Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington posted a wonderful explanation of the qualities of an evangelist.  I have included most of the post below.  The General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis are clear about the need to evangelize those we are catechizing.  Here a 7 qualities to consider:

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.  (Luke 10:1).

Now these lead teams, these evangelizers,  received seven basic instructions from the Lord on how to effectively evangelize. These seven basic habits are also for us who have receive the mandate to evangelize (cf Matt 28: 19). Let’s look at them briefly:

1. Supplication – Jesus said, The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Hence before any effective evangelizing takes place there must be prayer. In my own parish we are preparing to go out two by two in the Fall. Prior to this we have prayed for over a year, holding Eucharistic holy hours, praying at Mass and Bible study for a fruitful team of laborers sent, not by man, but by God. On Pentecost Sunday 50 people signed up to walk door to door. They are the fruit of prayer. So step one for effective evangelization is to have a praying community asking for laborers. When we go door to door fifty others have signed up to stay in Church and pray as we walk. Habit one: Pray!

2: Sobriety. The Lord tells them Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3) We do have to be sober about the fact that we are in world that is both critical of and hostile to our faith. We are bound to experience persecution, ridicule, anger, being ignored,  misunderstanding, misinterpretation, misrepresentations and just plain missiles. That we experience the world’s hatred or anger does not mean we have done anything wrong. The Lord was clear that the hatred of the world was a sign of true discipleship: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-20). Too many Christians today want the world to like them and think that holiness is about winning a popularity contest and being nice. Well the fact is that Jesus did not end up on the cross by winning a popularity contest and just being nice. He had enemies and so do we. We are not to hate them. We are to love them but we have to be sober about accepting some degree of hatred from the world. And to those who have won the popularity contest and have no enemies Jesus warns: Woe to you when all men speak well of you,  for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26). The true disciple and true evangelizer will experience some degree of hatred, anger and scorn. We must be sober about this. We do not look for a fight, but hatred will come. An old spiritual says, “I been ‘buked and I been scorned. I been talked ’bout sures yo’ born…..” Habit 2 is sobriety

3. Simplicity – The Lord tells us to travel light: Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way (Lk 10:4) We are to bring nothing along that will weigh us down or hinder our task. The fact is we all have a lot of baggage in this life that hinders us from the more important work of Evangelizing our family and others. Too many parents barely know their kids because they work long hours at jobs to pay for a life style that is too expensive. On top of this we add endless projects and pursuits that keep us running all over God’s green acre. Perhaps good in themselves, they become too much of a good thing and we end up barely knowing the first people we are to evangelize, our children. The Lord says, lighten up, less, is more, simplify and do with less. Do what is more important first: God, family, parish and community. Learn to prioritize and say “no” when necessary. Bottom line is that we have too much baggage, too many distractions and the Gospel goes unlived and unpreached. The unusual instruction “Greet no one along the way” means that we ought not allow any relationship to hinder us either. There are folks who can sidetrack us hinder our progress and we ought to limit such contacts charitably.

4.  Serenity – The Lord says, Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household’ (Luke 10: 5) Though the world may be hostile at times, the Lord tells us, upon entering into any place to say “Peace to the his household.” We do not go forth with hostility but with a serene joy and love. We must love those to whom we announce the Gospel. We are to radiate a serene confidence, joy and peace. We are not picking a fight or trying to win an argument. If we need to clarify a misunderstanding someone has we ought to do so peacefully and with serene confidence.  Because we are confident in the truth we are serene in it. Shalom, peace is at our core, not hostility or aggressiveness.

5.  Stability– The Lord instructs us Stay in the same house…..Do not move about from one house to another. (Luke 10:7) Thus the Lord tells us to find our place and stay there. In the end, the best evangelization takes place where there are deeper relationships. But deep relationships cannot exist when we are running all over the place and relating to others only superficially. We ought to stay put more with family, parish and community and have deep roots. Too many people barely know their own family. No wonder the faith is not passed on in the diffuse, rushed and sporadic climate of the family. Find home and stay there routinely. Build deep relationships.

6. Sensitivity – the Lord says Eat and drink what is offered to you,…..cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ In other words the Lord counsels simple human kindness where we do not criticize about unnecessary things like the quality of food, or matters of preference. Further he counsels that we have a charge to bring healing and help to others. We may cure the sick by physical cures but the kind of healing necessary is often more emotional and spiritual. We ought to manifest care for others. Even the simple act of listening to someone can bring great healing. Without simple human kindness, declaring that the Kingdom of God is at hand can not only be empty but it can make the kingdom seem odious. The say to others that the Kingdom of God is at hand means that they can start living a whole new life. We ought then to manifest kindness, bring forth cures by helping people find wholeness and healing from the many blows this world inflicts. The Kingdom of God is not only about doctrine, it is about healing, holiness, and the wholeness that comes from both as well as from true doctrine.

7. Soulful Joy– The disciples returned with great joy and the Lord celebrates with them and helps to deepen their joy. There is nothing worse than a sour-faced saint or a bored believer. In the end, the greatest evangelization is to manifest a joy at what God is doing in our lives. This joy is not a sentimental emotional joy necessarily but a deeper serene joy rooted in confidence, hope and love. Do people see you in this way? If they do the ground is fertile for evangelization. St. Peter says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Now of course giving an answer presupposes that someone notices the hope and joy in us and noticing this they ask. Does anyone notice this about you?

Is your catechesis evangelistic?  What does that even mean?  Well, it means a lot of things, but most importantly it means being a person to brings the light, joy, life and love of Jesus to others.  The heart of our catechesis to children, youth and adults must be evangelistic or it is not authentically Catholic/Christian.

How do I shine Jesus in my catechesis?  How do others encounter Jesus through my classes, presentations or by encountering me?  These are questions worth thinking about.  I found a compelling video clip by Fr. Robert Barron about Evangelization.  It’s a little academic, but it’s really good.  Take a couple minutes and check it out.

The Church has called for a “New Evangelization” to meet the situation in which many who would describe Catechism of the Catholic church picthemselves as Catholics have moved away from the practice of their faith. The Catechism was written precisely to help those who transmit the faith of the Church to address this situation. It is enormously important that the Catechism shows us how we can announce the kerygma in and through our presentation of each aspect of the faith. This means that when we catechize, we can reach out to those who are already committed and need a catechesis for the deepening of their faith, and at the same time make a proclamation of the essentials of the faith so that those who need to receive the more basic message with its call to conversion also benefit from our teaching. Whatever a person’s situation, and however far a person is from the full practice of the faith, he or she will be able to hear the core message of the Good News and can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, make a response to this call that comes through us from the unfathomable love of God made flesh in the divine Son.

~ Dr. Petroc Willey

For years I’ve understood that the textbook was just a tool and not the end-all of the catechetical lesson.  One of the challenges today is to equip volunteer catechists to go beyond the textbook, i.e., not relying on the textbook as a crutch which they have to teach from in order to convey the content of the chapter.  Although I have some ideas on what we need to do about that, I want to share a few things that seem to be essential in this Ministry of the Word and the Proclamation of the Good News of Christ and His Church today. This are some things needed for Catechesis in the Third Millennium:


1. We need a holistic approach to catechesis.

As many have been saying, we need to do more than pass on content – we need to see our catechesis as initiating people into the Christian Life.  Much has been said about this, especially in the last number of years. Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that it’s not a victory to get through the 30 chapters of the textbook.  It’s a victory if over the course of a year we have helped those we catechize be inspired, grow in hunger for being in communion with Jesus Christ and desire to continue that friendship they have with Him.

2. We need to help Catechists see that what they are transmitting is something that is unified.

Textbooks, among other resources, can have a tendency to compartmentalize the content of the Faith.  At times for the sake of order this is understandable and necessary.  However, too often we struggle to catechize seeing that the faith is unified not just a set of various truths.  For example, in the 3 part of the Catechism in the second paragraph of that section it expresses this truth I’m speaking of beautifully:

The Symbol of the faith confesses the greatness of God’s gifts to man in his work of creation, and even more in redemption and sanctification. What faith confesses, the sacraments communicate: by the sacraments of rebirth, Christians have become “children of God,”2 “partakers of the divine nature.”3 Coming to see in the faith their new dignity, Christians are called to lead henceforth a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”4 They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer. (Paragraph 1692)

Even in the 3 part of the Catechism it has not “moved on” from the first two parts to now cover the 3 part (although it does cover the Christian Life lived out and what we believe about that).  But it does so in a unified manner helping the believer see that the faith in intricately woven together as a unified whole.  Catechesis today needs to keep this in mind and make positive strides in helping others see the unity of the Catholic Faith.

