Catechist In-Service - Lori Dahlhoff

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Rediscovering,Cultivating, and Bearing Witness to Jesus Christ and the Gift of Faith

by Lori Dahlhoff, EdD
Executive Director, Religious Education Department
National Catholic Educational Association

PDF Guide for Offering this Catechist In-Service


To support catechists in their service on behalf of the Church by attending to their being, knowing, and artistry for educating in the faith.


To increase catechists' abilities to "open the door of faith" for themselves and others using the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).


  • Rediscover the beauty of the faith as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • Cultivate an appreciation for utilizing the art included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
  • Identify one concrete way the catechist will bear witness to Jesus Christ and the gift of faith in the coming months.


This in-service may be delivered in one 3-hour session, two 1.5-hour sessions, or three 1-hour sessions. This document describes the one-session format. Considerations for alternative schedules are noted throughout.

  • Welcome and Introduction
  • Prayer
  • Rediscovering
  • Cultivating
  • Bearing Witness
  • Wrap-up


For Catechists

  • Read "The Catechism: A Symphony of Faith" by Petroc Willey, which is provided as part of the 2013 Catechetical Sunday materials. Ask catechists to note how the structure and components of the CCC are designed to aid in seeing the beauty of the faith.

    Alternative: If providing the in-service as three sessions, invite participants to also read "The Church: Sacrament of Salvation" by Brian Garcia-Luense before the second session and "Reexamining the Work of the Second Vatican Council" by Alan Schreck before the third session.

  • Ask participants to bring a Bible and a printed copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    Alternative: If you have not already done so, you may want to present each catechist with a personal copy of the CCC as part of the opening prayer ritual.

For Session Leader

  • Prepare short opening and closing prayers.

    Alternative: Ending or beginning the session with the Eucharistic Liturgy would provide another means of highlighting the beauty of the faith and the interconnections between liturgy and the CCC.

  • Identify and orient experienced catechists to serve as table facilitators during the session(s).

For Meeting Space

  • Display the art of the CCC by placing the book in a prominent stand, open to one of the cover art panels.
  • Provide tables, preferably round, so participants have both a writing surface and sufficient space to have both the Bible and CCC open at the same time. Participants will also need to be able to have small-group conversations during the session.
  • Create a table focus, such as a table tent with the words "Praying—Rediscovering—Cultivating—Bearing Witness" or "Playing the Symphony of Faith."
  • Check sound system for playing the symphonic music. Arrange for assistance in starting and stopping the music, if needed.
  • Provide a welcoming atmosphere from the moment catechists arrive to the time they leave. For example, have clear signage indicating where the session will meet, greeters at doors, or a sign-in table, refreshment station, water pitchers, and cups on each table.

Session Details

Welcome (5 minutes)

Thank the catechists for once again opening the door of faith by participating in the session.

Describe the purpose and objectives for the session, for example:

Thank you for coming together today as a community of catechists. God has blessed our parish (or school, diocese, region) through calling you to witness to your faith in Jesus Christ and to help others deepen their knowledge, love, and life in him through the Church. My purpose in providing this session is to support you in your service on behalf of the Church by attending to your being, knowing, and artistry for educating in the faith. We will give particular attention to using the Catechism of the Catholic Church to "open the door of faith" in your own lives and in the lives of others.

Introduce the flow of the session as four movements: praying, rediscovering, cultivating, and bearing witness:

This session is organized in what you might call four "movements": praying, rediscovering, cultivating, and bearing witness. It is my hope that these movements will flow together to help us

  • Join our hearts, minds, and voices in praise of God and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in special way during this session
  • Rediscover the beauty of the faith as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Cultivate an appreciation for utilizing the art included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Identify one concrete way that you will bear witness to Jesus Christ and the gift of faith in the coming months

    : If covering the material over multiple sessions, adjust the introduction to describe the purpose and four movements of the whole series of sessions. Briefly highlight which movement is the focus of this session and which objectives you hope to achieve.

Praying (15 minutes)

Invite participants to silence (or preferably, turn off) cell phones or other electronic devices to give themselves the gift of uninterrupted time with a single focus. Taking out your own phone and silencing it is one way to show that you are making the same commitment to be fully present to the catechists and this session.

