This Sunday I will start my year-long adventure of teaching 7th grade catechism at my church. I briefly taught 2nd grade catechism for a month or two back in college. This time, my goal was two-fold. First, I have been considering a career-switcher program so that I might get licensed to teach ESL or language arts in middle - high school. But before I make the investment, I wanted to get some first-hand experience with this age group to see if it's a fit for me. Well, I think I've figured out that this job switch is probably not for me and I haven't even taught the first class yet! I currently teach adults ESL at a community college, so I deal directly with the students. It sort of freaks me out to have to go through students AND their parents. What's more, my co-catechist is supposed to be the parent of one of my students, so I feel particularly under pressure to do a good job.
But the second reason I wanted to do this is to share my faith. I "audited" my younger brother's confirmation classes when he was going through them a few years ago, and there was a young lady there (they were all teenagers) who declared herself an atheist, said that her parents were making her go through the classes, and yet nothing was done to address this situation, and she ended up being confirmed with the rest of her class. I always thought that the purpose of confirmation is for us to take our faith into our own hands, no longer the responsibility of our parents. This is why it's OK to have infant baptism, I thought. Because come confirmation, we make that final commitment to stay Catholic or not.
So it is my hope that I can try to share my excitement about our faith with these young people, help them to ask all the inevitable questions now, and fall in love with the faith if at all possible. I don't remember anyone showing me an excitement about faith when I was growing up. It seemed that my parents assumed I knew enough thanks to osmosis, I guess, by virtue of living in the same household as them. We never talked about God, and we never prayed together. The only reason I knew about God was because we attended Mass weekly, and I went to religious ed classes briefly - in Poland, before emigrating; after arriving in the US in preparation for my First Communion/Confession; and for a few months before Confirmation. Thankfully, these limited exposures, along with the significant altar my great-grandmother maintained in her bedroom, ignited enough curiosity in me to pursue faith on my own.
My great-grandmother had a large statue of Mary, fished out of the water by her daughter/my grandmother when she was just 5 years old. (They had lived on a barge.) It was never restored, but I never found that to be in any way negative. There were two small angels at her foot, I think candleholders, as well as a small picture frame with two pictures of my great-grandmother's parents. She frequently had cut flowers in vases at the altar. I always felt as if I was in a mini chapel in my great-grandma's room.
But even my Babcia, as I called her, never discussed religion with me. In my household, religion was something you sort of inherited by virtue of being born into the family. No one really cared how developed your spirituality was, as long as you were found doing the right thing. But that's leaving a lot up to chance!
And I know I can't be the only cradle Catholic without an explicit, ongoing family discussion about faith in the home. So for my students, I want them to truly feel as though they are choosing to remain Catholic. Because even though I was confirmed at age 14, I ended up lapsing and dabbling before finally reverting back a little over a year ago. If at all possible, I'd like to be able to help some of these young people avoid the same spiritual trauma I've gone through on my journey.
Maybe that's a high order. I am getting a little tired of my idealistic attitude, since it usually leads to disappointment. But if I didn't think I could make a difference, there'd be no point in me getting out of bed in the morning, would there?
Wish me luck on Sunday. Or better yet, say a little prayer for me!