Guest Post by Joe Paprocki, DMin
Joe Paprocki has been involved in the catechetical ministry for over 30 years, first as a religion teacher at a high school seminary in Chicago, where he taught for nine years while pursuing my master’s degree in pastoral studies, then as a director of religious education and a pastoral associate at a parish on the southeast side of Chicago. He then worked as the consultant for catechist formation as the Office for Catechesis of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Since 2002 he serves as the National Consultant for Faith Formation with Loyola Press. He is the author of a number of books, notably The Bible Blueprint: A Catholic’s Guide to Understanding and Embracing God’s Word; Living the Mass: How One Hour a Week Can Change Your Life; The Catechist’s Toolbox: How to Thrive as a Religious Education Teacher; A Well-Built Faith: A Catholic’s Guide to Knowing and Sharing What We Believe; Practice Makes Catholic: Moving from a Learned Faith to a Lived Faith (all from Loyola Press). He also maintains the blog Catechist’s Journey. This excellent blog is marking it’s 5th anniversary this month!
One of the challenges that we catechists face is instilling a solid sense of Catholic identity in those we teach. I am convinced that this is something that we need to be more intentional about today than we needed to be in years past. Back in the day, it was common for Catholics to “huddle” together in neighborhoods and communities that were almost exclusively Catholic. Growing up in such Catholic enclaves was like being marinated in Catholicism – Catholic identity just sort of seeped into our bloodstream. Today, more than ever, our neighborhoods and communities are increasingly pluralistic and secular. As such, Catholic identity is not something that simply gets absorbed. We need to intentionally instill it.
Here’s an exercise to get you thinking about Catholic identity. You may want to do this on your own or with some fellow catechists or other group. Imagine that a Hollywood director has hired you to be a creative consultant for a film he’s making. He wants his film to have a Catholic flavor to it but he himself is not Catholic. He’s hired you to give him advice on 2 things in particular: suggestions for what he can do to make the set (a home of a Catholic couple with children) look more Catholic and suggestions for what the characters can do or say that will make them appear more Catholic.
Not only will you have fun doing this activity but you will find that Catholics have many unique customs, traditions, devotions, etc. that express and form our identity as Catholics. These expressions of our faith are not arbitrary nor are they merely nostalgia or fluff. Rather, they represent what I consider to be 5 unique characteristics of the Catholic vision. They are:
· A sense of sacramentality – we Catholics use outward, tangible, visible signs to express our understanding of the inward, intangible, invisible encounters we have with God.
· A commitment to community – rather than a “me and God” approach to spirituality, we Catholics take a “WE and God” approach.
· A respect for the dignity of human life and a commitment to justice – we Catholics firmly believe that love of God and love of neighbor cannot be separated.
· A reverence for Tradition - we Catholics find God revealing himself to us through, not only through Scripture, but also through a living, breathing Tradition that teaches us and guides us.
· A disposition to faith and hope, not despair – we Catholics do not wear rose-colored glasses, however, we refuse to allow despair to get the upper hand when faced with suffering.
In my book, Practice Makes Catholic: Moving From a Learned Faith to a Lived Faith, I delve into these characteristics and explore the many Catholic practices that both express and form our Catholic identity. My prayer for you as a fellow catechist is that you will reflect on your own Catholic identity and explore ways of intentionally instilling that identity in those you teach so that they can move through life with a concrete and clear notion of how their faith speaks to everyday life. To help you in this endeavor, I’m happy to pass along to you this PDF of resources that we can draw from to integrate Catholic identity into our catechetical environment. Also, here is a link to a Webinar I offered on the topic of Practice Makes Catholic and Catholic identity.
Blessings during this Advent season and always!
Joe Paprocki, DMin