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.)

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.

Back to School

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.comBackpack – Check!

Notebook – Check!

Pens and Pencils – Check!

Loose Leaf Paper – Check!

Pocket Folder – Check!

Brain – Question_Mark

As you know, I’m going to be working towards my diocesan Catechist Certification over the next few months and my first course starts next week.  As you can see, I’ve got all my school supplies ready.  Unfortunately, they are all going to sit in the closet unused.  Why?  Because for the first time ever, I’m going to be taking an online course and, aside from the books I have to read, I’m going to do this “paperless”.

Starting tonight at midnight, the mystery will be revealed to me.  When I wake up tomorrow, I will have access to the course materials and the course will start the following day.  I’ve known this was coming for quite a while, but somehow I don’t feel ready.  I’m not sure if it’s because it is Summer and it feels like “slow down” time or if it’s because it has been eight years since I’ve been a student in a class, but I’ve becoming somewhat apprehensive about it.

As I reflect on this, it hits me.  This is the exact same feeling I felt when I was trying to decide whether or not to help our parish out by becoming a Catechist.  Apprehension.  Insecurity.  A feeling that maybe I’ve made a mistake and this is just not for me.

This made me recall a homily given by a new priest, Fr. Hugh Macsherry, OFM at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Boston last Wednesday.  During that homily, he spoke about discernment.  It wasn’t just about the traditional discernment of a vocation, but about discernment of what we are called to do in all parts of life and at all points in life.  A big part of discernment is trust.

You’d think that by now I’d have this figured out.  It is time to put aside my doubt once again and begin to trust.  I need to trust that the Holy Spirit is calling me to further my faith so that I can help further others’.  Maybe it’s time to put a check next to “Brain” too?  I think I’ll keep that school supply with me though.  I’m pretty sure that I’ll need that one.

I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted on my progress.

*”Back to School” clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

6 + 6 = Awkward

ShockedI’d like to think that I’m ready for anything when it comes to my class.  I prepare pretty well for what I’m going to cover.  I know the material and if all else fails, I have my own Catholic upbringing and understanding to fall back on.  So with this prideful comfort, the occasional dose of humility is not a bad thing.

The day we reviewed the Ten Commandments and tied them to the Greatest Commandments given to us by Jesus, I thought I’d take the opportunity to also review an Examination of Conscience based on the Ten Commandments.  The reason I chose to do this was to expand their understanding from the very literal view they had of them.

I began to explain to them that each Commandment was thematic in nature and besides the obvious literal meaning, they each had implied meanings as well.  We went through each Commandment and I offered them an expanded view of it.  This generated questions like:

“You mean if I miss Mass on Sunday because I my parents go too early and I want to sleep, that’s against the First Commandment?”  If you choose to not go to any Mass, not the one on Saturday night, nor one at a different time on Sunday, they you would be violating both the First and Third Commandments, the First for making sleep more important then God and the Third for missing Mass.

“Why does not listening to teachers break the Fourth Commandment?  They aren’t my parents.”  The Forth Commandment speaks of people with authority over you.  Beyond your parents, that can include people like your grandparents or other family members, your teachers, Father here at the Church, police officers and your boss when you get older, among others.  They are all an extension of your parents, so to speak, and deserve your respect.  Remember that the next time you decide not to behave in this class.  ;)

“Com’on!!  Being lazy is a sin??”   By being lazy, you are taking time away from more important things that you should be doing.  Therefore, being lazy is like stealing; but instead of stealing a physical item, you are stealing time.  There is a time for resting, when all is done; but being lazy is choosing to rest or waste time instead of doing other more important things that you are responsible for.

“What is adultery?”  The Sixth Commandment talks about being faithful to your spouse or your station in life.  (A girl raises her hand so I assume there is a question and I call on her.)  “You know, the sex sins are the hardest to resist.”  Um…Uh…Um…

Never in a million years would I have expected that statement to come up in a sixth grade religion class.  It took me completely by surprise and for the first time, I had nothing to say.  It was somewhat awkward and I think I squeezed out a “Yes, they can be” and moved on.  While I’m sure I responded quickly, it felt like an eternity as I scrambled to come up with a response.  Her statement was no where in my lexicon when I was in 6th grade and I was stunned at the fact that 6th graders could be concerned about this.  I felt like an ostrich with his head in the sand, completely unaware of what was really going on around me and my response made me feel like I was hiding from it.

Upon reflection, I know the Holy Spirit offered me a little dose of humility at that moment, however I can’t help but feel that I missed an opportunity with the class there.  This is clearly something that is on their minds and at least one student felt comfortable enough to voice it in my class.  But, where do you draw the line?  I can just imagine parents’ reactions to students saying, “You’ll never guess what we talked about in religion class tonight!”

Has anyone else had to deal with this, maybe at a slightly older grade level?  How do you cover this material?  Where do you draw the line?  What is appropriate to say and what is better directed elsewhere?

Nonetheless, Catechists should be forewarned!  Covering the Sixth Commandment in a 6th Grade class can lead to an awkward moment.  For me, 6 + 6 does equal “Awkward”!