Working as a catechist to Confirmation students has been a rewarding experience for over ten years for me. While the years have taught me much about connecting with various youth, adjusting lesson plans for the teens in the room, and learning to go with the flow when class plans change, one thing has been the most rewarding.
Since a fair amount of the students are unchurched, many are going through the program because they’re made to. It’s the thing for ‘Catholic’ families to do. Maybe a grandparent is pushing for it, or a parent for a grandparent. Either way, few teens actually want to be confirmed on their own and few are coming to Mass weekly. That means we aren’t just catechizing the teens, but the parents as well through the teens.
I have the joy, privilege, and, at times, difficult task of giving them their first real encounter with the notion of God’s Love for them. It’s not just about learning when to sit, stand, or kneel during Mass. It’s not just about learning a few saint names and their patronages. It’s not even about memorizing prayer. Instead it’s learning to respect and have reverence for the Lord their God. It’s learning that saints were ordinary people allowing an extraordinary God to work in their lives. It’s learning to have conversation with the Lord about everyday things in addition to formed, traditional prayers.e
Each lesson is reworked each year to help target the kids in front of me. I try to keep it interesting, change pace every 5-10 minutes, and keep them engaged. No one wants to hear me lecture for an hour and a half, at least that’s what my own kids tell me. I also give them index cards at the start of class. They write down prayer intentions and catholic questions. This allows them to think about who in their lives needs prayers. This also means they don’t have to ask anything out loud. This has been a huge deal in bridging the gap between a grown, active Catholic and unchurched kids.
At the end of the program (which is only 10 or fewer classes - not enough!), I give out notes along with a takeaway for the year. I try to make it personal, encouraging, and enlightening, but it is difficult since I don’t have much time to get to know them. As most teachers may feel, I wonder how well I’ve done in guiding them closer to our Lord.
So what’s the most rewarding part of the job? It’s the thank you notes pointing out how much they learned. It’s seeing them come back and join the youth group. It’s seeing them show up at Mass. It’s seeing them sign up to teach religious education to the younger children.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I pray on the way to and from class. I honestly feel classes go best when I ask God to shut my mouth and only let me speak when He’s speaking through me. I’m sure I mess it up sometimes, but I trust that God is using me (and many of my fellows) to do His work. I’m so grateful to be doing this job. We need evangelization to be a part of catechesis. There are families who come to Mass and know their prayers and all, but for many, this is the one chance they have to hear the Lord’s Word in a way that will impact them and bring them (and maybe their families) back home.