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.

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