Sample Prayer Outline

  • Call to prayer
    Leader: Lord, come to my assistance. All: Lord, make haste to help me.
  • Opening song, e.g., "Gathered as One" by Deanna Light and Paul Tate (World Library Publications); "Open My Eyes" by Jesse Manibusan (Oregon Catholic Press); "Take, O Take Me as I Am" by John Bell (GIA Publications); or "You Gather Us" by Delores Dufner and Donna Kasbohm (World Library Publications)
  • Scripture, e.g., Ephesians 2:8-10
  • Response, e.g., silent reflection, sung or recited Psalm, or blessing and/or presentation of the CCC
  • Lord's Prayer
  • Closing collect

Rediscovering (40 minutes)

1. Introduction

  • Ask participants to indicate by a show of hands how familiar they are with the organization and instructive design of the Catechism, e.g., never thought about it before, familiar with the four pillars, aware the art in the printed edition is also instructive, very familiar with how the CCC is put together, and use CCC to help me teach.
  • Invite participants, no matter their familiarity, to enter this movement with a spirit of wonder and discovery. As a people who believe in lifelong faith formation, it is an important skill to look at the ordinary or familiar with new eyes and hearts to discover how God is speaking at that time. Encourage the catechists to approach the learning in this session with the excitement of children unwrapping gifts, in this case the gifts of Jesus and the Catholic faith.
  • Remind participants of Willey's description of the symphony of faith and the aids offered in the CCC to seeing the beauty of the faith, e.g., Christ plays the music of heaven for us; harmony of many voices; musicians tune instruments before playing and know music well before presenting it to others; catechists perform anew each day the melody of Christ the teacher, which is also echoed by the Magisterium; faith is something beautiful.

2.Exercise to Awaken a Sense of Wonder and Intentional Discovery

  • Describe the reflection and contemplation process on the cover art for Part I of the CCC (panel between page 12 and page 13).
  •  Sacred art is a visual synthesis of faith that has been used for centuries as a tool for handing on the faith. Until recently, the majority of people were unable to read, making art a primary means of conveying the truth and beauty of the faith. Pope Gregory II noted, "In a picture even the unlearned may see what example they should follow."
  • Guide participants through the process detailed in Appendix A. Ask participants to open to the artwork in the CCC or project it on an interactive whiteboard or screen."Authentic Christian art is that which, through sensible perception, gives the intuition that the Lord is present in his Church, that the events of salvation history give meaning and orientation to our life, that the glory that is promised us already transforms our existence. Sacred art must tend to offer us a visual synthesis of all dimensions of our faith" (Pope John Paul II, Veneration of Holy Images [Duodecimum Saeculum], no. 11,

Break (10 minutes)

Cultivating (50 minutes)

Invite participates to a moment of individual pondering on the following question: "What is one insight from the first session that I want to explore further in this session?" Encourage them to write down responses.

: If presenting the material in the two- or three-session format, you will conclude the first session with this activity instead of providing a break. Invite participants to bring these notes back with them to the next session.

Recall exercise in rediscovering movement as a way of learning to appreciate art as a tool for teaching and learning the Catholic faith. Consider highlighting the following points:

  • Art is a way of conveying something about an aspect of God. Veneration of sacred images as a spiritual practice is based on mystery of Incarnation of the Word of God (CCC, nos. 1159-1162, 2129-2132, 2141).
  • People have an instinctive response to art that, with further cultivation, expands the ability to grasp the richness of what symbols communicate.
  • Tracing the connections between the work of art, Scripture, and the CCC illustrates the internal logic of continuity within the Catholic faith.
  • Making the time and space to "sit with" the interconnections develops the discipline of contemplation, which is important to unwrapping the gift of Jesus and faith over and over throughout a lifelong journey with God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines "contemplation" as "a form of wordless prayer in which mind and heart focus on God's greatness and goodness in affective, loving adoration; to look on Jesus and the mysteries of his life with faith and love" (CCC, Glossary, p. 872).

Repeat art reflection process in small groups at tables.

  • Distribute or display the reflection process outline (see Appendix A).
  • Assign each table one piece of cover art to reflect on more closely. Ask each group to prepare a short report on what they discovered.

    Alternative: If presenting the material in the two- or three-session format, you may want to assign each person one of the cover art images to pray with and reflect on before the next session. This would allow more time during the second or third session for group discussion about what was discovered and the possible implications for teaching.

Group Reflection

  • Refocus small groups into one large group.
  • Ask participants to report on what they discovered about Jesus, the faith, and/or the CCC during the exercise. You may open floor to comments or ask a representative from each table to report.
  • Invite the group to think about the reflection process. What do the discoveries from the exercise suggest about using the CCC and sacred art as a catechist?

