All posts tagged: religious education

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 …

Catechesis Through Love

My parish embodies a probably not uncommon reality in the shifting demographic and identity of American Catholicism. As I arrived at my parish a year and a half ago, our Director of Religious Education and her assistants were in dialogue about a rising number of high school students, specifically from the Spanish-speaking community, who were out of step with their sacrament preparation. At sixteen or seventeen years old, many had only received their first Eucharist a few years ago, and with Quinceñera expectations hurrying parents to the Religious Ed office by the dozens, these kids needed to be confirmed. “So what do we do?” asked our DRE. “Put them in Confirmation prep classes with a bunch of seventh graders?” Deciding that approach wouldn’t be particularly fruitful, we envisioned a class specifically for these high school students, to effectively catch them up on whatever catechesis they’d missed, fill the gaps in their knowledge, and get them ready to be fully initiated into the Church. So I offered to take on the class, found a brilliant co-catechist …

Telling the Story in Teaching Religion

My constant beef with middle school religion textbooks: There is no story. They just contain a hodge-podge of information strung together. Even when a particular grade level’s book has a theme, the chapters still follow each other like a gaudy striped scarf instead of a tapestry that weaves a picture. In one unit of seventh grade, the chapters cover giving alms and St. Francis, the Eucharist, the two great commandments, and then the raising of Lazarus. Now, these are all areas ripe for discussion, which I would love to share with my seventh grade students. However, a random bunch of topics is not memorable. It is not relevant. It leads to students asking questions like, “Am I ever going to need to know any of this?” and “Why are we learning this?” and “How do we even know any of this is true, anyway?” At the beginning of Unit 3 (not ideal, but better late than never) I finally attempted to give all three grades some context. I talked about the story of salvation: God’s …

Gregorian Chant in Pastoral Ministry and Religious Education

What role does the Church’s treasury of sacred music play in contemporary pastoral ministry and religious education? How does one build a sacred music program of excellence which serves as an integral part of the sacred liturgy and is also effective both in drawing souls to Christ and forming people in the Catholic faith? St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie) in Yonkers, New York, is hosting a national conference March 10-11, 2017 which hopes to encourage discussion of answers to these and other questions. The conference will bring together clergy, seminarians, scholars, musicians, teachers, and Catholic school administrators to consider the place of Gregorian chant and excellent choral music in the life of the Catholic Church in America today. The conference seeks to inspire attendees with ideas for starting or continuing to develop sacred music programs of excellence in Catholic parishes and schools. The conference organizers also hope to encourage discussion about the vitality and necessity of beauty and sacred music in the catechesis and formation of Catholics, as well as in the evangelization of non-Catholics and …

Preaching Kerygma

In a recent article for this journal, Bob Waldrop cites statistics from Sherry Waddell, who states that 60% of Catholics 18 to 29 years old and 54% of Catholics age 30–49 do not believe that a personal relationship with Christ is possible, which Waldrop claims is indicative of the overwhelming secular influence of this age. He argues that the remedy to this unfamiliarity with Christ is an encounter with the kerygma followed by an effective initiatory catechesis. This claim for the need of a kerygmatic proclamation is not new, but rather has been whispered throughout the Church for 80 years, beginning with Fr. Josef Jungmann’s heavily debated book The Good News Yesterday and Today. Originally suppressed by the Jesuits, the book experienced a resurgence through its promotion by Johannes Hofinger, a one-time student of Jungmann, and the catechetical work of the Second Vatican Council. Catechetical study weeks of the 1960s further promoted the need for kerygma in catechesis, but the General Catechetical Directory (1971) and the General Directory for Catechesis (1997) relegate the kerygma to …

How to Pray the Rosary with Middle Schoolers

Our parish uses the Edge program for our middle school religious education. Before our first class began, our coordinator asked me to lead prayer at the end of each monthly gathering. When I asked her if there was a specific type of prayer she was hoping I would lead, she thought that perhaps it would be nice to introduce the Rosary to the middle school students. Now, before you think that we prayed the whole Rosary before each class, I will tell you that we decided that a single decade of the Rosary would be stretching the limits of middle school students’ abilities to be quiet, still, and prayerful. Why pray the Rosary with middle school students? First of all, many of our students do not have much experience with traditional prayers of the Church; sadly, that includes experiences of the Mass. We wanted to end our classes in a spirit of prayer that would send students home refreshed, renewed, and filled with hope in the Lord. Since Mary is the Mother of our Lord, …