3. We need to root our Catechesis in the Holy Trinity.

Yes, I’m sure we all have heard that the Trinity is the central mystery of the faith and how as the Catechism says: “It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them” (#234).

If what we are teaching does not relate to one of the persons of the Trinity then we should not be teaching it.  As stated above regarding the unity of the faith we have to show those we catechize that God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealing Himself to us and inviting us to community with Him.  When you have a moment take a look at Ephesians 1:3-14 which conveys beautifully the Trinities Mission.  Our catechesis should always be linked with the Trinity.

4. We need to present the faith today as a compelling story — of God’s loving plan.

The Good News is a story to be told, a story to be celebrated, a story to be lived and a story to be in communion with.  It is not romanticizing to say that it is a love story because it truly is, but it is a love story that has tragedy, hope, love and joy which are all a part of the human condition.  We have a tendency in catechesis to present the faith as a lot of great truths but can struggle to help those we catechize see that it’s more a story we are a part of than a number of great truths that happened in the past.  The more we can show others that what we are proclaiming and teaching is all part of a beautiful story of God’s plan and purpose for creation then we help others see just how compelling God and his ways are.

5. We need to put people in contact with Jesus (in relationship with Him).

If we begin and end each catechetical session with a brief prayer lasting no more than 30 seconds then it is not likely that we are able to allow for the proper setting to help those we catechize come into contact with Jesus.  We need to have more prayer in our catechesis, more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, more time of silence and reflection (as challenging as all this can be).  I recently heard a story about how two priests had devoted much time to being present to the First Communion class by stopping by the classes to talk with the 2nd graders and how they also were present at the parent meetings.  Even so, after First Communion none of the parents brought their children to Mass.  One of the things the priests discovered is that they never took to time to take them to the church and have direct contact with Jesus.  They did not take them into the church to show them how this is where the Christian community gathers to celebrate, proclaim and encounter God.  Therefore, helping find more opportunities of putting people in contact with Jesus Christ is essential for fruitful discipleship.

6. The Catechism needs to be better utilized in elementary catechesis

When Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of the Catechism as a reference text he did not intend for it to merely be something we use as one among many resources.  Textbook publishers have a tendency to site the Catechism as a reference or a way to show that the teaching in a particular chapter is linked to a teaching in the Catechism.  Although this is a great first step to what we had 20 years ago it lacks something significant.  The Catechism is the essential Deposit of Faith which the Church guards as a most important and vital treasure to the universal Church. The Catechism helps articulate the beauty of the Faith.  The Catechism shows how the Faith is organic and unified.  The Catechism threads the faith together in a way that we can see just how unified and simple the faith is.  When I say simple, I mean that at the heart of the Deposit of Faith we see the simple Gospel Message that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that we may not perish but have eternal life (Cf. John 3:16).  The Catechism conveys the simplicity of God’s plan accomplished through Creation, through His relationship with us, through sending His Son to redeem us and sending the Holy Spirit to sanctify the world and prepare us for the world to come.  Therefore, the Catechism needs to be used more fully in equipping catechists in their ministry of catechesis.

These are 6 things I see as vital to Catechesis in the 21st Century.  May God our heavenly and gracious Father direct us and lead us to greater renewal and communion with Himself.

What do you see as things that are needed for Catechesis in the 21st Century?

The Builder and the Rich Man

There was a rich man who hired a builder to build a house and he told him that he would pay him “x” amount of dollars for building him a house and he would like it ready by the time he gets back from his business trip.  The builder agreed and build it in a rather quick manner by taking shortcuts and buying cheap supplies so that he would pocket more money in the end.  He covered up little mistakes through paint and other tricks of the trade.  When the rich man returned and had the builder tell him that everything was ready just as he had requested, the rich man handed the keys and the deed to the house over to the builder as a gift for him and his family.  The builder was shocked to learn that the house which he took all the shortcuts in building was actually built for Him and his family.

Jesus’ Words

Jesus said: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined” (Mt. 7:24-27).

How Will You Build?

What are you building – in your family life, in your workplace and in your community?  How will your foundation hold up through the wind and rain?  I know all too well, how the foundation I build can be made to look fine as I “cover up” the defects I have in my foundation.  The shifting sand always surfaces, sooner or later and my true foundation begins to become clear.  This summer is a good time to reflect and consider doing some refurbishing and reestablishing of what is most important.  Take some time to see what you need to do to continue to build upon a strong foundation.  Evaluate, reflect and pray for the grace to see and repair what God wants.


My friend Marc Cardaronella over at Evangelizing Catechesis said something recently that I keep reflecting on:

We may not be doing anything for our student’s salvation by merely teaching them the facts of the Faith. If we’re not teaching them in a way that moves them to love God and respond to him in faith, they may not be saved at all.

What have you found fruitful to “move your students to love God and want to respond to Him”?  It would be great to hear what you have found beneficial!


Gerard Gaskin wrote an article in the Australian Magazine AD2000 and noted six key themes for authentic catechesis from Pope John Paul II apostolic letter on Catechesis (Catechesi Tradendae).  His article can be found here.  Below I’ve quoted from the article the six key themes worth noting:

1. Christocentric catechesis: “Christocentricity in catechesis also means the intention to transmit not one’s own teaching or that of some other master, but the teaching of Jesus Christ … the Truth that he is” (n.6).

2. Catechesis must be systematic: Pope John Paul drew attention to the “… absolute need for a systematic catechesis … not improvised but programmed to reach a precise goal; it must deal with essentials” (n.21 ).

3. The integrity of content: The Pope asserts the “… right (of the person being catechised) to receive the ‘word of faith’ not in a mutilated, falsified form but whole and entire … there is no valid pretext for refusing him any part whatever of that knowledge” (n.30).

4. Orthodoxy versus orthopraxis: “It is useless to play off orthopraxis (right actions) against orthodoxy (right beliefs): Christianity is inseparably both.” The Pope attacks the “either or” argument, that the doctrinal formation of children will in some way be done at the expense of teaching them to lead good lives: “firm and well-thought-out convictions lead to courageous and upright action” (n.22).

5. Life experience: “It is also quite useless to campaign for the abandonment of serious and orderly study of the message of Christ in the name of a message concentrating on life experience. No one can arrive at the whole truth on the basis solely of some simple private experience” (n.22).

6. Methodology – memorisation: Whilst acknowledging that memorisation can lead to, “reducing all knowledge to formulas that are repeated without being properly understood”, the Holy Father regrets the, “definitive suppression of memorisation in catechesis.” He asks, “Should we not attempt to put this faculty back into use in an intelligent and even an original way in catechesis … We must be realists. The blossoms, if we may call them that, of faith and piety do not grow in the desert places of a memory-less catechesis” (n.55).

What is your feedback on these 6 themes?  Do you find each of these to continue to be vital for catechesis in the Third Millennium?

Pope Emaritus Benedict spoke back in 2010 to the Italian Bishops conference in Assisi about the translation of the Roman Missal in the context of liturgical reform.  He said that “all true reformers are, in fact, obedient to the faith.” He explained:

“They do not move arbitrarily, they do not claim any discretional jurisdiction over rites. They are not masters but custodians of the treasure that was instituted by the Lord and entrusted to us. The entire Church is present in each liturgical act, and adhering to its form is a condition for the authenticity of the celebration.”

The “reformers” he is speaking of are all the bishops, priests and liturgists who will be implementing the new translation of the Roman Missal.  I think the Pope’s message also applies to the work of catechesis when passing on the Deposit of Faith.  We cannot teach personal opinions or only the truths that “we think” are more relevant.  There is a temptation to side-step the more challenging teachings of the Gospel and the Church. The Lord has entrusted to His Church the full Deposit of Faith and we, in the ministry of catechesis, must never see ourselves as the “masters but custodians of the treasure(s) that was instituted by the Lord and entrusted to us.”

3 Ways we can do this in our Religious Education Programs:

1) Make sure and talk to your DRE about what are the fundamental truths of the Faith, e.g., Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, the Sacraments, the doctrine of sin, etc.

2) Be faithful to the teachings of Christ and His Church in your own life. As we allow comfort or lukewarmness to infect our own Faith lives, it becomes contagious and spreads to the programs we lead and the teachings we pass on.  The teachings of the Church are life-giving and inspire one to go deeper and grow in a relationship with God.

3.    Be sure to find small teachable moments to pass on to the parents as well.  It is becoming increasingly more challenging to encourage parents to attend any presentations about the faith.  Look to newsletters, emails, and small assignments in which students and parents can work together, so that parents can deepen their understanding of the blessings and joy of knowing the teachings of the Church and desire more fervently to live them in their lives.

