Some teachers and catechists walk around with so much joy. You know the people I’m talking about, right?
They’re always smiling. They’re good listeners and they always put a positive spin on things. They never complain. They get excited when they talk about their lesson plans or activities. They’re humble. They want to know about what you’re doing and how they can use your ideas in class. Occasionally, you see them overwhelmed, but they’re still smiling. They are still focused on being there for you and serving their students.
It constantly amazes me that people can be filled with so much joy and determination.
So, where does all that joy come from??
My Struggle with Joy
The problem is not always an excess of activity, but rather activity undertaken badly, without adequate motivation, without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable. As a result, work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue.Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 82
I wish I could say I’m one of those joyful teachers and catechists, but I’m usually not. I’m a perfectionist and I often get stressed about making sure everything goes to plan. I want to do a million different things with my students but have a hard time accepting that it all just isn’t going to get done.
I’ve yelled and I’m embarrassed to admit it. It’s always the result of feeling out of control, unable to get a handle on a situation. There was a time in my second year of teaching that I remember realizing that for the first time in my life, I became a person who yelled.
It’s hard to be a teacher and sustain that joy. It’s hard to set out for almost any kind of goal and not feel frustration in missing the mark.
Without joy, I’ve often lost touch with the students in my care. They have so many things going on in their lives and rather than be that joyful example for them and a good confidant when they need me, I focus on myself, my lesson, my activities, and my vision.
But there is another way . . .
The Source of Joy
Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. . . Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 8
Like many people, I was blown away by Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). It is an incredible resource and truly something every religious educator, teacher, catechist, and catechetical leader should read.
One of the key themes of this document (among many) comes from the title itself: as disciples, as evangelizers, as teachers and catechists, we should be filled with joy.
Or to put it more bluntly: don’t be a sourpuss.
It’s easy to read but hard to do. Hard, that is, if we believe that joy is something we can do on our own. Far from it.
What is the source of joy? What causes that joy of the Gospel to arise within us?
An encounter with Christ.
If we want to share the Gospel–if we want to share our faith with those who need it most–we must enter into a loving encounter with God. Out of that encounter, joy naturally wells up within us. The encounter gives us a reason to evangelize. It is a natural result.
This is a crucial message that all catechists and religion teachers should experience. Pope Francis reminds us of this and many other essential approaches to evangelization in this important document.
After the document came out, I created a weekly series of ten reflections on Evangelii Gaudium specifically for religious educators for The Religion Teacher members. The ten-part series offers a summary of each section of the document with insights specifically tailored toward the work of catechists, religion teachers, youth ministers, and catechetical leaders.
Here is part 1 of the series, titled “The Source of Joy” which talks about the need for this encounter:
Why Teaching with Joy Will Transform Your Ministry
Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way.” I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 33
We all know the challenges we face as religious educators today. The odds are very good that if we continue to do things the way we’ve always done them, a large portion of the students we teach won’t be Catholic when they are older. Most will forget the lessons you shared and the activities you did.
But they might not forget you. It is likely that by your example, by your joyful encounters and passionate sharing of your faith, that they look back on their time with you and long for that joy in their own lives.
It isn’t a show we can put on. It has to be sincere. It has be true joy welling up inside of us as a result of our consistent encounters with Christ who gives us a reason to have faith and reason to be joyful.
The weekly series of reflections on Evangelii Gaudium is designed to instill in each one of us that joy for spreading the Gospel. It is available to all members of The Religion Teacher.
(photo credit: Ilmicrofono Oggiono)