Chris Biel & Lois Kittenplan Reflect on Catechetical Sunday
By Damian Hanley
“The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security and stake their own lives in order to do what they themselves think worth doing.”
Teaching is difficult. Teaching The Faith amidst a culture that is bound and determined to undermine our beliefs at every turn is noteworthy. Teaching The Faith to young people in a way that makes it relevant and fun? That deserves a day of recognition! And so here we are on Catechetical Sunday.
The third Sunday of September in the United States is celebrated as Catechetical Sunday in order to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate those who are catechists. In his encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio Pope John Paul II, says: “Among the laity who become evangelizers, catechists have a place of honor…Catechists are among those who have received Christ’s command to ‘go and teach all nations’” (Guide for Catechists, 33).DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
“Catechists have a special calling in the Church,” says Chris Biel, Director of Religious Education. “It’s not something you just show up to, and read from a book. These are volunteers who prayerfully prepare, research and then transmit the message in a way in a way that brings the faith to the children. We have children of different ages, backgrounds, and many of our students have special needs. Because we believe that we are all children of God, we accommodate everyone’s needs. We don’t turn people away.”
Today we’re celebrating everyone in our Parish that is involved in the formation of people of all ages. St. John XXIII offers educational programs for everyone no matter what stage of life they are in. “We should never stop learning and growing in our faith,” Chris shares. “As parents prepare to baptize their child, they attend classes. They need to know that in baptizing their child, they are making a commitment to raise their child in the Faith… really throughout their entire lives.”
In forming a child’s faith and specifically Sacrament Preparation, there are three distinct elements, which are essential parts. Two of these agents, the family and the parish community, remain the same. The third element is a specific immediate preparation process in which the families and the parish will be in a strong partnership.
But it’s worth it. Every Catechist has their favorite moment when effort comes to fruition. “First Holy Communion,” says Chris. “I’ve known some of these children since they were baptized. But when it comes to that day – it’s such a transformation. Some days at class the children can seem disengaged or a little fidgety. This is understandable. Most of them have been at school all day and when Wednesday night rolls around, they’re tired. But something happens on that day. God puts His hand on their little heads and they have peace about them. They realized how special the day really is.”
For Lois Kittenplan, the classroom is a bit different. Middle school and high school-aged children present their own challenges.
“The biggest difference? Mostly attention span,” Lois admits. “Our culture is such that instant gratification is the rule, not the exception. And in a way, that reality has changed things when teaching God’s Word. Our lessons have to be short and engaging. The message has to be relevant. There are no more lectures. Our youth group volunteers are not just there to hand out pencils. The facilitate and engage.”
Lois’s Catechists are engaged. They are present because the activities, by necessity, are hands on. There is energy and excitement in the room. Rather than resent the changing of the times, the Catechists must embrace it, accept it, and adapt in a way so as not to dilute the message.
“They’ve been in school all day – they’re tired and hungry. So, in that hour of time, we have focus on one or two things that we can get across to them,” Chris adds. “How can we get them to know the love of Jesus?”
Some things never change.
Lois’s team is in the middle of an 8-week character building study. In it, they’ve chosen a list of relatable contemporary movies – The Pursuit of Happyness, Courageous, Soul Surfer, Facing the Giants, Seabiscuit, etcetera, and they show short clips of these movies that relate to human nature as well Bible figures and their associated character traits – integrity, self-discipline, compassion, a teachable spirit, courage, faith, joy and a servant’s heart.
“We show the clip and have a discussion about how they themselves can relate to it, and take it home with them,” Lois shares. “And you’d be surprised how effective it is. There’s no writing, no homework, no lecturing. Just a discussion about how the challenges in the Bible relate to what’s going on today, not only in their lives, but in the world around them… And I’m teaching the young adults the same way. The Bible and it’s repetitive cycle is the history of us.”
And isn’t that true? Human beings are dealing with the same exact things today that they were 2000+ years ago.
What went on back in Genesis and Exodus, is going on today – human trafficking, slavery, and of course, idolatry. Who among us doesn’t fall victim to some form of idolatry? This is the basic source of all discontent. Not believing who we are and what we have is enough to sustain our happiness.
And so being a teacher of the faith has never been so important as it is now. These Catechists are not merely teaching the truths of the Catholic faith, they are transmitting the key to living a joyful and meaningful life.
What is more important than that? The message might be packaged a little differently, but the truth remains the same. Technology has made sin more accessible and more apparent to those attempting to thwart it, but it is also enabling Catechists to teach more effectively so that students can build a stronger foundation in their faith.
“A strong foundation is what will carry them through the various crises in their lives,” Lois concludes. “We start from the base, when they’re young, but no matter how young or old a person is, we can instill in them what it means to trust God and channel His love towards others.”
We owe our Catechists a debt of gratitude. School may teach them math, science and history, but they teach the meaning of life, and how to live it. They make it fun and engaging – the vast majority of them are unpaid – and so the least we can do is say thank you. Your time is well spent. This is a job that is most certainly worth doing.