Glory Cloud

This year so far is the best year I’ve had catechizing 6th grade, which is saying a lot, since even the worst year (which I clearly remember) was still a good year. The kids and I have become a little family, laughing, learning, anticipating, finishing other people’s sentences. It’s like sitting around the dinner table and the topic of lively conversation is always Jesus and his Church. The last two classes were like group flow-states, if that’s possible. The kids believe in themselves, partly because they know I believe in them and love them like my own children. Every Wednesday night we hit the ground running, and they are fearless thinkers, knowing that even a fabulously wrong answer can still be a good answer.

Last class we were discussing this Annunciation, and how aspects of both Church and Temple are present in the building. The kids can relate new stuff to old stuff on the fly, and one of them asked if there had been a Shekhinah cloud over the Temple, as there had been over the Meeting Tent.

annunciation1
 Panel from the Isenheim Altarpiece
.

“Huh…maybe as long as it contained the Ark; y’all may remember that the Ark was gone by the time Mary was born. But there’s a Glory Cloud in the painting. I see it!  Yes! And in the cloud? The dove, the Holy Spirit!  Yes! But is it overshadowing the Ark? No, Mary!  Yes, because…Jesus is in her?  Yes, as of that very moment when the both Holy Spirit and Glory Cloud overshadow her. Yes, what? Is there a Shekhinah in church?  Uhh…never thought about it. I guess not. Well, maybe it’s there but we can’t see it because of sin (being blinded or veiled by sin is a standard idea). Wow, you could be right! There’s all sorts of glory and saints and angels at Mass with us, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole church (arms waving around) might be lit like the sun with God’s presence. It might be like visions Isaiah and Daniel had (they know them). Wow. We’ll get to some of that later this year.” And then we continued to discuss the painting.

I know this vignette is a small thing, but for that weekly hour of class we hover on the cusp of Heaven. This is my life. As the song says, God Has Been So Good to Me.

Do We Need A Paradigm Shift?

bored studentIf in 1990 you would have asked people if they would buy bottled drinking water they would have laughed at you or rolled their eyes.  But today 9.67 billion gallons of bottled water is consumed in the United States alone (according to the International Bottled Water Association’s 2012 report).

In the same vain if in 1990 you would have said that the paradigm for religious education will not be the best means of forming children in the 21st century few would have listened.

I could write an educational catechetical dissertation (maybe I should) on how we got to the place we are at in the realm of catechetical formation of young people.  I will spare you, at least for now, a lengthy introduction to the state of education and catechesis today. However, let me share that neither in public education or in catechetical formation is the factory model working as an effective model for catechetical formation.

I don’t think it is a complete failure but I wonder if there are better models that need to be considered today.  The factory model has been defined in various ways, but here is one definition: “In the “factory” school, all students were grouped chronologically, were taught the same material from the same textbook, and were expected to function in an obedient, non-questioning manner (Schrenko, 1994).”   This method allows teachers to teach the same way all subjects at the same pace to all the children in the classroom.

Our catechetical classrooms today follow this model to a great degree although with some variation.  Technology is driving much of education and there are many attempts to reconsider the 150 year old factory model that has impacted all education.  religious ed

In parish religious education/catechetical formation we have a number of current obstacles that I’ve encountered through using this factory classroom model:

1) Catechizing is more challenging today because you have students who have been sacramentalized but have a very limited knowledge and understanding of the faith, and students who know the facts but have not come to a place where they are in a deeper relationship with Christ (not meaning to make any judgments on where they are in that relationship).

2) Students are coming to class with little encounter with Christ at Mass (usually because they are not being taken by their parents).

3) Many catechists aren’t trained teachers and do not have the ability to facilitate the learning needs of each student.

4) Catechetical formation happens only once a week and for only a short amount of time.

