About 15 years ago this journey began. I don't remember the exact year, but it's been about 15 years. And now that journey is over - or, at least, put on hold for awhile.
Way back when, a friend asked if I'd team teach the second graders in the religious education program at our church. I had already been grappling with the distinct knowledge that I was grossly inadequate to teach the faith to my own children, let alone others. And that is precisely why I jumped in and said yes. The idea scared and excited me all at once. How better to equip myself to share the faith than to teach it?
Stepping up to be a catechist set my heart on fire. Our faith is deep and layered and wide. There is so much to learn and explore and, frankly, I know I will never learn everything there is to know about our faith. Searching for materials, activities, and music to supplement the course was energizing.
Over these 15 years, I've taught at four different churches, used various textbooks, and changed grade levels (2nd grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade). 2nd grade was fantastic because the kiddos were sponges and excited and soaked up everything. They were free with their hugs and, generally, not shy about showing their enthusiasm.
However, I found myself drawn to the older kids. They'd ask deeper questions and I didn't always know the answers, which was PERFECT! One of the things I wanted to teach my kids was that learning about their faith should go on and on through their lives and if they had questions they should dig and learn why the Church teaches what She does. If they asked a question that I didn't know, I'd always find out for our next session. We were teaching each other.
For the majority of my years as a catechist, I taught 7th and 8th grade mixed classes of boys and girls. The last three years I taught 8th grade boys. At these ages, they are still sponges, but not nearly as excited, certainly not free with their hugs, and, generally, incredibly shy about showing any enthusiasm for religious studies. Yet this age group could get me laughing at silly things and searching and digging for ways to present topics to them in a way they would find engaging. Did I always succeed? Definitely not. There were nights I would come home feeling deflated and defeated at how class went. However, there were more times I would come home energized at the discussion generated or someone participating who usually sat quietly in class.
Each year I fell in love with my kids. I doubt they felt the same, and that is okay. Of course I wanted them to like me, I just never felt like I had the kind of charisma that would really draw them to me. I'm a mom. I like things in order. I had high expectations for the kids in my class. Therefore, it would surprise me, happily so, when a parent would tell me that their kiddo liked me. Whether they liked me or not, I always fell in love with them. They all came from different backgrounds, had different knowledge about our faith, some attended church regularly and some barely attended at all. Yet, they were each placed in my class. These children of God were entrusted to me by their parents for a couple hours each week to learn our beautiful faith. I would ask for the class list in the summer and begin praying for the kids before classes began. As I got to know them and prayed for them throughout the year, I couldn't help but to feel a connection with them. Because of that connection, the prayers for them continue even now.
The 2016-2017 year was challenging for me on so many levels. I had 18 boys in my class. That was, by far, the largest class I had ever taught. Previously, my biggest class topped off at 12. 18 seemed like a daunting number. Plus, my mom was undergoing some very difficult health issues. It was an emotionally and physically exhausting year. At times I felt like a rubber band being stretched to breaking point trying to keep all the balls I was juggling in the air.
I had my class prepared for the evening of March 6, 2017 . We were going to go to the church with the 8th grade girls as well as a younger class to say the Stations of the Cross and spend some time in the church. My dad called that morning to say that my mom wasn't doing well and that I should go to the house. I called to let the Director of Religious Education know I wouldn't be in class and headed to my folk's. As the day progressed, it was determined that hospice should be called. (You can read more about that journey here.) That night, I left my parent's house and was on my way home. I felt numb and, as I approached the church, I was drawn to go in and have some quiet time with the Lord and light some candles for my mom. As I opened the door and headed to the candles, I was surprised to see so many people. I had completely forgotten that my class was in the church! A number of the boys came over to say hello and ask how I was doing. I will never forget their reaching out to me with kindness at such a sad time.
As the school year came to a close, I prayerfully discerned that I needed to step back from being a catechist for awhile. It was not an easy decision as it is a ministry that has brought me such joy, but it was the right decision for me and family.
Just this past Sunday, I was able to do one of the readings at the confirmation Mass. What a blessing! It is always so touching to witness the sacraments being conferred. I found myself getting teary as I was able to see all these young men and women receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, but especially touched to watch every one of my boys from the previous year stand before the bishop, be anointed with chrism on their foreheads, and be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Mass ended and an overwhelming mixture of happiness and sadness washed over me. I left the church and as I turned to go down the stairs and head to my car, I saw one of my students. He caught my eye and his face was filled with such joy and he came right up and hugged me. How could I be sad when right in front of me was someone experiencing such joy from his encounter with God?
All these years I've tried to be a vessel for God to work through. I don't know if, with God's grace, I've planted any mustard seeds that found fertile soil. What I do know is that through these years these kids, who I had been entrusted to teach, have taught me so much. They've made me a better person, a better mom, a better catechist, a better Catholic.
I don't know what is next for me on my journey. Since my mom's passing, I've felt spiritually and emotionally depleted. I know that God will show me what He wants me to do and where He wants me to serve Him. Maybe He will lead me back to being a catechist or maybe He will lead me elsewhere. What I was reminded so clearly of this weekend, however, is that God has such good things in store for all of us, from the young to the old and everyone in between.
I'm so grateful for the time I've had teaching and being taught by the youth of our Catholic community, our Catholic family. They have a lot of wisdom to share. I thank God for the blessings He has poured on me as a catechist all these years. I can't wait to see all the blessings that come forth from these great kids. They are inspiring and I look forward to seeing what sets their hearts on fire, like being a catechist set mine on fire.
Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12