“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). These familiar words of Jesus teach us as catechists that we have multiple opportunities to encounter him, not just in communal prayer but also in missionary outreach and every time we step into our catechetical sessions. Yes, even the mundane and hectic are sanctified by God’s presence. Since he called us, he won’t abandon us. The question is: are we watching and waiting for him? And, are we attuned to him and how he wishes to move us and those in our care?
We invite you to read the following testimonies of catechists, just like you, in the hope that, as you respond to your own vocation, you may also find ways of Encountering God in Catechesis.
What Beth Didn’t Say
Beth was one child I thought I couldn’t reach.
I had nearly 30 fifth-graders in my Catholic school classroom that year, and I loved all of them. Every child brought something unique and unrepeatable to our class, and each day I stood in awe of the God who created this magnificent garden of personalities and life.
As each flower opens up in its own time and style, the children blossomed with me in different ways. Some wore big grins and chatted away to me from the moment they walked in the room. Some stopped by during recess to hang out with me in the quiet classroom. Some left me little folded-up notes in my mailbox.
But Beth never did any of those things.
She was a popular girl, with many friends; but to me, Beth never voluntarily spoke a word. Don’t get me wrong; she wasn’t rude. She was a sweet child who did everything she was asked to do, but she wouldn’t look me in the eye—ever.
With her friends, Beth talked animatedly, played wholeheartedly, listened sympathetically. She even accompanied them to a little prayer-and-song group I held on Friday mornings before school started. When her friends sang, Beth did too; but when they talked to me, she didn’t.
As the year went by, I learned more about Beth’s home life. Her parents were in the middle of a very messy divorce, and I ached for her; but she didn’t confide in me, and I didn’t push. She would trust me when, and if, she was ready.
By the time the year ended, I could pick out Beth’s handwriting from a stack of 30 papers, name the book she was reading, list her close friends, and tell you her favorite things to doodle in margins of her work; but those were mere facts I gleaned from the privilege of being her teacher. Just facts. I still didn’t feel like I knew the real Beth.
The last day of school came and went, with all the heartache that always comes from saying goodbye to a class of students I’d laughed with and loved for a whole year. I went home and opened my email to find a message.
It was from Beth.
“I would like you to know,” she wrote, “that you have been my favorite teacher, and you always will be.” To my amazement, she listed, in detail, every single thing she liked about the whole year. “I know this may sound silly, but I’m sitting here practically crying,” she continued, “because you’ve just done so much for me and I will never be able to thank you enough for that! I LOVE YOU!!”
Sitting there that day, reading the screen through my tears, I learned a lesson I would never forget: a lesson about Beth and about every other person like her that I would encounter in my life—the quiet ones; the ones who never would show me, through their words or actions, that I was making a difference in their lives; the ones I would try to reach while thinking that nothing I ever said or did would matter to them; the ones who would make me wonder if it was worth the effort it took to tell them about Jesus and to show them his love.
“You taught me more about Jesus,” I remember Beth writing, “than any other person in my whole life.”When I think about Beth now, I remember that I don’t know the effect I have on others. On this side of heaven, I usually never find out. Yet, in those rare moments when God reveals to me the powerful way he moves in others’ lives when I do everything I can to show them his love, this much becomes clear: if I’m doing all I can to serve him, God will work through unworthy, broken, incompetent me in ways I can’t even begin to imagine—even (or perhaps especially) for the people whose hearts I once thought unreachable.
Maura Roan McKeegan
Lord, Open My Lips
I have had the incredible blessing to live and work in France for a little over a year now. My current position is in a school just south of Paris as “Animatrice en pastorale” and English teacher. The first title encompasses a number of responsibilities: catechist, Religious Culture teacher, and youth minister.
My conversational skills in French flourished after a year teaching English in Orléans, but it was a daunting challenge upon my arrival in Paris to translate my catechetical knowledge and passions into a foreign language. During the first official work week for the staff, I was sitting in the office with my co-worker (we’ll call her Claire) and we got into a discussion about sexuality, marriage, mortal sin, etc., and how we might respond to students’ questions. She proposed a scenario and I had a difficult time answering her, mumbling through an explanation and constantly stopping to search for words. My communication difficulties were intensely frustrating as I realized the potential implications for my catechetical work.
However, it’s amazing what happens when souls are placed under your care. Despite my mumbles in front of Claire, having a group of nine students for my youth ministry meetings was the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to step in with all his fire. When they spoke, I responded, in French, and by some miracle of grace I have managed to explain and teach many truths without much stumbling. I entrust my entire ministry to the Lord with this prayer I utter after every interaction with my students: “Lord, let them retain all the good I said of you, and please let any confusion be left behind, or let it propel them to seek the fullness of your Truth.”
Of course, linguistic ease has increased with time; and though I ache for the familiarity of communicating in English, I now feel at home immersed in French.
I am incredibly blessed to be in this unique state of life. I know that it is objectively true that I do not have the skills, words, or, honestly, the extraverted personality to do everything that I want to do in my ministry. It is therefore crystal clear that God is the one affecting any actual “progress” or change or inspiration in the hearts of those with whom I interact.
After my conversation with Claire about sexuality, she spent an entire weekend talking with her live-in boyfriend about whether they should think about getting married. She later explained her thoughts to our boss in a personal conversation: she is Catholic, her boyfriend is agnostic and unbaptized, so a church ceremony would only express her side. “So,” says our boss, “you’re just not doing anything at all?” Claire was floored.
In the meantime, her boyfriend had picked up the Acts of the Apostles and was enthralled by the witness of the early martyrs. At the end of a long avalanche spurred by whatever the Holy Spirit communicated between my scattered words, they had the joy of getting (civilly) married on January 31, 2015; and Claire’s boyfriend is considering RCIA. Praise God for his work with us insufficient people!
Every day that I have a particularly difficult time living up to what is asked of me, I recall the circumstances which brought me here and the roses—like this story—that have fallen around me to revive me. I am very little in all of this, in every sense of the word; but I know that God called me here, and I am determined, and quite delighted to answer as best as I can.
If you have an experience which you could share with readers of how God was present to you or those you catechize in the catechetical process, please consider emailing your story to us at [email protected]. Submissions must be between 150-600 words in order to be considered for publication. Writing requirements are available on our website, www.catechetics.com.
This article was originally on pages 39-40 of the printed edition.