Today there is a great need to begin considering what we can do to shift the current predominant paradigm in our religious education classes.  As students get older they do not desire to learn in the way we are teaching them (this goes for both public education as well as catechetical formation).  “The specific aim of catechesis”, according to St. John Paul II is to:

to develop, with God’s help, an as yet initial faith, and to advance in fullness and to nourish day by day the Christian life of the faithful, young and old…Catechesis aims therefore at developing understanding of the mystery of Christ in the light of God’s word, so that the whole of a person’s humanity is impregnated by that word. Changed by the working of grace into a new creature, the Christian thus sets himself to follow Christ and learns more and more within the Church to think like Him, to judge like Him, to act in conformity with His commandments, and to hope as He invites us to. (Catechesis in Our Time #20).

The Church’s mission to hand on the faith has always been the same, but it seems that at least some kind of shift is in order for 21st century catechetical formation.

3 Questionsquestion1

1) How can we proclaim to Gospel Message to those we encounter in our classrooms and best hand on the faith today?

2) What obstacles are you encountering in today’s religious education classroom?

3) Do you see any possible solutions to how we can make a shift?

 

 

Originally posted at relevantcatechesis.com

 

 

Another #Amazing #Giveaway! Newsletter Subscribers Entered to Win!

To celebrate our new, mobile-friendly website, AmazingCatechists.com is having an AMAZING giveaway!!!

If you subscribed to our newsletter longer than a month ago or have never subscribed, we’d like to give you the opportunity to SIGN UP NOW at the sidebar on the home page to be entered to win one of MORE THAN A DOZEN beautiful crucifixesand to receive our once-weekly posts!

Gold and RedI’ll be raffling off FOURTEEN stunning pieces by the Holy Mass Crucifix Apostolate, which has received the Apostolic Blessings of both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis! Once you have these extraordinarily beautiful crucifixes blessed by a priest, the Papal blessings will be imparted to them to bring the grace of God to those who use them.

The founder of the Holy Mass Crucifix Apostolate, Roger LeBlanc, frequently receives testimonials as to the power of those graces. Some say their loved ones have been brought back to the sacraments after receiving them! (Please consider supporting his holy apostolate with your Christmas shopping dollars.) He offers this collection to us in hopes of drawing many more souls back to the Holy Mass. What incredible generosity. This is the kind of selflessness that contributes powerfully to a culture of love and life.

As a result, we are GIVING AWAY TEN 5″ “First Communion: Holy Mass Standing Crucifixes,” TWO 3″ pendant crucifixes on black cord, and TWO 2″ pendant crucifixes on black cord. These are exquisite, heirloom-quality, enameled pieces that make great gifts for Christmas, First Communion, First Reconciliation, and Confirmation. Girl Praying

TO ENTER, visit the home page, here at AmazingCatechists.com and scroll down the right sidebar to find our easy sign-up form. Fill in your name and email address. It’s that simple!

I’ll be awarding these beautiful gifts by random drawing from our newsletter subscriber list, starting on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12th.

Our once-weekly newsletter, updating our subscribers on new posts and features at AmazingCatechists.com will begin in just a few days.

Feel free to contact me with any questions, suggestions, or catechetical tips you’d like to share, at the email address below!

And don’t forget to subscribe to our once-weekly newsletter to be entered to win!

Blessings of the Advent Season!

Lisa Mladinich
Founder, AmazingCatechists.com TM
lisa@mladinich.com
Author, “Be an Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children” and
“Be an Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation”
From Our Sunday Visitor in English and Spanish

Finding Ways to be Thankful!

sunriseFamilies, church members and students are under a lot of stress this Thanksgiving season. It may be difficult to find reasons to be thankful when our churches are closing or being clustered, we are unemployed or struggling with family stress during the holidays. For some families, even coming up with the money for Thanksgiving dinner may be difficult this year.
What can we do, as Catechists, to help, especially if we too are struggling with these issues?

1/ Discuss the stressors. Sometimes just sharing the fears and difficulties may help our students to get through the rough times. Open discussions can also present ideas or solutions that haven’t been considered before. It decreases stress to know that we are not alone. Creating a safe place to talk can provide a valuable resource for our students.

