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THE MOM SCENE: Confessions of a Catechist

Heather never thought she’d be teaching Catechism (Catholic Sunday school), but she’s finding ways to put her own spin on it.
Heather never thought she’d be teaching Catechism (Catholic Sunday school), but she’s finding ways to put her own spin on it. - Contributed

If you had told me three weeks ago that I’d be a Catechist — a Catholic Sunday school teacher — I would have never believed you.

Two years ago, right here on this page, I wrote about how I “can’t pretend to believe everything I’m supposed to believe.” I wondered out loud if I was a bad Catholic for “walking through those doors with a heaviness that shouldn’t be there,” or if I was a good Catholic for making sure my children attend Catechism classes and make their sacraments.

But as of two weeks ago, I’m a Level 4 Catechist. They asked me, and I heard myself agreeing. It didn’t feel real. I would be the one teaching a room full of nine-year-olds about God. I would be responsible for their religious education for an entire school year. (No one believed me when I texted them the news, complete with angel emojis.)

I only had a few days to prepare for my first class. They gave me a heavy binder loaded with lesson plans and talking points and suggested readings, but assured me that I could pick and choose what I wanted to cover in my classes.

The binder was pretty overwhelming. It suggested I start by ceremoniously handing each child their workbook by saying a prayer over them. Um, no. The first lesson was supposed to be about Saint Teresa of Ávila, who was born in 1515 and went into a convent at 16. Um, skip.

After flipping through the first three lessons, I decided to boil them down into four main takeaways: God made the world, God wants us to take care of the world, God made us and God wants us to be nice to each other. Bingo-bango!

After we made name tags and played a get-to-know-you game, it was time to get down to the Godly business of teaching them something. I’d brought my son’s colourful children’s Bible, so I had one of my teenage helpers (I have helpers!) read a short two-page story about God making the world in seven days.

I made sure to explain my own theory about how God made the dinosaurs when he made the other animals, but sadly they probably went extinct before he made Adam and Eve because the seven “days” weren’t modern 24-hour days.

(I should add that I had a sheltered Catholic upbringing and hadn’t heard of the big bang theory or evolution until my Grade 10 geography class. I was truly shocked and my poor teacher nervously suggested I talk to my mom when I got home.)

We talked about what God made (plants, animals, humans) and what he didn’t make (computers, phones, houses). We talked about how to take care of the world God made — recycling, not littering, not wasting water — and then we moved onto how God made people.

“Adam and Eve were the very first people, but ... they did a really bad thing,” I told them, pausing dramatically. “Like, really bad.” A dozen pairs of wide eyes looked up at me, interested.

I was fuzzy on the details but it didn’t matter because I had my other teenage helper read the story about how Eve listened to the evil snake, disobeyed God, ate the fruit and suddenly everything was terrible.

We talked about the importance of being good and not letting “bad” friends talk us into making bad choices. I asked one student to stand on a chair — playing the good, obedient person — and showed how easily another student — playing the evil person trying to tempt them into doing something bad — could yank them off the chair.

“Was it easier for Cori to bring Dexter up to her level and teach him to be good, or was it easier for Dexter to yank Cori down to his level and teach her to be bad?” I asked them. Ooh, I felt like such a teacher!

(I should point out that this exercise was not in my Catechist handbook. I’d read about it in a young adult novel about Christian high school kids. They kids loved it.)

We covered my fourth point — God wants us to be nice to each other — by drawing family trees that included our friends, teachers and pets. By each person’s name, we all wrote something nice we could do for them over the following week. We talked about washing dishes and playing nicely with little siblings and video chatting with family members who lived far away. It was exactly what I’d hoped for — real, concrete examples of how we could all be good people.

We finished the class with a few rounds of Heads Up, Seven Up, and then I sent them upstairs to the hall for cookies and juice boxes. I felt relieved that it had gone well. A few kids even said they were surprised it was already over.

Even though I’m not reading aloud about Saint Teresa of Ávila and I’m pretty sure I’m going to fumble the pronunciation of “beatitudes” next week, I feel good about my relaxed approach to being a Catechist.

I’m sticking to what I believe to be true and trying to make the lessons easy and approachable for the kids. If, at the end of the year, they remember just one important point — that God wants us to be kind to each other — then I’ll consider it a success.

Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist who married her high-school sweetheart. They moved from the city to the country, where they spend their days making messes and memories with their nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. Follow their family’s adventures over at www.HeathersHandmadeLife.com.

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