Catechist Corner

It's all about sharing the faith.

The Spirit and the Bride

I wanted to offer one brief follow up on my previous post titled “Come!”  The retreat started out with a YouTube video for Matt Maher’s new song, “The Spirit and the Bride”.  I had not heard this one before since I had not yet purchased his album, but it was so powerful to me and it was such a great way to start off the retreat around Advent that I wanted to post it here.  Enjoy!

 

 

Until next time, keep sharing the faith.

On fire!!

Have you ever had one of those nights where you look back and think, “wow” or a night that you wish you could repeat every week?  For me, last night was one of those nights.

When I arrived at Church for Religious Education, my CRE asked if I would be willing to merge my class with another because we had a catechist out.  I figured “why not” and agreed to teach both classes.  Historically, having students that normally part of my class has been hit or miss, but I was going to make the best of it nonetheless.  The first question I get is, “Do you give homework” and I start doing a victory dance in my head.  I tell the student to ask my students that question and the standard response of “only if we don’t cooperate” puts them all in the palm of my hand.  The expectation is set and I see things looking up.  I probably shouldn’t be too joyful about using homework as a threat, but it makes things so much easier when we all understand each other.

We start class with a prayer, Come Holy Spirit, which was not only topical, but I’m convinced that prayer was answered last night.  Then my students ask if we can do the Three J’s.  For those that are not familiar with the Three J’s, it’s something that I picked up from In Between Sundays, a podcast that I frequently listen to.  It consists of sharing your Junk, Joy and Jesus Moment for the past week.  I had my students participate and made it optional for my guests.  I think my guest students were more into it then my own students!  It was a huge success last night and ended up being a great ice breaker.

Our formal topics last night were focused around the activities of the Apostles after the Resurrection.  We discussed Jesus’ first appearance in the Upper Room.  We discussed Doubting Thomas.  We discussed Pentecost and the effect the Holy Spirit had on the Apostles.  I spent time focusing on the before and after of the Apostles’ behavior, including the effects of some of the gifts they received on Pentecost.  Additionally, we discussed how we (and they) knew the Holy Spirit had arrived, namely wind and fire.

After spending some time on Pentecost, we moved on to the missionary activities of the early Church leaders.  We reviewed how they traveled and thier ministries in obedience to the command of Jesus to make disciples of all nations.  We also connected this to Pentecost by discussing how those gifts they received from the Holy Spirit helped them be successful.  We spoke about the Conversion of St. Paul, and how appropriate since yesterday was the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  We also discussed why we call St. Paul an Apostle even thought he was not a follower of Jesus during his earthly ministry.  To help drive that story home, I finished the segment by showing them an artist’s representation of that conversion moment on the road to Damascus.

We discussed what martyrdom was and why the Church believes that martyrs have a special place in heaven.  We spoke about the martyrdom of St. Peter and why he was crucified upside down.  Once again, I showed them an artist’s representation of his martyrdom to help drive that story home.

I ended the class by handing out the lyrics to “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister and played the song.  After listening to it, we discussed the lyrics and what the artist was trying to say through his song.  The references to the Holy Spirit and being sent on a mission are so strong in that song that I love tying it to this lesson.

I left class last night feeling like I myself was on fire!  Not only that, but my students, and I mean all of my students last night seemed fired up as well.  I can’t beleive how much I was able to cover in one hour; and to be honest, I felt like I actually got through to them as opposed to being rushed and lost.  I’m sure it was with a little help from above.  I truly hope that the Holy Spirit can come and kindle in us the fire of His love every week!!

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!

Fighting “The Real World”?

As a Catechist, one of the biggest currents that you swim against is the students feeling that what you’re teaching isn’t really practical in today’s day and age.  Leave it to the real world to get in the way.  It got in Jesus’s way, in the Apostles’ way and in many Saints’ way, so why should I be any different when doing their work?

I wanted to come up with a way to connect what some viewed as that “religion thing” with “real life”.  After some serious contemplation, I remembered a song that I heard on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series once.  Yes, I’m a fan of the show and think that Joss Whedon is very clever in his fictional universe, but I digress.

