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.)


I saw Jesus the other night. I try to see Him in most places, but on Sunday night I saw Him very clearly in Jason Evert. If you are not familiar with Jason, he is a husband and a father. He has degrees in theology and counseling. But what is not on his resume is his ability to capture the attention of about 1,000 teenagers for over an hour without ever losing them.

On Sunday night, St. Patrick’s Parish in Stoneham, Mass. hosted Jason for a talk. They invited neighboring parishes and my CRE extended me a coveted seat. Jason’s topic was “Romance without Regret”. Yes, Jason is a chastity speaker. And my thoughts can be summed up in one word … WOW!

When Jason speaks, he weaves the message of chastity with a little comedy, some facts, some real-life examples and  some powerful, personal stories as well.  He touches on every aspect of love and human sexuality, in a clear yet loving way.  He presumes nothing, is not judgmental and recognizes that this is not a perfect world; so he addresses even the most difficult things that can and have happened to people, but in a gentle yet clear way.  He defines the difference between “love” and “lust” in a way a teen cannot only understand, but can directly relate to as well.

If you think that I’m being a little vague in my comments, that is intentional.  First, I cannot do his talk justice.  The power with which he delivered this message and the resulting energy in that church was amazing.  These are teens that often challenge what they hear from the church (which can be a good thing), but they got what Jason said.  They simply got it!  We’ve already gotten feedback from parents  on how their teens have reacted (positively) to what they heard!  Second, I don’t want to take away from what you can experience from hearing Jason’s talk.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “Carlos, how am I going to listen to Jason?”.  My response would be, “Virtually, of course!”  I highly encourage you to check out his website ( and his YouTube Channel (  Under the Chastity playlist, you can view one of his “Romance without Regret” talks (broken into 9 parts) as well as many others.  Better yet, get him to your parish or a parish near you.

Very inspiring, Jason!  Thank you!

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!

Ask Sister Mary Martha

I follow a number of Catholic blogs in the blogosphere. They range from priests to religious to laity and cover a number of topics from catechesis to living an everyday Catholic life. One of my absolute favorite Catholic bloggers is Sr. Mary Martha from “Ask Sister Mary Martha” where her tagline is “Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.” Sister is hilarious to say the least. Her online personality reminds me of the role of the nun in a performance of “Late Night Catechism” I saw a few years ago, and I mean that in a good way. Have I mentioned how hilarious she is yet?

Anyway, Sister usually answers reader-submitted questions on her blog. Last week, she answered a question from a catechist around the use of the left hand for making the sign of the cross. This post really got me thinking about the various traditions and devotions that exist in the Catholic Church. Our faith has so much to strengthen us as we progress through our faith journeys. I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten through high school and was constantly exposed to ways of expressing our faith, not only through prayer but through action as well. I can clearly remember learning the Hail Holy Queen in 3rd grade, learning how to pray the Rosary, walking the Stations of the Cross every Lent, attending First Friday Mass throughout the school year, learning how to follow along using a missalette (talk about confusing!) and having Benediction periodically. (Boy, I hated the smell of incense back then!!)

All of my students go to public school and therefore they get none of that exposure. For example, I was shocked to find out that none of my students had ever done the Stations of the Cross before!?! Many of these traditions are opportunities to better understand the meaning of our faith and to strengthen us spiritually. Additionally, they are beautiful, especially when you understand their history and meaning. I would love to be able to expose my students to these practices as tools to further their understanding of Catholic faith.

I have two challenges here. The first is time. How does one go about giving their students exposure to some of these traditions and devotions when one is limited to 1 hour a week with a full lesson’s worth of material to cover? The second challenge is the fact that while they are not exposed to this at school, most are not exposed to this at home either. Even if I could find the time to do at least a cursory review of some of these practices in class, there is very little expectation that it will stick without exposure to it outside of class.

I guess I have a whole summer to figure this out. Have any of you found successful ways of exposing your students to the beautiful devotions of the Church and its faithful (and making them stick)?

Until next time, keep sharing the faith!

Weekly Roundup x 2

The last two weeks have been crazy, to say the least. Religious Education classes are underway, I had my last session for my Introduction to Catechesis course last week, work has been busier then usual and home life has been action packed as well. So, I am once again behind in posting here on Catechist Corner and I will try to capture two weeks into one post.

As you may know, 6th grade Catechesis focuses on the Bible, mostly the Old Testament with ties to the New Testament to show how the old foretells and connects to the new. The first week’s lesson is about what the Bible is. The first reaction of my students, of course, is that it is a book. I like to point out that is is not a book, but a library of books and I explain why that is the case. I also like to ask how many students know if they have a Bible at home and where it is. I’m generally disappointed by the result of the informal poll. This year, two kids knew they had one but didn’t know where and one knew where his Children’s Bible was. To be honest, that was better then last year so I can take comfort that we are trending up.

