Challenges of teaching the Faith

forgiveWhat do you do when you have parents together for a First Reconciliation Preparation Meeting?

I’ve done various things in the past.  Last year I showed a few video clips and one of our priests talked a little bit.  I also handed out materials for parents to do with their children and gave suggestions for how to make it a special and meaningful time of preparation.

If you have any specifics on what you do I’d love to hear about it.



I recently gave a catechist retreat/In-Service to a group of catechists at a parish in the Archdiocese.  One of the things I shared with them is the importance of them bringing everything together.  It is not the textbook, the DVD, the music, the pictures or the great use of the powerpoint/smartboard you used that helped make your class a fruitful one.  Although helpful and very important in passing on the faith in a suitable manner to young people in the Third Millennium, nothing replaces the person of the catechist.  The catechist is the person who unites, organizes and links all the great tools available together in order that our Catholic Faith can be made known in the lives of their students.  Our Faith is full of life and has the potential to draw students into the life and mission of the Church.  It is the person of the catechist who is the linchpin, the crux, and central to helping students encounter Christ and the Gospel Message.

The National Directory of Catechesis says: “No number of attractive personal qualities, no amount of skill and training, and no level of scholarship of erudition can replace the power of God’s word communicated through a life lived in the Spirit (pg. 243).” A person who desires to grow in holiness and proclaim in word and deed a life rooted in Christ is irreplaceable in the ministry of Catechesis.

Come Holy Spirit lead us as catechists to radiate you through our teaching, and through our very being!  And students will be saying…Ahh see how they love Jesus…I want that too”.

Monsignor Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington posted a wonderful explanation of the qualities of an evangelist.  I have included most of the post below.  The General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis are clear about the need to evangelize those we are catechizing.  Here a 7 qualities to consider:

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.  (Luke 10:1).

Now these lead teams, these evangelizers,  received seven basic instructions from the Lord on how to effectively evangelize. These seven basic habits are also for us who have receive the mandate to evangelize (cf Matt 28: 19). Let’s look at them briefly:

1. Supplication – Jesus said, The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Hence before any effective evangelizing takes place there must be prayer. In my own parish we are preparing to go out two by two in the Fall. Prior to this we have prayed for over a year, holding Eucharistic holy hours, praying at Mass and Bible study for a fruitful team of laborers sent, not by man, but by God. On Pentecost Sunday 50 people signed up to walk door to door. They are the fruit of prayer. So step one for effective evangelization is to have a praying community asking for laborers. When we go door to door fifty others have signed up to stay in Church and pray as we walk. Habit one: Pray!

2: Sobriety. The Lord tells them Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3) We do have to be sober about the fact that we are in world that is both critical of and hostile to our faith. We are bound to experience persecution, ridicule, anger, being ignored,  misunderstanding, misinterpretation, misrepresentations and just plain missiles. That we experience the world’s hatred or anger does not mean we have done anything wrong. The Lord was clear that the hatred of the world was a sign of true discipleship: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-20). Too many Christians today want the world to like them and think that holiness is about winning a popularity contest and being nice. Well the fact is that Jesus did not end up on the cross by winning a popularity contest and just being nice. He had enemies and so do we. We are not to hate them. We are to love them but we have to be sober about accepting some degree of hatred from the world. And to those who have won the popularity contest and have no enemies Jesus warns: Woe to you when all men speak well of you,  for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26). The true disciple and true evangelizer will experience some degree of hatred, anger and scorn. We must be sober about this. We do not look for a fight, but hatred will come. An old spiritual says, “I been ‘buked and I been scorned. I been talked ’bout sures yo’ born…..” Habit 2 is sobriety

3. Simplicity – The Lord tells us to travel light: Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way (Lk 10:4) We are to bring nothing along that will weigh us down or hinder our task. The fact is we all have a lot of baggage in this life that hinders us from the more important work of Evangelizing our family and others. Too many parents barely know their kids because they work long hours at jobs to pay for a life style that is too expensive. On top of this we add endless projects and pursuits that keep us running all over God’s green acre. Perhaps good in themselves, they become too much of a good thing and we end up barely knowing the first people we are to evangelize, our children. The Lord says, lighten up, less, is more, simplify and do with less. Do what is more important first: God, family, parish and community. Learn to prioritize and say “no” when necessary. Bottom line is that we have too much baggage, too many distractions and the Gospel goes unlived and unpreached. The unusual instruction “Greet no one along the way” means that we ought not allow any relationship to hinder us either. There are folks who can sidetrack us hinder our progress and we ought to limit such contacts charitably.

4.  Serenity – The Lord says, Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household’ (Luke 10: 5) Though the world may be hostile at times, the Lord tells us, upon entering into any place to say “Peace to the his household.” We do not go forth with hostility but with a serene joy and love. We must love those to whom we announce the Gospel. We are to radiate a serene confidence, joy and peace. We are not picking a fight or trying to win an argument. If we need to clarify a misunderstanding someone has we ought to do so peacefully and with serene confidence.  Because we are confident in the truth we are serene in it. Shalom, peace is at our core, not hostility or aggressiveness.

5.  Stability– The Lord instructs us Stay in the same house…..Do not move about from one house to another. (Luke 10:7) Thus the Lord tells us to find our place and stay there. In the end, the best evangelization takes place where there are deeper relationships. But deep relationships cannot exist when we are running all over the place and relating to others only superficially. We ought to stay put more with family, parish and community and have deep roots. Too many people barely know their own family. No wonder the faith is not passed on in the diffuse, rushed and sporadic climate of the family. Find home and stay there routinely. Build deep relationships.

6. Sensitivity – the Lord says Eat and drink what is offered to you,…..cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ In other words the Lord counsels simple human kindness where we do not criticize about unnecessary things like the quality of food, or matters of preference. Further he counsels that we have a charge to bring healing and help to others. We may cure the sick by physical cures but the kind of healing necessary is often more emotional and spiritual. We ought to manifest care for others. Even the simple act of listening to someone can bring great healing. Without simple human kindness, declaring that the Kingdom of God is at hand can not only be empty but it can make the kingdom seem odious. The say to others that the Kingdom of God is at hand means that they can start living a whole new life. We ought then to manifest kindness, bring forth cures by helping people find wholeness and healing from the many blows this world inflicts. The Kingdom of God is not only about doctrine, it is about healing, holiness, and the wholeness that comes from both as well as from true doctrine.

7. Soulful Joy– The disciples returned with great joy and the Lord celebrates with them and helps to deepen their joy. There is nothing worse than a sour-faced saint or a bored believer. In the end, the greatest evangelization is to manifest a joy at what God is doing in our lives. This joy is not a sentimental emotional joy necessarily but a deeper serene joy rooted in confidence, hope and love. Do people see you in this way? If they do the ground is fertile for evangelization. St. Peter says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Now of course giving an answer presupposes that someone notices the hope and joy in us and noticing this they ask. Does anyone notice this about you?

saint paulThe New Evangelization is one of the key focuses of the Church in the Third Millennium. It is an exciting time to be a part of the Church and see all the great works of the Lord that are happening, especially with the emphasis on the New Evangelization and all that it entails. When you hear the word “old” it gets little attention, but in reality I wonder if the core of the New Evangelization is old.  The Apostles and their successors in the first few centuries after Christ were evangelizers “par excellence”!  St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Thomas, St. Andrew, St. John and all the apostles set the world ablaze by proclaiming and making manifest the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Their successors – people like St. Polycarp and St. Ignatius of Antioch witnessed to the life, death and resurrection of Christ with their very lives.  People saw with their very eyes the conviction they had admits the threat of death.  This proclamation that was not mere lip service but also lived out even at the cost of their own lives was key to the evangelization of the people of their day.