Come Holy Spirit!

Over the years as I’ve worked with catechists to hand on the faith to their students I’ve noticed that there are two common ideas:1) Getting certain ideas communicated to ones students and 2) How to do that in a way that gets them engaged.

Sometimes I think trying to do activities to engage them is what catechists tend to be concerned about the most.  This has a lot to do with the times we are living in where students today need to be engaged in different ways then in generations past.  In addition catechists want to be sure to not bore their students (which is admirable).

What things should we consider when planning a lesson?  Does too much focus on engagement diminish in any way the message/content that needs to be handed on and proclaimed?  It’s worthwhile to be aware of pitfalls or shortcomings that could arise due to the need to involve students more than ever today.  Here are a few things about lesson planning and what to consider when teaching a lesson so that you, as a catechist, can successfully hand/pass on our rich Catholic Faith.

1) Whatever method(s) you use to convey the lesson of the day, make sure that it is serving the content.  It is key to find ways to “break open” and/or “bring to life” the message that you are teaching, but not at the expense of the content.  For some this is obvious but for others it might be something that unintentionally tends to happen.  All the activities you choose should help draw your students into the message/content.  I’ve seen where the message gets conveyed in a short amount of time and the activities that follow do not relate very well to the actual content that was just spoken of.

2) Don’t be afraid of the content being boring and feel you have to “get through” the content and then move onto getting them engaged and enjoying class.  Our Catholic Faith is not only rich but it is beautiful.  Allow the beauty of the truths of the Faith to speak for themselves (The Catechism does a great job of this).  You can assist with your enthusiasm and love for the Faith.  God wants to draw your students to Himself even more than you do so believe that His truth can do just that.  The Holy Spirit is the interior teacher and will stir up in them the gift of faith which they have been given.  This does require trust and a confidence that God seeks a response from them.

3) Pray for the soil of your students hearts to be ready and open to receive what has been proclaimed and discussed (before class and after class).

What do you find to be important to successfully handing on the faith?

Today is a significant day for a few reasons:

1) The Opening of the Second Vatican Council was 50 years ago today.

2) The Catechism of the Catholic Church was published 20 years ago today.

3) The Year of Faith Begins Today!

Pope Benedict announced this year of faith last October 2011 asking the Church to prepare for a year of faith that would “give renewed energy to the Church’s mission to lead men and women out of the desert in which they so often find themselves, and towards the place of life, towards friendship with Christ who gives us life in all its fullness”.  He also spoke of it as an opportunity “to strengthen our faith in Christ and joyfully to announce Him to the men and women of our time”.

What are the implications of this in our ministry?                                                                           

1) Prayer

Prayer is at the top of the list – we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to renew our faith and the faith of His pilgrim Church.  Due to the secularism of our society we need to draw closer and more fully into the life of Christ.  Maybe that sounds too simplistic but it reminds me of a quote I’m fond of by the late Fr. Thomas Dubay who once wrote:

If we wonder why, despite the millions of us who follow Christ, the world has not long ago been converted, we need not look far for one solution.  We are not perceived as men on fire.  We look too much like everyone else.  We appear to be compromisers, people who say that they believe in everlasting life but actually live as though this life is the only one we have.

Fr. Dubay knew better than most the importance of prayer as he dedicated most of his life to helping others grow in their prayer lives and relationship with God.

A few things to consider regarding prayer:

Adults and Ministry leaders

Take more time during your busy lives to pray or at least get back to being faithful to your daily prayer schedule.


Help your students to grow in prayer by giving them insights on how to pray – take them to the adoration chapel, to the church, spend time at the beginning and end of class praying.  Help them have different prayer experiences – times of silence, times of petition and intercession, times of praise and blessing.  Help them pray with Scripture, help them find life in praying the mysteries of the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

2) Renewal

We have to set out this year seeking to lead our students into a deeper relationship with Christ.  We want to avoid emphasizing too much on learning about Jesus at the cost of them getting to know Jesus.  Both are possible and important but sometimes we sacrifice one for the other.

What we need is to go from a “maintenance” mentality to a “mission” mentality.  This requires getting out of our comfort zone and exploring ways to ignite the flame of faith in the lives of our students.  It might mean getting back to the basics – do people know the story?– That God created us in His image and likeness, that sin separated us from God, that God had a plan to bring us back to union with him that was finally fulfilled in Christ who suffered and died for our sins and destroyed death through the Resurrection and Ascension and promised manifold graces to draw His Church to sanctity.

What we need is to go from faith as usual to how can I as a Catholic Christian witness and proclaim my faith so as to lead others closer to Jesus.  One statistic I heard is that only about 17% of Catholics go to Mass every Sunday.  If this is true then we should seek to be on a mission to encourage and help others be drawn back in and want to experience the joy and peace that can only be found in Christ who we experience each time we receive the Eucharist.  Our students will see this if our faith is alive – our faith will by God’s grace “compel” them to want more themselves.

Entrust this Year to Mary                                                 

Last week the Pope made a visit to Our Lady of Loreto seeking her intercession for the Year of Faith.  Let us likewise entrust this year to Mary who shows us the way of Faith par excellence!  Mary, increase our faith, intercede for us and assist us in having all of God’s ways be “done to us according to His word”!

In our ministry, whether it is in Religious Education, RCIA or with Youth it is crucial that we communicate that being a saint is attainable with God’s help.  Helping others see the heroic virtue of saints is very important but it needs also to be seen as attainable to reach verses something that is not possible for the average Catholic.  Butler’s Lives of the Saints is a wonderful contribution to the Catholic but if he had a flaw it was that the saints were completely flaw-less and totally perfect from head to foot.  Reading his book is inspiring but it can also be a little discouraging because most of the people that read it realize they are not perfect and have not yet come close to the perfect that he speaks about.

Lucy Fuchs wrote an article for St. Anthony Messenger and came up with 7 characteristics of the saints that we can imitate.

Seven Characteristics of the Saints

All saints are filled with the love of God.

They have chosen God above all others and made a definite commitment to God.

In her book Saint Watching (Viking Press), Phyllis McGinley writes that saints are human beings with an added dimension. “They are obsessed by goodness and by God as Michelangelo was obsessed by line and form, as Shakespeare was bewitched by language, Beethoven by sound.”

All saints love other human beings.

It cannot be any other way. In the First Letter of John (4:20) we read: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

McGinley also says that, although saints may be different in many ways, they are always generous. You will never find a stingy saint.

All saints are risk-takers.

When God called, they answered. For some it was taking a chance on a new way of life in a new place. In the Old Testament, we have the example of Abraham, called at an old age to leave his country and to go to the place God had selected for him. Even today, it is difficult for older people to leave their level of comfort and to face the new and unknown.

Abraham’s story is a marvelous example of trust in God, but even more so of a decision to plunge into the unknown. Like Abraham, saints responded to the graces that were given to them. Some were called to be popes, bishops, abbots or abbesses. Others found their calling in a quiet, reserved life, far away from the center of activity.

St. Julian of Norwich lived in a small cell attached to a church. She was even walled in, but that did not keep people away; they came to her and asked for her spiritual advice.

St. Catherine of Siena lived at home, not in a convent, as a person dedicated to God. People flocked to her, but not because she wanted them to.

Others, whose names are not well-known, lived simple lives among their families and friends, serving God with all their hearts, but never making a splash in the world.

The saints are humble, willingly and lovingly attributing to God all that they have and all that they will ever be.

Humility has always had a poor press; many people think that humility means saying derogatory things about oneself. Far from it! The saints showed their humility by using whatever gifts they had to perfection, but never attributing these gifts to themselves.

St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas were brilliant men and they did not go around saying how stupid they were. They did acknowledge, however, that all they knew was as nothing compared to the infinite wisdom of God.

Saints are people of prayer.

Some, especially members of religious orders, had entire days of prayer. Others found their time with God in other ways.

Dorothy Day—not canonized but recognized by many as a truly holy person—started her day with prayer but said that she met God daily in the crowds of the poor who came to her hospitality house. None of the saints saw prayer as a waste of time or as an activity for only the weak or naive.

The saints are not perfect.

Each of the saints had human flaws and faults. They made mistakes. Even at the end of their lives, they still found themselves in need of contrition, pardon and reconciliation.

St. Jerome, it is said, had a fearful temper. When another scholar of his time, a former friend, Rufinus, questioned his conclusions, St. Jerome wrote pamphlet after pamphlet blasting him.

