By Father Robert Hater
Here are seven characteristics needed in order to be a good catechist, gleaned from catechists themselves:
Hospitality is critically important today. Many children, youths and adults feel unappreciated. Often, they do not verbalize such feelings of low self-esteem. Society's functional priorities often overshadow the personal love that people need. A catechist's words and attitude need to indicate that all the catechized are important and welcome in the Church. This goes a long way to open people to God's word and sacraments.
What can you do to make your class feel welcome and comfortable?
A catechist's faith is the basis for his or her love of God and one another. It invites them to share God's word with children, adolescents and adults. Catechists give witness to their faith in action through solid preparation and concern for the catechized. Faith often requires us to sacrifice our time to get certified as a catechist, to visit a homebound person or to volunteer in a senior citizens home. Such a lifestyle of offering oneself to those in need demands a regular prayer life.
Catechesis can never become a routine task. It requires an ongoing infusion of energy derived from communication with people of faith, prayer, the sacraments, Scripture reflections and good reading.
In what ways are you growing in your faith?
We are called to catechize in the spirit of Jesus. He showed special concern to the man born blind and the woman caught in adultery. Like Christ, catechists also minister to those people that society overlooks. These include children, adults with special needs and the elderly.
People with special needs offer rich graces to a catechist and catechetical community. The elderly are often very close to God. Many have served the Church over the years. They, too, need continuing catechetical ministry at the time their eternal reward approaches. In developing catechesis for people with various needs, catechists should not neglect children and youth. In today's society, they need special attention. Catechists must give high priority to young people, focusing on where they are right now, not on whom or what they may become later on.
In what ways are you showing your class that you care for each of them?
Recognizing our importance begins by knowing that we are children and friends of God. It also demands that we know our limitations as human beings. This realization encourages us to have a sense of humor and to laugh often.
Smiling and laughing are good symbols for catechesis. Catechists help people smile when they share Jesus' joyful message. Smiles and laughter touch us deeply and invite us to respond positively, even in difficult situations. Our smile may be the only one that a person experiences all day. Even when tired, we can smile. A smile, not a tired body, is the window to the soul. Catechists offer a fine gift when they smile.
What happens to your overall mood and outlook when you smile?
A hope-filled person radiates hope to others. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah gave the Jewish people hope for a better tomorrow during troubled times. Their words repeatedly called people to repent and focus again on God's covenant of love. Jesus culminated their ministry through his death and resurrection.
In hard times of pain, anger, uncertainty and confusion, we need more prophets of hope as catechists and catechetical leaders. Such ministers offer hope to searching or troubled children, youth and adults. Seeing their role as being prophets of hope offers catechists a positive perspective from which to enthusiastically embrace their ministry.
How might you reflect Christian hope to those you teach?
Some people are always looking for the ideal situation. Many never find it. Why we are born into a particular family and cultural circumstance and why we are called to minister in today's world and Church is God's choice, not ours.
Some catechists find themselves in less-than-desirable situations. We may feel unsupported by parish leaders, have inadequate preparation or resources, live in difficult family or work situations and experience pressure from students and parents. God calls us to minister when and where we are, not in some idealized time and place. If circumstances are beyond our control, we may have to make the most of them, remembering that God may be asking us to take up our cross. At the same time, we must take care of ourselves. In finding this balance, we give glory to God as we minister to our family and those we catechize.
Have you ever made a less-than-desirable situation better by praying and presenting a positive presence?
All catechists need adequate preparation, knowledge of the basics of the faith, the skills to communicate Church teaching and good resource materials. As a general norm, catechists need to be certified. Diocesan formation requirements for catechists, an understanding of the Catholic approach to the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, good religion textbooks and other supplementary works enhance the catechist's ability to catechize.
Professionally trained catechetical leaders recognize the central role that well-prepared catechists play in sharing Jesus' Good News. All catechists need formal preparation through attendance at adult faith formation or other religious education classes, institutes and workshops. They are also called to pray, read, focus on Scripture and prepare adequately before teaching so that they know the lesson of the day and are able to communicate it effectively. Of course, a faithful well-prepared catechist is better than any textbook!
What effect does it have on a class of students if a catechist is well-prepared?
Heavenly Father, who promised that all those who instruct others in the way of holiness will shine as stars for all eternity, fill our hearts and minds with true knowledge and the art of teaching. Give us patience and understanding, justice and prudence, humility and fear of the Lord. Grant us wisdom and charity so that, with a pure and holy love of God, we ourselves may enjoy all these gifts and impart them to our students.
Teach our children to be obedient to your laws and open to your inspiration. Let them be instruments of your peace in their homes, in our land and in the family of nations as becomes children of the sons of God in the mystical body of Christ.
May the blessings of your sevenfold gifts be in all who teach and in all who learn through the Holy Spirit, who is love of the Father and the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ -- the Divine Teacher.
-- Cardinal Richard J. Cushing, taken from "Catholic Family Prayer Book" (OSV, 2001)
Father Robert Hater writes from Ohio. This article was adapted from "The Catechist's Companion: How to Be a Good Catechist" (OSV, $2.95)