Today, the New Evangelization must rely on that “Old Evangelization” in order to draw hearts to Christ.  As you may know, St. Francis never said: “Preach the Gospel always use words is necessary”.   But he did testify not only with his life but with the constant proclamation of the Good News to Christ to every town and place he went (and even to the birds).

2 Things to share with students about evangelization:

1) They are called by their Baptism to share the Good News of Jesus Christ; to tell others about who God is and what His plan for us is.  Kids evangelize most successfully often times and we need to give them the tools to do this.

2)  Help children see that ones actions speak something about what she/he believes.  Do you choose the sports game over Mass, do you say no to watching TV because you have not prayed; do you avoid talking negatively about others because that is not loving your neighbor, etc.


What are ways you help your students to evangelize?

busy-family1Husband: Honey, I have to work later than usual tonight and Thursday night so you are going to have to find a way to get Joseph and Abbey to their commitments on those days.  I don’t know is Susan has anything but check with her and see.

Wife: Honey, I also need work late on Thursday, so who can we ask to help get our kids to their commitments?  I also have something I committed to on Saturday so you are going to need to get the kids to their events and figure out meals for them.

Kid #1: My friend is going to church and learning about God why don’t we do that?

Dad: Because we have so much going on we are not able to do that right now.  You’ve committed to this team and you need to take responsibility and be committed to your teammates and not let them down.  God understands that we are busy and that we love Him.

Kid #2: Mom, can I go to the middle school youth program every Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 6:30 – they have lots of great things going on and my friends are really excited about hanging out at church?

Mom: That sounds great, but I have to get your brother to his practice and then run to the store to pick up groceries for the week.  Maybe if we don’t have anything next week we can do it.

Kid #3: Mom and Dad when are we going to go out for Pizza like you promised?

Mom: Your Dad and I will look to see when we can do that, but probably not this week because there is a lot going on.

Kid #1 &3: But that is what you said last week.

Chaos, I tell you, Chaos

Our world is spinning at such a fast pace and well intentioned parents (myself included) say yes to doing x, y and z.  It’s mostly for my kids or for my work or for an organization I help out at.  With all the well intentioned committments parents make where is the time for God, for Religious Education, for family time and for quiet?  If you ask me it seems that the devil is pretty happy right now about the state of our busy lives.  We are so busy doing “good things” that we don’t have much time for God, much time for one another, much time for silence and prayer, much time to clear our minds so that we can make sure what we want most is happening – to get our family to heaven and to do it according to how God wants us to do it.

Challenge #1challenge

Ok, Ok, I know what your thinking: I bet I could list 20 challenges and you are beginning with #1.  Challenge #1 is key: Do you have a clear picture about what is most important and how we can accomplish this with our family?  Usually the answer is no.  Families often jump into the rat race becuase they want the best for their kids, they want to provide for their family and they want their kids to be involved.  However, what ends up happing is that at the end of the day or more specifically the end of the year, or “the years” will we see the fruit of all we did or will we wished we’d spent a little more time and energy on other things – time with our kids, time growing in our faith, time with our spouse?

I have never heard someone say: I wish I would have spent more time on the practice field, more time at work making a little more money, more time watching the football game or “The View”.  You know where I am going with this.

Challenge #2

The World…  It has sold us a bill of false goods.  Our friends, extended family, surrounding influences are encouraging us to get our kids involved, that we are building character in our kids through all these activities, that working more at work will help us provide well for our families and numerous other commitments often don’t lead us to the place we hope to arrive at.  The problem is we don’t know how to begin again, or change direction.

Solution #1

Not so fast.  The solution is not singular yet it is simple.  One of the most important steps is to take time to consider what is most important for your family.  And doing this with the lens of faith.  After all we have been created for a purpose: To know, love and serve God here on earth so we can be happy with Him forever in Heaven.solution

Solution #2

When we look back on our lives will we see the decisions we made as intentionally helping our spouse and our children not merely be a “good person” that is well respected in society, but will they be a person who desire to live for the glory of God and to serve as Christ would serve?

My friend Ryan, speaks about his intense involvement in middle and high school and how he was told that it built character and all the other things that justify the intensity of his involvement.  As a parent he now says what it didn’t build character as much as “bring his character out”.  He shares now how important family time is and how important helping your kids development academically.  He will have his kids be involved in sports but is clear about how it is not as important as God, family and or academics.   I would add helping kids interact with adults properly and have proper etiquette makes them much more successful and happy than the busyness of their childhood and not getting to see Mom and Dad enough because they were so busy “doing good things”.  Also, Mom and Dad were so busy that they put aside the “best things” — faith and family until later and when later came it was too late.

Helping Families

How do we help families discover what is most important or put another way how do we help families realize that having their kids (and themselves) over-scheduled is not what is best for their family (and that fact that it doesn’t have to be that way)?  It goes back to what I said earlier – parents struggle to stop once they have gotten on that busy schedule and the “next level” is expected of their kid and of the parents.

Holy Families

Families find their joy and peace most in seeking and serving God.  Currently too many families are so busy that they don’t have time for this and at times don’t see the great benefit to be holy.  Too many families are ok with just being “good” or “nice” person.  We must continue to pray for families and encourage them one by one to seek the things that are above.  This is not an easy task but with persistence and the Holy Spirit’s help we can help families create a more balanced and grounded family life.  Our world desperately needs this!

For years I’ve understood that the textbook was just a tool and not the end-all of the catechetical lesson.  One of the challenges today is to equip volunteer catechists to go beyond the textbook, i.e., not relying on the textbook as a crutch which they have to teach from in order to convey the content of the chapter.  Although I have some ideas on what we need to do about that, I want to share a few things that seem to be essential in this Ministry of the Word and the Proclamation of the Good News of Christ and His Church today. This are some things needed for Catechesis in the Third Millennium:


1. We need a holistic approach to catechesis.

As many have been saying, we need to do more than pass on content – we need to see our catechesis as initiating people into the Christian Life.  Much has been said about this, especially in the last number of years. Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that it’s not a victory to get through the 30 chapters of the textbook.  It’s a victory if over the course of a year we have helped those we catechize be inspired, grow in hunger for being in communion with Jesus Christ and desire to continue that friendship they have with Him.

2. We need to help Catechists see that what they are transmitting is something that is unified.

Textbooks, among other resources, can have a tendency to compartmentalize the content of the Faith.  At times for the sake of order this is understandable and necessary.  However, too often we struggle to catechize seeing that the faith is unified not just a set of various truths.  For example, in the 3 part of the Catechism in the second paragraph of that section it expresses this truth I’m speaking of beautifully:

The Symbol of the faith confesses the greatness of God’s gifts to man in his work of creation, and even more in redemption and sanctification. What faith confesses, the sacraments communicate: by the sacraments of rebirth, Christians have become “children of God,”2 “partakers of the divine nature.”3 Coming to see in the faith their new dignity, Christians are called to lead henceforth a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”4 They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer. (Paragraph 1692)

Even in the 3 part of the Catechism it has not “moved on” from the first two parts to now cover the 3 part (although it does cover the Christian Life lived out and what we believe about that).  But it does so in a unified manner helping the believer see that the faith in intricately woven together as a unified whole.  Catechesis today needs to keep this in mind and make positive strides in helping others see the unity of the Catholic Faith.