St. Aloysius apparently had bad timing in his spiritual quest; the other novices were just as happy when he was not there. He was the kind of saint who did not seem to know how to enjoy the things of this life.

Some saints misunderstood their own visions. When St. Francis was told to rebuild the Church, he thought it meant the local church building. It is interesting and amusing to note that Jesus did not clarify the request for him until after he had exerted a lot of sweat and energy repairing an old church.

St. Joan of Arc was coerced into signing a retraction of her visions, although she later retracted that retraction.

St. John Vianney, “the Curé of Ars,” did not believe the children of La Salette concerning their visions of the Virgin Mary.

During the time of the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy at the end of the 14th century and beginning of the 15th, when one pope resided in Avignon and another pope in Rome, saints found themselves on opposite sides of the rival popes, as confused as many of the common people were.

The saints are people of their times.

One wonders how anyone escapes being of his or her time. There were injustices around the saints that they did not speak out against. St. Paul did not condemn slavery but encouraged slaves to obey their masters. St. Thomas Aquinas considered women unequal to men. He believed their only task in life was to bear children.

If we look at the lives of all the saints, we can certainly find faults. Far from discouraging us, this can give us courage. Perfection is not what we are striving for, unless it is as perfect a love as possible.



What characteristics would you add?  How do you motivate your students or those you catechize to be holy and respond to their vocation to be a saint?



I came across the blog Reverend Know-It-All and found a very interesting post about his thoughts on the current state of Religious Education and Catholic Education.  He shared about how we is going to start over and do something completely different.  

I’d be very interested to hear what you think about his thoughts?  Check out the post and please share with me your thoughts about the following questions:

  • Do you think our current system of once a week religious education is unfruitful?  On a scale of 1 to 5 (1=great and 5=completely unsuccessful/fruitful) – where is the state of the average religious education program?

  • What do you think about his comments regarding Sacramental Preparation?

  • Where do the parents fit in?

  • What do you think about this comment he made: “In this country, we can’t manage a religious life because we are up against team sports.”?

  • What would you propose as solutions to our current challenges in Religious Education?

  • Are there any unique or interesting religious education models that you know about?

Are there any key themes that should be a part of any classroom regardless of the topic of the day?  In 1973, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops in their document “Basic Teachings For Catholic Religious Education” spoke of three themes which should “carry through all religious education” (pg. 3).  I would like to write more about this in the future but this is definitely a good start of what should be a part of one’s lesson during each class.

1. The Importance of Prayer

“This teaching will take place through experiences of prayer, through the examples of prayer, and through the learning of common prayers(pg. 3).”  Consider focusing on the following:
a. The example of prayer (how do you model prayer and draw your students into prayer as a catechist?)
b. learning common prayers (by memorization)
c. Experiences of prayer (opening and closing each session in prayer, praying with the Scriptures, prayer services, intercessory prayer, etc)

2. Participating in the Liturgy

The Bishops documents states, “Liturgy itself educates.  It teaches, it forms community, it forms the individual.  It makes possible worship of God and a social apostolate to men.  The Mass, the Church’s “great prayer,” is the highest, most noble form of the Church’s liturgy.  Effective instruction will therefore help every Christian participate actively in the Eucharistic celebration of his own witnessing faith community (pg. 4).”   Without  connecting students and adults to the liturgy we will struggle to draw people into participation and the very life of the Church.

3. Familiarity with the Holy Bible

At the heart of passing on the Faith is the use of the Scriptures.  The document goes on to say, “The Word of God is life giving.  It nourishes and inspires strengthens and sustains.  It is the primary source, with Tradition, of the Church teaching.”…The words of St. Paul should describe the Catholic students of religion: “From your infancy you have known the Sacred Scriptures, the sources of the wisdom which, through faith in Jesus Christ, leads to salvation (2 Tim. 3:15) (pg. 4-5).”  Using Scripture in the classroom to allow the students to become familiar with the Bible as well as showing them how God reveals His plan to us cannot be underestimated.

What themes would you add to this list?

No Ordinary Meal

This poster got me reflecting on how we catechize about the Eucharist and invisible things in general.  I think it is very common to want to connect the Eucharist to what we all know – a family meal.  Yes, in a certain sense it is like a family meal because we gather each Sunday to a a community of faith to participate in the Holy Mass.  However, it is much more: It is the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross being made present.  As I’ve heard it said before “It’s the same old miracle that happens each time Mass is celebrated”.  This heavenly banquet is ever new and ever fresh.  We have the opportunity as Catholics and as catechists to live our earthly lives anticipating the pledge of our future glory (cf. CCC 1402-1405).  This is no ordinary reality happening at each Mass, but we’ve come so accustom to it and live in a culture that seeks to enliven the senses to no end that the divine exchange that occurs is often overlooked or taken for granted.

Catechetical Takaway

I just have one takaway that I’d like to share:

Seek to impress upon those you are catechizing that the God of the universe is constantly seeking to draw our hearts and minds into his reality of holiness and life.  The things of this world- the signs and symbols that this world offers and our Church uses are meant to connect us to what only the eyes of faith can see clearly (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:12).  It is no less real just visible through a different lens.

A Prayer for Faith

Lord Jesus, eternal and infallible Truth, since Thou hast said that Thou art really present in the holy Eucharist, I believe it firmly. Yes, this Host which I see, and which I am to receive, is not bread, but the living Body of Jesus Christ, God and Man: it is the God Whom the Angels adore in heaven; I believe it. I do not understand this Mystery, but I wish to believe it without seeking to penetrate it, that I may have the happiness of seeing and contemplating it one day in heaven. Strengthen it so lively, that I may honour Thee, love Thee, and receive Thee, as if I already beheld Thee.

The Gift of Prayer

Prayer is the life of the soul!  How are we drawing adults, parents, kids and youth into a life of prayer?  The Catechism is rich in what it says about prayer.

In paragraph 2560 it says:

“The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there Christ comes to meet every human being.  It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink.  Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us.  Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours.  God thirsts that we may thirst for him.”

Prayer and Catechesis

In many ministry settings prayer is seen too often as something to get out of the way (an attitude of “I know I should pray so let’s say a quick prayer and get on with the lesson of the day) instead of something that draws people into the mystery of Christ and a greater intimacy with Him.  It is essential in our catechetical settings to create an attitude of prayer that opens hearts.  Helping create an environment that draws souls into that relationship with Jesus is key if we are to lead adults and children into being truly disciples of Christ.

Not only is it important to lead people into prayer, but it will only occur if we ourselves are people of prayer; people who take time to foster a spiritual life and time for mental prayer.  Yes, it is great to pray at all times and make your whole day a prayer, but this is not sufficient.  We must be people who take time away from the busyness of jobs, social media that we are exposed to 24-7 and all our family responsibilities and be silent before God.  Taking time to pray and making prayer it a priority is necessary for our relationship with Christ as well as our success in ministry.  Catechists are then able to better engage and lead others into prayer if they themselves are people of prayer.

Practical Recommendations

I recently read a great article by Marianne Cuthbertson and Dr. Caroline Farey that gives wonderful recommendations for leading others into prayer in our catechetical settings.  Their numerous recommendations are exactly what we need to consider to allow our catechetical session to be times of grace and session soaked in prayer.

How do you help engage others in prayer in your catechetical sessions?  Let us be drawn into and help draw others into the “wonder of prayer”.

Love of Jesus or Knowledge (Church Teaching)?

Is it the love of Jesus that matters most to convey to this generation?  Is it to pass on what the Catechism says so they will “know” their faith?  Those in ministry have clear opinions about these questions.  Sometimes people say the content gets in the way of helping children, youth and adults encounter Jesus and know His love. Others assert “if they only knew the content they would live their faith better”.

Pope Paul VI was the first pope in history to talk about catechesis as being a means to evangelization (Evangelii Nuntiandi #44).  We are familiar to the notion of evangelization preceding catechesis but Paul VI saw catechesis being a means of evangelizing, of proclaiming the Good News of God’s love and abundant life.

As catechists and disciples of Christ our goal should be to bring about both a greater understanding and knowledge of the faith so that a greater love and acceptance of the Good News will be embraced and lived in the lives of those who receive it.  Our catechesis must be evangelistic in nature so that it is not merely “doctrine” that we are passing on but “life changing doctrine”.

