By Nicole Saegh, St. Francis parishioner
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
When looking backwards at a journey, hindsight tells you where it all began. For my son, Matthew, it was a row of 12 pairs of shoes lined up outside a Sunday School room 8 years ago. When we arrived for Matthew’s first day of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, known as CGS, all the kids were lining their shoes up against the outside wall. Without much prompting from any of the adults, they quietly got ready to enter class. The catechist met them at the door with a smile and blessed each one of them by name as they went inside. I was so excited to hear about his day after hearing such great things from people that I admired! In true 4-year-old form, I heard nothing from him about what went on inside and had no colorful craft to give me any clues as to what was happening.
My curiosity grew and the following year I signed Matthew up for another year of CGS, but I came as a parent volunteer. I knew upon entry that this was different. There was no rush of the outside world and no urgency to complete a checklist. The kids went to work and I waited to see if I was needed. The catechists met with small groups of children, sometimes 1-2 at a time! Smaller kids might ask me for help reading or how to find something, but everyone was on-task and immersed in a project. That year, I also grew as I watched the kids question and work to understand some of the biggest theology the Church has for us. Somehow, the 6 year olds were the wisest of all teachers and simply understood.
In CGS, my son would have the same catechists for 2-3 years at a time. Each week, the catechist built a lesson based on what interested him or how he liked to work. They seemed to know exactly when to call him out and when to let him wonder. One day, the catechist leaned over and told me that the true teacher in the class was the Holy Spirit. Over time, I noticed that he was building friendships in the weekly class that transcended other friendships. It didn’t matter if the boys were into sports or Pokémon, they all voluntarily centered around a table and chattered “What if…”-style questions to each other while working and waiting to be called over to a nightly lesson by a catechist. Eventually, someone would look up a definite answer in a book or would seek out a catechist. My favorite was when the catechist would answer “I wonder…” and the kids would start over, never having a definite answer for weeks. The kids would sparkle with joy when they finally found the answers they were looking for.
This community of believers radiated a love of Jesus that was contagious. My child grew in faith in leaps and bounds, outpacing other peers. When he has questions of faith, he looks for answers. He understands how to use the Catechism, a compendium and the Bible. When he found a love of reading Old Testament scripture, he asked his Mom to start a Bible study for middle schoolers. When the pandemic took away our ability to go to Mass, he questioned his parents on why we would watch Mass on TV without the ability to celebrate the Eucharist in person. “What is the point, Mom?”
That’s exactly the point.
I know deep in my heart that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has given my child a gift. A gift of knowing Jesus and an unending love of the Eucharist. Upon reflecting about what was so magical about this class we signed up for, the easiest answer is everything. The greatest lessons of faith learned by my son were those with no page numbers. It is knowing you are deeply loved by the God, that the Good Shepherd calls us by name into relationship with Him and we joyfully wait for the second coming of Christ (Parousia).
CGS was different because there were other kids and we were learning it together. I was with the same kids that eventually became my friends. We would sit around a table and talk about ideas and ask questions. Almost everyone participated. Sometimes it was just the Bible, but it offered more materials. We could look at a timeline and not just talk about one story of the Jewish people in the Old Testament, but how the Jewish people had a history of covenant that connects to Jesus. Also, we learned about many things like Parousia. Most other kids in my grade don’t understand Parousia, the time when God is all in all. If you don’t understand our life with Jesus, you don’t know what to strive for.
*Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. Francis is seeking volunteers to go through catechist training and facilitate this model of faith formation during the 2021-2022 faith formation year.
If you are interested in learning more about CGS catechist training, please contact Jill Klubek Alonzo by email or at 515-440-1030.