3. We need to root our Catechesis in the Holy Trinity.

Yes, I’m sure we all have heard that the Trinity is the central mystery of the faith and how as the Catechism says: “It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them” (#234).

If what we are teaching does not relate to one of the persons of the Trinity then we should not be teaching it.  As stated above regarding the unity of the faith we have to show those we catechize that God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealing Himself to us and inviting us to community with Him.  When you have a moment take a look at Ephesians 1:3-14 which conveys beautifully the Trinities Mission.  Our catechesis should always be linked with the Trinity.

4. We need to present the faith today as a compelling story — of God’s loving plan.

The Good News is a story to be told, a story to be celebrated, a story to be lived and a story to be in communion with.  It is not romanticizing to say that it is a love story because it truly is, but it is a love story that has tragedy, hope, love and joy which are all a part of the human condition.  We have a tendency in catechesis to present the faith as a lot of great truths but can struggle to help those we catechize see that it’s more a story we are a part of than a number of great truths that happened in the past.  The more we can show others that what we are proclaiming and teaching is all part of a beautiful story of God’s plan and purpose for creation then we help others see just how compelling God and his ways are.

5. We need to put people in contact with Jesus (in relationship with Him).

If we begin and end each catechetical session with a brief prayer lasting no more than 30 seconds then it is not likely that we are able to allow for the proper setting to help those we catechize come into contact with Jesus.  We need to have more prayer in our catechesis, more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, more time of silence and reflection (as challenging as all this can be).  I recently heard a story about how two priests had devoted much time to being present to the First Communion class by stopping by the classes to talk with the 2nd graders and how they also were present at the parent meetings.  Even so, after First Communion none of the parents brought their children to Mass.  One of the things the priests discovered is that they never took to time to take them to the church and have direct contact with Jesus.  They did not take them into the church to show them how this is where the Christian community gathers to celebrate, proclaim and encounter God.  Therefore, helping find more opportunities of putting people in contact with Jesus Christ is essential for fruitful discipleship.

6. The Catechism needs to be better utilized in elementary catechesis

When Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of the Catechism as a reference text he did not intend for it to merely be something we use as one among many resources.  Textbook publishers have a tendency to site the Catechism as a reference or a way to show that the teaching in a particular chapter is linked to a teaching in the Catechism.  Although this is a great first step to what we had 20 years ago it lacks something significant.  The Catechism is the essential Deposit of Faith which the Church guards as a most important and vital treasure to the universal Church. The Catechism helps articulate the beauty of the Faith.  The Catechism shows how the Faith is organic and unified.  The Catechism threads the faith together in a way that we can see just how unified and simple the faith is.  When I say simple, I mean that at the heart of the Deposit of Faith we see the simple Gospel Message that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that we may not perish but have eternal life (Cf. John 3:16).  The Catechism conveys the simplicity of God’s plan accomplished through Creation, through His relationship with us, through sending His Son to redeem us and sending the Holy Spirit to sanctify the world and prepare us for the world to come.  Therefore, the Catechism needs to be used more fully in equipping catechists in their ministry of catechesis.

These are 6 things I see as vital to Catechesis in the 21st Century.  May God our heavenly and gracious Father direct us and lead us to greater renewal and communion with Himself.

What do you see as things that are needed for Catechesis in the 21st Century?

girl pointingI had the wonderful opportunity the last 5 days to attend the St. John Bosco Catechetical Conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH.  There were many blessings and a lot I want to share in future posts about catechesis today in the Church.  Today, I want to share with you a very inspiring story told by a Salesian of Don Bosco who spoke at the conference, Fr. Louis Molinelli, SDB.  He shared the following:

One day I had a meeting with other presidents of schools and had to go to a place I had not been to before.  After driving around for what felt like ages I found a building that I thought was the place (not realizing there were two Sacred Heart Schools).  As I went into the school I saw loads of children and had no idea where to go.  A young girl about 5 years old came up to me and said, hello, can I help you?  I said, yes you can; would you please take me to the one in charge?  The girl said, yes, come with me and she took my hand and lead me down a long hallway past many classrooms until finally we entered a room where she pointed to the front and said their, He’s in charge: she was pointing to Jesus in the tabernacle.

This is a touching story which drew my thoughts to how important it is to point to Jesus in our catechesis and lead others to Him.  Not only are we showing them the one who is in charge but we are helping others grow spiritually.

3 Ways

Here are 3 things to consider in leading others to Jesus Christ:

1. Are you praying each time you prepare to lead catechetical sessions for the Holy Spirit to use you and to speak to the hearts of those you are catechizing?

2. Are you trying to cover the topic at the cost of drawing them into a deeper relationship with Jesus?  Our catechesis can too often be informational without being transformational.

3. Are you helping those you catechize to grow in prayer and helping them be in friendship with God.  Each of us need to use our God given gifts to help others grow in their spiritual lives.

The Big Question

Can you take me to the one in charge?

what is goodMy friend Dr. Farey (head of Catechetical Formation, Course Director B.Div, and Course Director License in Catechetics at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England) has a wonderful quote that is so pertinent to catechesis today:

“How is the heart ever going to know what is good if we don’t use our mind to inform the heart? Don’t let anyone say to you, ‘don’t worry about all that study, all you need is to get your heart united to Christ’. Yes, we need our hearts plunged in Christ… be led by Christ but let your mind be led by Christ through the Church so that your heart can follow what is actually good, and not just what is an awful lot of opinions of what must be good… The Catechism is there to help us.”

I often speak of formation in Christ (not merely information) needing to be at the heart of catechesis.  However, I could not agree more with the importance of assuring that in our catechesis in the Third Millennium needs to incorporate both the heart and the mind when passing on the deposit of faith.

Too often today people struggle to have their hearts follow what is actually good. At the risk of sounding judgemental, it appears that individuals allow the messages and ideas given by society to shape their understanding of life, liberty and even in the pursuit of Jesus.  Teaching the truths of the faith, especially the deposit of faith articulated in the Catechism, will help others see how these truths that are Godly and that are point to the good (which is from God).  Too often our society desires to revise what is good or form ones idea of God based on a more modern application of what is seen as good (because they believe that “they see it more clearly” then what the Bible says or what the Church would say).

catechismThe Catechism is such a gift to help us see the beauty and the unity of the faith articulated and drawing the reader toward the ture and ultimate good – God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What do you think about Dr. Farey’s quote? I’d enjoy your insights and thoughts.

In the Early Church followers of “the way” (Acts 9:2) would gather on the “first day of the week” (Acts 20:7) for “the breaking of the bread”((Acts 2:42).  This practice has been at the heart of the Church from the very beginning.  It is essential for the life of the Christian Community to gather each Sunday to honor God on the Lord’s Day.  Sunday Mass is foundational to living and bearing fruit in the Christian life.  Here are ways to encourage children and their parents to attend Mass every Sunday:

1) Share with them that they will be missed if they to not and mass

2) Communicate what God does every week at Mass (sharing His Word and His Body and Blood).

3) Discuss how faithfulness to the Commandments and the Precepts of the Church draw us closer to God.

4) Share the impact of the Mass in your life.

5) Pray for parents and kids to have the grace to respond to God’s love by coming to praise and honor Him each Sunday.

