Here is an infographic on the Corporal Works of Mercy to go along with the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
Here is an infographic on the Corporal Works of Mercy to go along with the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
I made an infographic to explain the Spiritual Works of Mercy to the children in the faith formation classes. Each week I will teach about one work of mercy and then give some ideas as to how to practice it. At the beginning of the next session we will discuss how the spiritual work was implemented and then go on to the next one.
I honestly have no objection to seeing the pumpkin and ghost decorations in my local CVS give way to Santas and snowmen so early. I like the sparkly, pretty aspects of celebrating Christmas as much as the next person, and retailers have their own schedules based upon people’s purchasing habits. That really has nothing to do with the celebration of the birth of Christ, which is really what we should be preparing for. Rather than focus on a “war on Christmas,” let’s actively try to bring back an observance of Advent, which will serve to create a more meaningful Christmas for everyone.
In these more secular times, a child could really spend his whole childhood not having any idea what Advent is, or never hearing the word. Several years ago, I spent our last CCD class before the break with my special needs students helping them craft a simple Advent wreath out of paper and cardboard. One of the mothers, when she arrived to pick up her son, had never heard of an Advent wreath and had no idea what it was. I was not all that surprised, but it did make me a little sad.
One of the drawbacks, as seen by the culture, to Advent, is that it is penitential–hence all the purple. It is a time to prepare for the coming of the Christ child, so it is wholly appropriate that we settle our minds, prepare our homes and do the best to cleanse our souls. It’s not nearly as popular as decorating your home in lights and evergreen but it will ultimately do you more good.
My advice for the observance of Advent is always to be as sparse as possible. It’s just such a busy season with so many wonderful things driving us outside the home that I really feel it’s important to not take on too much extra; just pick one thing a week to observe Advent.
One fun way to start off is to make the night before the first Sunday of Advent a New Year’s Eve party. The new liturgical year is starting, so why not ring it in? I buy the sparkling apple cider and we have a fun, junky dinner and watch a movie, or we have some friends over and make a real party with hats, horns and confetti.
On Sundays in Advent, as a family, we light the wreath right before dinner and my husband leads us in the traditional prayer. We use this inexpensive booklet, but there are many printable resources available. This prayerful moment really connects the children to the preparation aspect of Advent, and then a candlelit dinner is always a little more special. It really is amazing how it quiets everyone down and allows for real discussion and connection.
On that first Sunday, I also put out the Nativity sets ( I have the ones you can play with and the one that came to me from my grandparents, which means a lot to me–that one is up high). After dinner I usually read a picture book of the Nativity Story.
Another great resource to add to your Advent is a wonderful story called Jotham’s Journey. It is a daily Lenten read-a-loud which tells the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem from the eyes of a young boy. It’s written by a Protestant, but there is nothing incompatible with our faith in it. It is all biblically based and very compelling. I believe there is a similar book written by a Catholic but I’m not familiar with it, so I can’t really comment on it–although I would love to hear people’s opinions if you have read it. A small caveat about Jotham’s Journey: the story can be a little intense, so maybe not for very young or very sensitive children–Jotham gets sold into slavery for a little time and is ill-treated. The same author, Arnold Ytreeide, has several of these tales for Advent, and they are worth exploring.
Another tradition we keep is to add straw to the manger for sacrifices and good deeds, much like the Lenten crown of thorns. It’s an important and simple reminder to the children that Advent is a penitential season.
We also observe St. Nicholas Day every year: the children put out their shoes the night before and I put gold chocolate coins and small gifts to put in their shoes.
We then spend the day reading St. Nick stories, coloring, making spoon saints and then feasting. St. Nicholas Center is a wonderful resource and from there you can glean all the information you need about this great saint and his commitment to the poor.
There are several Advent feast days that can be incorporated into your season that exemplify the meaning of Advent. Our Lady of Guadalupe can be observed with the story of St. Juan Diego (whose feast also falls in Advent) and a taco dinner.
St. Barbara’s day (patroness of architects) can be the day you construct a gingerbread house, or like me, a fake one built with graham crackers and canned icing.
