The Mission of a Catechist Part 1

It’s that time of year where everything begins coming together for the fall, for the launch of our new catechetical year. At our Parish, faith formation classes, for the most part, run concurrently with the academic school year. There are both positives and negatives to that approach, but that’s a topic for another day. In the midst of all the planning and preparations, two of my biggest tasks are putting together my catechist in-service and preparing for my parent meeting and orientation. Being a busy mom, my best thoughts about what I need to cover with either group usually come to me in the shower or late at night as I’m attempting to fall asleep. Being that the deadline is plainly in view, I’m going to attempt to document these ideas as they come and see what I’m left with at the end of August when it’s time to present. Today’s potentially brilliant topic, inspired by the first chapter of Peter Kreeft’s book Back to Virtue is: The Role of the Catechist in Leading Youth to Truth.

    Our youth live in a world where there is an accepted dichotomy as to how one should form moral values. Moral thought in our society is simultaneously a collective and a private affair. On the one hand, majority rules. The loudest and most prominent voices have the opportunity to shape moral thought. If there is, or at least appears to be, a consensus on any given topic, that consensus becomes the moral answer. The voice of the people has become the voice of God. On the other hand, yet at the same time, morality is a private matter. It is what C.S. Lewis describes as “the poison of subjectivism.” Morality is up to each individual based upon their personal feelings on any given topic. One’s beliefs are determined entirely by their own thoughts and feelings.

To illustrate the collective view of morality, look at the current political hot topic of contraception. Until 1930, all Christians believed contraception to be immoral. In 1930, the Church of England voted to allow contraception in marriage, thus beginning the snowball of nearly all Christian denominations allowing the use of artificial birth control as a morally licit means of family planning within marriage, followed by a widely accepted use of birth control outside of marriage. We’ve now reached a point where our government is attempting to mandate that anyone who does not agree with this majority opinion either needs to hop on the bandwagon or be faced with hefty fines. The approval of the majority is the standard by which our country evaluates morals, as if morality were simply another form of democracy.

As for the private view, I think Sheryl Crow describes it best when she croons, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” Whatever one feels, thinks or enjoys becomes the basis of one’s moral thought. The collective view occasionally places limits on the private view of morality, as some things, such a pedophilia and mass murder, are still viewed as taboo despite the private moral views of the perpetrator, but, all in all, it’s to each his own. As long as one is happy with a particular belief system, it is morally acceptable for that individual. This is the driving force behind the “coexist” bumper stickers. As long as each individual is happy and fulfilled there is no reason we can’t all just live along side each other in harmony.

Interestingly, Crow herself recognizes that something is missing from this moral system, when in the next breath she asks, “If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?” In either of the above viewpoints, morality is completely man-made. There is no objective truth on which one can rely. Whether or not they (or their parents) recognize it, this is the worldview of most of our young people as they slough into our classrooms, gathering halls, and Churches for their obligatory hour to learn about Jesus. Why should they take us seriously (or even listen to us) when we are just one opinion among the masses? Worse, our “opinion” is one that often goes against the grain of socially accepted morality. What gives us credibility when, ultimately, it’s up to each individual and the world around them to determine what they believe? How do you, as a catechist, get past this tough outer shell that comes with each student simply because they exist and struggle to fit in with the world around them?

The fact is, this secular worldview has affected all of us to varying degrees simply because we live in the world. The first thing a chatechist needs to to is take a personal inventory. Do you believe in objective truth or have you (perhaps even inadvertently) slipped into the realm of relativism? Some lessons are caught rather than taught and your own personal conviction is crucial to passing on the message of our faith to our young people. There is no single statement in the Bible, Catechism, or your student’s textbook that has the ability to speak as clearly and as loudly as the example you offer your students through your enthusiasm and conviction for the faith. Are you presenting the faith as something they could potentially choose to believe or are you presenting it as life-changing, awe-inspiring, Good News? Peter’s first public speech on Pentecost converted 3,000 men. Imagine the vigor and excitement he must have had behind his message to have been the vehicle with which the Holy Spirit changed so many hearts. Ask God for the grace to, first and foremost, have that same conviction, and, second, to pass it on to your class.

We are so blessed to have an understanding that objective truth does actually exist, and, further, to have knowledge of who that Truth actually is. We must be prepared as catechists to work with youth embedded with a secular worldview and help them form a Catholic worldview. Step one in this process is introducing your students to God. That may sound strange, but the reality is, many of your students know a lot about God, but few of them actually know God. Recall the wise words of the Baltimore Catechism, God made us to know Him, to love Him, and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. Step one is to know Him. Introduce your students to God. Teach them to pray from the heart, with Scripture, and with the Church. It is only after our young people have had an encounter with Truth that they will be open to understanding the truths that come from living in communion with Him.

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