These two short books in The Essential Catechist’s Bookshelf series truly deliver on the promises of their titles. Taken together, they provide the catechist (or aspiring catechist) with a complementary package of spiritual formation and instructional methodology. They are clearly written and accessible to both the novice and the experienced catechist. Their overarching tone is one of support, encouragement, and empowerment. Most importantly, perhaps, these books are testaments of the authors’ faith in the power and light of God’s guidance in the formation of a catechist: “God doesn’t call the qualified; God qualifies the called” (Schaeffler).
The essence of The Spirituality of the Catechist is well captured in the author’s introduction: “We cannot give what we do not have.” Because serving as a catechist involves more than instilling ideas and information, he/she must draw from the well of the personal spiritual journey to authenticate and enliven a program. One might say that a program’s impact depends on the extent to which the teaching has been personalized. “As important as good techniques are, great teaching comes from who the teacher is . . .” (emphasis added).
What exactly is the spirituality of the catechist? As with all ventures into the transcendent dimension of life, it is all about openness, awareness, and experience. The spiritually alive catechist is one who is becoming progressively more attuned to the Divine presence and action within the uniqueness of her/his life. “Our path to holiness is in the everydayness of our human lives.” It a sensing of God’s love in the warp and woof of life, inclusive of the full range of experience: “. . . gentle care, imaginative creativity, acceptance, disquieting challenge.”
Here’s How is an eminently practical book, one all teachers (including non-catechists) are likely to find useful. Drawing on her 20 years’ experience in the field of religious education, Danesco deals with such teaching essentials as motivation, small-group dynamics, discipline, and evaluation. Her sound suggestions are well-grounded in practice and theory; however, in contrast to many who write in the field of education, she avoids the tendency to become caught up in extended academic discussions.
Danesco emphasizes the importance of developing lessons based on the goals and teaching suggestions provided by the manual that accompanies catechetical programs. Nonetheless, she sees the catechist’s job fundamentally as that of applying the information in the guide to “local” realities; i.e., the needs and capacities of the catechist and her/his students. “What is necessary . . . is to take advantage of those instances . . . that allow the lesson not just to be for the children but also about the children.” To that end, the author stresses the importance of taking time to tailor-make a plan based on “a single sentence that summarizes the lesson’s message.”
Though the books easily lend themselves to self-study, the questions and activities at the conclusion of each chapter make them ideal resources for small-group reflection. They deserve serious consideration by anyone engaged in directing or delivering catechetical programs.