All posts tagged: catechesis

Summer Symposia Recap: Forming the Person as Icon

In late June, the Center for Liturgy of the McGrath Institute for Church Life facilitated a summer symposium designed to creatively explore the senses of Scripture. Drawing from Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobi’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy sought to nurture and develop the sacramental imagination of the symposium participants and, consequently, the faith communities to which these individuals would return and catechize. While the symposium offered intellectual formation pertaining to the literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses of the Scriptures, the structure of the week allowed participants to experience these senses. According to the principles of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, it is this paradoxical structure of the human person’s physical and spiritual natures that allows the child to experience, and, more importantly, participate in, the story of sacred history. Here it is helpful to turn to Cavalletti’s own writing: [Sacred history] seems to unite elements derived from two different worlds. . . . Indeed, the expression “sacred history” could appear to be a contradiction in terms. But …

An Act of Faith: a Parent’s Experience of the Atrium

My first window into Catechesis of the Good Shepherd was actually as a senior in college, through an Atrium at a Montessori school.  I was surrounded by six, seven, and eight year olds busily coloring, arranging flowers, inviting friends into processions and little prayer services, and unrolling the longest ribbon I think I have ever seen to illustrate the History of the Kingdom of God at work (humans don’t come into the scene until about the last foot of the ribbon).  I was delighted by what I saw, and it also seemed a bit foreign—a particular language and culture with which I was not familiar. One of my favorite moments as a rookie to the Atrium that first year was when a small first grader (the son of a theologian, to be fair), came up to me and showed me his Alleluia banner—a montage the children draw during the Easter season.  He had created scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament: the Burning Bush, the parting of the Red Sea, the Last Supper, …

Editorial Musings: Sacramental Formation in a Secular Age

In early 1950s Rome, two women—a biblical scholar and a Montessori-trained educator—began the great catechetical experiment known as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In a way, Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi’s partnership is a kind of model for the mission of the McGrath Institute for Church Life, where we strive to nourish the Catholic imagination for the renewal of the Church. As a scholar of biblical languages steeped in ressourcement theology, Sofia Cavalletti never intended to tend souls in the garden of religious formation. Yet, through her unlikely collaboration with Gianna Gobbi, which spanned over half a century, she developed a method of catechesis rooted in the retrieval of the tradition that takes seriously the exigencies and dignity of children. They shared a commitment to the education of the whole person and an unwavering faith in the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ, which is unleashed in Scripture and Sacrament. Indeed, the catechetical method Cavalletti and Montessori developed serves as an icon of the kind of sacramental catechesis needed to nourish the imagination and …

“For the Life of the World”: Nourishing the Catholic Imagination for Liturgical Celebration

In the life of the Church, the liturgy, especially the Mass, is something of a lightning rod. Mass attendance (or lack thereof) is viewed as the basic litmus test for a parish’s vitality, and many programs and initiatives are undertaken at the parish and/or diocesan level for the purposes of either increasing the numbers of those who attend Mass regularly or making the Mass a more meaningful experience for those who already go. Why this emphasis on the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharistic celebration of Mass? At the surface level, it’s because the Mass is the central point of entry for most parishioners into the life of their church. If the Sunday Mass is poorly attended, it’s a safe bet that other parish programs like catechesis, youth and young adult ministry, and sacramental preparation are probably struggling as well. As goes the Sunday Mass, so goes the parish. At a deeper spiritual level, the Eucharistic liturgy is most often the central focus of parish ministry because it is in the liturgy that “the work of …

The All of It: Nourishing the Catholic Imagination through Echo’s Integrative Formation

“It is the starved imagination, not the well-nourished, that is afraid.” –E.M. Forster If we are to think of the Church as a field hospital, as Pope Francis has suggested, with “the mission to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all . . . God always waits for us” (Homily, Casa Santa Marta, 2.5.15), then those of us responsible for preparing ministers for this field hospital Church must place the nourishment of our students’ imaginations at the center of their and our work. It takes a great deal of courage and pastoral creativity to approach deep wounds, to open closed doors, to receive and speak rightly of God’s forgiveness and affection. In Echo, students engage simultaneously in various dimensions of the program—study, prayer, community, ministry, formation. But the key to a well-nourished Catholic imagination is not just being in Catholic places and doing and consuming Catholic things. Fragmented busyness might make us feel full but it often leaves us overfed and …