2/ Offer real help. Organizing a food or coat drive can give real assistance to those who need it while teaching a lesson in living out the Catholic virtue of charity to our students. Taking students to volunteer at a soup kitchen or halfway house may also make them aware of the blessings that they have in their own lives.

3/ Make a Thanksgiving Turkey or Cornucopia of thanks. Have students list things they are thankful for and place them around a circle as feathers on the turkey or on pieces of paper fruit pieces to fill the cornucopia.

4/ Play an opposite game of thanks. The idea is to take a negative and turn it into a positive. For example: We don’t have money to buy everyone a Christmas present this year so we are going to make gifts or write letters to each other. Dad lost his job so he will be home to make cookies for the first time during the holidays.

5/ Use church closings and clusterings to create new traditions. This has been a really hard year for so many parishes. At a church near us the school has been shut down. Nearby, friends are struggling with the closing of their parish. It is hard to feel grateful under these circumstances. There can be blessings found even in these difficult times. Consider merging the church celebrations this year (possibly even before they have been clustered) so that parishioners can get to know each other and share their talents. Acknowledge the sadness of the moment while trying to look forward to the new experiences to come. Encourage positive attitudes rather than falling into the negativity of the situation. It can be a time of new friendships and a better stewardship of resources for all. Be assured of my prayers, dear reader and may God bless you and Happy Thanksgiving!

(Originally published, in part, in HFC column for OSV, 2009)

Send them home with something

Catechists work hard at teaching the faith to their class each time they meet.  As we all know, often that hour or so is the only time the children/youth hear about the faith.  If we want to engage parents and assist them in passing on the faith, we need to help them.  One way to do this is to send home something with their child to spark a conversation about what was taught in class.

As I thought about this I remembered all the pictures and cards and crafts and bookmarks and other stuff my children brought home when they were little.  One child needed to save it all while the other left it in the car.  Either way, there was lots of paper and stuff all over the place.  So I’d suggest a less is more approach and have it be meaningful.

Here are some ideas that have gotten positive feedback from catechists and parents:

Grades 1-3:  small prayer books,  make copies of prayers and paste into a construction paper book and add to it as you learn new prayers; a picture with a scripture verse from the lesson;

Grades 4-8:  a prayer or scripture verse written on an index card; a two-three sentence summary of the lesson; a challenge to participate in for the week such as praying before dinner or bed

Any grade:  YOUtube video links to music or explanations of the topic covered for the parents; list websites and apps to learn more about the faith; book suggestions for both children and adults

We all know that it takes more than the time spent in class to learn about our faith.  By reaching out to parents and letting them know what you are doing in class, it builds a bridge between family and Church.  Hopefully it sparks conversation and reminds everyone that religion isn’t that thing I do one Sunday mornings, but is a part of life on a regular basis.

 

Imaginative Prayer

I am part of the core team for the middle school youth group in my parish.  Every Monday we come together to play, snack, pray, and hopefully learn something about the faith.  When it was my turn to plan the night, knowing that the theme was prayer, I chose to teach how to pray with the scriptures using imaginative prayer which St. Ignatius of Loyola taught.  Here is the outline of the night:

