Catechist Corner

It's all about sharing the faith.

Storytelling and a Stiff-Necked People

Day 55.  I have been following my Bible and Catechism in a Year reading plan, which I mentioned in a prior post,  for 55 days now.  As of today, I am through Genesis and Exodus, through Psalm 57 and through the Gospel According to Matthew.  I’m also through Paragraph 440 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

There is so much to gleam from these two inspired works and so many observations and lessons to learn from them as well.  Two things that have struck me so far as I read the scriptures in a focused way.  The first is the use of parables by Jesus as a means of teaching.  While the use of this method of teaching by Him is not new knowledge for me, reading these parables consecutively like this brings a new perspective as a catechist.  It is so easy for me to “teach” something, but seeing Jesus use them in context like this reminds me of a saying that fellow blogger Joe Paprocki of Catechist’s Journey often quotes from St. Ignatius of Loyola, “entering through their door but leaving through your door”.  This is exactly what Jesus does with these parables.  He frames it in a way that his disciples can relate with, but uses that to bring his lesson out.  It’s very easy to fall back to catechizing from our viewpoint without remembering to catechize from their viewpoint so it has more meaning.

The second observation is from my readings in the Old Testament.  Both the LORD and Moses use the term “stiff-necked people” when referring the people of Israel.  As I’ve been reading, my initial impression is that these people just don’t get it.  Why are they so dense?  I mean, God just smote the first born of an entire nation for them, split a sea in half and fed them out of no where and they are just a bunch of spoiled brats!!  Then it hit me.  We are a “stiff-necked people” too in our day.  In fact, I myself am a “stiff-necked people”, if I am honest with myself.  How many times have I turned my back on God, whether a little of a lot?  Whether I’m choosing to do something else over prayer, or deciding to do something other that what my conscience is telling me to do, I have many time done something contrary to what God wants me to do, even in the face of all the reminders of His will for me.  This makes me just as much a “stiff-necked people” as the decedents of Israel in the Book of Exodus.  We are all sinners and stiff-necked in our own way.  And just how many times did Jesus imply the same thing in Gospel I just finished reading?  This ends up being a good reminder for me for the next time I end up at that crossroads (which should be any minute now).

Deciding to undergo this activity is turning out to be a great method of spiritual growth for me.  I am starting to appreciate scripture so much more by doing this.  I do find myself challenged in relating to the Psalms very well at this point of my readings, however.  I have a tendency to be literal when I read and I’m just not in the middle of a physical war or a battle where I can relate to the psalmist’s plight.  I recognize that I am in a spiritual sense, but I still have trouble relating to many of them.  I’ll have to pray on that point.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith.

Penance and Detachment

penance-Fr.-Lawrence-Lew-OP-flickrCC-1110872_200x200[1]Our fallen nature leads us to pleasurable things.  As we see throughout history, whether salvation history or world history, in many cases it is about the “us”, not the “them” or the “Him”.  As a catechist, it is difficult to explain and “get through” the benefit and value of penance to young people.  No one likes to suffer and young people cannot rationalize the need or benefits of offering penance.  Some not-so-young people have that same challenge.

In its most basic form, penance is a way of making up for a wrong done.  In a Catholic sense, it’s a way of making up for a wrong or offense done to God.  The three most common forms of penance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Prayer forces us to stop and prioritize God above all else.  It acknowledges that God is greater than us and by raising our hearts and minds to Him, we endeavor to grow closer to Him.  Fasting is the forgoing of something we find desirable.  Normally food, but it really can be most anything.  This causes suffering, whether an actual physical hunger for food or the fighting of another desire that we have chosen to set aside.  Need I say that suffering is not “fun” and can easily get a frown (and much more negative responses) from students?  Almsgiving is doing for others, generally for the glory of God and to please Him.  Most commonly viewed as helping the poor by providing money or goods, it can actually also be much more.  Giving alms includes giving of your time through volunteering or by helping a neighbor, giving of yourself to others in need, including emotional need, spiritual need, etc.  This means you have to forgo something to offer the other person.  Again, this can produce a form of suffering by not being able to use the thing being given or the time being offered for something else that might be more pleasurable.

However, the wisdom of penance is much greater than the obvious products of our efforts noted above, as is the case with all suffering.  A practice of penance and suffering can lead to detachment.  As you focus on these acts of penance, over time you begin to place less importance on the things you are giving up and even the pleasure they might otherwise bring you.  You begin to refocus your life through this detachment of earthly “things” and begin to focus on God and love for Him.

This is what Lent is all about.  Taking 40 days “in the desert” to refocus our lives back on God — to acknowledge where we have gone astray, with contrition ask for forgiveness and make up for our sinfulness.  By refocusing back on God, we should expect to take what we’ve learned and changed during Lent and do it for the rest of the year and the rest of our lives.

As catechists, we must bring these principles back to the forefront of our students’ lives.  While we can plant the seeds, the students must make the changes themselves, preferably with the guidance and support of their families.  We, however, should be tools to help them better understand the importance and value of these traditions that, through the Wisdom of God, the Church has charged all the faithful to follow.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!


(Jonathan Sullivan has invited Catholic bloggers everywhere to write on a common theme today — penance — as part of the first Catholic Blog Day.  Please visit the Catholic Blog Day site to find other great posts from a variety of Catholic bloggers.)

HELLO-O-o-o? ECHO-O-o-o!