Both Are Essential

The answer is both the love of Jesus and the knowledge of God plan of salvation (doctrine) are key to handing on the Faith.  Before Vatican II the emphasis tended to be placed on memorizing the content of the faith at the cost of the proclamation of the Good News of God’s love and Mercy.  After Vatican II the pendulum went the other way and the emphasis was on proclaiming the love of God and his great mercy and minimizing the content and the importance of knowing/learning it.  What we need is to unify the two by understanding that we are catechizing and proclaiming this life changing doctrine so as to draw the learning into a life-giving relationship with Jesus. Blessed John Paul II said it very well in Catechesi Tradendae when he said:

Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word. Changed by the working of grace into a new creature, the Christian thus sets himself to follow Christ and learns more and more within the Church to think like Him, to judge like Him, to act in conformity with His commandments, and to hope as He invites us to.

To put it more precisely: within the whole process of evangelization, the aim of catechesis is to be the teaching and maturation stage, that is to say, the period in which the Christian, having accepted by faith the person of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and having given Him complete adherence by sincere conversion of heart, endeavors to know better this Jesus to whom he has entrusted himself: to know His “mystery,” the kingdom of God proclaimed by Him, the requirements and promises contained in His Gospel message, and the paths that He has laid down for anyone who wishes to follow Him. (Paragraph 20)

The understanding of doctrine and the goal of bringing about a change (conversion) is the “aim of catechesis”.  Today we need both in order to authentically pass on the deposit of faith and all its riches.

Catechetical Takeaway

A few ideas on how to accomplish this are worth considering.

1) Always open your catechetical sessions in prayer – prayer that helps draw others into the Mystery of Christ.

2) Share the topic of the day with enthusiasm and with conviction.  This will be noticed and those receiving it will be more inclined to be drawn into what you are proclaiming and sharing.

3)  Pray to the Holy Spirit (The Holy Spirit is the interior teacher).  Catechists are the instrument, the conduit, the mouthpiece helping others to know and love Christ.

4) Be faithful to proclaiming the Church’s teachings.  Proclaiming this life changing doctrine will lead others to the love of God and to encounter Him more fully.

How do you see catechesis being a means of evangelization?

Do you ever teach and/or draw your students in by using the texts from the liturgy?  Liturgical texts are an invaluable way to help your students encounter Christ.

For example, Sunday March 11th’s opening prayer was:

Collect: O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Ways you could teach from this:

The 3 traditional practices of Lent are a way to “remedy” sin in our lives.  We don’t do it just to be good Catholics or because we’ve always done something for Lent, but we practices fasting, prayer and almsgiving in order to rid our lives of sinful tendencies and behaviors so that we can become more united to Christ, more open to His ways, more available to doing God’s will.


Also, teaching students that when we examine our conscience and identify the sin or sins that need to be gotten rid of as well as forgiven we should remember that God’s mercy lifts us up (we don’t have to stay down or stuck in our sin, but God’s mercy lifts/raises us to a life that is renewed in Christ.  We indeed can begin again.


Another Example

The Liturgy of the Hours provides many great bite size teaching points that are invaluable.  Take for example the Antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah for morning prayer on Palm Sunday: “With palms let us welcome the Lord as he comes, with songs and hymns let us run to meet him, as we offer him our joyful worship and sing: Blessed be the Lord!”

~ Before praying the canticle with your students or audience one could reflect upon this antiphon.  Sharing with them that our palms are a way to concretely welcome the Lord as He comes — and doing it with songs and hymns.  Music is central the the life of the Church and to drawing our minds and our hearts toward God.  Also, proclaiming that we are being summoned to “run to meet him (Christ) as we we offer him our joyful worship”. This worship isn’t just Mass but the worship of our lives of prayer and offering our very selves to Christ from day to day as an act of worship.

~ Additional ideas that come to mind: 1) using music in ones opening prayer.  2) For elementary age students skits could be a possibility or a reenactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  3) Reflection:  Asking the students to reflect if we are walking or running to meet Christ (makes me think of the Father who ran out to meet his prodigal son).  Our worship should be joyful even if that joy is experienced more from our attitude than what we see around us at Mass (Palm Sunday Mass tends to be more somber when remembering the event than joyful (especially since we know this is the beginning of his Passion).


Consider teaching by using text from either the Liturgy of the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours.  There is great depth to draw from and to expound upon.

How have you used texts from the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours to pass on the faith?

textbooks-imageIn my experience of over 14 years in parish ministry, I find that catechetical textbooks are relied on too much by catechists and as a result limiting their effectiveness in the classroom.  Textbooks can be a valuable resource but they are a tool not the heart of the lesson.  It is the catechist who should use it as a tool.  Since most religious education classes meet for an hour and a half or less it is difficult to cover what the catechist manual recommends. In addition, I find that the concepts in chapters are often too scattered trying to cover too much.

What has your religious education program done in order to help better equip catechists to not only teach the lessons laid out in each chapter, but to help them have clarity and focus in each lesson?

Something I’ve done in in the last two parishes I’ve worked at is to help give catechists a clear focus to their lessons. I use a version of the ecclesial method (you can find it in Msgr. Francis Kelly’s book, The Mystery We Proclaim to help replicate God’s pedagogy – trying to give the students an understanding of what God has revealed and how to respond to it).  I outlined the chapters bringing a more focused understanding of what should be covered (noting the most important points). I also provide ideas and additional activities that support the content that is being covered.

I would love to hear from anyone that is seeking ways to help catechists better use their textbook.

I posted this last year, but I think it’s worthwhile to re-post.  On I found some great teaching tips by Richard Leblanc, Ph.D. from York University.  Although it is not directly about faith formation I think there are some real gems in what Dr. Leblanc says.

1. GOOD TEACHING is as much about passion as it is about reason. It’s about not only motivating students to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable. It’s about caring for your craft, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students.

2. GOOD TEACHING is about substance and training students as consumers of knowledge. It’s about doing your best to keep on top of your field, reading sources, inside and outside of your areas of expertise, and being at the leading edge as often as possible. But knowledge is not confined to scholarly journals. Good teaching is also about bridging the gap between theory and practice. It’s about leaving the ivory tower and immersing oneself in the field, talking to, consulting with, and assisting practitioners, and liaising with their communities.

3. GOOD TEACHING is about listening, questioning, being responsive, and remembering that each student and class is different. It’s about eliciting responses and developing the oral communication skills of the quiet students. It’s about pushing students to excel; at the same time, it’s about being human, respecting others, and being professional at all times.

4. GOOD TEACHING is about not always having a fixed agenda and being rigid, but being flexible, fluid, experimenting, and having the confidence to react and adjust to changing circumstances. It’s about getting only 10 percent of what you wanted to do in a class done and still feeling good. It’s about deviating from the course syllabus or lecture schedule easily when there is more and better learning elsewhere. Good teaching is about the creative balance between being an authoritarian dictator on the one hand and a pushover on the other. Good teachers migrate between these poles at all times, depending on the circumstances. They know where they need to be and when.

5. GOOD TEACHING is also about style. Should good teaching be entertaining? You bet! Does this mean that it lacks in substance? Not a chance! Effective teaching is not about being locked with both hands glued to a podium or having your eyes fixated on a slide projector while you drone on. Good teachers work the room and every student in it. They realize that they are conductors and the class is their orchestra. All students play different instruments and at varying proficiencies. A teacher’s job is to develop skills and make these instruments come to life as a coherent whole to make music.

6. GOOD TEACHING is about humor. This is very important. It’s about being self-deprecating and not taking yourself too seriously. It’s often about making innocuous jokes, mostly at your own expense, so that the ice breaks and students learn in a more relaxed atmosphere where you, like them, are human with your own share of faults and shortcomings.

7. GOOD TEACHING is about caring, nurturing, and developing minds and talents. It’s about devoting time, often invisible, to every student. It’s also about the thankless hours of grading, designing or redesigning courses, and preparing materials to further enhance instruction.

8. GOOD TEACHING is supported by strong and visionary leadership, and very tangible instructional support resources, personnel, and funds. Good teaching is continually reinforced by an overarching vision that transcends the entire organization from full professors to part-time instructors and is reflected in what is said, but more importantly by what is done.

9. GOOD TEACHING is about mentoring between senior and junior faculty, teamwork, and being recognized and promoted by one’s peers. Effective teaching should also be rewarded, and poor teaching needs to be remediated through training and development programs.

10. AT THE END OF THE DAY, good teaching is about having fun, experiencing pleasure and intrinsic rewards…like locking eyes with a student in the back row and seeing the synapses and neurons connecting, thoughts being formed, the person becoming better, and a smile cracking across a face as learning all of a sudden happens. It’s about the former student who says your course changed her life. It’s about another telling you that your course was the best one he’s ever taken. Good teachers practice their craft not for the money or because they have to, but because they truly enjoy it and because they want to. Good teachers couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Association for Experiential Education
Schools & Colleges Professional Group Newsletter
Spring 1999, Vol. 2, # 1 (Electronic Version)

Editor’s note: In 1998, professor Leblanc was awarded the Seymous Schulich Award for Teaching Excellence. His top ten requirements for good teaching was originally published in The Teaching Professor, Vol. 12, # 6, 1998.