The best thing you can do for your family is just think of Advent as a cozy time. Lots of reading, singing, crafting, cooking and playing. If you just focus on binding the children to their faith by building simple family traditions you will have a really nice season and it makes Christmas all the more joyous for your family and that of your students.
Kids learn from their siblings, their friends, and especially their parents. It is important that from an early age kids see their parents praying, working, serving others, and reading. They will imitate them and over time grow and mature with these indispensable habits. In other words, parents are the first Catechists. And if they are close to their children and affectionate they can inspire them. When parents do this they are Amazing Catechists.
Parents should teach their children from a young age that God has a loving plan for each one of them. This plan is one for their happiness here on earth and in heaven. It is a plan that gradually unfolds like a trip in the country that begins in one place in the woods and leads to a lake and then to a mountaintop. The trip entails preparation, sacrifice and perseverance. Happiness or success in life does not consist in having many trophies or money to buy things. It lies in doing what God planned for us as his children, using well the gifts that He gave us in this world. This is how we reach the mountaintop which is Heaven.
Blessed Cardinal Newman wrote: “God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him” (Meditations and Devotions).
But how does one know God’s plan for one’s life? Another question is: if God has a plan for me, does He give me any real freedom to choose? The answer to the second question requires more time but, in short, God gives us freedom to choose what is good and true, and the best we can choose is what He knows is good for us. Returning to the first question, we usually discover God’s plan gradually in a number of ways: the use of our reason, circumstances such as people and places that God puts in our path, interests and likes that we have, times of personal prayer and the advice that we receive from persons with experience and good formation.
There is another element to discovering God’s plan: asking Him to show it to us. And this is where parents can help their young children: praying with them every day something akin to the following: Lord, I know that you have a loving plan for me; help me to discover the talents that you have given me and to put these at your service. As children study in middle school they can add to their prayer: Lord, show me where I should study high school and what I should do after high school, how I can serve you with the talents that you have given to me.
Children and youth rarely think in this way. If they did they would receive many graces and listen better to the inspirations of God the Holy Spirit. They would also take more seriously their studies, and develop a vocational sense in life. Rather than go about thinking, how can I have as much fun as I can with as little work as possible, they would think, how can I serve God well, developing the gifts He has granted me. Encourage your children to pray in this way, keeping in mind other words of Cardinal Newman: “God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another” (Meditations and Devotions).
Your children who are age ten now will begin college or a trade school in only eight years. This time goes by very fast. Inspire them to be the best they can be, to use their time well and to develop good study habits. In a book I just published, A University Education for the 21st Century: The Opening of the American Mind, I suggest the importance of a liberal arts education based on the classical Western Tradition, and discuss how students and parents can choose between colleges and universities. But long before this, children need to grow in love and friendship with Our Father God and his Son Jesus Christ. They need to thank Him for the talents He has bestowed on them and to develop them through good habits of study and work. And they need to pray to Him for the light to know his plans. In the end, responding to God’s grace, through hard work and service to others, sacrifice and perseverance, they will reach Heaven.
Fr. Juan R. Vélez, author of Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman, and most recently A University Education for the 21st Century: The Opening of the American Mind, available through Amazon. Find Father’s writings on Blessed Newman here: www.cardinaljohnhenrynewman.com
Twas the night before Ash Wednesday
And all through the rooms
Every cushion was overturned
Every piece of old candy consumed
The children were negotiating their Lenten promises in bed
Trying to find loopholes in saintly feast days ahead
With wine and Facebook and chocolate on tap
I was trying to reconcile myself to the long Lenten slap
When all through the house there arose such a clatter
I ignored all their noise for I cared not for their chatter.
And up to the window, I did indeed look about
Annoyed with 40 days to kvetch and to pout.
The moon on the breast on the new-fallen snow
Gave the luster of loathing to my crestfallen low.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a cross in a shadow and the grace to persevere
With little old prayer beads, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment this flesh must be licked.