Break (10 minutes)

Bearing Witness (45 minutes)

Invite participants to the final movement of the in-service in which they will identify one way they will bear witness to the beauty of the faith in their service as a catechist. Consider highlighting the following points:

  • Human beings have the instinctive need to share beauty and love. As we saw in the cover art for Part I of the CCC, early Christians included art in dark catacombs, places where they celebrated the Eucharist.
  • The National Directory for Catechesis notes, "While the particular expressions of sacred art vary from culture to culture, authentic sacred art turns human minds, hearts, and souls, toward God" and urges catechists to revive the traditional practice of using great works of art "to instruct the faithful on the fundamental truths of the faith" (no. 37 B,1).

Individual reflection

  • Invite participants to quiet reflection to consider how the insights from this session might impact their own faith life and what they do as catechists. Invite participants to reflect on the following questions:
    • ­What do I find as helps/hindrances to seeing/experiencing beauty for myself (e.g., graces of sacraments, Magisterium, distraction, or inattention)?
    • Which teaching practice would I like to cultivate in the next few months? 
    • How will I bear witness to Jesus Christ and the beauty of the faith in my service?
  • Provide silence or play symphonic music in the background to create a reflective space.
  • Ask participants to write a response for at least the final question as one concrete way to carry this learning forward. This goal may be incorporated into a closing prayer in some way.

    Alternative: Additional questions you may want to include if presenting the material over multiple sessions include the following:

  • What are some of the things those I teach consider beautiful? (Pay attention to human development, culture, location.)
  • How might I bear witness to the interconnected symphony of faith in my life? In my teaching? In the parish/Catholic school community?
  • What did I discover about the beauty of the Catholic faith?

"In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colors, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery" (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists, no. 12,

Wrap Up (15 minutes)

Summarize session. Review purpose, objectives, CCC, and aids to seeing the beauty of the faith, experience of four movements that are essential for being an effective catechist (praying, rediscovering, cultivating, bearing witness to Jesus Christ and the gift of faith), and hopes for how to use art and the CCC in teaching in the months ahead.

Conclude with a closing prayer, such as the Catechist's Prayer from the Catechetical Sunday materials.

Post-Session Follow Up

Check in with the catechists after two or three months to see how they are doing with their goal of bearing witness to Jesus Christ and the beauty of the faith in their service.

You could also use a similar process to study the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, beginning with a reflection on the opening story of the saint or holy person, then noting how that story connects with Scripture, Catholic teaching, and prayer throughout the chapter.

You may repeat the reflection and contemplation process at other sessions with catechists using other forms of sacred art, e.g., the art included in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; Scriptural art as presented in the stained glass or statuary of the parish worship space or in illuminated texts such as The Saint John's Bible; art in catechetical materials for learners; or the musical scores printed in the hymnal used for prayer.


Exercise to Awaken a Sense of Wonder and Intentional Discovery

Reflect on the art in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). "Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier" (CCC, no. 2502).

Look and Receive Without Judgment

1. Close your eyes. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to receive the insights offered through the artwork.

2. Open your eyes and scan the image. Note your first reactions to the artwork. Simply identify what you see and feel without assigning meaning at this point.

  • Who or what is depicted in the work?
  • Which colors are included in the art?
  • What art medium is used (e.g., fresco, sculpture, oil painting)?


3. Close your eyes again. Reopen them and look at the image again, asking deeper questions.

  • How is God represented in the art?
  • How are people depicted?
  • What do I feel as I look at the piece?
  • How or where was it used to convey the truth and beauty of the faith?
  • Why might the original artwork have been created?
  • Is there an image or element in the work that keeps drawing my attention? If yes, what?
  • Does this work remind me of a Scripture passage, Catholic teaching, hymn, or other aspect of faith? If yes, what?


4. Seek out further information related to your responses to the "wonder" reflections.

  • Use primary sources such as the CCC, Sacred Scripture, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, and the National Directory for Catechesis.
  • Record what you find.
  • Review your findings. Note common themes or any questions or insights that emerge.


5. Describe in your own way what you discovered about Christ and the gift of faith through this process. For example, write a two- or three-sentence summary of your insights or draw an image that captures your learning.

6. How might you incorporate this insight into your daily life? Into your service as a catechist?

Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.

Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpts from Pope John Paul II, Duodecimum Saeculum, copyright © 1987, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV); Letter to Artists, copyright © 1999, LEV. Used with permission. All rights reserved.