Introduction to Practical Morality (February 26 through March 31, 2012) – “This course is designed to provide participants with knowledge of the foundations of moral theology and conscience formation. A focal point for the course will be an understanding of the human being’s relationship with God who created us in His image and likeness and what that means for moral living. The sacred and social dimensions of being human will be explored. Participants will learn a process for moral decision-making and will practice applying the process in practical life situations.”
Our diocese had our fourth day of regional workshops on the Roman Missal, third edition yesterday. We offer an afternoon and an evening session, each 3-hours long, covering some basics of good liturgy, the reasons for and some examples of the changes we’ll see on the Firth Sunday of Advent, and a packet of resources for implementing the changes.
Our last two workshop are next Tuesday, and after they’re done I really want to sit and analyze what we did right with this workshop. The afternoon session is for Catholic school teachers — usually a very tough audience. But so far, with some minor exceptions, this is the most engaged I’ve seen the teachers on a catechetical topic.
I’m not sure why that’s so; part of it may be that we’re giving them materials they can take back and use in the classroom (something they’ve been asking for for years), but I think the fact that we’ve divided up the workshop into smaller subsections — none longer than 30 minutes, some as short as 5 minutes — helps to make the presentations feel snappier. We’ve also added a variety of short video clips (from ICEL’s Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ DVD, a great resource), multiple presenters (participants hear from 5 different people), and we purchased a portable PA system so that we don’t have to rely on spotty systems in gyms and parish halls.
I suspect that it’s a combination of all these factors that have made the workshops a success. Of course, the real proof will be how parishes use the materials and prepare people for the new language of the Mass we’ll be using in two months!
Lisa Mladinich (amazingcatechists.com) has written an excellent and engaging resource for catechists and catechetical leaders involved in the sacramental formation and preparation of youth and children. Be An Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation (OSV, 2011) bills itself as “a guide for teaching the Seven Sacraments accurately and vibrantly” and it delivers on that promise.
Mladinich offers a variety of reflections, activities, tips, and tricks for catechists to use in their sacramental prep programs, beginning with some nice reflections on what it means to be a catechist. I especially liked her insistence that “It is a joy for the faithful to pass these truths on to their children so that they, too, might live in loving union with God.” (I may be using that line in some upcoming presentations!)
More specific to sacramental prep, Mladinich has some great suggestions to teaching reverence to children. Proper “church etiquette” is lacking in many parishes, so I was glad to see her tackle it head-on.
She then tackles First Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation in turn. For each sacrament there are plenty of ideas for activities and lessons that will open up the meaning and impact of the sacraments in surprising and effective ways. These include the fun, the prayerful, and the educational. They are also very “doable”, in that they don’t require special resources or prep time.
I do have a small theological quibble: Mladinich states in the introduction that “the sacraments are administered by those ordained for ministry in the Church: bishops, priests, and deacons.” This statement overlooks the fact that, in marriage, the outward sign is the exchange of consent between the couple. Thus, it is the couple who administer the sacrament; the priest witnesses to the marriage. Similarly, while clerics are the ordinary ministers of Baptism, anyone (including non-Christians) can validly baptize if they use the proper formula and intend what the Church intends in Baptism.
But that’s nit-picking an otherwise excellent resource for catechists involved in the sacramental prepration of children and youth.
The part that struck me was Jarvis’ statement there at the end: “We in journalism get so much with our knickers in knots about ‘What is journalism?’ whereas the world says: ‘What’s information? What do I need to know today?'”
Anyone who follows the media world knows that traditional news outlets are suffering. Newspaper circulation is waning; fewer people tune in to the evening news; and radio seems a quaint format. People don’t seem to care where their news comes from — they are more concerned about getting information that they need right now. Why else the rise of Google and Wikipedia? They allow us to have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips.
I wonder if there isn’t a parallel with catechesis, and adult faith formation in particular.
It’s no secret that catechesis of adults is a difficult ministry. No matter how many programs or classes we offer it seems like it’s the same people who come. They are eager and grateful, to be sure, but I’ve heard many catechetical leaders ask “Where is everyone else? Why aren’t they coming?”
Yet we’ve seen an explosion in recent years of Catholic blogs and podcasts seeking to promote and explain the Catholic viewpoint on a variety of issues. While I doubt that many of these bloggers would claim the label “catechist,” that is exactly what they are — they are, in their own way, evangelizing and catechizing to their readers and listeners.
These blogs and podcasts are obviously filling a need that our catechetical programs do not. Convenience may be one explanation — it’s certainly easier to read a blog post than get to the parish center for an evening — but I’m not sure that explains it all. I also wonder if bloggers and podcasters aren’t better at targeting the specific needs and questions of the faithful.
