When I say “passion,” I don’t mean a love of teaching CCD. I mean “the passion,” as in lots of flogging and carrying crosses up the hill.
I first volunteered to teach CCD after converting to Catholicism. I thought it would be a great way to share my love of God, and perhaps plant the seeds of this love in the next generation.
Boy was I wrong.
But I think every catechist begins in this naive manner.
It’s my fault. I should have known better. When I was a child in Catholic grammar school, the teacher told you that the CCD kids would be there that night and that you better take home everything you don’t want stolen. We called it “central city dump.” I never saw the kids, but could only imagine what sorts of perverted, thieving monsters took over our classrooms that night. The next day we’d get little buckets of soapy water and clean the foul words off our desk. I was hoping things had changed since then. Or that maybe they had been exaggerated.
Now I find myself standing in the classroom, like a lonely island amidst a sea of chaos. They scream and walk on tops of the desk as though they don’t even realize I’m there. Maybe they don’t.
But I’m not raising my voice. I refuse to. I don’t care if they throw a desk at me. I will not yell. Once you yell, it’s over. I refuse to be one of the other helpless catechists whose howls have achieved nothing except humiliating themselves. And I won’t speak to their parents, either. Sorry, I’m not getting paid to talk to you.
I ask myself, why do I bother doing this? I make no progress with them whatsoever. I don’t think I’ve had a single student who showed any interest, even the smallest, in God. I’m not the best teacher, at all, but I don’t think it’s entirely my fault that I don’t inspire them. It’s true that I am not inspiring, and it’s probably partly my fault for not trying very hard and partly my lack of talent. But it seems to be a problem across the board. Occasionally I get a few girls who want to show me what good students they are. But that’s about it.
CCD can wear you down like nothing else. It makes me question if any of this religion stuff is even worth it, let alone if it’s true. It’s funny and ridiculous and sad all at the same time to have a crisis of faith because of twelve-year-olds who won’t stay in their seats. But it forces you to wonder–if God is real and has created us and planted a desire for him in our hearts, why doesn’t learning about God spark anything in them?
This is truly an endeavor for which the reward is completely and utterly intangible. You don’t know if there’s any reward for you in the end, much less if you had any effect on the rewards they might receive. You can’t help but wonder what the point of it all is. I’m sure some people talk about the pure joy of sharing their faith with wonderful angelic children. But in reality, at least in my reality, you just have nothing to hold onto to justify why you’re doing it. It’s not even a real service to society because no one really appreciates the thought of Catholic religious education. From the perspective of society it’s just harmful brainwashing by an institution that has no business being near children.
And this isn’t a negligible time commitment, either. It involves planning a lesson and then having to take it to class and watch it fly out the window. And it sure seems like the more work you put into a lesson, the faster it flies. Sometimes it’s safer not to plan anything at all.
It bothers me that I don’t care as much as I should. Helplessness has defeated me. I cared a lot at first, but like Cordelia “I cannot heave my heart into my mouth,” and so I am very ineffective as an evangelist. My own lack of outward enthusiasm has slowly eroded my intentions to the point that sometimes it seems like I care less than they do.
Here’s an example of why I get worn down. We were at Mass one evening with our class–a trial in and of itself to maintain hope between the whispering and the constant banging of kneelers. During communion, as a child walked away after having received, she cast a sly glance over the filled pews towards her friends and stuck the host out of her mouth like a tongue. To a Catholic who knows what they believe in, this is basically sacrilege. But no one around me seemed to notice, and Mass proceeded as usual.
The other catechists seem so confident, even though their classes are circuses; some even seem proud that their students’ behavior is atrocious. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess I’m just not comfortable in the classroom and it shows.
This is how I conduct my class. “Okay, guys, let’s go around in a circle and read!” Then one person I call on reads while everyone else talks and screams. I call on the next person. They start reading the wrong paragraph, and I say “Nope, somebody help them out,” until they finally hit upon the right one. We do that until we finish the page. Then it’s time for me to ask some questions.
“Okay class, who is Jesus?”
After repeating the question five times over the din, someone finally hears me and raises their hand.
“He was the third pope!”
“That’s a great answer! Okay, moving on!”