Gerard Gaskin wrote an article in the Australian Magazine AD2000 and noted six key themes for authentic catechesis from Pope John Paul II apostolic letter on Catechesis (Catechesi Tradendae).  His article can be found here.  Below I’ve quoted from the article the six key themes worth noting:

1. Christocentric catechesis: “Christocentricity in catechesis also means the intention to transmit not one’s own teaching or that of some other master, but the teaching of Jesus Christ … the Truth that he is” (n.6).

2. Catechesis must be systematic: Pope John Paul drew attention to the “… absolute need for a systematic catechesis … not improvised but programmed to reach a precise goal; it must deal with essentials” (n.21 ).

3. The integrity of content: The Pope asserts the “… right (of the person being catechised) to receive the ‘word of faith’ not in a mutilated, falsified form but whole and entire … there is no valid pretext for refusing him any part whatever of that knowledge” (n.30).

4. Orthodoxy versus orthopraxis: “It is useless to play off orthopraxis (right actions) against orthodoxy (right beliefs): Christianity is inseparably both.” The Pope attacks the “either or” argument, that the doctrinal formation of children will in some way be done at the expense of teaching them to lead good lives: “firm and well-thought-out convictions lead to courageous and upright action” (n.22).

5. Life experience: “It is also quite useless to campaign for the abandonment of serious and orderly study of the message of Christ in the name of a message concentrating on life experience. No one can arrive at the whole truth on the basis solely of some simple private experience” (n.22).

6. Methodology – memorisation: Whilst acknowledging that memorisation can lead to, “reducing all knowledge to formulas that are repeated without being properly understood”, the Holy Father regrets the, “definitive suppression of memorisation in catechesis.” He asks, “Should we not attempt to put this faculty back into use in an intelligent and even an original way in catechesis … We must be realists. The blossoms, if we may call them that, of faith and piety do not grow in the desert places of a memory-less catechesis” (n.55).

What is your feedback on these 6 themes?  Do you find each of these to continue to be vital for catechesis in the Third Millennium?

Pope Emaritus Benedict spoke back in 2010 to the Italian Bishops conference in Assisi about the translation of the Roman Missal in the context of liturgical reform.  He said that “all true reformers are, in fact, obedient to the faith.” He explained:

“They do not move arbitrarily, they do not claim any discretional jurisdiction over rites. They are not masters but custodians of the treasure that was instituted by the Lord and entrusted to us. The entire Church is present in each liturgical act, and adhering to its form is a condition for the authenticity of the celebration.”

The “reformers” he is speaking of are all the bishops, priests and liturgists who will be implementing the new translation of the Roman Missal.  I think the Pope’s message also applies to the work of catechesis when passing on the Deposit of Faith.  We cannot teach personal opinions or only the truths that “we think” are more relevant.  There is a temptation to side-step the more challenging teachings of the Gospel and the Church. The Lord has entrusted to His Church the full Deposit of Faith and we, in the ministry of catechesis, must never see ourselves as the “masters but custodians of the treasure(s) that was instituted by the Lord and entrusted to us.”

3 Ways we can do this in our Religious Education Programs:

1) Make sure and talk to your DRE about what are the fundamental truths of the Faith, e.g., Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, the Sacraments, the doctrine of sin, etc.

2) Be faithful to the teachings of Christ and His Church in your own life. As we allow comfort or lukewarmness to infect our own Faith lives, it becomes contagious and spreads to the programs we lead and the teachings we pass on.  The teachings of the Church are life-giving and inspire one to go deeper and grow in a relationship with God.

3.    Be sure to find small teachable moments to pass on to the parents as well.  It is becoming increasingly more challenging to encourage parents to attend any presentations about the faith.  Look to newsletters, emails, and small assignments in which students and parents can work together, so that parents can deepen their understanding of the blessings and joy of knowing the teachings of the Church and desire more fervently to live them in their lives.

Come Holy Spirit!

I was reading an article at the National Catholic Register which discussed keys to leading others to conversion.  We all want to lead others closer to Christ and His Church don’t we?  I know, for me, I desire to share Christ with others and help lead people closer to Him.  Fr. John McCloskey in his book Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion, and the Crisis of Faith speaks about the importance of personal relationships being at the heart of conversion “a gift of self by the evangelizer”, Father McCloskey says the best approach is a direct one.  Here are the 5 steps he recommends:

1) Ask a friend or family member if he or she has ever considered joining the Catholic Church;

2) Be prepared to answer questions about the faith (which will probably require some study of your own), but be confident that you almost certainly know more than your non-Catholic friend;

3) Engage friends by suggesting good Catholic books and readings (a “Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan” is appended to his book), while sharing the beauty of the liturgy;

4) Know that conversion often takes time and is ultimately God’s work, and

5) Follow up.

In this Year of Faith where so many in our culture have allowed the secular influences to dim their faith, let us seek to reach out and help witness to them the treasure and the blessing of a faith in Christ.

Over the years as I’ve worked with catechists to hand on the faith to their students I’ve noticed that there are two common ideas:1) Getting certain ideas communicated to ones students and 2) How to do that in a way that gets them engaged.

Sometimes I think trying to do activities to engage them is what catechists tend to be concerned about the most.  This has a lot to do with the times we are living in where students today need to be engaged in different ways then in generations past.  In addition catechists want to be sure to not bore their students (which is admirable).

What things should we consider when planning a lesson?  Does too much focus on engagement diminish in any way the message/content that needs to be handed on and proclaimed?  It’s worthwhile to be aware of pitfalls or shortcomings that could arise due to the need to involve students more than ever today.  Here are a few things about lesson planning and what to consider when teaching a lesson so that you, as a catechist, can successfully hand/pass on our rich Catholic Faith.

1) Whatever method(s) you use to convey the lesson of the day, make sure that it is serving the content.  It is key to find ways to “break open” and/or “bring to life” the message that you are teaching, but not at the expense of the content.  For some this is obvious but for others it might be something that unintentionally tends to happen.  All the activities you choose should help draw your students into the message/content.  I’ve seen where the message gets conveyed in a short amount of time and the activities that follow do not relate very well to the actual content that was just spoken of.

2) Don’t be afraid of the content being boring and feel you have to “get through” the content and then move onto getting them engaged and enjoying class.  Our Catholic Faith is not only rich but it is beautiful.  Allow the beauty of the truths of the Faith to speak for themselves (The Catechism does a great job of this).  You can assist with your enthusiasm and love for the Faith.  God wants to draw your students to Himself even more than you do so believe that His truth can do just that.  The Holy Spirit is the interior teacher and will stir up in them the gift of faith which they have been given.  This does require trust and a confidence that God seeks a response from them.

3) Pray for the soil of your students hearts to be ready and open to receive what has been proclaimed and discussed (before class and after class).

What do you find to be important to successfully handing on the faith?

This was the subject of an email I recently received that received caught my attention.  A evangelical     named Thom Schultz wrote the following that I found interesting:”Last weekend most people in America avoided church. And, a sizable portion of those who did make it to church
wished they were somewhere else. But why?I decided to go direct to the source. I staked out a city park to ask the public why they weren’t in church. What they
told me echoed what I’ve been hearing for several years now.Their reasons centered around four recurring themes:

“Church people judge me.” A young woman told me that as a child she regularly attended church and Sunday school. But she’s given up on the church as an adult. “They make me feel like an outcast,” she     said. “How? Why?” I asked. “Well, I’m a smoker,” she said.