More rapid than eagles, His angels they came,
And He whispered, I answered, He called me by name;
“Now, Sons! Now, Daughters! Now, Children! Now, come!
On command: “Love one another as I have loved every one.
From the mountain of beatitude to the hill of the cross,
If you value your life, don’t be afraid of the loss.
As snowflakes that before a Nor’Easter do fly,
Ice crystals that melt and spring is soon nigh.
So up to the altars your sacrifices anew,
and with heart full of prayers, you have better things to pursue.”
And then, in a twinkling, I heard in my heart
The cloud of great witnesses cheering my part
The race we are running, that Lent helps us to win
That heavenly banquet once clouded by sin.
He was dressed all in white, from His head to His foot,
And my clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of sins He had born on His back,
And He looked like a thief, just come from the rack.
His eyes, how they wept! His hands bore the holes.
His back had the scars, His heart knew every last soul.
His side was the fount of love and mercy itself
And immediately I knew the guilt of myself.
He spoke no more words, but went straight to His work,
And paid all my debt, not a sin did He shirk.
And giving a nod, up to the Father He rose
Sending another to come and grace overflows.
So as we begin this sojourn, as they days grow long,
We pray. We fast. And to the needy give alms.
We look to the cross and we fight that good fight.
No Easter is had but with a Good Friday’s long night
Happy Lent to all and keep the Cross in thy sight!
Families, 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)
The attached Penance Bingo Cards and definitions sheet were created by a wonderful catechist, Mary Elise Eckman, who teaches in The Narnia Clubs in New York City. I share them with permission.
Instructions: Read out the definitions as students cross off the term described (or mark them with checkers, dried beans, or buttons). You might also laminate the cards and re-use with wipe-off markers.
Make sure to keep track of the definitions you call out to your students, so you can verify the winner’s card.
Attachments include six different cards and a definitions key:
Like us adults, in order for children to experience the freedom only found in Jesus Christ, they need the sacrament of Reconciliation. But they need our help to prepare for this precious, soul-cleansing meeting with their loving Lord.
I received this superb Examination of Conscience for kids from a colleague–educator and popular speaker, Barbara Falk– who teaches in a wonderful religious ed program in Manhattan called The Narnia Clubs.
There are many excellent children’s resources available online, but I thought this one was particularly good for use with young children. Barbara holds the copyright–so please do not sell it–but she gave me permission to share it widely for everyone’s use.
Here it is!
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE FOR CHILDREN
1. I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD. YOU SHALL NOT HAVE OTHER GODS BESIDE ME.
– Do I speak ( PRAY ) to God every day? : when I wake up, before meals, before going to sleep.
– As soon as I wake up, do I give ( OFFER ) Him my school work and all my day?
– Do I remember to THANK God for the good things I have done or received?
– Do I put my trust in good luck charms, palm reading and superstitions, rather than God alone?
2. YOU SHALL NOT USE GOD’S NAME IN VAIN.
– Have I used the words “God” or “Jesus” in anger or with lack of respect?
– Have I used ugly words or language?
– Have I wished evil on another?
3. REMEMBER TO KEEP GOD’S DAY HOLY.
– Do I go to Mass on Sunday unless I had a good reason ? (lack of transportation, sickness)
– Do I do all I can to make Sunday a day of rest and joy for my family?
– Do I pay attention to Mass, or do I tease or distract others by talking or playing?
– Do I arrive late at Mass or leave early?
4. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.
– Do I respect and obey my parents?
– Have I treated them badly by word or deed?
– Am I willing to help round the house or must I be nagged a hundred times?
– Do I try to get along with my brothers and sisters? Am I a tattletale or bully?
– Do I try to give good example, especially to younger siblings?
– Do I respect others in authority: baby-sitters, old people, teachers, priests, nuns?
5. YOU SHALL NOT KILL.
– Do I beat up others or hurt their bodies?
– Do I say mean things, or make fun of others to hurt their feelings?
– Am I willing to play with everyone? Have I stopped speaking to anyone?
– Do I encourage others to do bad things?