I remembered that on one of the episodes they used a song that was sung by Sarah McLachlan.  The song was “Prayer of Saint Francis”.  I recognized the words instantly when I heard them and was surprised to learn that the artist was a mainstream artist.  An idea began to form.

Music is a great way to worship God, and many mainstream artists have recorded songs with a religious theme or lesson.  Being able to connect what is taught in class to something in the “real world” was a great way to offer some current day relevance to it, and showing that these mainstream artists have a religious or spiritual side to them offers credibility to the material in the students’ minds.

I began to search for songs that fit the bill and found a few.  I know there are more out there and I continue to search, but here are some that I have found thus far:

Prayer of Saint Francis by Sarah McLachlan
Jesus Christ by U2
Jesus, Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood
Have a talk with God by Stevie Wonder
Kyrie by Mr. Mister

Some are older and less known to the kids today, but I hand out the lyrics as I play the song in class.  This allows the students to follow along and gives us an opportunity to discuss the message, connecting it to Catechesis.

Do you know of other songs that I should consider?  Do you use other methods that give practicality to your lessons?  How do you fight “the real world” sentiment?

Lessons Learned

This past year was my first year teaching 6th graders in a new parish with a new book as a guide for content and curriculum. While there are always ways to improve anything that one does, this Trifecta of Newness opens up a lot of opportunities for improvement.  Considering one of my top goals is to have my students “want” to come back the following week, improvement all along the way is vital so here are some of the more important things I learned:

Don’t Rely Too Heavily on the Textbook

In our parish, we generally don’t allow our students to take their books home.  I guess there is history of the books never finding their way back to class.  This proved to be a challenge for me last year since there was no easy way for the students to prepare for class.  I ended up spending way too much class time reading through the chapter of the day.  My sense is that doing that caused many students to lose interest and retention of the material took a dive.  Next year, I will do more selective class reading and will otherwise summarize the relevant points.  Doing that will allow more time for discussion of the material, and hopefully better retention.

Supplement with Other Topics

The 6th grade curriculum is sort of like bible study.  It ties Old Testament readings to the New Testament as well as to Sacred Tradition.  However, it lacks strong coverage of Catholic Doctrine, what I would view as the basics.  Now, most people would have an expectation that by this grade most of the basics would have already been learned, but I discovered that there was a lot of inconsistency between what the students remembered.  Therefore, I’ve decided, in conjunction with the point above, to supplement the topics covered in the text with a review of some of the basics of the Catholic faith.  We can’t have my students walking around not knowing the Ten Commandments, now can we?

Tweens are Not Kids But are Not Teenagers Either

Middle school students are at a particularly interesting age.  Talking to a 2nd grader about confession and communion is pretty straight forward and primarily factual in nature.  Talking to an older teenager about some of the faith challenges they face offers more of a dialog.  For “tweens”, they don’t want to be treated like children yet they do not reason quite the same way as a teenager.  I suspect middle school teachers have this down, but for me, finding the right communication balance was a fun challenge for me this past year.  I’m by know means an expert, so next year will offer more tweaking on delivering the content and sharing the faith.

U2 sings “Jesus Christ

I noticed shortly before Christmas break that I needed to do something to liven up the class a bit.  After some contemplation, I thought I’d do something that could fight the “religion is not cool” sentiment that I recognized was there at the same time.  I decided that the best way to kill two birds with one stone was to look for Christian-themed songs sung by mainstream artists that my students might know.  Around every two weeks, I’d bring in my iPod and speakers and play a different song by an artist my students would recognize that I also thought could teach a lesson.  Imagine the look on their faces when they heard Bono singing about Jesus!!  While I need to build up my library a bit, this is definitely something that I will keep doing.  It was a big hit, and by handing out the lyrics to songs at the same, it helped discuss what the song was trying to say.

All Parents Are Not Created Equal

I think I’m going to do a separate post that focuses on this particular lesson, so stay tuned. 

 

While there were more things I learned throughout the year, these are probably the big ones, and I’m sure there will be many more.  I’m always looking for new and creative ways to liven up the class while spreading the faith, so if you have any ideas on doing that, please leave me a comment.

God bless!