Who Is Your Hero?

Glimpses of heroism are exciting aren’t they?  They help motivate us to keep going and to remember that we can do it!  Lisa Mladnich recently wrote an article entitled: Humble Heroes: Teaching Children the Value of Suffering which discuss how children can be inspired by the many heroes of faith we can tap into as Catholics.  We all desire the example of heroes of the Faith to inspire and encourage us.  There are many heroes in our Catholic tradition but the saints are the ones who inspire me most.  The things they endured for the love of God never cease to amaze me.

10 Ways

Here are some ways Lisa suggests parents and catechists can do to inspire children toward a heroic faith:

  1. Pray for them and their families. Make sacrifices for them at least one day a week: fast from junk food, gossip, or procrastination; offer up your chores or exercise.
  2. Remind them of the value of suffering. Read the story of Christ’s passion and explain that in His holy sacrifice Jesus endowed suffering with redemptive power. Help them offer up their sufferings for others and thereby engage them in helping to save souls.
  3. Point out the quiet heroism of those who care for the sick, the elderly, and the disabled. Ask them for examples in their own lives.
  4. Introduce them to the lives of biblical heroes and Catholic saints throughout the liturgical year. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “By keeping the memorials of the saints . . . the Church on earth shows that she is connected with the liturgy of heaven” (1195). See here.
  5. Ask for the intercession of these heavenly allies and tell your students their stories of faith. Presented vividly, their lives are captivating and thrilling to children. They’ll love you for sharing them. See here and here.
  6. Share your own faith walk with them. In brief, appropriate doses, there’s nothing like the power of a personal witness. Listen to their responses and respect their experiences. The Holy Spirit works in marvelous and mysterious ways.
  7. Remember that you are the face of the Church to some of your students, since many are not taken to Mass on a regular basis. Teach them with great kindness and enthusiasm. While maintaining a calm and loving discipline, be affectionate in your attitude toward them, even if they seem disinterested. As a wonderful catechist said to me recently, “They often remember you and how you made them feel more than they remember the lesson.”
  8. Remind them that our heroes are broken, like we are. This is a great topic to bring up with children of all ages, especially in preparation for First Reconciliation. With the notable exceptions of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus Christ, all of our heroes were/are sinners like us. And God still treasures us and uses us to accomplish great things! Consider offering the graces of your confessions for young people, as they are led to humbly seek God’s will and discover the hero in themselves.
  9. Check out this beautiful article by Sarah Reinhard, about Our Lady’s willingness to suffer in faithfulness to her Son.
  10. Order Barbara Falk’s excellent CD: “Fostering Heroism in Your Children”


What ways have you found helpful in inspiring children to a heroic faith?

But I’m Not The Liturgist

What does being a catechetical leader (CL) have to do with liturgical planning?  Many people in CL positions do not have much to do with liturgical planning especially as it relates to the Sunday liturgies or any other liturgy for that matter.  The National Directory for Catechesis articulate one of the responsibilities of a CL is assistance in liturgical planning (cf. Pg. 225).

Manifesting Christ

The Second Vatican Council said: “It is through the liturgy, especially, that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC], Constitution on the Liturgy, no. 2).  The Liturgy, says Msgr. Francis Kelly, “contains the Church’s greatest and most effective catechesis.  During the course of the liturgical year, the whole mystery of Christ is relived and the inexhaustible riches of its grace for our lives are assimilated” (The Mystery We Proclaim, pg. 42).  It is therefore important for CLs to be involved in liturgical planning so as to help those they serve be more fully drawn into the “fount from which all Her power flows” (SC, no, 10).

Parish Planning

Many CLs are DREs who have the responsibility of coordinating sacramental preparation for First Reconciliation, First Eucharist and Confirmation.  In each of these there are aspects of liturgical planning that CLs need to be involved in.  Another example would those CLs involved with RCIA.  There are a number of Rites that are a part of the RCIA process and therefore require the CL to collaborate and work with the priest and liturgist/music director.

How Are You Involved in Liturgical Planning?

What are the ways you find yourself involved in liturgical planning as a CL?


