“You taught me that being Catholic can be fun.” Veteran catechist and retired TV sportscaster Gary Montgomery nearly fell to the floor when he read that line in a note he once received from an eighth-grade student of his in religious education class, Ryan Riggs. Up to that point, Ryan had never said a word to Gary during all their months in class together. Then, immediately after the students’ confirmation Mass, Ryan approached Gary and handed him the note. It continued, “I always looked at being Catholic as being boring, but now it looks fun. It was awesome to have the energy in the room every day. Thanks again for a great experience.”
Gary realized that others might benefit from the approach he brought to his classroom, so he has now put his insights and experiences in a book titled “It’s Fun to Be Catholic!”
During an interview with me on “Christopher Closeup,” Gary recalled that when he started teaching religion to eighth graders, he used the skills he’d honed as a broadcaster in Louisville, Kentucky: specifically, three leadership skills that were also modeled by Jesus: 1) Ask questions, 2) Listen and Learn, and 3) Contribute to their lives.
Gary notes, “Once you start to learn about people, you can contribute to them. When we can contribute to them, we start to make them feel better about who they are. Jesus did it. He was powerful with questions…We have to help [kids and teens] see the value in a relationship with Jesus Christ…I never expected to transform them and have lightning bolts come down in the classroom, but I wanted to be a foundation, so when something happens in their lives where they have to go find Christ, they’ve got an idea of where to go.”
Gary’s commitment to asking questions stems from his relationship with his own father, a part of his life he openly shares with his students and with adults at church mission talks: “I wish I’d asked my Dad more questions. My father was brought up in an orphanage, but he didn’t want to talk about it. If I’d worked at it, I could’ve gotten more out of him, and I would’ve learned more about him. My father didn’t do a lot of things with me, but there was a reason. He didn’t know how, and he didn’t know how to love. We could start to experience that love…through a relationship. Relations always start with questions.”
In the end, Gary believes his mission coincides with The Christophers’ philosophy of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. He concludes, “Getting rid of the darkness, the doubt in our lives, is so valuable. The name of [the missions I hold] is ‘Christ is the Light.’ We have a Wednesday morning gathering of men, and our goal is to become men of Christ, to take the light outside the room and share it. It’s a simple process of being the light for someone, listening to someone, sharing Jesus Christ and that love. It is so powerful, so energetic, and it’s so inviting…I wish I had put the light into my father sooner in life. On his deathbed, Dad said, ‘Gary, I wish we’d gone fishing more often.’ I don’t even like fishing, Tony. But he’s saying, ‘I wish we’d have been together more.’ I could’ve pushed that. I could’ve lit that candle and given it to my father. I didn’t do it. I’m trying to do it now.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note FINDING CHRIST IN COMMUNITY, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: [email protected]
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