ALLOUEZ — Think you’re not a catechist? Think again.
If you want to pass along your faith, share stories of how God has worked in your life or bring God into your workplace or home life, you’re called to be a catechist.
“The heart of our faith is about this great love story — God calling us to be with him. So much of the heart of our faith is story. People connect to a story.”
That’s the touchstone Julianne Stanz used in co-authoring the new book, “The Catechist’s Backpack: Spiritual Essentials for the Journey,” published by Loyola Press.
Stanz, director of New Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay, wrote the book with Joe Paprocki, national consultant for faith formation at Loyola Press. The book is part of the family of books co-authored by Paprocki with numerous other experts, the best-known of which is Paprocki’s “The Catechist’s Toolbox.”
While “The Catechist’s Backpack” is full of ideas, exercises and reflections for catechists, what sets it apart is this premise: Being a catechist is a vocation, a call from God.
“There are a lot of books about what catechists should know, what catechists should do, but not a lot about the vocations of being a catechist,” Stanz explained. “Joe and I felt very strongly that catechists need to know that this call is from God, this burning that is in their heart. They are not there by accident or a mistake; God has planned for them to have this experience.”
To do this, they used terminology from something most people can understand if not directly relate to: a backpack journey, with notions such as Mary and the saints offering flashlights and batteries to recharge our faith or missionary zeal as the fuel to reignite enthusiasm.
Each chapter — based on points from the Vatican’s 1993 “Guide to Catechists” — offers stories from the authors’ lives, or shared with them by others in church ministry, spiritual exercises, reflections from saints, Scripture quotes, even jokes and cartoons.
The idea is to get people to share stories, especially stories of faith.
“Stories have that capacity to bring Christ, to help us touch the wounds of Christ,” said Stanz, a storyteller and popular speaker. She added that, once the book came out, she and Paprocki started hearing that parishes around the country are using the books “as a springboard for them to share their stories. It has empowered people to look at their work, in the home, in their daily lives and say, ‘How do I bring God into this?’”
She knows Catholics have traditionally not always been comfortable sharing stories of faith. And yet who doesn’t have stories to share? For example, Stanz was recently looking into a mirror when her 3-year-old daughter, Ava, asked what she was looking at. She replied, “Age spots.” Ava made her mother kneel down close, took her face in her hands and said, “Mom, I love your polka-dots.”
“Isn’t it amazing how people see things differently?” Stanz said.
Getting people to see things differently is certainly the goal of one exercise from the book: “Write your own epitaph.”
Stanz said this suggestion is tied to her Irish upbringing, where story-telling is second nature and epitaphs and headstones often encapsulate a person’s life.
“Writing your epitaph might seem morbid, but it helps you reflect on all you’re grateful for,” Stanz explained. “So you don’t take it for granted.”
Many of the book’s stories might be familiar to people in the Green Bay Diocese (or Chicago Archdiocese, where Paprocki lives) — because they might be quoted in the book. Each chapter has dozens of quotes from catechists and ministers who contributed thoughts to Stanz and Paprcki. As she spoke around the diocese, Stanz mentioned the book project and asked for audience input. Paprocki is a catechist himself.
“The Diocese of Green Bay has wonderful leaders, wonderful catechetical leaders, wonderful pastors,” Stanz said. “We are blessed with people who are working very hard to share the faith.”
“The Catechist’s Backpack” offers tools for readers to reflect upon, helping them explore their life stories. Some exercises will seem easy; others might be tough. Stanz likens it to visiting a gym for strength training.
“It’s easy to use the (gym) machines that are easy for you,” she said. “And it’s very hard to train the areas that are weak. … The spiritual exercises were designed to help people to strengthen those weak areas … to both reinforce and to challenge.”
So if you don’t want to write your epitaph, maybe you’d like to share a story about your favorite saint. Maybe you’d want to read something by St. Teresa of Avila or Pope Francis. Maybe you would benefit from a spiritual director, or just sitting quietly in church for a few minutes — with your cell phone turned off. The book suggests all that, and more.
Stanz assures perspective readers that, whether parts of the book are hard or offer points where “you will recognize yourself,” she and Paprocki tried hard to assure that “there is a connection point for people, wherever they are on their faith journey.”
“The Catechist’s Backpack — Spiritual Essentials for the Journey,” published by Loyola Press, can be purchased at loyolapress.com; Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and local Catholic book stores including Cathedral Book and Gift in Green Bay.