– Do I take care of my health such as eating the right food and taking care of the body God has given me?
– Are there kids I will not play with or be mean to because they look different?
6. YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.
– Do I treat my body and other people’s bodies with respect and purity?
– Do I look at television shows, movies, or pictures that are bad and hurt my soul and mind?
– Am I modest in the clothes I wear and in my speech, remembering that I truly am a daughter/son of God?
7. YOU SHALL NOT STEAL.
– Have I taken things that were not mine from a store or another person?
– Have I broken or misused another person’s property on purpose?
– Do I return things that I borrow? In good condition?
8. YOU SHALL NOT LIE (YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT FALSE WITNESS AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOR).
– Do I tell the truth? Do I say things about other people that are not true?
– Did I cheat in class or in a game?
– Do I tell lies to make myself look good?
– Do I tell lies to protect myself from being punished?
– Do I tell lies to make another person look bad or get them in trouble?
– Am I a tattletale?
9. YOU SHALL NOT COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S WIFE.
– Do I get mad when I have to share my friends?
– Am I jealous of my siblings and do I want my parent’s attention for myself constantly?
– Am I willing to share my things and my time with others?
10. YOU SHALL NOT COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S GOODS.
– Am I thankful to God and my parents for what they have given me?
– Do I share the things I have with my family, friends and poor people?
– Am I jealous or envious of the things others have?
– Am I jealous or envious of the abilities others have?
THE ACT OF CONTRITION
Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins
because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend you, my God,
who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of your grace,
to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
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.
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.
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” 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.
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.
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
“The consolation was for us, not just for the children,” says Corinne Addiss, a remarkable catechist from New York, recalling a day last summer when she and her Vacation Bible School team received a beautiful sign of God’s presence working powerfully through the children.
“We were in the second day of our program. Almost a hundred children nursery school age through sixth grade children enrolled, with another thirty-something junior counselors, grades seven and above. My energy was uncharacteristically low. I wanted to just get through the week. This day’s focus was the Eucharist, and one of our ‘stations’ was Adoration.
“As a teacher was finishing up with a group of about twenty little ones, they all came out of the pews and she showed them how to genuflect properly in front of the Blessed Sacrament–on both knees. As she watched, one child suddenly went down on her belly, prostrated in adoration before the monstrance. And then, one after another, the children followed until all of the children were lying with their hands extended in front of them, adoring Jesus — in a position no one in the program had taught them.”
The teacher, Corinne remembers, knelt in silence, tears streaming down her face as she gazed in awe at the sight. “There was no ‘earthly’ explanation; it was something within the children. It was their faith in God.”
It would seem the program received special graces that day. She says, “There are always graces. But that day, there were graces being accepted.”
Corinne has created many programs in her diocese over the years and has a reputation for doing creative, effective work.
“We are in competition with the world which attracts minds and souls through the senses,” she explains. “We try to appeal to the senses of sight and sound as well. Jesus used visuals – coins, mustard seeds, mountains, boats, etc. We decorate everything in an imaginative and cost-effective way using rolls of plastic table covering, brown paper bags, things from home, paint and lots of creativity! A visual teacher can produce great fruits by helping children ‘see’ and learn the truths of faith. It’s about busting the myth that faith is no fun. When great stuff is taught in fun, interesting ways, it bears fruit.”
“Most often I am flooded with ideas when I’m sitting in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” she says definitively. “If I try to force them, it’s useless. I’ll go to Adoration and sit with my list of projects and say, ‘Okay, God, I need your help,’ and I just start jotting down ideas. Once I’ve got an outline for the VBS, I talk it out with others and together we finalize the plan.”
Here are some of the activities that prepared the children to appreciate the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist:
“All we want is to do is His will,” Corinne says, in conclusion. “And I know from experience not to expect consolations. ‘Your reward will be great in Heaven.’ But for those, young and old ‘who have eyes to see and ears to hear’ the consolations in this program are many…as are the graces which give us the energy to continue – next time!”
So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law,
or by your believing what you heard? (Galatians 3:5)