“I don’t want to be lectured.” More people today want to participate in the discussion. A man told me    he’s talked with over a thousand other men who’ve given up on church. He said, “Guys don’t want to sit in     a room and idly listen to some preacher do all the talking. They want to ask questions. They want to share their thoughts too.”

“They’re a bunch of hypocrites.” I know church leaders are weary of this “excuse.” But people are’nt merely referring to incongruous behavior.    What bothers them is the sense that church spokespeople act like they have all the answers. That they’ve arrived. That they’re only interested in telling others what to do—“teaching,” to use the church vernacular.

“I don’t want religion. I want God.” Most people don’t experience God at church. They’re not looking for the “deep” theological trivia that seems to interest some preachers. They crave something very simple. They’re dying to be reassured that God is real, that he is more than a historical figure,       that  he is present today, and that he is active in the lives of people around them.

Those of us who remain in this imperfect gathering of the faithful need to stop talking and “teaching” long enough to listen to the majority outside our  walls. I’m not suggesting their views are flawless. Or that we should design ministry merely according to consumer whims. But we do need to keep        our ultimate goal in mind—to help bring others into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s what defined the ministry of Jesus himself. He boldly broke away from the habits and routines of the religious elite of the time. And he fashioned     a highly relational ministry that connected with the disenfranchised.”


Do you find these reasons to be true?  

The Pew Forum study from 2008 found that about only 30% of Adult Catholics are actively practicing their faith.  I suspect that also includes going to    Mass.  30% – Wow!  The “missing Mass is a grave sin” (Cf. CCC 2181) does not seem to have much weight in the Third Millennium.  

What can we do in our Catholic parishes to draw people to church?

Today we just completed our annual two week summer intensive School of Religion Program.  We had 198 students register for it this year.  It was a good two weeks full of activity and learning.  This program has been going on for about 8 years now.  Originally our parish offered School of Religion classes on Tuesday and Wednesday nights for 1st – 6th grade.  Once we began to offer the summer program (we do not offer 2nd grade in the summer)  we no longer offered Tuesday night classes.  Many parents really like the summer option because their kids are so busy during the school year that it is challenging to get them to class on a weekly basis.  There are pro’s and con’s to a summer intensive verses once a week for 9 months, but both meet the growing needs of parents and students.

Our Theme This Summer was Faith: Love it, Learn it, Live it! I copied the logo and put up sheets like this all around the building with different ways to apply the Live it, Love it and Learn it theme.

I want to share a few personal challenges I have during these two weeks:

1) The Parents: They are, as we always say: The primary teachers of their child’s faith.  Most parents however feel more comfortable having someone else teach them the basic tenants of the faith (more about that in a future post).  I worked really hard this year communicating with the parents and seeking feedback from them throughout the two weeks (mostly through email).  Each day I emailed the parents announcements and what their child would be learning (by grade level).  I also tried to include helpful tips for the parents, helpful parent websites on faith formation and valuable articles on helping their children grow in their faith.  One email program software we have will report how many emails were opened (some days were better than others).  I so desire to reach out to the parents and get them engaged so they can be empowered and enriched.  It is not easy.  I think some parents really did like the emails (which did take me about 2 hours to put together each day) but others were just too busy to look at them.  We need to find ways to equip parents who so often received poor faith formation themselves growing up.

2) Another challenge I have during our two week program is connecting with the catechists and aides in such a short period of time.  It’s great to work with and around them for the two weeks, but I just wish I had more time to process and see all that they are doing. They have great ideas and they bring so much to the table to share.  I also took the time each day to email them about important announcements for the next day as well as give them teaching ideas and inspirational quotes from saints, the Catechism and catechetical documents.  It is so important to help with their ongoing formation.

Sending these two emails each day took up my whole afternoon and took a lot of energy.  From an administrative point of view I’m glad the two weeks are over, but I’m sad because I wish there was more time to assist our students in their academic and most especially spiritual formation.

I will pray for our parents that they will continue to help their children grow in their faith and remember that these two weeks are only the beginning of what they should be doing now for the rest of the year until next summer (and throughout their child’s life).  I will also pray for the students that the Holy Spirit continues to speak to their hearts and minds.

Students just having a Q&A Session with our pastor.

I came across the blog Reverend Know-It-All and found a very interesting post about his thoughts on the current state of Religious Education and Catholic Education.  He shared about how we is going to start over and do something completely different.  

I’d be very interested to hear what you think about his thoughts?  Check out the post and please share with me your thoughts about the following questions:

  • Do you think our current system of once a week religious education is unfruitful?  On a scale of 1 to 5 (1=great and 5=completely unsuccessful/fruitful) – where is the state of the average religious education program?

  • What do you think about his comments regarding Sacramental Preparation?

  • Where do the parents fit in?

  • What do you think about this comment he made: “In this country, we can’t manage a religious life because we are up against team sports.”?

  • What would you propose as solutions to our current challenges in Religious Education?

  • Are there any unique or interesting religious education models that you know about?

Are You Intriguing?

Recently I watched a youtube recording of Matthew Kelly’s talk from the L.A. Congress 2012.  His talk was around an hour and in part of it he spoke about how Protestant faiths do a much better job of intriguing people or as I would say – drawing people in to “want more” (more of God) than Catholics do.  Matthew Kelly went on to ask “as Catholics do we intrigue anyone by our faith”?  In order to draw others into the Faith they have to see us live, love and work differently than what they see in the people around them.  Does our Catholic Faith and our life of holiness contribute significantly to making us “look different” in the way we live each day?  Do others experience the love of Christ in our daily actions?  And do we work in a different way than others – not that we have to work longer but do we work harder (not just half-hearted), do we work without complaining?  The more we do this the more we as Catholics will be intriguing to a world hungry for God.

2 questions

1) What are characteristics of an authentic witness of Christian life (these characteristics are what the world finds “intriguing”)?

2) As catechists, how do you empower your students to be “intriguing” or how to you help your students witness their faith?

Are your Confirmation Sessions teaching teens the faith or forming them in the faith?  Ok, this is a bit of a trick question, because we ideally need to do both: catechize so transformation will occur.  Recently we had a Confirmation Session with 100 8th graders that was extremely powerful and really blew all of us away at what the Holy Spirit did.

Some background

This year we have implemented a new format for our Confirmation Program by taking kids out of the classroom setting and gathering them all together and trying to do more formation in the faith as compared to merely a catechesis about various topics of the faith.  New Programs/formats always need tweaking.  We have learned a lot this year about empowering volunteers and engaging large numbers of teens.  We have had many frustrations with attendance, volunteers not showing up and a lack of the right kind of engagement from volunteers but we’ve persevered, continued to pray and asked the Holy Spirit to lead us.


We wanted to create a night that gave teens an idea of what happens during the Confirmation Mass.  Many who’ve been through it have said they didn’t really have much of a clue what was going on while it was happening.  So the following is what we did to try to change that.

Gather and Proclaim

We open the night with a humorous 2 minute video about what Confirmation is (the video does not give any answers).  We then had a skit entitled: At the Movies with Jesus and it focused on choosing Christ.  We then debriefed about the skit and shared how tonight we were going to explore a little about Confirmation and the amazing things that happen at the Confirmation Mass.


Small group leaders then took their students to discuss some of the aspects of the Confirmation Mass.  The leaders shared that there was some good discussion during this time.


