Catechist Corner

It's all about 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.)

In a Year

First, let me wish all of my readers a Happy and Blessed New Year!  I hope you have much joy throughout 2012.

As I look forward to the new year, I have been trying to set some goals for myself.  One thing I’ve been considering doing for some time now is to read the Bible completely.  It can easily be a daunting task when you look at the thickness of the book itself, but there is no doubt as to the value one can obtain from reading all of salvation history in Holy Scripture.

As I’ve considered how to best tackle the undertaking, I’ve come across a number of suggestions on how to read through the Bible.  The approach I’ve settled on is to read the Bible in one year.  Many of the one year plans I’ve seen are based on the Protestant Bible, but I did come across a document from an organization called The Coming Home Network International.  They have a plan to not only read the Bible in a year, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well.

I’ve taken their plan schedule and also built it into a spreadsheet format that allows me to keep track of my progress right on my iPad as I use my Bible app and a CCC link right off of that device.  I can read my daily reading from anywhere, and if I miss a day along the way, it’s very easy to catch right back up.  For those interested in the plan, below are links to the original PDF as well as my spreadsheet versions. I would suggest that one always looks at the PDF first, even if they want to use the spreadsheets because the PDF contains some additional guidance where the spreadsheets are exclusively the listing of the daily readings.

Read the Bible and the Catechism in a Year
Original PDF Format
Excel Spreadsheet Format
Open Document Spreadsheet Format


I’m looking forward to my own personal growth as I read through the Bible fully, along with the Catechism and I know it will absolutely help in my catechetical ministries.  I hope it can be helpful to all of you as well.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith.

The First Catechism?

Have you ever heard of The Didache?  Until recently, I had not; but I came across this short treatise.  The Didache is an ancient document of the Church, which is more formally called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”.  It is a fairly brief writing that lists the do’s and don’ts for early Christians. Beyond that, it describes early Christian liturgical rituals like baptism and celebrating the Eucharist.

What struck my when reading this is that, at it’s core, Catholicism has not changed much.  Sure, we’ve explained things more clearly to show how they pertain to a particular time; but the principles are very similar.  I mean seriously, who would have thought that in the early second century (which is when this is believed to have been written), there was an explicit prohibition against abortion, or that one could not approach the Eucharist if they had not confessed their sins first.

I guess there is some truth in the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For those interested, there are a number of English translations for The Didache.  Below I will link one of them as well as the audio book:

The Didache at New Advent
The Didache Audio Book

The writing is very short but a great way to peer into our Church’s history.  While it may not be a catechism, per se, you can’t deny that it describes “the Way”.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!

6 + 6 = Q&A

Q&ASome of my readers may remember a post I made a few months ago called “6 + 6 = Awkward“.  Well, it’s that time of year where we review the Ten Commandments.  After some introductory reading, I chose to review each commandment in detail.  I asked for a volunteer to read the First Commandment aloud.  A boy raised his hand and I chose him to read.  The first words out of his mouth were, “What is adultery?”

I actually chuckled.  I forced patience on them because I told them there were five other commandments that we needed to review before we got to that one.  It’s very clear though, what was on their minds and that they already had an idea of what that commandment relates to.  To no surprise, they had questions, lots and lots of questions.

When we finally got to the Sixth Commandment, I explained it’s literal meaning as well as it’s broader meaning, just like I did with each commandment before it.  Then I let the questions begin:

– What does adultery mean?
– You have to be married?  Why?
– How about if it’s with your girlfriend?
– What if you live with your boyfriend?
– What if you love your boyfriend?
– What if it happens the day before you get married?
– Is being a homosexual a sin?
– What if someone has already done stuff?

I have to thank my students from last year for preparing me for this discussion.  Last year, I flew by this topic and avoided answering questions in any detail.  Not this year.  I felt like I missed a teaching opportunity the last time this happened and I did not want a repeat of that this year.  Oddly enough, I did not prepare for the discussion.  In fact, I completely forgot what had happened last year; but when the first question arose, I felt at perfect ease discussing it.

The Holy Spirit must have been guiding me last night because I had a “sex” discussion with these kids without skipping a beat.  I did everything possible to control the giggle-fest that ensued once the discussion began and I was successful in doing so.  Also, while talking about it, I wrote the word “Sex” on the board to dispel any sense of hesitation or shyness on my part.  My inclination was that by have a serious and open discussion about what the Church teaches regarding this topic, I had more of a chance of making an impact.

We focused on things like the importance of sex only happening within a marriage, why it is otherwise considered a mortal sin, what the natural purpose of the act is (i.e. love, commitment and procreation), why being with a boyfriend / girlfriend is not enough, etc.  We even discussed why being a homosexual, or more accurately having those tendencies, is not a sin in and of itself.  I focused on the fact that a person is not a sin, only acts are sins.  I did this to help distinguish between the dignity we all deserve as human beings and the sinfulness of acts that we may commit, irrelevant of any sexual tendencies.

All in all, the discussion went very well.  I made it a point to not let it digress and gave them the opportunity to ask some questions that were clearly on their minds.  My only regret was not having a little more time.  I know I left some questions unanswered and since next week is a unit review, I may leave a little extra time to answer any remaining questions.  I’d rather they ask me and come away with an accurate understanding of what we are called to believe then to have the questions remain without answers or with poor answers from others.  Of course, recognizing the controversial nature of the topic, I gave my CRE a heads up just in case any parents called in about it.  While my comments were perfectly in line with the teachings of the Church, that does not mean that some parent out there may not like what was discussed.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!

School Break

Sorry it’s been so long since you guys have heard from me.  I forgot just how much of a commitment taking a course requires; and if you think that because it’s an online course you can coast through it, don’t be fooled.  If you want to get the most out of an online course, you still need to commit just as much time to it. 

I have to admit that the whole structure of an online course took some getting used to.  It really does require a certain amount of self-direction and motivation that differs from a course with a physical classroom setting and an instructor.  The role of the facilitator for this type of course is to guide and provoke discussion more than it is to teach.  Most of the education comes from reading material, exercises, reflection and discussion with other students through the use of discussion boards.  Once I adjusted to the structure, I could appreciate this method of learning much more. 

As for the course itself, the “Catholic Beliefs” course at the VLCFF was great!!  It allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of many of the basic teachings of the Catholic Church, thereby helping further deepen my faith.  We focused on various topics including the purpose and true meaning of the Creed, and compared the three versions of the Creed used by the Church since its inception.  Did you know there were three Creeds?  We also learned what the true teaching of the Church is regarding Papal Infallibility, the difference between Church “Tradition” and “tradition”, the intent of the Second Vatican Council for the Universal Church and the importance of community in catechesis, especially as it relates to children.  I had definite misconceptions about some of these teachings and so did many of my classmates. 

A course like this can definitely be humbling.  Just when you think you know a lot about the teachings of the Church you realize that your knowledge may be superficial at best.  Most of what we know go so much deeper then we realize and has a much broader meaning then what is commonly known.  Do you really think about the words of the Nicene Creed when you recite it as Mass?  When you really focus on it and understand its deeper meaning, you begin to appreciate just how powerful this statement really is!! 

I have two weeks between courses.  Starting on August 30th, I begin the second course for my certification.  I’m looking forward to “Introduction to Catechesis” and I anticipate that I will be taking more courses beyond those required for my certification as time goes on.  There is so much to learn.