When we are ordained as permanent deacons in the Catholic Church, the ordination ritual includes these words: “Believe what your read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach.” This is our call to service as deacons by the bishop. For the remaining days of Lent, I want to focus on the three sections of that statement. Today, let’s focus on:
“Teach What You Believe”
Every year our parish sends out a plea for help teaching in the Parish School of Religion (PSR). We always seem to be short on teachers. But, after some gentle arm twisting and not-so-subtle hints, people usually step up and fill the slots. The ones that do never regret it. That’s how I got involved with PSR.
My oldest daughter was in fifth grade. The PSR director had a meeting with the parents of the fifth graders and told us that unless some parents stepped up, the parish could not enroll all of the students whose parents wanted them to attend PSR. Without giving it much thought (and not consulting with my wife) I volunteered to teach a fifth grade class. The director told me that she had a “special” class that she would like me to consider teaching. It was a class with mostly boys who had played soccer together. The director described the boys as “spirited.” I agreed and went off to tell my wife the good news: “I was going to teach a religion class with a bunch of young men filled with the Holy Spirit.” After delivering the message, my wife looked at me with one of those “now-what-did-you-do” looks on her face and said, “You have no idea what you are getting into. I know these boys; they will eat you alive!” My initial enthusiasm was dampened and I began to reassess my actions.
The more I thought about it, the more I knew it wasn’t the fact that I would be teaching a spirited group of young men that concerned me. It was more the fact that I wasn’t well versed in my faith at the time. The PSR director assured me that there were people and resources to help me, so I decided to go forward with my plan. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my adult life.
I’ve been one of those “arm twisters,” helping recruit catechists to teach PSR classes. The number one objection that I’ve heard from people is not that they are too busy with work or family. It isn’t that they don’t like kids and aren’t positive role models in our community. The number one objection is that they don’t think they know enough about their faith to teach these children.
I like that people take teaching seriously. But my experience is that lack of understanding of your faith isn’t necessarily a roadblock to helping spread the Word of God. There are lots of great resources (and great people) to help you prepare your classes. There are lots of experienced teachers who are willing to share their expertise. And, you probably know more about your faith than you think.
When I began teaching my first PSR class I remember one of the parents asking if she could sit in on the class to observe. My guess is that she had drawn the short straw among the Soccer Moms and was selected to check out this new catechist to see if he had a clue with what he was doing. I welcomed her to the class. When I didn’t hear any feedback from her or the director, I assumed I passed the “sniff test” and was deemed worthy to teach these children. It made me believe that I was qualified to teach, but had a lot to learn about my faith and about teaching in general to help form and instruct the children in my class. It made me want to dig deeper and try harder.
I don’t believe that just anyone can teach religion classes. But lots of people sell themselves short. Yes, the children need to learn the truths taught by the Catholic Church, so investing time in reading, attending classes and prayer are good ways to help you learn to teach. In our community the Catholic radio station airs the show “Catholic Answers” which has been a great way for me to learn about my faith. Listening to that show during my commute, or listening to a book on tape is a great way to increase your understanding of your faith. Our archdiocese also sponsors classes for adults who want to learn more about their faith. These classes are offered through the Paul VI programs.
I encourage more people to consider volunteering time to teach or assist a religion class at their parish. And I encourage people to go deeper in their faith to learn more about the teachings of the Church and what it believes.
The saying, “Preach the Gospel daily; use words if you must.” Is attributed to St. Francis (a deacon, by the way). This saying reminds us that our actions mean more than mere words. If St. Francis was the Director of Religious Education in your parish, he might invite you to “Teach what you believe, take small steps if you must.” We are called to spread the Good News. Consider responding to this call by helping our youth grow in their faith. You’ll not only be helping them, but you will benefit greatly from the experience. I know I have!
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