Monday, February 25, 2013

Not your average catechist

Why is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) so awesome?  Two reasons: it respects the intelligence of the child and the catechists are awesome (I'm not tooting my own horn.  Really.)

I'll start by highlight a "problem" with regular religious education programs in parishes.  Most programs rely on volunteers who in the goodness of their hearts offer their time to the children of the parish - this is NOT the problem.  The problem comes down to training and the books.  A lot of the people I know who teach religious education have had the moment where they think, "What the heck am I doing?"  This is the problem.

When I was younger - long before a theology degree - I volunteered to be a catechist at my parish.  I was excited about my faith, but I didn't always know how to convey it to the 8th graders in my care.  Worse yet, I didn't even have a text to work from.  I was told to discuss topics which I was not informed of until the moment I arrived.  On top of this scary scenario, the Director offered no help.  I don't doubt the power of the Holy Spirit to swoop in a fill in all the many gaps, but this was a recipe for disaster.  I managed to flounder through the first part of the year and then I "resigned".  I felt the kids deserved better.  Looking back with the benefit of experience and education, it was a huge mistake that I was even placed with that class.  A significant background check was run on my non-existant criminal history, but there wasn't a background check on my theological and religious knowledge or my ability to teach.

Don't even get me started on the "textbooks" that are out there.  My biggest beef with the textbooks is that the writers don't respect the intelligence of the child and the faith is watered down.  And, this is why CGS will trump textbook religious education classes everyday of the week.  CGS respects the fact that kids, especially little kids, are sponges.  They delight in learning the proper names for the articles of the Mass or learning a song in Latin.  Furthermore, CGS actually fosters religious experience - communing with God - that a classroom setting can rarely create.

CGS catechists are often volunteers, but they have to make the commitment to complete training.  Each catechist goes through intensive training that is approved by The National of the Association Catechesis of the Good Shepherd USA.  The training is either a 2 week intensive format or a weekend format meeting several times in a year.  Level I training (3-6 year olds) focuses on the most essential elements of the faith: the Mass, the Infancy Narratives, Baptism, several parables of Christ, the Good Shepherd, some of the Old Testament prophecies about Christ, and laying the foundation for the moral life.  Each catechist then creates an album page (lesson plan) for each presentation (lesson) and creates an album (lesson book).  Essentially, each catechist writes her own book that is used to teach the children.  The process of writing each album page helps the catechist to internalize the teaching.  

It is a huge undertaking for a parish to being CGS, but it is definitely worth the effort.  I have written before that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) would start a revolution in the Church. I am part of what I like to call the "Rainbow and Sunshine Jesus" generation. American Catholics, of a certain age, were not taught the foundational theology and dogmas of Christ and His Church, rather we got a watered down, feel good, hippy-dippy catechism that had no substance to make us crave Christ and no backbone to support us when life got hard. An entire Catholic generation was lost under the banner of "experimentation".

The Church doesn't need any more experiments; it needs children who know the Good Shepherd.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday 2013

If you've ever gone to Mass on Ash Wednesday, then you have probably caught the incongruity of the readings with our actions at Mass.  Jesus tells us to wash our faces and not look glum in Matthew 6:17-18.  And what do we do as soon as the homily is over?  Smear a cross of ashes on our foreheads!  Why the heck do we do that?

At Mass today my pastor shared a good explanation, but I had a squirrely three year old with me so I can only share the gist of what he said:
The ashes are an outward sign of my sinful ways.  The ashes represent the parts of my soul that have been scourged due to sin and/or neglect.  The ashes represent the areas that need the life-giving waters of Christ.

Whatever I give up or take up this Lent should help me to grow and to tend to the ash-like parts of my soul.  For instance, I'm horrible, and I mean horrible, at fasting.  I'm a great big baby when it comes to fasting - and the Church doesn't ask us to do it very much.  I wind up being miserable just like the gloomy hypocrites that Jesus talk about (yikes!)  For years I have flirted with trying to "improve" my fasting.  Guess what?  Flirting with fasting is not fasting.  So, this year one of the things I'm going to focus on is fasting because I like food way too much; it is a crutch for me.  Prayer should be my crutch.

If you're still trying to figure out what you're going to do for Lent, allow me to suggest Fr. Jonathan Morris' Lent Challenge 2013.  He lays out a great plan that helps to think through the areas of mind, body, and soul.  Because Lent isn't about denying ourselves for the sake of denying, it's about growing closer to our Lord and Savior.

I pray you have a good Lent.  Remember, ashes are excellent fertilizer.  I pray that on Easter morning you find grass growing in your soul where once there were ashes.

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's not April Fool's Day

Pope Benedict XVI is resigning.

If you told me this in about two months, then I would laugh and say, "Very funny, Happy April Fool's Day."  Today is not April Fool's Day.  It's a Monday in February.

There are a ton of questions to be asked and answered in the next few weeks.  All the i's will be dotted and t's crossed, but the most important thing for Catholics to do right now is pray.

Pray for Benedict XVI - for his health, peace of mind, thanksgiving for his service.  Pray for the Catholic Church - for a smooth transition of the papacy, for unity among all Catholics, and for a renewal of faith for everyone.

The Holy Spirit has promised never to abandon the Church.  Hold this promise close to your heart and pray to be the Spirit's conduit of grace to a broken world.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The silence of 25 children

Sunday was a success! The first meeting of the Atrium at St. Brigid's in Memphis was fantastic. We have a rather unusual set up because we have 3 Atrium sessions happening simultaneously. The ages range from 3-8 and if you know anything about children, then you know there's a huge difference between a 3 year old and an 8 year old. I wasn't sure how it was going to work, but we did our best to divide the children up by age, and the Holy Spirit took care of the rest.

The children were so attentive and quiet; they knew in their hearts that this special place was for them. We ended our time together at the prayer table and I reminded the children about how to sit quietly without fidgeting. It was beautiful! The children closed their eyes and sat in silence. Complete silence. No one moved, no coughed or sneezed, no giggles, just silence. We could hear the wind blowing outside, the tick-tick-ticking of the clock, the buzz of the fluorescent lights. I taught them two versions of the Alleluia. They were so joy-filled with smiles all around. One of my fellow catechists told me that her kids were singing Alleluia for the rest of the day.

It was so wonderful to be in an Atrium again. I have 5 and 6 year olds and they learn things a lot faster than 3 year olds - I used to work in a 3 year old Atrium. I have spent the last week furiously reviewing and editing my "album pages" (lesson plans) and planning out the coming weeks for my class. I can't wait for Sunday to get here.