What would you say are key teaching requirements?

For many years, especially after the Second Vatican Council, there was a sense that doctrine doesn’t really matter but what matters is making sure everyone knows the love of Jesus.  While it is very true that we want to proclaim the wonderful news of God’s grace, love and mercy to the world we must also keep in mind that our doctrine in rooted in this very reality that God is love and sent His beloved Son to save us from sin and eternal separation from God.

I found a really good article that speaks of how doctrine does matter.  I hope you enjoy it.

Doctrine Matters


Critics never seem to tire of pitting the doctrines of the Catholic Church against her works of charity, as if the two were somehow mutually exclusive or even opposed.

A recent column in the Sunday New York Times rehashed this worn cliché: the author asserted that in his global travels he has encountered “two Catholic Churches.” One is “obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice;” the other is made of unheralded acts of charity and selflessness by religious missionaries and relief organizations. For this author the second church is clearly the right one; after all, “Jesus himself focused on the needy rather than dogma.”

This false dichotomy is at root an attack against faith, and it is nothing new. The Roman emperor Julian the Apostate despised Christianity and created his own religion as a rival; to win support from those impressed by genuine Christian charity he required his own priests to aid the poor. Thomas Jefferson, skeptical of religious mysteries, crafted his own version of the New Testament, which omitted all mention of miracles while showcasing Jesus’ good deeds. The New York Times‘ charge has the same objective: by alleging that dogma impedes charity, it offers subtle encouragement to see aid to the poor as the only kind of religion needful – for secularists.

Sacred Scripture proclaims that God is love, and Jesus specifically left one commandment: love one another. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate Pope Benedict XVI calls love “God’s greatest gift to humanity,” and he places love at the center of the Church’s mission. Why not, then, dispense with all the doctrines of divine mysteries – and those rules about behavior and morality – and just love and do good works as each one sees fit?

To begin with, we had some experience of radically secular experiments in the twentieth century, and they weren’t pretty.

And besides, Jesus did not focus on the needy to the neglect of dogma. The opposite is the case: Jesus focused on the needy precisely because He was the true and living embodiment of dogma, which is nothing other than teachings about God. Jesus, called rabbi – teacher – from the beginning of His ministry through His resurrection from the dead, became man to teach that God is love of His very essence, and that we are to love in order to participate in God’s inner life. Doctrine (Church teachings) and dogma (definitive explanations of the content of revelation) are not dead letters that sap vitality from believers; rather they are intelligible formulations that express real, living mysteries. Doctrine breathes life into the Church and the souls of believers by articulating the many dimensions of the one reason for our being – God. Through its solid teaching about God, doctrine gives powerful impetus to good works.

Thus in the Christian tradition helping the needy is not done for its own sake, but propter Deum, for God’s sake; this is the ultimate motivation for the heroic work of those missionaries who so impressed the Times‘ columnist. Had Jesus not taught so, love would have no direction, and aid for the poor might have never crossed tribal lines. To take just one example, the modern belief of universal equality of all human beings regardless of sex or ethnicity – now espoused by secularists and believers alike – leans heavily on St. Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3: 28).

Jesus did not focus on the needy to the neglect of dogma.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that dogma and the spiritual life have a symbiotic relationship. “Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.” Without the teaching of the Church, works of charity – the fruits of the spiritual life – lose the security of truth; in the words of Benedict, they degenerate into “sentimentality,” and actually risk harming those in need of help. By the same token meditation on the living mysteries explained through dogmas can inspire us to greater heights of charity.

In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Benedict explained that “Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,” and so on. What distinguishes Christian charity from ordinary social work is the additional communication of what Benedict calls “humanity” and “heartfelt concern,” a response to the spiritual needs of the poor. In order to provide this, charity workers require a “formation of the heart” that stems from “that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others.” Their love of neighbor then becomes “a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love.”

Pope John Paul II compared faith and reason to “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” The same can be said of doctrine and works of charity: they are two wings on which the soul comes to know and communicate the love of God. Dogma and rules do not distract the Church from social justice; they allow social justice to flourish by pointing it towards its proper and ultimate end.


David G. Bonagura, Jr. “Doctrine Matters.” The Catholic Thing (September 10, 2010).


David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an associate editor of The University Bookman.

Copyright © 2010 The Catholic Thing





Lisa Mladnich has a blog on called Be An Amazing Catechist that I highly recommend.  It has great articles especially for catechist who are teaching the faith in a classroom setting.  I encourage you to check out this great resources that will encourage, inspire and empower you!  She just came out with a new resource on sacramental preparation that I will be reviewing soon (when I get a chance).

2 Thoughts About Repetition

1) It’s not a bad word

Many today see memorization and repetition as something “old school” or “out of date”.  However, I’ve never heard parents say they only say no once a day or a teacher share that they only repeat the material they are covering when they review for a test.  Repeating important concepts when teaching can really help the information “sink in”.  Jesus’ own apostles had to have things repeated to them (Jesus spent 40 days with them after His Resurrection – I’m sure there was some repetition going on there).

2) Do it – we never learn our multiplication tables by going over them once a week or once a month.  Don’t forget to repeat, reiterate and communicate multiple times  important aspects of the faith.  Repetition, after all, is mother of all learning.

Here is another methodology to consider.  I use this method in 1st – 6th grade class lessons.  Catechists find the outlines I’ve created and connected with this method very helpful.

The goal of a method is to replicate or imitate the way God teaches us.

A. He reveals gradually and in stages
B. He reveals and seeks our response, He reveals more and we respond again, etc.

The Method: Gather, Proclaim, Break and Send
A. It is a way to replicate God’s way of teaching

B. It helps bring structure to an hour and fifteen minutes or an hour and a half class period.

C. It helps catechists clearly articulate the topic of the lesson and bring life application to it.

D. It helps the catechist recap and “send” students out to go ponder and live their faith.

III. The Specifics

1. The suggestions given are aimed at helping the student be open to what will be discussed.  It seeks to get students “docile” to what is about to be taught.
2. Prayer should always be an important part of the opening section. However, it is more than merely an opening prayer.

B. Proclaim
1. This is the heart of your message (the nuts and bolts) – sharing the truths of the faith. The info provided to you under the proclaim section are the “key points” regarding the topic at hand.
2. It is important that this section hands on authentic Catholic teaching.  This is the Church’s teaching we are passing on, not our “personal ideas” or “opinions”.
3. It is recommended that you look up the Catechism reference so you as a catechist can understand the topic better and more fully. You are not expected to read to the students out of the Catechism.
4. Note: Some of the textbook chapters simply try to cover too much material.  There is a conscience effort in the outlines to keep the topic at hand more focused than the book sometimes does.

C. Break
1. This section is the “Practical Application” or “Life Application” component.
2. Be creative.  Feel free to add your own ideas.
3. The goal is to “make it real” to your students the content just discussed in the proclaim section.

D. Send
1. This section is aimed at bringing closure to the day’s lesson.
2. It helps summarize/recap what has been discussed.
3. It should encourage and challenge students to go and live their faith.
4. Always close in prayer, even if it is brief. If you run out of time to cover the majority of the “send” part, please seek to end your class with a brief prayer.

I have taken all the lessons grades 1st – 6th and formatted each lesson according to this method.  Catechists really appreciate it.  It is empowering to them and gives them the focus and clarity they are looking for.  This method I believe is very similar to the Ecclesial Method and is equal to it.  It just covers it in one less step or stage.  As I mentioned in a previous post, LIFE TEEN, a international Youth Ministry organization, uses this method in their model of interacting with Junior High and High School Youth in a gathering model (as compared to a classroom model).  The Gather, Proclaim, Break, Send is the 4 parts of the Mass.   I believe very strongly in this method and believe it helps accomplish God’s way of teaching us.

What method have you used that helps replicate God’s Pedagogy?  In the near future I will post some thoughts on why all methods are not equal in successfully passing on the faith.

St. Robert Bellarmine developed 15 marks of the Catholic Church.  He was not only a great catechist and one of the patron saints of catechists but he is also a Doctor of the Church.  He lived from 1542 to 1621.  His Feast Day is September 17th.  These 15 marks are worth considering for all catechists who pass on the treasures of our Catholic Faith.  Maybe for older grades they could be taught as the 15 Marks but I was thinking that if catechists just keeping these concepts in mind it would help students see the wonder and depth of our Catholic Faith.

