In a less-than-perfect world, God can do a lot with the imperfect-but-willing
This August, I’ll begin my sixth year as a religious education teacher. Ora pro me.
So far, I’ve taught second, third, fourth and sixth grades at two different parishes. I spend my summers reading articles about trends in religious education and asking other catechists for advice. Then, the school year begins, and I spend my Wednesday nights never doing quite as well as I’d hoped I would.
I can safely say that I am the worst catechist at my parish. This isn’t false modesty. It’s just that the other catechists are great catechists. They’ve been at it for a long time, they know how to teach and reach kids, and they know their curricula inside and out.
Meanwhile, I’m still struggling to balance book time and talk time, to keep order when the kids are hungry and hyper after a long school day, and to get the most important parts of the faith across without neglecting the nitty gritty, or the Bible. I noticed that many of the lapsed Catholics of my acquaintance accuse us of never reading the Bible in religion classes, so each year we work through a New Testament book, one chapter a week. I alternate Luke and Acts, because a lack of teachers means I often have the same kids two years running.
Often, as a teacher, I am a mess. The kids are too, because with little reinforcement at home they have, over summer, all but forgotten everything beyond Jesus having died and risen, and I don’t know where to start.
So, why am I in the classroom, trying to teach Catechism at a table surrounded by squirmy, exhausted kids who don’t want to be there? Why did God call me to teach religion when there are better teachers out there, people who could really set the kids on fire with love for Jesus and mankind? “Shouldn’t someone else be leading this class,” I think, “and leave me to safer, less important tasks like photocopying activity sheets or making sure that no one floods the bathroom?
But I tend to wonder the same thing about a lot of other places God calls me. Why am I homeschooling seven kids, running clubs and keeping house when I’m mediocre at much of it? Why am I my husband’s wife, when he surely deserved better? Why did God put me at this soccer game trying to comfort this traumatized woman as she cries on my shoulder about a recent miscarriage, when I stink at social skills and freak out at tears? It seems like God keeps calling me to things I’m barely capable of, and often not comfortable with. Couldn’t he find someone better?
Actually, I think the answer to that last question might be, “No, he couldn’t.” Not because I’m super-wonderful and practically perfect in every way, but because I’m available and willing. Maybe someone better for the job left the Church when she was 12 and never looked back. Or maybe she keeps saying “no” because “yes” can feel so scary. Maybe God takes who is available and willing. Moses was a murderer with a stutter; Saint Bernadette was the merest creature on earth. Saint Peter wasn’t exactly a calm, cool management type, or a smooth operator, and look where he ended up. On paper, Judas might have had a better CV for the papacy, but he was unwilling to be led away from where he thought he should go.
So, here is what God and the Church are left with: the unworthy yet willing. A lot of us who are called to things we’re not especially good at, but we’re game to give it a try, all for Jesus. Fortunately, where our own talents, skills, and energies fail us, grace can fill the gaps, if we let it.
I know there are people in my parish, and in every parish, who would be better catechists than I am. When the DRE gets up front to make her annual plea, they’re too afraid to answer God’s call, because they know they’re not the perfect person for the job. But here’s the thing: The perfect person isn’t here. The perfect person will probably never show up. But you are here, and you’re the one God’s calling right now, in all your imperfection. It’s OK to hold your breath, close your eyes, make the leap and offer to help. His grace will make up for your faults.
More to read: I look at my Students and See Our Future Ex-Catholics