A call to love them first, teach second

Catechism is derived from catechesis, or the Greek katekhesis, which means ‘to teach by proclaiming’ or ‘to teach orally’, as the Apostles did by following the example set by Jesus Christ. Catechism does not refer to instruction just by question and answer, but the inculcation or instilling of knowledge and virtues to the learners. The role of a catechist is to ‘echo’ the Church’s teachings, setting a role model by living the faith. In this context echoing is not a mere shout of ‘Hello, how are you?’ and expect the echoed ‘I am fine’.

Jan 13, 2023

By Professor Emeritus Dr Christopher Ng

As missionary disciples, our engagement with students should be shaped by our love for God and for our neighbours. The goal of catechists (also called religious educators or faith educators) is to lead their students to encounter Christ and then journey with them to develop an intimate relationship with Him. The most effective way to open others to the experience of God’s love is through a credible witness of God's love.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in paragraph five states ‘Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.’

We do not teach mathematics, science, history or languages, as is common practice in schools. Catechism requires a different way of teaching and different approaches. We are leading them to Christ in a very challenging environment — the onslaught of social media, immorality, and materialism. Thus we should create opportunities for them to build a strong foundation in faith and to encounter Christ every day.

Pope Francis encourages catechists “to never get tired of their ministry, to avoid a ‘school lecture’ type catechesis, and to strive to offer a “living experience of the faith that each of us wishes to pass on to the new generations.”

Teach as Jesus taught — with love and spirit
When Jesus was on earth, He showed great love and mercy to all people. He taught the poor, the rich, the infirm, the outcast and the children. He taught us to love everyone and to help one another. He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). If we show love to the children we teach, they will experience the love of God and be motivated to learn more about the faith. Catechists can learn from how Jesus taught from the road to Emmaus as described in Luke 24: 13-35.

Jesus used clear and simple language, illustrations and stories from daily life. His lessons included many everyday experiences that we can relate to. He taught using parables such as the lost sheep, the search for a coin, the mustard seed, and the tares and wheat.

Jesus often referred to the Scriptures when he taught. For example, in Matt 21:42, Jesus says, “Have you not read in the Scriptures, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone … ?”

Creating a positive learning environment
The best learning environment is where God’s love prevails. We always begin class with a prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us and open the hearts and minds of the students (and of us, too). When the Holy Spirit is present in the class, everyone is spiritually strengthened and brought closer to the love of Christ.

Being a catechist means more than teaching a lesson in class. We make the students feel welcome and show that we care about them. Make an earnest effort to get to know each of them, as well as their parents, as individuals. They may need our shoulders to cry on when they have problems, when they are sad or when they have trouble.

We should encourage everyone to participate in class and voice their concerns. Draw out those who are shy and reticent.

Avoiding judgmental remarks will further reinforce a positive environment. We might get them to read a quote or Bible passage or tell a story. We could ask them to sing a song or play an instrument. We might invite someone to give a testimony or share a personal experience related to the theme of the lesson. We could also share our own experiences.

We often find it difficult to capture the interest of those who have a short attention span. One key is our own enthusiasm in teaching. Rely on the Holy Spirit. We could explore various innovative teaching methods to enliven our teaching.

Sparking interest is especially important at the beginning of a lesson. When we plan our lessons, we should look for ways to begin with an introduction that sparks interest in our students.

From learning to living
Besides teaching the planned lesson, the ultimate goal is to move gradually from learning to living. We want to equip and inspire them to live the Gospel. Here are some suggestions.

Through prayer we communicate with God and draw close to Him. Jesus’ disciples asked him “Lord, teach us to pray”, and we too should teach them how to pray, pray with them and for them.

We help students apply what they learn to the circumstances of their lives. In today’s ambivalent world, we need to teach them to make decisions based on Scripture by asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” We should also explain to them the teachings of the Church.

Discernment is a way to figure out how best to respond to His love in our daily lives. We must learn to search inwardly, to align our own will to His will, to learn what God is trying to tell us.

Catechists have been called to make disciples, “… go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations. Baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of time.” (Mt 28:18-20).

The diligent efforts of catechists will be greatly rewarded if we faithfully obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit and lead students closer to Christ.

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Alan Assistathand@gmail.com
Inspiring, thought provoking insight on how mainstream learning objectives nurtures our values differently as compared to Catholic teaching embodied in the CCC. The academic learning today, centres on worldly outcomes unlike CCC giving a different perspectives when we ask ourselves, What Would Jesus Do?