“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:
- Saint Anthony and the Donkey. “A month before the VBS program, I visited all the religious-ed classes. I told the children the story of “Saint Anthony and the Donkey” (the story of a miracle that affirms the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist), but I didn’t finish it. The kids were howling in protest, begging to know how it turns out. I ended with ‘Come to VBS next month to hear how the story ends!’ and they did! On the day we taught the Holy Eucharist we began with a re-enactment of the story. We had a barn, town square, cobble stone road, haystacks and all. Junior counselors dressed as St. Anthony and his donkey.”
- Spiritual Survival Kits. “In every program we do the children make Spiritual Survival Kits. They love them! They decorate a box and put their name on it. They make their own rosaries, scapulars, and prayer books to put with the holy water, holy cards and miraculous medals we give them for the kits. We explain, ‘If we always carried a survival kit with us that was filled with the tools (flashlight, food, water) we might need in our daily lives, we would be better prepared when an obstacle or even an emergency happened upon us. But for survival and to be better prepared to deal with obstacles and emergencies in the spiritual life, we need the tools in this Spiritual Survival Kit which are called sacramentals. They help us to be more open to the sacraments — especially the Holy Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our faith.’”
- Mass Confusion. “We created a game that would teach about things that are used in the Mass (chalice, paten, vestments, etc.). We put beautiful color photos of those things on 10 x 14 foam board. Each junior counselor, standing side by side, would hold a picture. In a big basket were smaller cards with names of the items. Each junior counselor gave a hint and might say, ‘I am what is used to hold the water and wine before it becomes Jesus’ Precious Blood.’ Once a clue had been given for each item, the children divided into two teams would scramble through their basket for the correct word to place beneath the corresponding picture. It’s fun and it helps them when they go to Mass to make the connection!”
- Saint Tarcisius. “While they ate their snack of crackers/matzah and grape juice, they watched a video of Father Benedict Groeschel telling the story of Saint Tarcisius. They sat and watched in awe.”
- Spiritual Bouquets. “We had the children decoupage flower pots with beautiful images of sunflowers and an image, in the middle, of a monstrance with angels bowing (from a vintage prayer card). Using the theme ‘Follow the Son,’ we told them that, like the sunflowers, they were ‘turning toward the Son’! We also said that priests, in a very special way, follow the Son. As they planted sunflower seeds in their pots they were reminded that sacraments and sacramentals are some of the ways God waters the seeds of faith. Then on the back of a picture of a sunflower they wrote, ‘Dear Father, Thank you for being a priest! I will pray a Hail Mary and an Our Father for you.’ We prayed the prayers all together and we encouraged them to continue praying for our pastor and all the priests. They glued each of their flowers onto a popsicle stick and at the end of the week at the offertory of the Mass, we presented a decorated pot with all the sunflowers in it – a bouquet from all the children in the program to our pastor, who was new. He kept the spiritual bouquet on the side altar of the church for a good many months afterward with the children’s promises on them.”
- Tug of War. “We prepped our junior counselors to tell the children a story of good vs. evil that would make it very apparent what was good in the story and what was evil. Then we told them that the Holy Eucharist gives us strength to resist evil and had them play tug of war.”
- Scavenger Hunt. “We wrote little poems that provided clues, and each one brought them to a different location on parish grounds. Finally, the last one led them to Jesus in the monstrance, their final destination. We told them, ‘We’re all looking for something, searching – but it’s really Jesus we’re looking for.’”
- Adoration. “When each group came for their lesson in the church, I would kneel with them and speak in simplistic terms about the consecrated Host. I’d say, ‘That’s really, truly Jesus in what appears to be a round piece of bread.’ And then I’d ask, ‘Does that make sense to everyone?’ As some were nodding their heads with an emphatic ‘yes,’ and some just shrugging, I’d say, ‘It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand it, but I believe it, I just believe it!’ Instantly a weight would slide off their shoulders as they just accepted! The relief is almost instantly visible in their faces, as is their belief as they gaze upon Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.”
- Fatima Prayer. “We prayed the Fatima prayer taught to the three shepherd children by an angel during our time in from of the monstrance. [‘My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee! I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee.’] The day closed with a skit by junior counselors of the Angel of Portugal appearing to the children, and Our Lady, Mother of the 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)