For other posts in this Catechetical Leader Series click here.

Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Have you ever been in a work environment where you felt like you were spinning your wheels because the various groups or ministry heads in the parish refused to work together on a consistent basis?  At times in parish life it can be frustrating because of the lack collaboration.  The National Directory For Catechesis speaks of the responsibility of the catechetical leader is to seek “collaboration with the pastor, other parish ministers, and appropriate committees, boards, and councils” (NDC pg. 225).

Working Together

In my parish, an “inter-ministry” team was formed which drew all the main ministry heads together to discuss how we can together serve our parishioners and fulfill the parish priorities that had been established.  The aim of this group was to go beyond the all to common approach of each ministry being a “silo” amidst the other “silos” (e.g., Youth Ministry being completely separate from Religious Education and those two being separate from Adult Faith Formation, etc.).  This has helped cut down on different ministries trying to do similar things and discovering that by working together we can better meet the needs of our parish community.  So, how come we don’t meet our desired result or help to get more people involved?  Often it’s because various groups or ministries are not working together.

Meeting the needs of the parish

It is easy to speak of the importance of collaboration, but really seeking to accomplish it is what matters.  Even Jesus, the second person of the Trinity did not do it all on his own and he chose 12 apostles to continue the ministry he had begun and to teach in His name.  In addition 72 disciples were chosen later to go on mission.

At the heart of why various ministry heads, boards, councils and committees need to work together is to be able to more fully bear fruit and fulfill the mission of the Church as well as the particular mission of your parish.  Most parishes have a “parish mission statement” that articulates the heart of your parishes identity and desired goals.  Therefore, it is extremely advantageous to partner and collaborate so the fulfillment of these goals can be achieved.  If you are a catechetical leader then consider reflecting on how you are doing this and ways you may need to improve.  If you are a catechist, consider how you are working or not working with other catechists and the director of your program to build community and work together in your ministry.

Some Tips from a leadership professional

John C. Maxwell is a leadership guru that I enjoy reading.  I’ll conclude by sharing what he said about collaboration in his book, The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player:

Collaboration is the key word when it comes to meeting challenges as a team. Cooperation is merely working together agreeably, but collaborating means working together more aggressively. Every team player must bring something more to the table, and not just put in his minimum required work.

A collaborative team player needs to change in four key areas:

A team player must see his teammates as collaborators, not as competitors. Their skills and talents must complement one another, rather than be made to compete against each other. Competition within the team will only hurt the team.


Be supportive, not suspicious, of your teammates. Always assume another person’s motives are good unless proven otherwise. If you trust people, it naturally occurs that you will treat them better, and a collaborative spirit will grow within your team.

Concentrate on the team, not yourself.Think of progress as a relay race, where you must pass the baton onto your next teammate. Do not ask “What’s in it for me?” but rather “What does this do for the team?”
Create victories through multiplication. Remarkable results can be achieved when you harness the skills and talents of all your individual team members. Several heads are always better than one.
To be a collaborative team player…

•Think win-win-win.
•Complement others and their unique gifts.
•Take yourself out of the picture. Stop promoting yourself and ask how the team would do if you were not in it, propose ideas that will not involve your participation but will promote other teammates.

As catechetical leaders and catechists we can do great things through Christ who strengthens us if we collaborate with one another.  Come Holy Spirit?

What are ways you have collaborated in your parish that has helped you, the staff and fellow parishioners?

The last 3 posts in this series have been on the responsibility of the catechetical leader (CL) to provide formation for catechists.  I would like to now turn to the next responsibility mentioned by the National Directory For Catechesis – policies and procedures.  The NDC states the importance of the “Implementation of diocesan and parish catechetical policies and guidelines, including the areas of catechist certification and supervision and administrative policies related to negligence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and the safety and protection of minors.”  Wow, that is a mouthful!

I’d Didn’t Sign Up For This

No, most catechetical leaders don’t find much inspiration from the policies and procedures that are created from their diocese or parish.  However, policies and procedures are necessary in order that the overall program is carried out and certain things are in place to protect both children and adults.

