Monday, July 22, 2013

Becoming a Better Catholic

Unsolicited question from a local Catholic high school student:
How do you help kids become better Catholics? What do you do to carry out the mission of the Church as the Director of Religious Education? 

My answer:
Our job as religious educators is not so much helping kids become better Catholics, but rather helping parents help their kids become better Catholics—or at least better catechized Catholics anyway.

St. Viator of Lyons (d. 390), catechist and martyr
St. Viator of Lyons (d. 390), catechist & martyr
Ultimately, it's the Holy Spirit's job to help us become better Catholics, but even He can only do so much if we refuse to cooperate. Hence, the need for solid formation in the faith and good catechesis—a fancy Greek word for religious education.

And the party primarily responsible for that formation and catechesis? The parents. Religious educators only serve to assist parents in their critical responsibility of raising their children in the faith. In religious ed classes for those not in Catholic schools, participants have contact with their catechists maybe once or twice a week. Kids in Catholic schools? Maybe once a day, along with an integrated Catholic perspective throughout the curriculum hopefully.

But regardless of type and amount of formal instruction, the real place young people are formed in their faith is at home, where they see moms and dads, older siblings, and other family members putting that faith into action. All the classroom instruction in the world won't mean a thing unless it's accompanied by exposure to what it looks like in real life—especially in the real lives of those we love and respect and look up to.

St. Charles Lwanga (1860/65-1886), Ugandan catechist and martyr
That's the thing: Catholicism is not a set of beliefs and doctrines that you need to learn as if you were preparing for a test. Instead, it's a way of life that has to be witnessed and adopted and lived. Jesus Himself said that He was the way, the truth, and the life—that's literally true. He is literally the way we must go; He is the path we must follow and trod upon. Far from being just a mystical guru teaching us about love and peace and goodness, He is instead love itself, peace itself, goodness itself. We don't learn about Jesus in Christianity; we become Jesus.

So, my role as a DRE? I try to recruit catechists (teachers) who have that same vision and are trying to live it out themselves—that's the first requirement. Curriculum, teaching strategies, classroom management, and all that technical stuff is way down on the list. What matters first and foremost is that a potential catechist affirms the Faith of the Church and aspires to live it outthat he or she has embraced Christ and is striving to grow in that embrace.

If I can identify and recruit enough people like that to lead our religious education classes every fall, then the rest will follow. Say a prayer for us as we look forward to finding additional people like that for next year, and please consider becoming a catechist yourself!

A version of this story appeared on, Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

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