Last week I was pleasantly shocked to discover that the 2011-12 catechetical year is running about 1/2 class ahead of schedule. We have 4 more classes: one on Revelations, and three on the Mass. In case you’re wondering, there’s no end-of-year party. The last class is a regular class, and the kids are a bit pleased with themselves that they don’t need to be coddled with entertainment.
Tonight’s class first recapped the transition from the Church in Acts to the present day, and how the Catholic Church maintains the visible hierarchy established in Acts. The rest of the period treats the Epistles, which kids find deadly dull. I don’t blame them. After all the acting out and storytelling of the Gospels & Acts, the Epistles are dry toast. To make them bearable to the young’uns I deal in little soundbites which have particular resonance for Catholics. The extra time meant I could pick more than the usual 3 or 4 excerpts.
1. “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– 13 each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” [1Cor 3]
The kids figured out the Purgatory relevance, as usual. But this year I had a little epiphany. As I was writing “gold, silver, diamonds, wood, hay, straw” on the board, out of the blue I said, “Hey, who knows the Three Little Pigs?” So we started with the kids telling the story of the Three Pigs and their houses. That intro perked them up a bit and energized the discussion.
2. “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” [2Tim 1:6]
Paul likens Timothy’s gifts to those the Apostles received at Pentecost; and because Confirmation approaches, I take every opportunity to show that laying hands makes a difference.
3. “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.” [Philemon 14]
I turn this short Epistle into the story of Onesimus the Runaway Slave & Paul’s Intercession. The kids discuss why true charity must be freely given. I remind them that parents nevertheless require their children to act charitably with their bodies in order to train their souls in the habits of virtue.
4. “..we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” [Heb 4:14-15]
Sounds too intellectual for 12-year-olds, but we pump it up with a sketch of the Meeting Tent. The kids recall the details, especially the High Priest (a sinner) behind the veil. Remembering that God instructed Moses to build an imitation of the Sanctuary in Heaven, they see that sinless Jesus is now in that sanctuary doing the High Priest job perfectly. So the Hebrews can forget about the Temple and the Ark in Jerusalem, just as Jeremiah foretold: “…when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; it shall not be made again.”
5. “…we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” [Heb 12:1]
The kids tell me about the saints and angels in the “cloud,” and I tell them to imagine the saints at Mass with us all around the walls of the church. We compare the Tortoise and the Hare story to Paul’s encouragement to persevere in the race: you can’t lay back and say you’re saved. You have to keep doing good ’til the end.
6. “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith…Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead…[James 2]
The kids well know Jesus’ attention to good works. This is just some icing on the body-soul-faith-works concept that they’ve seen a dozen times or more this year.
7. “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” [1Pet 3]
I tell the kids that I want them to be able to this, i.e., answer questions about being Catholic Christians without getting into arguments. I give a few examples from my own life to show it’s not something to fear, but something to anticipate and prepare for. We consider the adults in RCIA class, and how many of them are now becoming Catholic because a Catholic had answered their questions.
8. “This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. 7 And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. 8 There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree.” [1John 5]
The kids tell me about ritual sprinkling of blood and water, and how blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side. I help them to connect all that to the fusing of the Spirit, the blood of Christ’s sacrifice, and the cleansing water in Baptism.
Toward the end of class there were some digressions. One child asked this question, which I hear at least once each year: “If I love my dog and can’t be happy without him, will I have him in Heaven even if animals don’t go to Heaven?” I did the usual cartoon of a dog and its owner, with arrows of God’s goodness flowing from Heaven, through the dog, into the person. If you’re in Heaven getting all of God’s goodness directly from God, you don’t need a dog to mediate it. You won’t miss your dog.
Kids are never really satisfied with that explanation, which adults seem fine with. So I launched into this off-the-cuff analogy:
Pretend we all live in the middle of the Sahara desert. The desert is all we’ve ever seen. Every day you get a 2-liter bottle of water, which is enough to meet your needs. But we’re going to move from the desert to a houseboat on a Great Lake, name one for me…Superior? Good, we’re going to live on Lake Superior. How big is it? Well, it’s real big. Yes, Lake Superior’s about the size of South Carolina. It’s so big that you can’t see any land from the middle. For all you can tell, the water goes on forever.
How much water is in a 2-liter bottle? Umm…2-liters? Yes. How much more water is in Lake Superior? A billion times more? Yes, maybe even more…a billion billion! Yes, it’s practically an infinite amount of water; I can’t imagine water from horizon to horizon, ’cause I’ve only seen water in a bottle. But before we leave I get nervous. I say, “Make sure you take your water bottles!” What would you say? We won’t need them anymore! But that’s how we get our water, we have to have them! But you can have all the water you want by jumping in the lake! No, I have to have my water bottle to have the water! No you can have all you want without the bottle! It’s a lake! It’s made out of water!
So what’s my problem? You can’t imagine that much water. Yes. Well, heaven is like that. We can’t imagine that much God. God is all around you and in you, like you’re a fish in Lake Superior. In Heaven, God’s goodness won’t come to you through your dog, or your parents, or even through communion at Mass. You’ll get God straight from God. Yes, what? I still want my dog in Heaven. Well…wait and see.
By the way, the kids love it when I’m obtuse and they have to correct me.