What They Are

It’s important to define the difference between a policy and a procedure.  Dictionary.com defines a policy as “a definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, facility, etc.”  It is, therefore, a predetermined course of action that is being asked of catechetical leaders (from the diocese), parents or parishioners (diocesan and/or parish level).  A procedure, on the other hand, is “how” the policy will be carried out.

I found some great points about policies and procedures that I think are helpful from AMEinfo.com:

The major differences between policies & procedures are identified below:

• Are general in nature
• Identify company rules
• Explain why they exist
• Tells when the rule applies
• Describes who it covers
• Shows how the rule is enforcement
• Describes the consequences
• Are normally described using simple sentences & paragraphs

• Identify specific actions
• Explain when to take actions
• Describes alternatives
• Shows emergency procedures
• Includes warning & cautions
• Gives examples
• Shows how to complete forms
• Are normally written using an outline format

Policies & procedures are required when there is a need for consistency in your day-to-day operational activities. Policies and procedures also provide clarity to the reader when dealing with accountability issues or activities that are of critical importance to the company, such as, health & safety, legal liabilities, regulatory requirements or issues that have serious consequences. (AMEinfo.com: Why are policies and procedures important).

Here is an example of how the Archdiocese of Chicago articulates their policy and then lists the procedures:

1601.1. Policy: The Parish shall have a parish handbook of guidelines and
policies of religious education. The handbook shall be in accord with Archdiocesan policies. The Parish shall make the handbook available to parents, catechists, and all interested parishioners.
a) The handbook includes such information as:
-the parish statement of catechetical purpose;
-schedules of religious education offerings;
-procedures for registration, cancellation of classes, emergencies;
-policies regarding fees, attendance at classes and disciplinary
-information on parish policies regarding preparation for
-policies regarding the health, safety and welfare of children;
-a statement of the parish’s non-discrimination policy;
-information on programs for persons with special needs; and
-pertinent Archdiocesan policies.

It goes on, but the above is a good example of the “what” and “how” of a policy and a procedure.

Here is a parish example:

Policy: The following is the St. Ann Sunday School Well-Child Policy. We will work to adhere to this policy for the safety and well being of all the children.
Please keep your child at home if any one of the following has occurred within the last 24 hours:
Discharge in or around the eyes
Green or yellow running nose
Excessive coughing
Questionable rash
Any communicable disease

The Procedure: A quick health check will be conducted when you bring your child to the classroom.  A child will not be admitted if any of the symptoms above are present. (from St. Ann’s Parish in Coppell, TX)

The Business Side of Things

Making sure that policies and procedures are created and implemented is an important component in the overall responsibilities of a catechetical leader.  This is what I call the business side of the Church.  Without proper policies and procedures problems and even scandal occur.  This is often the least enjoyable part of the duties of a CL, but nonetheless, essential.  Proper policies and procedures ensure professionalism, safety and order which are all important in catechetical ministry.  With these in place the Holy Spirit is able to more clearly work among God’s people.

The first summer I spent at my current parish I was talking to a catechist who said to me: “The Church doesn’t believe in Purgatory anymore do they”?  On another occasion I’ve had a catechist share how the Holy Spirit actually dwells in water in the baptismal font.  Also, I have heard of catechists doing nice crafts or activities that do not support the heart of the day’s lesson even if they get kids moving around.  These few examples point to the great need for the initial formation of catechists and their ongoing development.  In this post I would like to share what the Church in the United States (i.e., United States Conference of Bishops) has to say about how a catechetical leader (CL) has the responsibility to help catechist receive initial and ongoing formation.

Initial Formation

The National Directory For Catechesis (NDC) lists 11 points that should be considered regarding the initial formation of catechists (see pages 237-238).  Among those points I would like to focus on the first and fourth.  The NDC begins, “Initial formation of catechists most profitable precedes the beginning of their ministry and can employ different methodoligies.  Whether the training is done at a diocesan catechetical center or in the parish, it should be adapted as much as possible to the specific needs of the individual catechist” (pg. 237).  The final sentence before the list says: The initial formation of new catechists should:

“Help them develop an understanding of the nature and goals of catechesis.”