We concluded by showing another movie clip and discussed that God is asking us to give Him permission.  Joe, one of our youth ministers shared a story and ended up giving away a rosary that was very valuable to him and blessed by the pope.  It truly was a Holy Spirit moment and it was very powerful for the person who received it. She had a hard time receiving it because she felt she didn’t deserve it (that’s exactly the point – we don’t deserve God’s gave and gifts but He cares for us so much that He freely and lovingly showers his grace and gifts upon us).

The Holy Spirit continued to work as we invited teens to come up and share why they were excited about Confirmation.  They came up and shared things like – It’ll bring me closer to God, it’ll strengthen my faith, it’s very important to me.  This was their way of standing up in front of others and witnessing their faith.  It was powerful and exciting to see the teens stand up for their faith.  We had one of those “they finally got it” moments.

It turned out to be a great night!  We were skeptical before the evening began regarding how it would go and how much involvement we’d get from the teens.  God certainly was not outdone is generosity.  Thank you Holy Spirit!

This is one example of how we’ve sought to really engage our teens and form them into the disciples Christ He is calling them to be.  We pray that their faith continues to grow.  Here is an outline of the night – Confirmation.

How About You?

What have you done to engage your Confirmation Candidates?

I posted this last year, but I think it’s worthwhile to re-post.  On I found some great teaching tips by Richard Leblanc, Ph.D. from York University.  Although it is not directly about faith formation I think there are some real gems in what Dr. Leblanc says.

1. GOOD TEACHING is as much about passion as it is about reason. It’s about not only motivating students to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable. It’s about caring for your craft, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students.

2. GOOD TEACHING is about substance and training students as consumers of knowledge. It’s about doing your best to keep on top of your field, reading sources, inside and outside of your areas of expertise, and being at the leading edge as often as possible. But knowledge is not confined to scholarly journals. Good teaching is also about bridging the gap between theory and practice. It’s about leaving the ivory tower and immersing oneself in the field, talking to, consulting with, and assisting practitioners, and liaising with their communities.

3. GOOD TEACHING is about listening, questioning, being responsive, and remembering that each student and class is different. It’s about eliciting responses and developing the oral communication skills of the quiet students. It’s about pushing students to excel; at the same time, it’s about being human, respecting others, and being professional at all times.

4. GOOD TEACHING is about not always having a fixed agenda and being rigid, but being flexible, fluid, experimenting, and having the confidence to react and adjust to changing circumstances. It’s about getting only 10 percent of what you wanted to do in a class done and still feeling good. It’s about deviating from the course syllabus or lecture schedule easily when there is more and better learning elsewhere. Good teaching is about the creative balance between being an authoritarian dictator on the one hand and a pushover on the other. Good teachers migrate between these poles at all times, depending on the circumstances. They know where they need to be and when.

5. GOOD TEACHING is also about style. Should good teaching be entertaining? You bet! Does this mean that it lacks in substance? Not a chance! Effective teaching is not about being locked with both hands glued to a podium or having your eyes fixated on a slide projector while you drone on. Good teachers work the room and every student in it. They realize that they are conductors and the class is their orchestra. All students play different instruments and at varying proficiencies. A teacher’s job is to develop skills and make these instruments come to life as a coherent whole to make music.

6. GOOD TEACHING is about humor. This is very important. It’s about being self-deprecating and not taking yourself too seriously. It’s often about making innocuous jokes, mostly at your own expense, so that the ice breaks and students learn in a more relaxed atmosphere where you, like them, are human with your own share of faults and shortcomings.

7. GOOD TEACHING is about caring, nurturing, and developing minds and talents. It’s about devoting time, often invisible, to every student. It’s also about the thankless hours of grading, designing or redesigning courses, and preparing materials to further enhance instruction.

8. GOOD TEACHING is supported by strong and visionary leadership, and very tangible instructional support resources, personnel, and funds. Good teaching is continually reinforced by an overarching vision that transcends the entire organization from full professors to part-time instructors and is reflected in what is said, but more importantly by what is done.

9. GOOD TEACHING is about mentoring between senior and junior faculty, teamwork, and being recognized and promoted by one’s peers. Effective teaching should also be rewarded, and poor teaching needs to be remediated through training and development programs.

10. AT THE END OF THE DAY, good teaching is about having fun, experiencing pleasure and intrinsic rewards…like locking eyes with a student in the back row and seeing the synapses and neurons connecting, thoughts being formed, the person becoming better, and a smile cracking across a face as learning all of a sudden happens. It’s about the former student who says your course changed her life. It’s about another telling you that your course was the best one he’s ever taken. Good teachers practice their craft not for the money or because they have to, but because they truly enjoy it and because they want to. Good teachers couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Association for Experiential Education
Schools & Colleges Professional Group Newsletter
Spring 1999, Vol. 2, # 1 (Electronic Version)

Editor’s note: In 1998, professor Leblanc was awarded the Seymous Schulich Award for Teaching Excellence. His top ten requirements for good teaching was originally published in The Teaching Professor, Vol. 12, # 6, 1998.

What would you say are key teaching requirements?

So Far So Good

Almost 2 months have passed since our Year I Confirmation students have been encountering a new curriculum on the major events of Salvation History.  This curriculum that we have created seeks to not only convey the major events of Salvation History, especially through the 6 major covenants, but also aims to engage 7th graders in a fresh way.  Students rotate classes approximately every 30 minutes.

Today’s Topic

During the first 30 to 40  minutes students review the lesson from the week before and then the current lesson not only shares about that particular covenant we are talking about but it also answers the homework questions that were given to them the week before. The hope is that they will have read and reflected on the Scripture that speaks about the covenant we will be focusing on that particular class period.

Practical Application

Next students build on what they are learning by going to 30 minutes of what we call “practical application”.  For example, last night each class (we have 6 Year I classes) discussed God’s covenant with Abraham, His Call, and his journey.  After about 35 minutes discussing this covenant students switched classes and went to “practical application” where they discussed how we are “maxed out” in our lives and so busy with noise and activity that we don’t hear God.  The question they explored is does God still speak to His people like He spoke to Abraham?  Students were broken up into groups and given a skit they had to perform.  Skit #1 was entitled: “Constant noise – never even noticing God”, skit #2 was entitled: “No time – too many important things to do – doesn’t stop for, recognize, or make time for God”.  Skit #3 was entitled: “We do all the talking – Too busy talking to every listen”. These skits were followed up by some questions.


During the last 30 minutes students switched to spotlight and encountered a great video about Abraham and Isaac.  The video was 17 minutes and very powerful.  There were also discussion questions that followed the video.

At the end of each class we encourage catechist to do a brief review and go over what their assignment is for next week’s class.  Finally, we ask the catechists to close in prayer.

What We Are Hearing

We are getting great feedback about this format and how students are engaged and really talking and interacting.  Catechists are really enjoying this format and there is a great vibe from them about how things are going.  Praise God for these blessings!

P.S. We have 6 classes and each class has a “team class” which means when it’s time to switch the students for example in Class 1 go to their team class, 2 and class 2 goes to into class 1.  So when one group is covering practical application the other is covering spotlight and then after 30 minutes they switch and experience the section they have not covered yet.  I hope that makes sense.  I thought it might sound a little confusing if I articulated it up above.

Like Change?

Change is not easy for people.  Even in a world that is in a constant state of change it is difficult to experience, especially when we have become so accustom to the way things are.  Are you looking forward, indifferent or are hesitant to the new changes of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal?