  1. Scripture Charades:  break up into teams, with five or six on each team.  Give each team a different scripture passage and five minutes to figure out what they want to do.   Have each group stand up in front of the group and act it out; group that guesses it first goes next.
  • Here are some possible passages to use:  Jesus washing the Disciples feet, John 13;  Jesus Calls the Apostles to him, Matthew 4; Jesus heals a Blind Man, Mark 8; Jesus makes Peter the leader of the Church, Matthew 16; Jesus calms the storm, Luke 8. Print out the entire passage in case the group is not familiar with the story.  Note:  This took about 20 minutes with six groups.
  1. Opening Prayer
  2. Give the group the overview of the night: We are going to learn about St. Ignatius and way he taught people to pray.  Talk about St. Ignatius of Loyola and show some pictures of him.
  3. Explain what Imaginative Prayer is to the group: In this type of prayer, we read a Gospel passage and enter into it, putting ourselves into the story.  We think about what we can see, hear, smell, touch and maybe even taste.  We think about our reaction to what Jesus is saying or doing.
  4. Practice with the group using a familiar story. I used Jesus’ birth.    Ask these types of questions:  what do you see, smell, hear?  Who is with you?  Are you a shepherd, wise man, angel? Why?
  5. After you talk through the process and students respond, use a Gospel passage. I used Matthew 14:22-33, The Walking on Water.  Have the group spread out, sit in a relaxed position and close their eyes.  Read the passage slowly and with feeling.  When you are done reading, wait a few moments before having them open their eyes.  Discuss where they saw themselves in the passage, why and what it meant to them.   Questions: Where did you put yourself in the passage?  What did you notice from that point of view?  Why did you choose that person/perspective?  When you saw Jesus, how did you feel?  What did you learn about Jesus, yourself, others by doing this?
  6. Closing Prayer Time: Set up a table set up with tea light candles in the shape of a cross, one candle per student.  Play “Lord I need You” by Matt Maher while each student comes forward to light a candle, praying silently for a specific intention.  With just candles and low lights, talk about why prayer is necessary and important.

 Talking points for #’s 3, 5 and 7

#3  Talk about St. Ignatius very briefly:  was a soldier, a bit of a  flirt, liked to have fun, fought in war, cannonball to the legs, very vain, had legs broken and reset so they would look good; long recovery with nothing to do except read holy books, lives of saints and the Bible; had a conversion and realized he was living his life for all the wrong things.  Went off lived in a cave for a year, never cut his nails or hair, eventually formed a group of men who went about teaching and preaching, Jesuits.  Ignatius was very practical.  One way he suggested to pray was Imaginative Prayer.  We enter into the Gospel and see ourselves there, with Jesus in the story.

#5 It’s a cool evening and Mary and Joseph have finally found shelter, we say they were in a stable, but it probably was more like a small cave.  It offered protection and privacy.  They were very tired after travelling to Bethlehem from Nazareth.  Mary was going to have her baby, her son, who would be the savior of the world.  She gave birth and wrapped Jesus in a blanket.  Jesus was a beautiful little boy, perfect with lots of hair and sweet blue eyes.  He hardly cried as Mary laid him down so they could sleep.

Joseph watched over them, thanking God all was well.  He breathed a deep sigh of relief and closed his eyes.

Joseph stirred and opened his eyes.  What does he see?

Ever so quietly, shepherds had come to see the baby Jesus after an angel came and told them the good news that he was born.  A multitude of heavenly angels saying Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rest.  Gently Joseph wakes up Mary and she picks Jesus up, showing her son to the shepherds.

Other soon come to Jesus, they bring food and drink for Mary and Joseph.  One day, three Kings come to visit.  They bring gifts for Jesus.  Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Mary is a bit confused as to why a baby would need these, but accepts them with grace.

Finally all the visitors stop and the Holy Family has time to rest before the next journey.

#7  Prayer: where we sit and focus on God, maybe read the Sunday readings and put ourselves in the Gospel; maybe it’s praying a rosary; maybe on a Friday you can go to Adoration.  We can’t treat God like a once in a while thing, or we’ll forget about him.  Or if we only reach out when we need him; what do we think about people who do that to us?

 

Stained Glass and the Book of Revelation

sainte-chapelle-parisMost Catholics are unaware of the fact that our traditional church buildings are based on designs given by God Himself. Their designs stretch all the way back to Mount Sinai, when God set forth the design for the sanctuary in the desert and the tent of meeting. Many of the fundamental aspects of our church layouts still follow that plan and the stone version of it that became the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Our traditional church buildings also have numerous references to the Book of Revelation and the Book of Hebrews, both of which describe the heavenly liturgy and Heaven itself.

There is not time to develop these roots at length in this post today, though I hope to do so in a series of future posts.