1. The Church’s Name, Catholic, universal, and world wide, and not confined to any particular nation or people.

2. Antiquity, in tracing her ancestry directly to Jesus Christ.

3. Constant Duration, in lasting substantially unchanged for so many centuries.

4. Extensiveness, in the number of her loyal members.

5. Episcopla Succession, of her Bishops from the first Apostles at the Last Supper to the present hierarchy.

6. Doctrinal Agreement, of her doctrine with the teaching of the ancient Church.

7. Union, of her members among themselves, and with their visible head, the Roman Pontiff.

8. Holiness, of doctrine in reflecting the sanctity of GOD.

9. Efficacy, of doctrine in its power to sanctify believers, and inspire them to great moral achievement.

10. Holiness of Life, of the Church’s representative writers and defenders.

11. The glory of Miracles, worked in the Church and under the Church’s auspices.

12. The gift of Prophesy found among the Church’s saints and spokesmen.

13. The Opposition that the Church arouses among those who attack her on the very grounds that Christ was opposed by His enemies.

14. The Unhappy End, of those who fight against her.

15. The Temporal Peace and Earthly Happiness of those who live by the Church’s teaching and defend her interests.

One method that has proven to be successful in authentically passing on the Faith is the Ecclesial method put forth my Msgr. Francis Kelly in his book, The Mystery We Proclaim: Catechesis for the Third Millennium.  Instead of recreating the explanation of the method, I thought the explanation of each step from was good.  Here is a detailed explanation of the method which seeks to replicate God’s pedagogy.  In teaching the Faith, it is appropriate to imitate God’s way of drawing us to Himself. When God reveals something to us in the Scriptures, through a presentation or lesson or in prayer, He showers us with actual grace so that we can understand. He then waits for us to make a response of faith. When we respond, He reveals more. God repeats the process with each person, over and over again, so that we come to know Him always more intimately.  The Ecclesial Method is a effective means of accomplishing this desired goal of drawing students into a deeper knowledge and relationship with Christ.

Step 1: Preparation

“This step suggests that the catechist must help create the conditions for the possibility of deepening God’s Word in the hearts of those being served. This is no easy task in the setting of modern, hectic life in the Western world, where the individual is daily subjected to a barrage of stimuli from the media of communication, advertising, competing ideologies, etc.” (Kelly, 138)

How can you accomplish a setting in the room that you will teach that will let your students know there is something different, something entirely unique about what they are about to experience? That what they will learn in your classroom will affect their lives in a deeper way than they experience in the rest of their life. The first part of preparation is the setting of the room. The room should be a place set apart. This can be difficult to accomplish in some instances. Feel free to use our forums to ask other catechists for ideas. But consider, for instance, a sacred space. A place in your classroom, such as a small table, with liturgical colors, a crucifix, a Bible open to a passage you will teach from that day. Use your sacred space to teach your students. If you are teaching about the Prodigal Son, use the famous painting of the Prodigal Son to teach them about the Father’s love for them, even when they stray in sin. We include more ideas about the physical settings under other portions of the catechetics material available on this website. Whenever you can, teach from the liturgy, and lead them to the liturgy, where true worship takes place.

The preparation also means how you begin the day. If you are in a youth group, consider beginning the evening with praise music and prayer. Lift their hearts up to the Lord, allow them to leave the cares of the world, and the million other things they have to accomplish. Get them away from their thoughts and cares and focused on what you will have to tell them.

Step 2: Proclamation

“It is this aspect that from the start gave us the word catechesis – coming from the Greek word meaning to reecho, to resound the Word of God.” (Kelly, 141).

Catechists know that students will not remember everything that they will set out to teach them. In fact if we can get them to remember, even one fact, one important lesson from the day, a teacher has been successful. The second step of the ecclesial method is to proclaim the Word of God to your students. The proclamation should be rooted in the truths of the faith. It should be simple, and encompass the whole of your teaching. Let’s say you are teaching an RCIA group about the Eucharist. What is most important? What do you want them to leave knowing, if nothing else? “The Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus, the Father’s ultimate gift of love. We must eat his flesh and drink his blood if we are to live forever.” Lead up to and draw back to your proclamation. Never leave it entirely. Repeat it, write it on the board, see if your students can say it back to you. Advertisers try to get the name of their product into a commercial no less than 7 times. See if you can accomplish the same for your students.

Step 3: Explanation

“In the third step, in a certain sense, the catechists’ personal creativity is now more challenged and evoked so that they may help participants come to a deeper personal understanding and assimilation of the message of faith. This explanation that will be made will, of course, be always in the light of the Church’s understanding of the Word, but the catechist is challenged to find appropriate ways to “inculturate” this message so that it can be adapted to diverse groups to whom it is addressed.” (Kelly, 143)

This is the step of the ecclesial method for direct systematic delivery, and yet, as we focused on before, organic delivery. The explanation should always come back to God. What does my doctrine have to do with Jesus is a good question to ask. Prepare for this step, which can be the longest step, but doesn’t have to be, by looking up all relevant scriptural and catechism texts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the “sure norm” for teaching the faith, use it. Know it as well as you know scripture (assuming of course that you know scripture well, and if you don’t, well, what is stopping you?). Consider the key terms that your students may not know yet and be sure to explain them. Don’t ever let your delivery of doctrine simply be a lecture. Teach to various intelligences. Employ the use of visual aids (movies, art), audio aids (music), and other material (get them to move around) as often as you can when teaching. The more outrageous it is, the more memorable it is, but don’t take that too far of course. Consider St. John Bosco to be your guide in this (resource: The Educational Philosophy of St. John Bosco). Put together a presentation that will capture the attention of your students, and teach them about the doctrine, while giving them an opportunity for a change of heart in their own lives.

Step 4: Application

“In biblical and ecclesial terms, what is hoped for as a result of catechesis is a life of “witness” and service.” In the fourth step of catechesis , as I envision it, the focus is on having the truth and knowledge acquired in the prior steps now bear fruit. This involves a deeper level of conversion in the person being catechized and a commitment to expressing this conversion in his or her lifestyle.” (Kelly 145)

Why are your students in your classroom? The answer should have something with their conversion. This step in the process of the ecclesial method should give them that opportunity, and can come in a variety of ways. In RCIA it could be small group time where they can share questions and answer some presented to them about their journey to the Catholic faith. In a high school setting, it could mean personal reflection and journaling time set to quite music. Use creativity to find an appropriate application. Some people have used ‘mock’ confessions to help prepare students for first confession. Some people have used the stations of the cross with pictures of the Passion of the Christ to teach about His mercy. The ideas are endless.

Step 5: Celebration

“If the catechetical process begins, as I have suggested, in prayerful attentiveness and openness to the Word of God, I believe that it must also end in a prayerful gratitude and praise to God.” (Kelly, 146)

If you begin with a liturgy of the Word, end with a song of praise. If you begin with a song, end with a prayer. Read scripture together. What you can employ here, now that you have given your students the opportunity for conversion in your application step, will allow them to turn again back to God. It will help make this a concrete time set apart for God. Visit our forums and discuss other ways to end in a place of gratitude depending on who you are teaching.

“The cross should be one of the major symbols we use in our catechetical celebrations: ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Gal 6:14).” (Kelly 147)

May what we bring to our students be Jesus. May they dwell in Jesus. May they learn to love Jesus even more. May they call on the name of Jesus. May they find a Savior, King, Lord, Brother, and God in Him. May they learn to decrease as He increases in their lives. May Jesus Christ live in our students, in you, and in me. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

This is a method that can be used in Religious Education Programs that meet for an hour or an hour and a half as well as RICA programs.  It provides a great way to truly hand on the faith and make it meaningful for individuals as well as fostering conversion.  I highly recommend it!

What Method have you found fruitful?

The Need for Sufficient Content

Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington wrote a great article about the importance of content and discipline in catechesis today.  He began the article by saying:

“Almost no one in the Church would claim today that we have done a good job of handing on the faith to our children. Depending on how we reckon it we have lost two or three generations to an ignorance and inability to articulate the  faith. Even the most basic teachings are unknown to the young.”    You can find the complete article/blog entry by clicking here:

He makes many great points about the importance of repetition, memorization, time, accountability and resourcefulness to not only convey content well but to make sure discipline is also a part of learning.