Seeing the Mass with New Eyes

Almost all diocese across the country have had numerous workshops to discuss the changes which are bringing a sense of renewal in general to the Liturgy.  Hopefully the faithful everywhere have come to a greater awareness of the beauty and the depth of the Mass.  I just recently gave a talk to parents about the Mass in general and hope that it brought a greater sense of all that is going on at Mass and how we are truly engaging in something heavenly and supernatural at Mass.  My talk was not so much about the upcoming changes as it was to focus on the wonder of the Mass and how it makes present the events of Calvary. Participating in the Mass is the closest we come to heaven this side of it.

Helping Your Students

What are you doing in your Religious Education, Youth Ministry and Adult Faith Formation to help individuals prepare for the changes?  Many resources have been printed and made available to help various age groups understand the changes and be ready for them in Advent.  Here are a few ideas for the various age groups to consider:


~ A series of presentations on the changes for the parish.

~ Resources published in the Bulletin and made available on your parish website.

Elementary and Youth:

~ 30 minute lessons on the specific changes that will happen (I’m especially doing this with 4th – 6th graders).

~ Taking lesson plans and connecting them with the changes.  For example when the lesson plan mentions the Creed take that opportunity to discuss the changes in wording. Or when you do a lesson on Reconciliation take that opportunity to discuss why the changes in the penitential rite.

~ Learning Stations:  We recently had an enrichment session at our parish for 1st – 6th graders about the changes.  We set up 6 learning stations where students and parents spent 10 minutes at each station focusing on some aspect of the Mass (4 stations related to the changes and the other two were intended to give a greater appreciation of the Mass)  They walked away with something from each station.

~ Aim to mention the Mass and how it is central to our life and worship as Catholic Christians.  What a great opportunity to dive more deeply into the Mass and why it is so important to us as Catholics.  St. Bernard said “you will gain more from one single Mass than you would from distributing all your goods to the poor or making pilgrimages to all the most holy shrines in Christendom.”

Opportunity Knocks

Don’t miss this opportunity to talk about something ever ancient yet ever new.  I’ll repeat what has been said by many for the last 2 years about these changes: It gives us a great opportunity, a unique moment to really emphasize and help those we catechize not only become aware of why the changes but how the Mass continues to be our strength, life and source of life giving grace for the faithful.

I’m am not usually a fan of America Magazine but when I saw this posted from the NCCL newsletter I found it very interesting.  The September 19th edition of the Magazine had an editorial about Steve Jobs and asked the question,  What would the church of Steve Jobs look like regarding how it would reach out to young people?

The last paragraph asked the following:

“One hears that young people want what the church has to offer, but they cannot find it in that church. The delivery system fails. Imagine a Bishop Steve Jobs. What would his diocese—the Diocese of Appleton, perhaps—look like? How would entrenched interests react to his challenge? What is out there in plain sight that he would see and point out to fellow church leaders? How would he change not the message, not the content, not the words but the delivery system? The human side of the church could use the energy of new vision.”

How would you answer this?

What about the delivery system in the Church is going well and what needs renewal or in the technology world what “updates” need to be made?

I found the following filed away and I just pulled it out and thought it would be worth sharing.

Top Ten “To-Do’s” with Primaries

By Kelly Renz

  1. Show great reverence for the Bible, the church space, God’s name, etc.
  2. Use images kids can identify with to understand faith terms.
  3. use the senses and employ multi-sensory teaching.
  4. Get kids – and yourself- moving.
  5. Ask lots of questions; lead them to think, consider, analyze, compare.
  6. Talk frequently about emotions; it helps them apply their own experience.
  7. Be inclusive; draw in every student, even the most shy.
  8. Be joyful and enthusiastic about your faith; it will be contagious!
  9. Recognize good behavior often; never shame or belittle.
  10. Never assume they know how to pray; expose them over and over to all forms of prayer.

The one caveat I would say is number 6.  It is great to apply things to their own experiences but primary age kids love hard and fast rules and facts so be sure to tap them into what is true and what God wants them to know about Himself.

Would you add anything to the list?





Lisa Mladnich has a blog on called Be An Amazing Catechist that I highly recommend.  It has great articles especially for catechist who are teaching the faith in a classroom setting.  I encourage you to check out this great resources that will encourage, inspire and empower you!  She just came out with a new resource on sacramental preparation that I will be reviewing soon (when I get a chance).

This past Sunday our parish began a new 8th grade Confirmation Program.  Our goal was to get our students out of the traditional classroom model of religious education and find a way to more fully engage them as well as involve the whole parish (public school and Catholic school students).  We want to foster a Confirmation program that is bringing all or our Confirmation candidates together in an environment that engages them and inspires them in their Catholic Faith. 

Here’s what we did on our first night:

We gathered 200 kids in our Gym for a few icebreakers which they seemed to really enjoy.  Then we moved into our youth room where we did a random skit.  We kept the kids laughing at the beginning of this night.  We really wanted to set the mood for this year and start things off right.  Then we introduced our theme for the night: “Come Follow Me”.  Jesus Christ is at the heart of our ministry to these young teens and we don’t just want to teach them about Jesus but we desire to lead them closer to Jesus and in a relationship with Him.  We showed video clips from 4 different movies that focused on making a decision to go forward, to do something that was challenging but significant.  After each video clip a 30 second to one minute commentary was given.  We wrapped this part up by reading from Matthew 4 where Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be fishers of Men. 

Next we had students gather in small groups (they will be in these small groups all year) and take some time to get to know one another as well as have the catechist/small group leader shared how they have followed Jesus in their lives and what difference that has made in it. 

We concluded the night by gathering back in the youth room and challenging them to follow Jesus and walk in His footsteps.  We had them put a sticker on the bottom of their shoes that said: Come Follow Me.  

It was a great night!  We are very excited about our new format which we hope really draws these students closer to Christ in a way that they will enjoy.  May the Holy Spirit continue to lead and guide us. 

What are you doing in your ministry to engage students?







A New Curriculum

Last night we had our 7th grade catechists gather for our In-Service.  We rolled out a new vision and curriculum.  There was great excitement about it all. 

Toward the end of last year’s religious education program we decided we needed our middle school program to look different from what religious education students were use to going to from K-6 grade.  By middle school we want to avoid a mentality of “this is the same old thing every year”.  Yes, we want them to continue to grow in their knowledge of faith, but more importantly we want them to be formed in their faith and able to witness to it in their everyday lives.  Not to mention the need to do it in a way that engages them and keeps them guessing what is going to happen next.  While, we are not professional entertainers nor experts in engaging middle schoolers, we wanted to create a curriculum that draws them into the Scriptures as well as how it relates to their current lives.

Nuts and Bolts

Our curriculum aims to cover the key aspects of Salvation History through the 6 major covenants (5 in the Old Testament and 1 in the New).  We will be covering the key aspects through the following method:

1) We will spend between 30 to 45 minutes each week cover the topic of the day.

2) Students then will switch classes (each class has what we call a “team class”) and cover either “practical application” or “spotlight”.  After 25 to 30 minutes of that they switch again and cover whatever they did not cover in the previous 25-30 minutes.  Practical Application seeks to make application of the topic and help them respond to it.  Spotlight aims to highlight something via a video, a testimony or activity that assists students in further applying and understanding how the topic affects and relates to them.

3) At times we will not have them switch but we will gather all the students together (e.g. gather in the church for a prayer/blessing or watch a video as a whole group.  

