Teaching Authentic, Real-Life Faith – Joyce Donahue, Diocese of Joliet

We’ve all seen it. “Susie, will you read the first paragraph on page 45?” Next, the catechist asks questions. One or two students respond. The rest look bored. It’s the standard classroom-model lesson plan provided by most textbook publishers and it continues to be inadequate in communicating the living reality of faith. 

Two things are generally underused in catechetical programs for children and youth: the uniqueness of the catechist and the uniqueness of the parish community.

The National Directory for Catechesis (279) says “No catechetical materials, resources or tools – no matter how excellent – can replace the catechist.” Catechists should be trained and encouraged to share their own faith stories instead of the canned stories provided in textbooks when appropriate. A catechist should feel free to speak of his or her experiences of God in their family life, at Mass, during prayer, while encountering the poor and other moments in daily living. Young people need to see that adults are who they say they are. That, more than any lesson plan, will help make them into disciples.

Incidents from parish life can also help young people understand what it means to live authentically as a Christian community. During my Confirmation class recently, after a session on the early Church, I shared stories from parish life that showed our similarity to the Church of Acts 4:32-35, when the community was “of one heart and mind” and “there was no needy person among them.” I told how the community came together after two families had house fires, providing everything that was needed, and how the parish provided a young abandoned mother with temporary financial help, preventing her family from becoming homeless. The point was made that we live what we preach.

Every catechist, every parish has a story. Make sure that young people know yours. That’s the authenticity they crave, part of the “glue” that will help them stick with the Catholic faith.

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