Which is worse; a bad catechist, or no catechist? It`s a question I frequently ask myself. And, yes, I`ve pondered this question with regard to parish priests. And, on both counts, I`ve come to the conclusion that it`s much worse to have a bad catechist (or priest) than no catechist (or priest)!
In our part of the world,(especially in rural parishes) there is a shortage of catechists. As with any job placement, a shortage of candidates doesn`t bode well for the quality pool. The standards are low, or non-existent. Any willing soul is welcomed to fill the position.
Thankfully, we are blessed with some gifted, compassionate women and men who generously give of their time and talents to help with the faith formation of the young people in our parish. But, we also have some who are dragged into the job just to fill the void.
What makes a good or a bad catechist? Being well-formed in the faith should be a basic criterion. But, the reality in some parts of the world finds few adult women and men who have had a formal faith formation themselves. We need to step back and form the adults first, before we can expect them to form the children. On the other hand, many catechetical programs come with well-written catechist manuals. A good catechist will avail herself of the resources so she is well prepared for the class she is to teach. And most dioceses will offer training programs and work-shops for ongoing catechist formation.
So, good formation is important but still does not guarantee a good catechist. Some have the gift and some don`t. It`s sometimes difficult to put your finger on that certain quality that makes some teachers shine, and others fall to the bottom of the barrel. Here are some qualities that I think are important,
- KINDNESS – You cannot teach young children about the love of God by shouting and barking to them.
- PERSONAL PRAYER – We come to know God through a personal relationship in prayer. A catechist who is grounded in prayer, will know how to speak naturally about God and the role of God in her life.
- PERSONAL WITNESS – A catechist needs to be a person of integrity and generous service. This doesn`t mean that `only saints need apply`. Far from it! We need women and men who understand struggling to live the gospel faithfully, and who remain faithful to the struggle.
- JOYFUL SPIRIT – We cannot be happy all the time, but we must show to children the true joy that God offers to each and every one of them. This is not a shallow joy, but a promise grounded in the deep hope that no matter what, eventually all will be well in God`s loving, providential plan for each of us.
- CREATIVITY – As with any profession, creativity is a valued gift. It gives a person an openness of mind and heart to discern the needs of those in their care. A creative soul will take the time to ponder the best methods and means to present the message for each place and time.
A friend once shared with me that her young son dreaded going to the weekly catechism class because he was scared of the teacher! She was a zealous soul, constantly correcting the smallest detail of a genuflection or sign of the cross. Catechism classes are not a boot camp. Children come to learn of the love of God not through the mind alone, but by experiencing that same love in action.