Engaging Middle Schoolers 

We are very excited about this new program and last night our catechists and aides responded very positively and with enthusiasm about this new curriculum.  We currently have 4 lessons created and are working on developing the other lessons.  It’s a time-consuming process since there does not really exist a program out their that covers salvation history for middle schoolers and engages them.  There are textbooks that cover the Bible but not in a way that is less classroom presentation style.  We are looking to be less textbook driven and more engaging as our students gather.  There will be a component of presenting material while not relying on a textbook.

Please say a pray for our endeavor and let me know if you’d like me to share more.   

Do you ever have the tendency to say more than less?  I know I do.  I admire those who can speak to the heart of the matter and no more.  Here are a few biblical catechists who did just that.  I have much to learn from them.  The following 3 saints give us a glimpse of catechizing so profoundly in just a few words.

Mary – The first catechist gives a great job description of a disciple of Jesus: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5)

John the Baptist – “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) and “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30)


Elizabeth –  “Hail Mary, full of grace” (Luke 1:28) and “Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me’?” (Luke 1: 41-43)


May these saints help us this coming year to aspire to share the Good News with the humility, patients and charity they exemplified.  May we heed their words and come back to them regularly.

St. Robert Bellarmine developed 15 marks of the Catholic Church.  He was not only a great catechist and one of the patron saints of catechists but he is also a Doctor of the Church.  He lived from 1542 to 1621.  His Feast Day is September 17th.  These 15 marks are worth considering for all catechists who pass on the treasures of our Catholic Faith.  Maybe for older grades they could be taught as the 15 Marks but I was thinking that if catechists just keeping these concepts in mind it would help students see the wonder and depth of our Catholic Faith.

1. The Church’s Name, Catholic, universal, and world wide, and not confined to any particular nation or people.

2. Antiquity, in tracing her ancestry directly to Jesus Christ.

3. Constant Duration, in lasting substantially unchanged for so many centuries.

4. Extensiveness, in the number of her loyal members.

5. Episcopla Succession, of her Bishops from the first Apostles at the Last Supper to the present hierarchy.

6. Doctrinal Agreement, of her doctrine with the teaching of the ancient Church.

7. Union, of her members among themselves, and with their visible head, the Roman Pontiff.

8. Holiness, of doctrine in reflecting the sanctity of GOD.

9. Efficacy, of doctrine in its power to sanctify believers, and inspire them to great moral achievement.

10. Holiness of Life, of the Church’s representative writers and defenders.

11. The glory of Miracles, worked in the Church and under the Church’s auspices.

12. The gift of Prophesy found among the Church’s saints and spokesmen.

13. The Opposition that the Church arouses among those who attack her on the very grounds that Christ was opposed by His enemies.

14. The Unhappy End, of those who fight against her.

15. The Temporal Peace and Earthly Happiness of those who live by the Church’s teaching and defend her interests.

religious ed iconSummer Program Underway

So far our first week of Summer School of Religion (Religious Education) is going very well.  Along with covering about 8-9 chapters so far this week (after 3 days of classes) students have had the opportunity to go to a music session on Monday and Tuesday, visit with one of our priests for a Q & A session, and attend a church tour.  Other exciting things coming up this week are a field trip for 6th graders on Thursday and 4th graders on Friday and one for 5th graders next Wednesday.  They will also attend Stations of the Cross on Friday and more times for music on Friday and a couple of times next week.  Students will also have an opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation next week as well as a living saints museum.

Challenges of a Two Week Program

First, it is important to note that no program is perfect.  Parents are the primary educators and what we do in our religious education program is in conjunction and in partnership with what should be done within the family.  Families should be living the Faith, talking about the Faith and sharing the Faith on a daily basis.

Our intensive two week program is the only one of its kind in our metro area.  Many parishes practically loathe the fact that we offer such a program and others love the idea but do not have the support they need from their pastor.  Many at our own parish believe it is merely a way to “get it out of the way”.   Yes, there is the potential for parents to sign up their busy child(ren) for two weeks in the summer so they don’t have to make the time for religious formation classes during the year.  However, that does not mean they are not learning and growing during the year.  We hope and pray at a minimum they are attending Mass weekly (but this is also a problem with some parents who have their children attending during the year).  Another challenge is that the great things children learn during the two weeks are not spoken or thought of 3 months later.  For example, the lesson on the Works of Mercy is forgotten about and kids forget to apply the collection they are participating in their schools or the things they are doing during the year with the Works of Mercy that they learned about in July.  Another challenge I find is that the liturgical year is not able to be celebrated in the same way in a two week period as it is from September to May.  Catechists are able to focus on so many aspects of the faith within the context of the liturgical seasons during the year, but not as much in the summer – it’s a little more abstract.  It’s challenge to talk about Advent in July when they won’t celebrate it for another 5 months.


I believe I shared in Part I is that our program is 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM.  Most if not all of these students are not in any other educational program during these two weeks and are only focusing on their religious education.  It is very challenging during the year when kids have been at school all day and they are tired and worn out when they come to religious education in the evenings once a week.  Also, students seem to process and retain what they are learning about because they have it day after day for these two weeks instead of only once a week.  Many parents share how they believe their child gets more out of the summer because they are finding it easier for their child to connect the dots about their faith.  I think another advantage is the ability to schedule unique activities throughout the program. Although I’ve been able to do some great things during the year it is easier to schedule music for a half an hour for each grade in a 3.5 hour day verses trying to do the same thing during the year when all we have is an hour and 15 minutes.  I try to schedule at least one thing out of class each day as well as allowing the catechists to decide when they want to take their class to a short “snack break”.  In addition, I really like that during these two weeks the classrooms can be set up in anyway the catechists want them to be set up verses during the year when it would take more time to move desks around before class begins and then move them back at the end of class.  Catechists do not tend to do that as much during the year so as not to “mess up” the Catholic School students desks or put them back in the wrong order.  Neither are they able to decorate and personalize very much during the year but in the summer they are able to do that to a greater degree.

Enrichment Sessions

Since I’ve become the Director I’ve required students and parents to commit to 4 times a year for enrichment sessions (twice in the Fall and twice in the Spring).  These session are designed to build community and continue to help kids and their parents grow in their faith throughout the year.

Although I was unsure when I first began working at the parish about a summer program, I now am an advocate of the Summer Program.  I am always aware of the challenges we face at helping live the faith throughout the year.  There are many great things about this program and I am blessed to be able to be at a parish that offers alternatives and various options for parishioners.  One size (i.e., program) does not fit all.   Feel free to contact me about this program and I’d be happy to share more.

This Monday begins our Summer School of Religion Program.  About 10 years ago my parish began an alternative religious education program.  It offers an intensive two week session that is 3 and a half hours a day for two weeks.  Last year 258 students participated.  Many parents love it and other parents would not even consider having their child only go to class for only two weeks in the summer (some think that would be merely getting it out of the way).   There are some real positives to a program of this sort as well as challenges (more in my next post about this).

Over the last three years I’ve worked hard to make sure the classes are covering the same amount of material as classes during the school year.  I’ve outlined the chapters for each grade (1st, 3rd – 6th) in order to help the catechists be prepared and ready to cover their lessons well.  Our program also has music, a church tour, time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, field trips for some grades, Stations of the Cross, Mass, and a food drive.  It aims to not merely get through so many chapters but to help the students encounter a Catholic culture and a program that forms the whole person.

In my next post I’ll share some of the pro’s and con’s of a alternative program like this one.

Does your parish do anything like this?

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