Is anyone out there?  It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog, so everyone that has stopped looking has rightfully done so and those that are still here have shown great hope.  I would especially like to thank reader Christian LeBlanc for giving me a much needed kick in the pants to get me to post again.  To be perfectly honest, I haven’t felt inspiration to post lately.  I don’t know if that is because my life has gone into overdrive, if it’s because I have a particularly challenging class this year, if it’s because the content of what we’ve chose to cover in our program seems to completely go over the students’ heads or if it’s something else altogether.

Last time, I mentioned that I was trying to begin a Youth Ministry group in our parish.  That has really taken up quite a bit of time.  The original core group of adults had a very different view of youth ministry than I did.  That being said, I tried to be accommodating because if it’s one thing I learned over the years, it’s that I do not have all the answers.  Well, the two other adults decided to leave the program and that left me having to do everything.  The good news is that I get to structure the group in a way I think best balances faith and social activities; the bad news is that it is all me at this point, which I think limits how much we can do.  I’m praying and asking for more help, but we’ll see what happens there.

As I mentioned, Religious Education is pretty challenging this year.  I have a group of 9th graders, and about a third of the class is made up of members of a local high school’s freshmen football team.  Additionally, two thirds of the class are boys that know and feed off of each other.  Discipline is a challenge and they seem so disconnected from their faith that they just don’t get the curriculum from this year.  I’m going to talk to my CRE about the possibility of changing the content for next year.  While I love the idea of going through the Mass in detail, there are some basic things these students seem to be missing, which significantly limits how much they can get out of the material.  Can you say “blank stares”?

Anyway, I’ve recieved some great feedback over the last few years on my blog and encouragement to keep it up.  I’ve also gotten a lot out of posting and reading the comments some of my readers leave, so I’m not ready to give this up.  I truly hope to have more content to offer going forward, but I also recognize that I’ve said that before and have then fallen off the face of the blogosphere.  I ask for your patience and forgiveness as I try to get back in a routine that will allow me to share with all of you again.

Until next time (which I hope will be much sooner than last time), keep sharing the faith.

Blogfading Woes

I can’t believe it!  I blogfaded.  I actually blogfaded.  I never thought that would happen and as I write this, I wonder if anyone will be left to read it.

Real life.  It’s an unpredictable thing.  Things pop up that you don’t expect.  Your free time begins to dry up.  You put things on the back burner.  You get busier and those things never get moved back to the front.

That’s sort of what happened to me.  Family life got hectic.  Projects at work went into a ridiculous level of overdrive.  Religious Education continued at a steady pace but still required a good amount of prep time.  And then there is Youth Ministry.

Yep, that’s right, Youth Ministry.  I am helping start up a youth ministry at our parish.  I don’t think I could have ever anticipated how much work would need to go into building a youth ministry from the ground up — training, idea generation, comprehensive structure, volunteer needs, budgeting (or lack thereof), activity coordination, marketing, dealing with varied opinions on what this ministry should look like, coordinating with other parish ministries — I’m sure I left something out.

I have not given up on blogging.  It is a great vehicle to share my joys and let out my frustration.  I have to rejigger my time and figure it all out, but I definitely want to get blogging its due time.  If you are still reading here, please stay tuned and activitry should kick back in at some regular intervals soon.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!

Catechizing a Digital Generation

I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop sponsored by the Archdiocese of Boston’s Office of Religious Education yesterday focused on reaching our youth using media.  As you know, not only do I blog here but I am also an administrator for my parish’s Facebook page, so using these tools more effectively was of particular interest to me.  The workshop was lead by Sr. Helena Burns, FSP (Blog: Hell Burns, Twitter: @SrHelenaBurns) and Sr. Anne Flanagan, FSP (Blog: Nun Blog, Twitter: @nunblogger) of the Daughters of St. Paul.  They did a wonderful job of educating us on the importance of using new media if we hope to effectively reach our youth (and even some adults) today.  This seemed so appropriate considering Bishop Herzog’s comments around social media at this week’s USCCB Fall General Assembly.

There was a lot of good information offered throughout the day, with much of the focus being around media literacy.  The overreaching message that I got from the workshop was that this form of communication is not a fad.  Whether you “love” it, “hate” it or have a “love/hate” relationship with it, is here to stay and we must embrace it.  Also, this means of communication is a game changer.  It is interactive.  It must respect open communication.  Everyone wants to have a say and if you make it one directional, you will have very little, if any impact on the world.

This seems very different from how we traditionally think of communication from the Church.  The Church preaches from the ambo, it teaches the Truth as given to us by Jesus Christ and as revealed by the Holy Spirit.  This stuff isn’t up for discussion, is it?  Unbeknownst to most, the Church’s official position on its presence within the world of media is to be an active listener, not simply and authoritative teacher.  This is contradictory of the perception, but that position places the Church in a good position to participate effectively in the use of these tools.  It listens and responds with the Truth.

I think many would comment that the Church has been slow to embrace some of the tools available in the new media space, but through the leadership of the Venerable Pope John Paul II and the current leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, the Church is making great strides.  This must continue through the embracing of these technologies at the parish level.  As was made clear at the workshop, to be effective, the use of these tools must allow the opportunity for dialogue.  Pastors and catechist must listen first and teach as a follow up to that listening.  I don’t think the average parishioner is used to that, nor are many of the pastors and catechists out there; but I think our youth are definitely ready to engage us with the hope of learning and better understanding.  We need to engage them in a way that shows that we respect them, their concerns and their methods of communicating and learning.  Bishop Herzog said in his comments, “If the church is not on their mobile device, it doesn’t exist.”  We don’t have to change the message, only how we deliver it.  We must go to them, not expect them to come to us.

Thank you Sr. Helena and Sr. Anne for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us!  I, for one, have been given a deeper understanding of the importance of using these tools effectively.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!