The Nature and Goals of Catechesis

What is the nature of catechesis?

The nature of catechesis is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s plan of salvation to humanity.  Catechesis in its very essence is communicating or echoing a person and aiming to bring people into communion with Jesus Christ (cf. Catechesi Tradendae 5).  Catechetical Leaders whether on the parish level or the diocesan level need to help catechists understand from the beginning of their ministry that they are to proclaim the Gospel message communicated orally (apostolic tradition) and through the Sacred Scriptures.  This is what we know as the Deposit of Faith.

What are the goals of Catechesis?

The goals of catechesis are to 1) help bring about an understanding of the knowledge of the faith so that deeper conversion will be fostered and occur (cf. Catechesi Tradendae, 20).  It is also a part of the goals of catechesis to communicate what the General Directory and the National Directory for Catechechesis calls the 6 tasks:

1. Catechesis that promotes knowledge of the faith
2. Catechesis that promotes a knowledge of the meaning of the Liturgy and the sacraments.
3. Catechesis that promotes moral formation in Jesus Christ.
4. Catechesis that teaches the Christian how to pray with Christ.
5. Catechesis that prepares the Christian to live in community and to participate actively in the life and mission of the Church.
6. Catechesis that promotes a missionary spirit that prepares the faithful to be present as Christians in society.

Initial formation for those in ministry is essential to authentically passing on the Faith.  Communicating the nature and goals of catechesis cannot be assumed or overlooked.  I believe the following statement can be true in the Church as well as outside the Church: “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church”(Archbishop Fulton Sheen).

Even though our catechist don’t hate the church the aspect about “perceiving” what we believe can apply to them.  If catechists are not formed they communicate and pass on what they think we as Catholics believe and it can often be inaccurate to what we actually believe.

Thorough Formation

The 4th point listed in the NDC says that initial formation of new catechists should: “Provide thorough formation in the knowledge and understanding of our Catholic faith and practice, making the catechist aware of the social, cultural, ethnic, demographic, and religious circumstances of the people he or she will serve, so that the catechist can bring the Gospel message to them” (pg. 237).

There is a lot here to unpack.  Many challenges exist to providing thorough formation in the knowledge and understanding of our Catholic Faith when there is only a limited amount of time to equip catechists.  However, it is important to help provide and point towards important resources for catechists.  A brief introduction on the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very important as a catechist begins their ministry.  An introduction on how to use the Scriptures and help engage students in them is also essential.  Also, giving catechists various resources and showing them where they can find them (e.g., resources you have in your office as well as valuable websites that communicate the faith well are valuable for catechists).

What about You?

How does your diocese and/or parish help catechists attain a strong initial formation in the Faith?  What challenges do you experience in helping catechists acquire a thorough formation as they begin their ministry?

Other posts in this Catechetical Leader Series:

We are now ready, after establishing that the role of a catechetical leader is a calling and how they are catechists first, to discuss the responsibility of the catechetical leader as they give the “overall direction of the parish catechetical programs for adults, youth and children (NDC pg. 225).

The responsibilities of catechetical leaders can vary greatly from parish to parish.  The DRE or CRE at one parish is only in charge of elementary school age children and possibly middle schoolers.  AT another parish the DRE/CRE lead both religious education and youth ministry.  Still other parishes have this same catechetical leader also lead RCIA.  Whatever your responsibilities, providing the overall direction is foundational to building the kind of program you believe will assist at accomplishing the mission of the Church in general and parish in particular.

3 important steps in carrying out the overall direction of the program(s) you lead:

1. Vision

It is essential to have a vision for how the program(s) you lead will accomplish desired objectives.  Everyone wants to help others grow closer to Jesus, but how can you and those who assist you accomplish this outcome?   Pope John Paul II spoke of the primary goal or aim of catechesis this way:

“The primary and essential object of catechesis is, to use an expression dear to St. Paul and also to contemporary theology, “the mystery of Christ.” Catechizing is in a way to lead a person to study this mystery in all its dimensions: ‘to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery…comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth …know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…(and be filled) with all the fullness of God'(Eph. 3:9, 18-19).  It is therefore to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person.(#5)”

He then says probably the most quoted line of the entire document: “Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (#5).