We also review what the purpose of the Bible is as well as the different types of writing that can be found within the books of the Bible. I’m still amazed at how many different writing styles are utilized, but my students aren’t as excited about that as I am. Maybe it’s because it’s the first class and they are being cautious? Anyway, before class ended, I handed out a letter for my students to take home to their parents, the parent interview I spoke about last week and a small prayer sheet with some basic prayers they would need to learn if they didn’t know them already. Lastly, I showed the class one of my favorite videos about the Bible. It was a fun way to show the different things we would learn this year.

For week two, we started class reviewing the results of their interview. A couple of them forgot to bring it and one I think forgot to do it, but since I wasn’t collecting them, that was disappointing but incidental. We started with discussing if anything surprised them about their parents’ responses. Since shyness fell upon the class, I started going around and asking for responses to the specific questions. Most responses were straight forward, but I think it was a valuable exercise in getting the child and the parent talking about some faith topics. I think I will tweak how I do this next year, but the concept is a keeper and may even send another interview home later in the year … maybe around Lent?

This week’s topic was the Creation Stories. This is a good way to start because it is something that most of them are already familiar with. We discuss what happens in each story, how the stories differ, what the stories tell us about God and what our roles are as human beings in relation to the rest of creation. I love how this concept of stewardship ties into the one of the Church’s social teachings. Even at 6th grade, these teachings are relevant.

During class, we got into an off topic discussion on Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. I don’t remember how we got there, but there were a lot of questions around this topic, and I mean a lot:  “Who goes to heaven?” “What is Purgatory?” “Once you go to Hell, can you ever get out?” “How long do you have to spend in Purgatory?” “Do animals go to Heaven?” “What do you mean squirrels don’t go to Heaven?” “If I die with my dog, my dog doesn’t go to Heaven?” I’m expecting some hate mail from the animal responses, but we’ll see how it goes. That being said, it was a lively discussion and it gave me a sign. There is interest on their part and there are questions that they are looking to have answered. That means that there is hope in enhancing their faith forward this year if I go about it the right way.

Before class ended, I handed out rosary beads to all of my students in honor of October being the month of the Rosary and a small pamphlet on how to pray the Rosary. I’m hoping this may spark a devotion or two at home. I found out as I was leaving class, that a few of my students asked our Pastor to bless their new Rosary so I have hope that there is interest and that the seeds that I plant may bear fruit after all.

Until next time, keep sharing the faith.

Parental Guidance Suggested

We had our first Religious Education session this week for our 6th graders.  The evening started with a meeting for parents and students to review what the year has in store.  Our CRE reviewed our schedule, highlighting some new things we will be trying with them this year, including a retreat around the Ten Commandments.

The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, which gave us 30 minutes to meet with our students in the classrooms.  I went through some of my class rules — standard stuff like raising your hand and waiting to be called on, only one person speaks at a time and the importance of both respect & confidentiality in class.  I stress those last two because I want people to be able to open up in class without concern that they will get ridiculed or that it will get all over town.

I asked the two questions I always like to ask when first meeting my students:

  1. “Who’s here because they want to be?”
  2. “Who’s here because their parents made them come?”

As you can imagine, the majority were not there because they were excited about religion at 6:30 on a Monday night; and since most were there because of their parents, I’ve decided to try something new this year.  First, I’m sending a letter home with the students at the end of our first full class this coming Monday.  Among other things, the letter will stress the partnership that is essential between me and their parents for this education to be successful for their children.  One hour a week is not enough.  Faith has to be lived and the parents are an integral part of that education.  Understanding that different parents are at different points in their own faith journey, small steps seem to be in order.  Below is an except of my letter in the hopes that conversation can begin at home if it isn’t happening already.

“To be successful in this, I need your partnership and support.  In the spirit of the Parable of the Sower, I trust that the Holy Spirit will make your child’s heart fertile soil and I will help plant the seeds, but I need each of you to water and nurture those seeds so that they bear fruit.  To that extent, I encourage you to ask your child what they learned in class each week and to discuss it with them, even if just for a few minutes.  This will help reinforce that the formation of their faith is important to you too.”

Additionally, I will be asking my students to briefly interview a parent before the next class so that they can better understand why the faith is important to their parents and why their parents feel it is important to teach them about it.  The interview is not profound, but is intended to spark some conversation.  The 5 questions my students will ask their parents are:

  1. Why do you think it’s important to send me to religious education?
  2. What do you think is the most important thing I can learn through religious education?
  3. When you were learning about our faith, what was your favorite topic to learn about?
  4. What is your favorite prayer? Why?
  5. Who is your favorite Saint? Why?

We will discuss the responses briefly in class and I will ask if anything surprised them when interviewing their parents.  Let’s hope this goes well and I will update all of you in a couple of week when it’s complete.

I wanted to express my thanks to all of you for sticking with me through a slow summer.  I’m hoping to get back to my weekly posts now that classes are back in session.

Until next time, God bless and keep sharing the faith.