Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cri de Coeur

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

a catechist catechizing in a classroom

Last week at one of my favorite catechetical blogs, an article from 2011 was re-posted.  In it, the blogger posed this critical question:

 Are we focused on training catechists or forming catechists?

I offered my big fat opinion:

"Two years later and still an interesting topic. You know what, I can't think of any workshop I've attended that formed any faith. Not that faith was never spoken of, but not in a way that left any catechist knowing more than when she walked in. And I recall only one breakout session that really covered training. It was by an experienced middle-school teacher who was loaded with practical advice on how to run a class. She had an hour, could've filled two hours easy. She was great. She walked the walk.

Generally catechist workshop speakers tend to affirm and encourage, which is ok if you need affirming or encouraging. Others may present a lot of data, but don't show how they or anyone has already used it to be better catechists. In either case, faith formation or training, over a decade I see a real disconnect between the content of workshops, and catechists getting the faith, knowledge, and skills to be good catechists.

On the other hand, as an architect I attend seminars whose speakers offer concrete, specific information and techniques for problem-solving in the construction business, based on their own experience. Typically I come away from them worn out from trying to absorb all the useful info they imparted.

I'd like to see the same thing in the catechetical world. To that end, these are some topics off the top of my head I'd like to see being covered at workshops at a serious adult level:

How I make a lesson plan.

How I run my classroom.

How I cover the Sacraments in general to K-3 kids.

How I teach Baptism to middle-schoolers.

How I prepare 7th-graders for Confirmation.

How I use the CCC as a resource.

How I help youthgroup teens grow in faith.

How I teach the Beatitudes.

How I help first-graders come to know Jesus.

Notice that these are all first-person topics. No-one would speak if they lacked personal success at these tasks; would be speaking from personal experience; and would offer real-world examples from their own classrooms. And because each speaker is giving her personal experience of success, it invites people in the audience to offer alternatives based on their own teaching experience. Finally, each topic may impart both faith-formation and training at the same time.


Thinking about the parlous state of catechesis some more, I do remember Joe Paprocki did a workshop based on his book A Well-Built Faith. It was part formation, part training. I thought it was useful.  I've also attended non-catechetical presentations and lectures by local priests such as Fr. Jay Scott Newman, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Michael Cassabon, and Fr. Chris Smith; authors Gerry Matatics, Mark Shea, George Weigel, Scott Hahn, and Pat Madrid; Msgr. Bruce Harbert of ICEL; and Fr. Dennis McManus, whose totally dynamite seminar on the New Translation may have been the most absorbing 3 hours of my life.

This points to much of my catechetical complaining: all those presentations were pitched at generally-interested Catholics, not catechists. Yet their content was much more useful to me as a catechist than what I hear at catechist-specific events. None of them were invited to exhort, affirm, or encourage the audience. They were invited to teach, to form faith; which they all did. Any catechist would have found their lectures to be terrific faith formation opportunities. So as far as catechists' faith formation goes, why do we get cups of milk when run-of-the-mill Catholics get platters of red meat? Of course guys like Mark Shea are stars; but the choice shouldn't be between Mark Shea and pablum.

I already said I favor having can-do catechists and religion teachers from K-to-Youthgroup give how-to sessions for catechist training. Maybe for faith formation, catechists would hear from sisters who teach religion; RCIA lecturers; priests, deacons, seminarians and their professors; street evangelizers; and laypeople who run Bible studies or small groups.

So I complain, gripe, whine, bitch, mule and pule. Because I'm almost 56 years old, and I've been hearing about bad catechesis all my life; and from what I continue to hear, it's still bad. And it's about 3 minutes 'til midnight.

Art by Mark A. Hicks