Editorial Musings: Nourishing the Imagination, Renewing the Church

As I write this week’s editorial musings, the McGrath Institute for Church Life is engaged in final preparations for our annual summer programming. We will welcome to the University of Notre Dame liturgical and sacramental catechists, facilitators of our online theological education program, youth and campus ministers, high school students, young adults, teachers of science and religion, priests from around the country, and master’s students preparing to work in ministry in the Church. Our summer programming functions as a kind of sacramental sign of the Institute’s mission in the Church. Through nourishing the Catholic imagination of those ministers with whom we partner, we seek to renew the life of the Church. The language of imagination and renewal has been chosen with great care. The imagination is not a matter of mere fancy, engaging in a “make-believe” world. The imagination is that capacity that we have as human beings to see the world anew through the images and narratives that nourish us. As James K.A. Smith writes about the formation of the imagination: . . . we …

Metaphors in the Catechetical Imagination

Christ and his Church have always used metaphors to fashion and to articulate meaning, to express the inexpressible presence of God, and to communicate his truths,[1] such as “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11, 14). The National Directory of Catechesis [NDC] has taken the lead in urging catechists to use metaphors. [2] The NDC advocates metaphors because Christ taught that way. So did the early Church. On their face, metaphors and similes compare one thing or idea with a seemingly different thing. But they are much more than fancy figures of speech. Examining how the Church has used metaphors can teach and transform how contemporary catechists do likewise. Why Metaphors are Made for Catechesis First, metaphors are fundamental, cognitive software through which we map our world, make decisions, and understand ourselves, others and God. We all naturally think and talk using metaphors. So does the Bible, Christ, and the Church. Metaphors (and similes) create associations between seemingly unrelated images, memories, and ideas; they form “maps” by which we understand life, express our thoughts, and …

Forming Lifelong Disciples through Developmentally-Responsive Catechesis

A pressing question in the area of faith formation today is whether or not we are indeed forming people for a lifelong practice of the faith and celebration of the sacraments. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center indicates that 42% of adults in the United States have left the faith of their childhood. In the book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell points out that the lack of attachment to one’s childhood faith is particularly significant among Catholics.[1] She cites an earlier Pew study that showed only 30% of Americans who were raised Catholic are still attending Mass at least once a month. A number of parish catechetical leaders also report declining enrollment in their parish religious education classes for age levels that are not sacramental years, suggesting that perhaps parents are perceiving less value in the curriculum offered by the parish program in non-sacramental years. In addition, parish leaders continue to be frustrated that even the families who are involved in the parish religious education program often seem to treat it as one …

Catholic Culture in the Classroom

Last summer I took a course on Catechesis and how to approach the work of sharing the Gospel through education. At some point during the course I was confronted with the question, “What is the culture of my classroom?” I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Initially, I thought about the experience my students have in my class, the generally positive student evaluations I receive, the comfortable relationships I have with the vast majority of my students. Then I thought about what my classroom actually looks like and how that informs the cultural milieu of the class: plenty of crucifixes, icons, and religious art, some Notre Dame swag (pennants and such), and half the Ignatius Press catalog on my bookshelf. Then I realized I have a rather shallow understanding of culture. In Truth and Tolerance, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that culture “has to do with perceptions and values. It is an attempt to understand the world and the existence of man with it . . . guided by the fundamental interest of our existence.”[1] …

Inexhaustible Stories

I repeat my question, but the class stares blankly toward the front of the room and then shuffles with nervous looks at the floor to avoid being called upon. The sun pokes through the little windows on this bright Sunday morning as I teach a Confirmation preparation class for seventh grade students at a small parish in town. At the beginning of the morning I had picked up over a dozen teenagers from a bustling basement cafeteria and embarrassingly stuttered through conversations with their parents as my students translated my English into Spanish. I prepared to begin our class in prayer and looked out to a scene of fourteen-year-olds in varying stages of rapid and unpredictable growth spurts sitting in the tiny chairs of the third grade classroom we had been assigned. The noise of cars whooshing on the streets outside our windows seemed distracting as I asked the class to consider the images used by Christ himself: vines and harvests, mustard seeds and sowers, fig trees and shepherds. As we sifted through our Bibles …