programs in our parish; help with diaper drive for Mary, Queen of the Angels; help with the junior high leaf-raking project.
- Seventh grade: Partner with West County Care Center; students rotate to visit and help orchestrate a bowling activity or games with the residents; also rake leaves on the parish grounds in the fall.
- Eighth grade: Beginning in September and ending in May, five to six students will partner with the St. Joseph’s Knights of Columbus to work at the Mother Teresa Soup Kitchen on the second and fifth Mondays of each month. They will also rake leaves for elderly parishioners and parishioners in need in the fall.
All these ideas are concrete, practical ways of laying down one’s life—all ways in which we find ourselves by losing ourselves. They are all ways in which we gain life by laying down our lives for others—a concept that requires a leap of faith. And they must become an integral part of the curriculum of faith formation for all ages if we are to till the soil of hearts and minds.
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Be sure to check out my new book, Preparing Hearts and Minds: 9 Simple Ways for Catechists to Cultivate a Living Faith.