If you have been following along in this series on the ministry of catechist, you will know that we have most recently been looking at what the Directory for Catechesis identifies as the three dimensions of formation for catechists:
We have arrived at the final dimension, savoir-faire. Savoir-faire is one of those terms that I thought I knew the meaning of and discovered I didn’t quite. I thought it meant something like to do things with flair or with style. It sort of means that.
But it also means to do things with grace. And it means more than that, too.
It means to have just the right word or way of saying something to precisely fit a given situation.
It means to excel at being in the right place at the right time with the right vocabulary to say exactly the right thing. That is flair, when you think about it, but it is deeper than just being witty or charming.
How to find (and form) your next catechist
When we are forming catechists, we want to look for people who have the gift of savoir-faire, and we want to help them develop that gift. In catechetical ministry, knowing the exact right thing to say and do has everything to do with paying attention to the Holy Spirit. The Directory for Catechesis says:
The catechist, recognizing that his hearer is an active participant in whom the grace of God is dynamically at work, will present himself as a respectful facilitator of an experience of faith of which he is not in charge. (148)
That “not in charge” part is key for understanding catechetical savoir-faire. When I meet a seeker, I cannot have a predetermined outcome in mind. The faith journey of the seeker is unique and is guided by the Holy Spirit. The only way I can know the exact right thing to say and do for the seeker in front of me is to attend respectfully to the stories the seeker tells me. That will give me clues as to how the Spirit is guiding them.
To make that respectful listening a habit, the Directory says we need to develop five attitudes within the potential catechist:
- the capacity of inner freedom and gratuitousness
- expertise in the communication and story-telling of the faith in such a way that it becomes a part of the seeker’s own story
- the willingness to build mature relationships with seekers and a good understanding of how to accompany seekers in group settings
- the ability to get in tune with the inner world of the seeker and being able to stay calm and serene when that inner world does not align with the catechist’s own values or assumptions
- the capacity to prepare an itinerary of faith or faith formation plan that relies on the direction of the Holy Spirit and not on a predetermined outcome (see 149)
RCIA catechists don’t act alone
Developing these five attitudes is a bit like diet and exercise. They are not hard to do in the sense of knowing how to develop them. They are hard to develop in the sense of staying disciplined and working on them every day. It is easier to do what is comfortable and easy for us.
But even when we make mistakes and fail to adopt these attitudes in the best possible way, that can also be part of the formation process. The Directory says that the formation process “includes the experience of errors and limitations” and that formation in these attitudes “requires patience and dedication.” The Directory goes on to say that “experience itself is a laboratory of formation in which learning is at its most profound” (149).
Finally, when we are doing great at living these attitudes or when we are completely failing, we have to remember it’s not all about me. “In fact,” says the Directory, “the catechist carries out this educational process not as an individual, but together with the community and in its name” (150).
As I said in an earlier post in this series, all that we have talked about here is basic formation for catechists in general. In an ideal world, all catechists would be formed according to the vision laid out in the Directory for Catechesis.
In an ideal world, catechists who are called to serve in the catechumenate would then add on a deeper level of formation focused on the particular needs of that ministry. That’s what we’ll look at next.
Do you see the “five attitudes” manifest in the catechists in your parish? How do you help form and nurture them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.