3 Important Points by Blessed John Paul II

This also makes me think of Pope John Paul II who speaks of the importance of content in ” On Catechesis in Our Time” paragraph 30:

“With regard to the content of catechesis, three important points deserve special attention today.
The first point concerns the integrity of the content. In order that the sacrificial offering of his or her faith(75) should be perfect, the person who becomes a disciple of Christ has the right to receive “the word of faith”(76) not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor. Unfaithfulness on some point to the integrity of the message means a dangerous weakening of catechesis and putting at risk the results that Christ and the ecclesial community have a right to expect from it. It is certainly not by chance that the final command of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel bears the mark of a certain entireness: “All authority…has been given to me…make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all…I am with you always.” This is why, when a person first becomes aware of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus,”(77) whom he has encountered by faith, and has the perhaps unconscious desire to know Him more extensively and better,” hearing about Him and being taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus,(78) there is no valid pretext for refusing Him any part whatever of that knowledge. What kind of catechesis would it be that failed to give their full place to man’s creation and sin; to God’s plan of redemption and its long, loving preparation and realization; to the incarnation of the Son of God; to Mary, the Immaculate One, the Mother of God, ever Virgin, raised body and soul to the glory of heaven, and to her role in the mystery of salvation; to the mystery of lawlessness at work in our lives(79) and the power of God freeing us from it; to the need for penance and asceticism; to the sacramental and liturgical actions; to the reality of the Eucharistic Presence; to participation in divine life here and hereafter, and so on? Thus, no true catechist can lawfully, on his own initiative, make a selection of what he considers important in the deposit of faith as opposed to what he considers unimportant, so as to teach the one and reject the other.”

In a day and age that is preoccupied with making the faith attractive to students (which is important), content can get lost along the way or at least be diminished.  It is vital that we do both.  Therein lies the challenge.

How do you make your classes engaging and convey sound content?

The Institute for Catholic Education for Liberal Education posted the following from the Headmaster’s Office.  Even though I work primarily in a religious education program there are some good talking points.

The Marks of a Catholic School

Archbishop Michael Miller, former Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Schools, has recently penned a “must-read” and easily readable book for all Catholic educators.  The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools faithfully summarizes the last fifty years of Magisterial documents on the Catholic school [Link to Magisterial Documents].  We strongly recommend that the entire faculty read and discuss this book together.  Board members should also be familiar with its contents.

Archbishop Miller teaches that Catholic schools should be:

1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision

2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology

3. Animated by Communion and Community

4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview

5. Sustained by the Witness of Teaching

The following excerpts from his work illustrate these five marks.

1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision
The enduring foundation on which the Church builds her educational philosophy is the conviction that it is a process which forms the whole child, especially with his or her eyes fixed on the vision of God. The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come. Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbor and thus fulfill their destiny of becoming saints.

2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology
The Holy See’s documents insist that, to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ the Redeemer who, through his Incarnation, is united with each student. Christ is not an after-thought or an add-on to Catholic educational philosophy but the center and fulcrum of the entire enterprise, the light enlightening every pupil who comes into our schools (cf. Jn 1:9).

3. Animated by Communion and Community
A third important teaching on Catholic schools that has emerged in the Holy See’s documents in recent years is its emphasis on the community aspect of the Catholic school, a dimension rooted both in the social nature of the human person and the reality the Church as a “the home and the school of communion.” That the Catholic school is an educational community “is one of the most enriching developments for the contemporary school.

4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview
A fourth distinctive characteristic of Catholic schools, which always finds a place in the Holy See’s teaching is this. Catholicism should permeate not just the class period of catechism or religious education, or the school’s pastoral activities, but the entire curriculum. The Vatican documents speak of “an integral education, an education which responds to all the needs of the human person.”

4.1 Search for Wisdom and Truth
In an age of information overload, Catholic schools must be especially attentive to the delicate balance between human experience and understanding. In the words of T.S. Eliot, we do not want our students to say: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.”

The greatest challenge to Catholic education in the United States today, and the greatest contribution that authentically Catholic education can make to American culture, is to restore to that culture the conviction that human beings can grasp the truth of things, and in grasping that truth can know their duties to God, to themselves and their neighbors.

4.2 Faith, Culture and Life
From the nature of the Catholic school also stems one of the most significant elements of its educational project: the synthesis of culture and faith. The endeavor to interweave reason and faith, which has become the heart of individual subjects, makes for unity, articulation and coordination, bringing forth within what is learnt in a school a Christian vision of the world, of life, of culture and of history.

5. Sustained by the Witness of Teaching
The careful hiring of men and women who enthusiastically endorse a Catholic ethos is, I would maintain, the primary way to foster a school’s catholicity. The reason for such concern about teachers is straightforward. Catholic education is strengthened by its “martyrs.”

What would you add?

I was reading a great blog post from speaking about how telling the story of salvation has been a common part of passing on the faith. Children from a young age ought to be taught the story (at their age level). Here are some things to keep in mind when telling the story that I found from the website mentioned above:

* The eternal life of the Blessed Trinity – an eternal exchange of love
* The creation of the angels – some chose to rebel
* The creation of humanity out of love to share in God’s own Trinitarian life
* Our temptation by Satin and our fall from grace through Original Sin
* God’s promise of a redeemer and plan of salvation
* God’s gradual gathering of a people (Israel) through successive covenants
* A brief history of Israel
* The promises and prophecies of the prophets
* Mary’s “yes” to angel Gabriel
* The Incarnation – which should be given great emphasis!
* The life of Jesus Christ
* Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead
* The giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Catholic Church at Pentecost
* The Church as the Family and Kingdom of God – the Body of Christ
* A brief history of the Church – saints are in constant supply
* Today, we are living in the midst of this Story
* The sure promise and hope that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead

Granted this is too much for say a 2nd or 3rd grader, but I believe each grade can be taught aspects of this story. Children love stories as do adults. All the more reason to make sure we are tell this story…it is our story and through Baptism we become a part of the story of salvation history.

Now that is Good News!!!


What are the Sources?

I read an article by Dr. Petroc Willey,editor of the Sower Magazine and deputy director of the Maryvale Institute. In the article entitled: Renewing Catechist Formation at the Sources, he speaks of the sources used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as vital to forming catechists. The Sacred Scriptures should be the foundation of all catechesis. The Councils of the Church and the teachings of the Popes are also very important when forming catechists and offering catechist and adult formation in the parish. Other important sources to use when training catechists is the writings of the saints, especially the doctors of the Church. The last source that needs to be mentioned, and certainly not the least in the sources is the Divine Liturgy which is the source and the summit of the life of a Catholic Christian.

From the Heart of the Church

I believe this is very important to use the sources that the Church uses. Secondary sources like helpful handbooks or creative teaching ideas are good, but good only in reference to the primary sources that are ecclesial.  I find that there is a temptation to be so kid friendly in religious education programs that we only present secondary sources.  Granted it is not always easy to quote the Saints and quote sections of the Catechism, but that does not mean catechist should not be using those primary sources as they preparing to pass on the faith to their studnets.  

Dr. Willey said the following in this article I read from the Sower:  

Those leading catechetical formation are not themselves the sources. They know that they are instruments, guiding others to the living sources of the faith. Above all, they know that they are disciples – literally, learners – whose value lies in exemplifying the joy of learning and drinking from the wellspring of the sources. Their role is to grow less in order that those being formed can ‘grow in all things towards him, who is the Head, Christ’ (Eph 4:15). Catechetical growth which is renewed at the sources is always ecclesial, rather than narrowly personality-led; it is a matter of initiating others into the great Tradition of the Church where they can receive the deposit of grace and the deposit of faith.”

A Couple Questions

Do you find that the textbook your program uses actually quotes from the sources? 

How do you use the “living sources of the faith” in your catechesis?

Pope Benedict recently concluded a series of talks on the role of saints in the Church and living a life of Holiness during his Wednesday Audiences at the Vatican.  He ended the series by discussing 3 ways to be a saint, stressing the fact that holiness is not only for a select few but for all.  Here is what he shared:

1) “Never let a Sunday go by without an encounter with the risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an added burden, it is light for the entire week.”

2) “Never begin or end a day without at least a brief contact with God” in prayer.

3) “And along the pathway of our lives, follow the road signs that God has given us in the Ten Commandments, read in the light of Christ; they are nothing other than explanations of what is love in specific situations.”

This should be the very minimum for those involved in any form of ministry.  The good news is that it is not burdensome or time consuming, but does require a willing and open heart who will intentionally choose to follow Christ and live a holy life.  May the Holy Spirit continue to lead you and guide you!

I’ll conclude with the following words from Pope Benedict: “How great and beautiful and also simple is the Christian vocation seen in this light. All of us are called to holiness.”