Tag Archives: children’s catechesis

“Let’s just stop catechising children”

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Joanne McPortland over at Patheos has been causing something of a stir… She is proposing that what is wrong with the parish formation set-up is that it has, for too long, been catechising the wrong people – children, not adults. It’s true that the Church attempted to make the shift from child-centred catechesis to adult-centred catechesis certainly since the General Directory for Catechesis (GDC 258 “Adult catechesis must be given top priority” is just one reference made to the paradigm-shift in this document), if not before that. But, on the whole, this ‘paradigm-shift’ has remained in the catechetical documents of the universal Church, and the national documents of the Bishops’ Conferences, and has not been translated into reality.

Why? I think one reason is that it is far easier to focus on children’s catechesis than adults’. There’s an institutional set-up in schools and sacramental preparation which means that children are captive audiences. Catechising adults is the Mount Everest we still have not conquered because it requires evangelising people first (exceedingly hard and slow work) in order to get them there. And, if we are parents, it is so much easier to focus on our children’s faith formation than our own.

But, we can’t deny that focussing on adults is the real deal; this is where it’s really at. The fact that it is so relentlessly difficult shows us that this is precisely where our efforts, energy and resources need to go.

I think to some extent Joanne is right. I would love to see the results of a parish stopping all their sacramental programmes one year and focussing all its energy into evangelising and catechising adults. I’m fascinated by a new approach in a parish in Wales. Here, the parish priest has announced that this year he will not, as they normally do, invite the archbishop to confirm candidates after a short course. Rather, young people of Confirmation age are being invited to undertake twelve months of learning discipleship – through mentoring, attending Mass and the sacraments, service, and prayer. What a courageous move, and one that I am sure the Lord will bless, since it seems faithful to his desire for us to be his disciples, not just sacramentalised, tribal Catholics.

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5 Quick Takes

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Woah… Not a peep from me for a while! Must be September! Seriously, the last week has been a struggle to stay afloat what with everything starting up and being pulled in millions of different directions. This is the time of year when you want to cut yourself into lots of little pieces in order to manage everything, and when you wonder whether you’re doing anything at all that well. But, there are things I love about September too. That beginning-of-the-year feeling when everything is new and fresh. I’m looking forward to all the children and teens starting their programmes 🙂

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To add to the mix, on Saturday, my sister got married! An extremely, extremely happy day all round. The parish said it was the most Catholic wedding they’d had all year. What really got me was the new translation of the Rite of Marriage, including the Nuptial Blessing before the Sign of Peace: here’s part of it here:

Father, you have made the union of man and wife so holy a mystery
that it symbolizes the marriage of Christ and his Church.

Father, by your plan man and woman are united,
and married life has been established
as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin
or washed away in the flood.
Look with love upon this woman, your daughter,
now joined to her husband in marriage.
She asks your blessing.
Give her the grace of love and peace.
May she always follow the example of the holy women
whose praises are sung in the scriptures.

May her husband put his trust in her
and recognize that she is his equal
and the heir with him to the life of grace.
May he always honor her and love her
as Christ loves his bride, the Church.

Wow – really amazing. The whole weekend has been incredibly moving, especially seeing in my own sister and her husband their powerful witness to the vocation to marriage.

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Right before I zipped home for the wedding rehearsal, we had our first parents’ meeting of the year. For the Year of Faith, we’ve planned a full programme for parents (one for primary-aged parents and one for secondary-aged). This one was for the first group, and I introduced the year by talking about what it means that parents are “first teachers” of their children. I showed a powerful clip from The Human Experience on the family, “the project of the human person”, which demonstrates beautifully the strong and intimate bond of the family, the context of our first and strongest experiences. We ended with a period of Adoration.

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This week, we begin our Come, Follow Me programme! I am excited 🙂 This is something I have been interested in and talking about for a long time. It is considered by Maryvale Institute to be the best children’s catechesis available. So we are trying it with our first group of children. They are preparing for First Communion. One downside of Year 1 of Come, Follow Me (for seven-year-olds) is that it does not cover Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Fortunately, these children will cover these sacraments this year in school. The Come, Follow Me sessions will be deeper catechesis, focussed more on interior life. Wonderful parishioners have helped out by creating the stand we needed, donating rugs, and cutting out figures and signs.

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Finally, unless you wanted to be bored to tears, don’t get me started on my dissertation. I am nearly at the point of beginning this final stage of my Masters, and last weekend I spent a weekend figuring out “what all I was gonna do” (as they’d say in Kansas). So: I am focussing on the four dimensions of the Christian life – discovering how heavily the Church references them in relation to catechesis – and investigating to what extent this concern of the Church has been received by catechetical scholars and programmes. I know I speak for myself when I say – this excites me! Not much research has been done into the importance of the four dimensions (or ‘integral’ catechesis) before. However, I understand if it doesn’t quite get you all sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation. Just trust me: this is catechetically important 🙂


Revolutionary Children’s Catechesis

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Now is the time to completely snap out of the mentality of catechesis being something we ‘have to get done’, like a sacramental programme. This incredible new programme of children’s catechesis shows how it’s done. People are often amazed that the catechesis we have in our parish is every week, all year round. But this is the model of this wonderful new catechesis for children. If only more parishes in the UK would adopt this model and catechesis became a normal thing for Catholic children to attend each week, like a ballet class.