Take, for one example, Fr. Barron’s YouTube video series. Each video takes a single question, issue, or piece of media, and examines or explains it from a Catholic viewpoint. Many are questions that the faithful in the pew may have asked or heard from others: What is the Real Presence? Why do we celebrate the Ascension? What spiritual insights can we learn from The Dark Knight?
Those of us involved in the catechetical ministry may be tempted to worry and fret that, even for many engaged Catholics, their primary avenue for catechesis is what they get from such online venues: “But it’s not systematic! It’s too focused on popular theology! There’s no oversight or review of the content!”
To which we might respond: “We in catechesis get so much with our knickers in knots about ‘What is catechesis?’ whereas the world says: ‘What’s faith? What do I need to know today to be a better follower of Christ?'”
Old Testament (September 25 through October 29, 2011) – “This course paves the way for students to develop deeper personal understanding and appreciation for the biblical context, structure (Canon), authoring, meaning and historical impact of the Old Testament. Students are introduced to methods of reading biblical texts, understanding the story lines and process of interpretation with cultural contexts, and current trends in biblical research. Students are encouraged to respect the wholeness of the biblical texts. This approach assists students as they acquire new skills and tools to navigate through the Old Testament and apply its wisdom to their spiritual lives and ministry.”
Survey of Catholic Doctrine (August 7 through September 10, 2011) – “This course will look at some of the major doctrines of the Catholic Church. Participants will come to a better understanding of the Trinity, original sin, church, salvation history, and the communion of saints. Participants will be asked to identify the meaning of magisterium, ecumenism, eschatology, and other Catholic terms.”
Old Testament (June 19 through July 23, 2011) – “This course paves the way for students to develop deeper personal understanding and appreciation for the biblical context, structure (Canon), authoring, meaning and historical impact of the Old Testament. Students are introduced to methods of reading biblical texts, understanding the story lines and process of interpretation with cultural contexts, and current trends in biblical research. Students are encouraged to respect the wholeness of the biblical texts. This approach assists students as they acquire new skills and tools to navigate through the Old Testament and apply its wisdom to their spiritual lives and ministry.”
Introduction to Scripture (March 13 through April 16, 2011) – “This presupposes that an individual has not had a general overview of the bible. This is a great place to begin. The course cannot cover everything one needs to know for navigating into the world of the scriptures but one is given a few basic concepts to begin the journey. If you have ever wondered how the Bible came about, what were some of the cultural factors which influenced the events around the writing of the Old and New Testaments, or what Church document today tell us about the Bible, you are about to begin an interesting discovery.”
Introduction to Practical Morality (January 23 through February 26, 2011) – “This course is designed to provide participants with knowledge of the foundations of moral theology and conscience formation. A focal point for the course will be an understanding of the human being’s relationship with God who created us in His image and likeness and what that means for moral living. The sacred and social dimensions of being human will be explored. Participants will learn a process for moral decision-making and will practice applying the process in practical life situations.”
The three-fold ministry of Christ is beautifully summarized in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Christifideles Laici. Of the priestly ministry the pontiff says:
The lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (cf. Rom 12:1, 2). Speaking of the lay faithful the Council says: “For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God. (14)
So the faithful participate in the priestly ministry through prayer; offering up their work to God; and through their participation in the Holy Eucharist.
I am convinced that, as administrators, the most important thing we can do for those who work under us is to pray “ first, for ourselves! “ that we may be given the wisdom, discernment, and patience to do our jobs well. But we also need to pray for those who work for us, that they may be given those same gifts. (Especially that they will have the patience to deal with us!)
In the Church we also have the privilege and responsibility to pray with our co-workers. Hopefully we all pray before meetings, but time should also be taken for more extended times of prayer, such as days of reflection and retreat. We must also remember to pray together when significant events occur in the lives of our coworkers, such as the births of children or the deaths of spouses.
In addition to prayer we participate in the priestly ministry of Christ when we engage in and encourage others in their formation as disciples of Christ. This, too, is a type of prayer! (Don’t believe me? The Order of Preachers actually has a tradition of study as prayer, such that a Dominican friar may skip communal prayer if in the middle of studying.)
As our bishop said in his homily during Sunday’s Morning Prayer, faith formation is a life-long process. We didn’t graduate at Confirmation! God is mystery, and the depths of that mystery are never plumbed. We grow in our faith by participating in programs of formation, by readings spiritual works, by studying Sacred Scripture “ all for the purpose of our own sanctification and to better enter into communion with God, his Church, and one anther.