Sadly, in recent decades there has been a casting aside of these biblical roots in favor of a “meeting house” approach to church design. No longer was the thinking that our churches should reflect heavenly realities, teach the faith,  and follow biblical plans. Rather, the idea was that the church simply provided a space for people to meet and conduct various liturgies.

In some cases the liturgical space came to be considered “fungible” in that it could be reconfigured to suit various needs: Mass today, concert tomorrow, spaghetti dinner next Wednesday. This thinking began to be set forth as early as the 1950s. Pews were often replaced by chairs, which could easily be moved to suit various functions. And even in parishes that did not go so far as to allow spaghetti dinners in the nave (mine did in the 1970s), the notion of the church as essentially a meeting space still prevailed.

Thus churches began to look less and less like churches and more and more like meeting halls. The bare essentials such as an altar, pews or chairs, a pulpit, and very minimal statuary were still there, but the main point was simply to provide a place for people to come together. There was very little sense that the structure itself was to reflect Heaven or even remind us of it.

That is beginning to change as newer architects are returning more and more to sacred and biblical principles in church design. Further, many Catholics are becoming more educated on the meaning of church art as something more than merely that it is “pretty.” They are coming to understand the rich symbolism of the art and architecture as revealing the faith and expressing heavenly realities.

Take stained glass for instance. Stained glass is more than just pretty colors, pictures, and symbols. Stained glass was used for centuries to teach the faith through pictures and symbols. Until about 200 years ago, most people—even among the upper classes—could not read well if at all. How does the Church teach the faith in such a setting? Through preaching, art, passion plays, statues, and stained glass.

Stained glass depicted biblical stories, saints, Sacraments, and glimpses of Heaven. Over the centuries a rich shorthand of symbols also developed: crossed keys = St. Peter, a sword = St. Paul, a large boat = the Church, a shell = baptism, and so forth. And so the Church taught the faith through the exquisite art of stained glass.

But stained glass also served another purpose: acting as an image of the foundational walls of Heaven. Recall that traditional church architecture saw the church as an image of Heaven. Hence a church’s design was based on the descriptions of Heaven found in the Scriptures. Now among other things, Heaven is described in the Book of Revelation as having high walls with rows of jewels embedded in the foundations of those walls:

One of the seven angels … showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates … The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst ... (Revelation 21:varia).

Thus because Heaven had great, high walls, older churches almost always had a lot of verticality. The lower foundational walls gave way to the higher clerestory and above the clerestory the vaults of the ceiling rose even higher. And in the lower sections of the walls, extending even as high as the clerestory, the jewel-like stained glass recalled the precious gemstones described in the lower walls of Heaven.

The compelling effect of a traditional church is to say to the believer, you are in Heaven now. In my own parish church, the floors are a green jasper color, and the clerestory walls, red jasper. On the clerestory are painted the saints gathered before the throne-like altar in Heaven (Heb 12:1; Rev. 7:9). In the apse is the throne-like altar with Jesus at the center (Rev 5:6); the seven lamp stands are surrounding him with seven candles (Rev 4:5). In the stained glass of the transept are the 12 Apostles joined with the 12 patriarchs (symbolized by 12 wooden pillars). Together they form the 24 elders who surround the throne in Heaven (Rev 4:4). Above the high altar, in the clerestory windows, are the four living creatures also said to surround the throne (Rev 4:6-7).

Yes, it’s amazing! I stand in my church and realize its message: you are in Heaven when you enter here and celebrate the sacred mysteries: sursum corda (hearts aloft)!

The photo above is of the Sainte-Chapelle, a royal medieval Gothic chapel located in Paris, France.

Here’s a video I put together on stained glass. Enjoy these jewels of light that recall the lower walls of Heaven as you listen to the choir sing “Christe Lux mundi” (O Christ you are the Light of the world).