However, this is by no means the main reason this catechesis is so excellent.

Each year in Come, Follow Me (so far for ages 7-11) builds on the previous year: it is wonderfully systematic. The catechesis follows the divine pedagogy very closely and it is beautiful to watch. I first watched a presentation of it in France where it originates from. The second time I saw a presentation was at Franciscan University in Steubenville, where Anne Marie Le Bourhis did the catechesis with young adults (pretending they were children). It is wonderful to watch; in fact, it evangelised me – it touched my heart and turned me towards God just from watching Anne Marie give the catechesis. It really left me with a deep desire to pray (which is surely what catechesis should do!) This is a catechesis given in an atmosphere which is prayerful and liturgical. It takes seriously the action of the Holy Spirit in the heart of each child, inspiring them with an understanding of the truth they are being taught. It is deeply scriptural, and quite profound… Just have a read through some of the sessions. Most importantly, this catechesis has had remarkable impact on children.

Anyone who is involved in children’s catechesis – I would warmly encourage you to come and see for yourself. There is a ‘discovery day’ on 31 March and training weekend for the full weekend at Maryvale Institute. See the website for more details.


Little Sparks

I popped into one of the catechesis groups yesterday evening. This is a great little group which wasn’t going to continue when our youth coordinator left, until some fantastic mums stepped in! Yesterday they were learning about angels.


The Ecclesial Method, Part 3

Having looked at the all-important preparation and proclamation (the heart of the catechesis), I want to now look at the third step:

Explanation

Just as our teaching follows God’s pedagogy (this is why the proclamation is like an announcement, because this is how God reveals and teaches in Scripture), our teaching also needs to show faithfulness to our human audience. We have to know our audience well – their culture, their mindset and attitudes, the things that preoccupy them – in order to present the teaching in such a way that they can receive it. Catechesis is not really ‘complete’ until it is received into the heart, until the person’s will moves to appropriate this teaching to their life, to make a change.

This puts a big responsibility on our skills as a catechist: we have to know God and the faith well; we also have to know people well, understand them, live their culture, know how to attract them or challenge them or console or encourage them.

John Paul II said:

“We need heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who know the depths of the human heart, who can share the joys and hopes, the agonies and distress of people today, but at the same time contemplatives who have fallen in love with God.”

What a huge call! If you are a catechist, you need to an expert in humanity, and not only that, a contemplative who has fallen in love with God.

How does this relate to the Explanation part of catechesis? This is when your “expertise in humanity” come in! We need to explain the teaching in such a way that it can be understood, received and applied to life. We not only need to understand the doctrine well so that we can explain it clearly (for example, do we really believe that the Fall was a historical event? or: how do I know which of my sins are mortal and which venial? or: what exactly are angels? or: how are we saved?). We also need to answer the question: What relevance does this teaching have to these people’s lives? How is this going to increase their faith, their hope or their love? What has this got to do with their relationship with Christ? We may be able to explain a doctrine beautifully, but these questions are often the important ones.

How do we do the Explanation step? For adults, this may be a short talk. In our RCIA classes, we break it down and don’t have any talks which last longer than 20 minutes. We know that teenagers have a short attention span, but on a weekday evening after a long day at work, adults too are tired, and I think it can help to break things up, and keep the elements of the session moving. Audio-visual aids are also extremely helpful. In the last two weeks, we have started using Fr Robert Barron’s excellent Catholicism series DVDs in our RCIA classes. You need to pick the right section, and we never show more than 15 minutes at a time, but I think this is a resource which will be indispensable within adult catechesis for years and years to come. (Thank you Word on Fire!)

It is also useful to work through handouts, use powerpoint, film clips, personal stories, analogy, examples…making it as real and concrete as possible. There are some great tips on adult education within the Association for Catechumenal Ministry material.

What about with teenagers? The above can also be used, but often, the more active young people are, the better: as long as the activity has a defined purpose and is focussed. In our Confirmation catechesis, we often begin the Explanation step with a quick activity to engage the candidates initially so they are active from the start, not passive. For example, we have used a “Gospel Demo” for teenage catechesis before, which involves young people representing different characters – first in the Fall, and then through to the redemption. It is a presentation of the kerygma, the Gospel message, but the young people themselves participate in it. Use memorable props related to the topic. Use games with deeper meanings (the Theology of the Body for Teens resource from Ascension Press is excellent for ideas of games that are relevant for all catechesis – not just Theology of the Body).

How does the teaching help a teenager grow in relationship with Christ?

There are other very simple ideas which you can sprinkle through your teaching to liven up a normal catechesis: If you have passages from Scripture in your presentation, give them out with numbers on, and the young person reads their passage when you ask for that number. When you ask for more thoughtful answers from the group ask them to share their thoughts first with the person next to them. And I’m sure we all know this: but moving around is better than standing still – keep them engaged, focussed and on their toes 🙂

In the Explanation stage for children, catechesis takes on quite a different character. We use the Faith & Life series for our children’s catechesis, so each session combines different elements: reading together, discussing, activities, role play and use of different items. All of the above can come into the Explanation step – there are some great scripts in the resource and in other places online which can make the teaching come alive.

As always, see Mgr Francis Kelly’s The Mystery We Proclaim for a full account of the ecclesial method.

So over to you: What else would you include in the Explanation step?