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Reflections of a 7th Grade Catechist

This evening my CCD class meets for the last time. It has been a good year but I am happy to see it end as well. It has been truly exhausting. For several months now I have been teacher, Catholic cheerleader, “mom”, and taskmaster to a dozen middle schoolers. And in the end, I’m not sure it matters too much. I would love to think I inspired or motivated these kids in their faith. But the truth is my tiny little weekly encounter is insignificant to the lessons being taught in their homes.

Probably about five or six of the kids come from strong Catholic homes. I know they attend Mass every week and their faith is talked about at home. What we did in class reinforced the teaching of their parents. Being Catholic is a family focus for them. When I mentioned patron saints, novenas, the Rosary, feast days, or specific prayers, they didn’t give me blank stares. I was speaking a language they had heard before.

Another four or five kids attend Mass most Sundays but I am sure that is the extent of their Catholicism. The faith doesn’t get much attention other than a spot on the Sunday calendar and that spot can be pre-empted without too much effort. These students politely listened to the lessons and even joined into the discussions on occasion. But I am afraid their take home message is going to be, “Isn’t that interesting. Not too relevant to my daily life, but interesting.” Being “churchy” isn’t normal for them. I hope this year has at least planted some seeds that eventually germinate, even if they lie dormant in indifference for several years.

Finally I have a couple of kids who really thought I was out of my head when I said that our faith should influence every aspect of our lives. They rarely attend Mass. Their parents have made it clear that religion is an onerous obligation with no real benefit other than keeping Grandmother happy. Once the Confirmation box is checked they can be done with it. I really hope that something in their later lives takes them back to this year and they say, “Oh, now that makes sense”. My prayers for them will do far more for their conversion than any lecture I gave in class.

Maybe this is just fatigue talking. I worked very hard to help these children take their lessons home and incorporate them in their families. But that was my individual effort and not something intrinsic to our religious education program. In some ways I think parish religious education programs can fall into the same trap as sex education programs in the public schools fall into. They don’t trust parents to teach their children so they exclude parents and try to teach everything themselves. Parents cannot be replaced. They will teach, either actively or passively. We would be far more effective in teaching children if we did a better job educating their parents rather than trying to replace them.

UPDATE: For more of my thoughts on this topic, see this post.

Comments

Icarus said…
I taught 8th grade CCD this year, and I have some of the same feelings and experiences. I sent the parents letters with the kids the first few weeks emphasizing my role as a supplement and how I am only there to reinforce what they're already doing. Thankfully, my RE director and pastor feel the same way. And I find I burn out less thinking about things this way!
Catholic Mom said…
This is the letter I sent to parents at the beginning of the year. I wish the concept of parent as primary catechist got more air time from the pulpit. As catechists we can be frustrated by the lack of teaching that goes on at home, but if the parents have never been told they are expected to teach, what do we expect?
Crimson Wife said…
Don't give up hope! I personally fell into the 2nd category growing up. Although I spent a number of years spritually adrift in my teens and early 20's, I did eventually recommit to Catholicism. So even though you may feel like the farmer sowing seeds on rocky ground in Matthew 13, you never know which may end up finding their way to the good soil after all :-)

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