Here’s another video I created. Many of the photos in the video can be found here:

http://www.romeofthewest.com
http://viewfrombackpew.blogspot.com/

And finally, if you are interested, here is a video I made some time ago featuring some of the architectural details of my own parish.

by Monsignor Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington

msgr-pope-200x250Amazing Catechists welcomes Monsignor Charles Pope as a new contributing author to Amazing Catechists. Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, a vibrant parish community in Washington, D.C.  A native of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, his interest in the priesthood stemmed from his experience as a church musician.  He attended Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary and was ordained in 1989.  A pastor since 2000, he also has led Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and at the White House in past years.  Monsignor Pope is often featured in New Advent and Our Sunday Visitor and is the primary author for the Archdiocese of Washington’s blog, and we are honored that he will be sharing some of his best blogs on theology, art, music, and culture here at Amazing Catechists.   Monsignor Pope has just released his first book The Ten Commandments by TAN Books, a division of Saint Benedict Press.

Old Stuff


see if it still works

 

Let’s look at some miracles.

First, God thought matter into existence. That is, some of his immaterial love is so dense that it actually manifests itself as stuff. You know: fermions, gluons, bosons, all the impossibly tiny little grains of love that everything else is composed of.  Then he thought the stuff into things such as our bodies. Isn’t that miraculous? I think it is. And until the Fall, it was all good, being ultimately made of love.

But we sinners have made a mess of it, and now know God at a remove. Still, God helps us and communicates to us, often through physical bits. F’rinstance after the Flood, God used a rainbow to communicate something important to Noah’s family…ehh…I forgot what it was.

Regardless, God later mediated his power through Moses’ and Aaron’s staffs.  They whacked the Nile, canals, the Red Sea and rocks with miraculous results.

Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground due to the power in the Ark of the Covenant.

Elijah and Elisha each crossed the Jordan on dry ground by striking it, Moses-like, with a cloak.

At Elisha’s instruction, Naaman the pagan leper was cured by bathing in the Jordan.

After Elisha passed away, a dead man hastily thrown onto Elisha’s earthly remains was restored to life.

But miracles aren’t just an Old Testament Thing. God kicked off the New Testament by putting a star in the sky…something to do with Jesus.

Jesus worked miracles too, often fixing not just physical problems, but spiritual ones, “healing the sin-sick soul” as the song says. And he worked these miracles through his physical nature, living stuff face-to-face with the afflicted or an intercessor.

Sometimes Jesus didn’t even need to be directly involved, but simply physically available, like a cloak or a bone. Recall that the woman with a hemorrhage barely managed to grab the trailing tassel of Jesus’ prayer shawl. Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.” Just plug into the Holy Battery, get a nice jolt. It does it by itself.

But miracles aren’t just a Jesus Thing, either. After the Ascension, Paul and Peter could also heal without being directly involved. Peter’s shadow could heal as it fell on someone. And “God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”

Sticks, bones, water, aprons, cloaks, people, the common stuff of the world; none of them magic, all of them sacramental. God has related to the world sacramentally since the Fall, and there is no expectation in the Bible that he’ll stop until the Second Coming. Miracles aren’t just a Bible Thing. So think of the sacraments as Jesus-supercharged miracles in which divine power still flows through bits and pieces of love older than Creation itself.

Think big. Think Catholic.

Getting Ready to Teach: What You Wear to Class Matters

As the new school year approaches, I’ve been thinking about the guidelines for the teachers and assistants in the small apostolate I help run.  A topic I didn’t broach last year but will this time around: Clothes.

I’m not a fashion person.  No one looks to me for wardrobe advice, except maybe if they’re required to do a character sketch of frumpy middle-aged absent-minded housewives.  But even I know that what we wear when we teach matters.  If someone like me gives serious thought to clothing before I teach, that means it must be important.

Why Do Clothes Matter?

It is absolutely true that outward appearances can be deceptive, and that the most important parts of catechesis happen on our insides, in our hearts, minds, and souls.  But humans are both body and soul, physical beings, and we use our bodies to express ourselves, relate to others, and accomplish our work. Our clothing matters for very practical reasons, because we need to be able to move around and do our jobs. It also matters in that what we wear teaches our students something about us.  It tells our students what we value, and what kind of message we have for them.