It is very important to list practical ways you hope to do this in your ministry.  Will you do this by helping catechists create better lesson plans and/or help them by providing articles that assist them in their spiritual growth?  Maybe its finding ways to concretely build and bring a greater awareness in your parish of the value of the program(s) you lead.

2. Communication

Recently my pastor said: “We over communicate and are under-informed”.  This being said, it is important to be purposeful when communicating with your catechists/volunteers, parents, and your staff.  The more those involved understand what to expect, what is going on and what is coming up the more they are able to help fulfill the vision and objectives of your ministry.  Communicating with the staff and the general parish about your ministry is important to help give them an understanding of why your particular program/ministry is working to fulfill the mission of the parish.  Examples of ways to communicate include but are not limited to: emails, the bulletin, personal conversations, and regular meetings.  Successfully communicating allows a catechetical to takes steps to fulfilling the overall direction of your program(s).

3. Evaluation

How is your program going?  Is it in need a a total over-haul, some renewal is certain areas (as if we don’t all need that on a yearly basis), or should it be eliminated.  Take the time to evaluate.  Evaluation can occur in two ways: 1) regularly assessing specific aspects of ministry (e.g., Are we returning people’s calls in a timely fashion?).  2) Quarterly or bi-annually (e.g., have catechists fill out evaluation forms in the middle of the year and at the end of the year.  Also, consider emailing a few questions out quarterly to get feedback from catechists, volunteers, or parents about how things are going.  Just be careful of only doing it once a year…I find it challenging to have your volunteers reflect on the whole year and get the valuable answers that you want.  Breaking it up can really help.  Evaluating your program(s) will allow you to continue to grow, impact others and keep you focused on what is most important in your ministry.

May you continue to grow as a catechetical leader in your ministry and as you help carry out the overall direction of your parish program(s).  What components are important in helping a catechetical leader bear fruit as they provide direction in their program(s)?

The United States has approximately 19,000 Roman Catholic parishes across the 50 states.  That means there are thousands of individuals who are helping lead, direct, coordinate and carry out the ministry of catechesis here in the United States.  This is no small endeavor.  Over the next few months I will be exploring the call and responsibilities of those who have a leadership position in the catechetical ministry of their parish, especially when it pertains to the religious formation/education of adults, youth and most specifically and commonly, children.

The National Directory for Catechesis is very clear on the importance of the leadership of those who are carrying out the ministry of catechesis which is first and foremost the Bishop of a diocese and secondarily the pastor of a specific parish.  Over the last few decades pastors have commissioned qualified (and at times not so qualified) individuals to assist in this apostolic work.

According to the National Directory for Catechesis, “The single most critical factor in an effective parish catechetical program is the leadership of a professionally trained parish catechetical leader” (pg. 224).  It goes on to stress the importance of having “a competent and qualified catechetical leader”.  What are the things that are foundational to a catechetical leader, often called a Director or Coordinator of Religious Education?

Here is a list below of what the NDC considers foundational to the individuals who carry out the work of catechesis in the parish and a what I will be covering in my series over the next few months:

~ The importance of the academic and spiritual formation of Catechetical Leaders who are catechist’s themselves as well as the one’s responsible for equipping and forming volunteer catechists in the parish.

~ How the catechetical leader carries out his/her responsibility of giving the overall direction of the parish catechetical program.

~ The importance of planning, implementing and evaluating the program you are responsible for.

~ The role of recruiting catechists and providing initial and ongoing formation for them.

~ Implementing diocesan and parish catechetical policies and guidelines.

~ The importance of collaborating with the pastor, other parish ministries as well as boards, committees and councils.

~ How a catechetical leader plays a role in the liturgical planning of the parish.

~ The need to give time and attention to ones own personal, spiritual and professional development.


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