I have distinct memories of the first time I served as a catechist. I was in my mid-twenties, working two jobs, and going to graduate school. The youth ministry coordinator at the parish where I was involved called me with a desperate plea for a catechist for the 8th grade evening religious education class. How in the world was I going to find time or energy to do a good job of passing on the Catholic faith to the young people? I had so much going on and I had no idea where to start or if I was going to be any good at it. The coordinator assured me that she saw in me what was necessary to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this work.
I wish I could say all went smoothly in our learning together. Some sessions went well, others were so-so, and a few left us all frustrated. In the end, we covered the material the parish asked us to address and, perhaps more importantly, the young people grew in their relationship with Christ and left our class knowing at least one person in the parish besides their families cared about them enough to risk sharing why faith made a difference in her life. While I wasn’t conscious of it during that first year of serving as a catechist, what the youth minister saw in me was what the Church considers essential for catechists to be effective.
The General Directory for Catechesis (Vatican, 1997) says “No methodology, no matter how well tested, can dispense with the person of the catechist in every phase of the catechetical process” (no. 156). The youth minister knew that who I was and how I was with that group of 8th graders was as significant to the outcomes as were the Sacred Scripture and Tradition the parish hoped to pass along to them. The doctrinally sound concepts and creative techniques in the catechist guide and student texts were only part of what the Church needed in her efforts to evangelize and catechize. She needed people who had their own relationship with Christ and the Church and were willing to share how they continued to learn and grow as disciples. I was one of those people who was willing to come alongside these young people as co-learners, they as adolescents in the faith and me as a maturing adult disciple.
Join me for my webinar, on November 12, 2019 at 4 p.m. EST, when we will continue the discussion of what every catechist needs to know and the catechist formation to build on this foundation.
Some aspects of serving as a catechist may come through instinct or experience, though the Church emphasizes that “adequate pastoral care of catechists” is fundamental to catechetical ministry working (GDC no. 233). The General Directory for Catechesis describes this care in three dimensions of catechist formation: being, knowing, and savoir-faire. Being relates to assisting the catechist to mature as “a person, a believer, and as an apostle.” Knowing relates to having sufficient knowledge of the message—or kerygma—and the learners, including the social context in which they live. Savoir-faire relates to developing the ability to choose the appropriate action in any learning situation.
Imagine a catechetical session as a kaleidoscope with the three dimensions of catechist formation serving as the inner mirrors that influence the final pattern someone sees when peering inside.
For example, one of the goals of the 8th grade program was to help teens to live out faith with confidence. I was more likely to have a positive impact if the three dimensions of my own formation as a catechist responded to who the teens actually were, what they already knew, and how they learned best. I drew on my own desire to regularly participate in Sunday Mass (being), the knowledge provided in the catechist guide of how the “dismissal” from Mass is a sending out to live faith nourished by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist (knowing), and the awareness that this particular group of young people liked the challenge of finding answers for themselves (knowing) to choose a scavengers hunt (savoir-faire) of the texts we use for Mass and their own experiences of going to church and being faced with opportunities to make choices about how to live each day. All of these dimensions came together over a few weeks in a vibrant display of enthusiasm for Mass and a sense of wonder about what else God and the Church offered in the Mass.
The longer I served as a catechist the more I recognized that the Holy Spirit worked through me best when I took some time to reflect on how each of these dimensions came together to communicate the Catholic faith through both content and method. As with all catechesis patterned on the way God teaches us, catechist formation is meant to be gradual and continual throughout one’s service. From celebration of the sacramental life of the Church, to personal prayer, to ongoing study and practice of the faith and ways to hand it on the Holy Spirit polishes the mirrors of my being, knowing, and savoir-faire as a catechist to reflect the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith to those I serve.
Download my Kaleidoscope Catechetical Session Preparation and Meditation as a catechetical session preparation exercise. Let this resource guide you as you consider your hopes for your learners, the interplay of the reflections of the three dimensions of being, knowing, and savoir-faire, and a prayer. You can use this meditation to prepare yourself your catechetical sessions, but it will also help you prepare to participate in my upcoming webinar!
Lori Dahlhoff, Ed.D. has served in Catholic parish, school, diocesan, and national ministry for more than 25 years. Lori is passionate about building spirit-filled faith communities that draw on the richness of diverse cultures to proclaim the Gospel well and form people as Christian disciples in the Catholic way of life. A lifelong learner, Dahlhoff holds a master’s degree in pastoral ministry, a doctorate in education, and a graduate certificate in dispute resolution. She continues to explore catechesis, music and photography. She currently serves as the Director of Lifelong Faith Formation for the Diocese of Portland, Maine.