First Things: Clothing Suited to the Job at Hand

Sometimes I joke that the cover art on my book is aspirational: Catechists have fantasies about being able to paint with preschoolers while keeping the white shirt impeccably clean.  (Tip: Put on an apron.) In order to teach confidently, we need shoes and clothing that allow us to do our work.  Comfortable shoes if you are on your feet a lot; clothing that lets you reach, bend, lift, walk, run, play; fabrics that can hold up to the rigors of teaching.  If you know you’re going to have to get on your knees and scrub glitter glue off the floor after class, don’t wear delicates.

Professional Clothing Says You are Serious about Your Class

“Professional” is a broad category.  My first job in college was at a whitewater outfitter.  A well-chosen t-shirt and hiking shorts, paired with the right brand sport sandals, communicated credibility.  “She really does this stuff.  She knows what she’s talking about.”  That was professional attire for that job.   When I worked in a state government office several years later, business attire meant something completely different — I raided the local thrift store for good business-dress skirts and blouses.

There are catechists who rock the jeans-and-t-shirt look, and the message they send is one of confidence, enthusiasm, and competence.  “I can fix your truck and your theology, too.”  Some of us, though, just end up looking like we forgot to do the laundry.  There are catechists who swear by coat-and-tie, and erring on the side of slightly overdressed is prudent in classes with older students and adults for whom the number one question is, “Is this instructor credible?”  I would hazard the majority of us fall somewhere in between, on the vast spectrum that is “business casual”.

Two questions to ask are:

1. Does this outfit make me feel serious about my work?  What I’m wearing should make me feel confident that I can get the job done.  I should feel smart, competent, and ready to teach.

2. Does this outfit communicate the right message? “Pretty” “Elegant” “Handsome” “Youthful” “Mature” “Sporty” “Modern” or “Stylish” are all fair game.  If my clothing evokes words like “Sassy” “Sexy” “Flirty” “Edgy” or “Slacker,” I need to change.

There’s nothing at all wrong with dressing fashionably, so long as the fashion is consistent with our Christian values and with our role as classroom teachers.  Our clothing should express our unique personalities; we need to make sure, however, that we’re expressing those parts of our personality that make us good Christian leaders.

Modest Clothing Teaches Children Boundaries

Modesty is the whole range of attitudes and actions that we use to communicate our respect for ourselves and for others.  How we dress is not the only aspect of modesty, but it is an important element.  In the religious education classroom, dressing modestly also plays a significant role in teaching children about appropriate physical boundaries.

In sum: If we want children to understand and internalize the line between public and private body parts, we need to consistently demonstrate that distinction in our clothing.

Your parish or diocese may have a dress code, and in that case you’ll follow it, of course.  For the rest of us, a simple rule is this:

Don’t put on display for your students any body part or undergarment that a priest should never be allowed to touch.

Your students are trying to figure out the line between appropriate and inappropriate touch.  A mother breastfeeds her baby, that’s appropriate.  The nursery staff change the baby’s diaper, the doctor has to do a physical exam, the gymnast wears form-fitting clothing so that the judges can see precise body movements.   All of these are appropriate.

The classroom, the office, the sacristy: These are times and places when there is no appropriate reason for an adult (or fellow student) to be touching or looking at a school-age child’s private body parts.

If that sounds like blunt work, well yes, it is.  Children don’t have a finely tuned sense of adult intentions, and predators take advantage of that ignorance.  Dressing modestly on a consistent basis literally creates a boundary line, a do-not-cross line, that gives the child a sense of confidence about right and wrong actions.

Does it work? I know for a fact that when combined with all the other things that parents and teachers do to teach children personal safety and create a safe environment, yes, it does indeed work.

Bring Joy to Your Classroom

It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on new clothes for the new school year.  Figuring out what to wear this year shouldn’t be a cause of agony and dread.  Christianity is not a fashion show. Neat, clean, ready to do the job — that’s the essential.  Dig through the closet and put together something that makes you feel confident, professional, and excited about the first day of class.

Photo:  teachers in Parramatta Diocese in Australia

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