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Catechists get homework at catechetical conference

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Growing up, Matthew Dunne wasn’t an avid reader of the Bible, but he still learned classic Bible stories through the popular culture. As he interacts with today’s children as a catechist at Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria, he fears students don’t have the same advantages as his generation.

“Many don’t know the story of Noah and the Ark, or Moses. Today’s kids aren’t learning those stories,” he said. So he and his fellow catechists try to bring the Bible to life. “We’re really trying to introduce the kids to reading the Bible, because if it stays a foreign document to them, then it’s intimidating or they don't see the relevance,” said Dunne. “What I enjoy is trying to connect them with the Bible, making them feel just as comfortable opening any other book in their home or turning on their smartphone.”

At the annual Diocesan Catechetical Conference, Dunne attended the session “Persons, Places and Things: Simplifying the Complexities in the Old Testament” so he could bring the knowledge he gained back to Good Shepherd. Hundreds of other catechists and directors of religious education gathered at the Reston Sheraton Nov. 17 to spend time together and learn more about the faith during the keynote speech and breakout sessions.

During his homily at the morning Mass, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge preached on the conference theme: “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.” He was joined by Father William P. Saunders, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls and episcopal vicar for faith formation. Bishop Burbidge asked all the catechists to seek the Eucharist. 

“Here we find the strength to go forward in his Holy Name and in service of his Gospel,” he said. “Renewed with this precious gift, pray for the grace to be enlightened by the Lord and one another; to encourage each other and build up the Body of Christ; to teach by example and to entrust yourself, your ministry, and all those you serve to God’s love and mercy so that we may be better equipped to enlist witnesses for Jesus Christ, the One who promises to be with us now and forever.”

A woman prayer during morning Mass. Zoey Maraist  |  Catholic Herald

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Keynote speaker Joseph White, a clinical psychologist and a national catechetical consultant for Our Sunday Visitor, encouraged the catechists to perform an “examination of witness.” Being a catechist is about teaching, he said, but more importantly, about living what you teach.

Catechists should know the faith and constantly learn more about it, he said. They should know the church’s moral teachings, especially those they may struggle with. They should understand the meaning behind the sacraments and frequently receive them. “How do I prioritize the Eucharist in my life? How do I make sure that I’m fully present in the Mass?” asked White.

Religious education teachers help children learn prayers such as the Our Father, but they should also teach children how to pray using their own words. “It’s helpful to have that ready repertoire, but teaching to pray is more than that. Husbands, if you went home to your wives today and you recited a beautiful Shakespeare sonnet, probably at first she’d be delighted. But if you went throughout the rest of the week only speaking to her in words of Shakespeare, eventually it’d get weird.” Prayer should be a conversation with God, he said.

Catholic leaders should make students aware of the obligations they have to their larger community. “Am I taking an opportunity to make connections within my parish? Am I participating in activities dedicated to taking care of the least of those?” he asked. 

Finally, more than passing the faith on to children, catechists should examine their daily lives for ways to reach those who need Christ, he said. 

“We have a lot to feel joyful about,” he said. “Do you know what our message is as catechists? The God that made everything knows your name and he wants to be in a relationship with (you).”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018