Symbolon Project ?

I am seeking objective input on the Symbolon Project from anyone who has used it.

Thank you in advance!

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Common Sense Book Study {Foreword}

Fr. Robert J. Hater in his awesome book Common Sense Catechesis gives catechists an instructional form to understand the “Lessons from the Past” as well as a “Road Map for the Future.”

I love that. While it’s good to know where we came from and how we got to where we are today, that’s just an echo of thoughts if the student is not given a map pointing him in the right direction. That’s so important.

Let’s get started with this book study, shall we?

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The forward of Fr. Hater’s book is written by Sister Angela Ann Zukowski of the University of Dayton. She makes sure the reader is aware of the “shifts” in our society and culture. There have been political, psychology, sociology, methodology, and anthropology shifts. I’ll wait will you google some of those definitions. ;-)

…..

Our whole world has changed. Is changing and “secularism, relativism, consumerism, and individualism” are making us (and especially our children) think and act differently. There’s no going back, folks. I’m sorry. Just as there is no going back to the caveman era or the stone ages, there is no going back for those of us living in the technological age. Aside from the second coming, we know too much. Man has always moved forward, never backward.

Mother the Church is wise beyond her years. While God does not change, the Church does.  It is the human community on earth…ever nurturing, ever guiding.

The Popes have been guardians of the growth and changing nature of this human entity, constantly taking the rebellious, delinquent child by the neck and guiding us back, giving us a deliberate shake, and reminding us what the consequences of our actions are. And then, most importantly of all, forgiving us and embracing and welcoming us back home.

Like it or not, every home needs a disciplinarian. And every home needs a comforter. Such has always been the image of the family in the characters known as Father and Mother. This creates a balance. Life pleads for balance.

For years the family has been the unshakeable stronghold of the Church.

The domestic church linked to the ever greater Church. The “traditional Catholic family…offered balance, stability, and direction…” In many homes, it still does. I know these families. I see them in Church and CCD every week.

Yet cultural, political, environmental, global “shifts” have shifted our ways of thinking, our views, our opinions, our actions.

“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.” — Pope Francis, from his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

Mother Church sits there reminding us that we have been adopted by a King. We are children of God. We are loved. We have dignity. We are valuable. Procedure with caution. Listen to your Mother.

And the rebellious child spits at her and recklessly goes along with his free will, master of his senses. Many children today grow up without that fatherly influence. And without a father, there is no protection for the family.

The Church has always harbored the poor, the unwanted, the undesirables, the rejected, the homeless, the fatherless.

Numerous Popes have been the fatherly voice, fiercely reinforcing the mother’s counsel. Sometimes the Church is the only authoritative voice in a child’s life.  Popes, like fathers, tend to be blunt and authoritative. With youth we don’t see the wisdom, not until we’re old and spent (miserably so)…and wisdom has found us. It’s all quit natural. And then we wish we had listened more to that old reckoning voice.

It might help to remember that the Church is over 2000 years old. That’s pretty old by anyone’s standards. And pretty wise.

The Church has outlived emperors and plagues and generals and presidents and kings and it will outlive each of us.

Perhaps we, people of the 21st century, would be wise in listening more closely to the trail of wisdom left by a Church founded by the Voice of God.

Perhaps that is what we need to tell the children who come through our religious education doors this school year. If they desire to be open-minded, begin by listening to the Voice of God that is older and wiser than their parents and grandparents.

The questions Sister Angela mentions are:

  • Why is there such a loss of Catholic culture and identity today?
  • Why is parish participation rapidly declining?
  • Why are Catholic unable to clearly and convincingly explain their faith when confronted?

These are questions catechists in the schools needs to address and know.

Pope Francis challenges catechists: “The catechist, then, is a Christian who is mindful of God, who is guided by the memory of God in his or her entire life and who is able to awaken that memory in the hearts of others. That is not easy! It engages our entire existence! What is the Catechism itself, if not the memory of God, the memory his works in history and his drawing near to us in Christ present in his word, in the sacraments, in his Church, in his love?

“Dear catechists, I ask you: Are you in fact the memory of God?” (September 29, 2013)

In order to be the memory of God, wouldn’t it make sense to have a “historical catechetical perspective”? To “learn from the past in order to re-imagine the future”?

Fr. Hater, in this book, helps us to follow the Church’s vision and mission in evangelizing and disciplining the Church and why it will take new approaches and methodology for catechesis in today’s ever-changing world.

Common Sense Book Study

I read this book in less than a week. It’s that good. That easy. That sensible. That practical. That informative.

It’s simply full of good common sense.

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It’s so good I’m getting my catechists started with it this school year.

I think an online book study is probably the easiest, most common sense way for us all to discuss this book, share ideas and thoughts regarding the past while supplying a roadmap to the future, and starting off a great catechetical year of learning.

This topic concerns all catechists and Catholic parents. The world has changed. The Church has changed.

God has not.

What have we lost? What have we gained? How has that changed our identity as Catholic people? What is our responsibility to our children? Why don’t people care anymore?

Order the book here: Common Sense Catechesis by Fr. Robert J. Hater

Each week we’ll read and discuss a chapter and I will have a chapter summary posted here to help you see the important points Fr. Robert J. Hater makes in his book. Questions (as a post-Vatican II youth being raised by pre-Vatican II parents) I’ve wondered about. Areas I’ve surfed aimlessly. Concerns I’ve struggled with. A faith that I continue to love.

Join book study discussion here: CRET: Catholic Religious Education Teachers (comments in the combox here are always welcome for discussion)

Additional Related Article:

On Catechesis: Love and Common Sense by Jennifer Fitz

Concise Book Review by Sean Ater

3 Great New Books to Help You Teach Your Faith

I’ve been a catechist for over ten years, and in that time I’ve found a number of helpful books. While nothing beats the essentials, I’ve been thrilled recently with the resources I’ve seen published. Here are three that caught my eye and that I just had to share.

3 Great New Books to Help You Teach Your Faith

Totally Catholic!: A Catechism for Kids and Their Parents and Teachers

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Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND (Pauline Books & Media, 2014)

For adults, there’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For teens, there’s the YouCat. And now, for the rest of us, there’s Totally Catholic! I actually read this cover to cover and enjoyed every bit of it. As I prepared for Confirmation Boot Camp and for some other lessons, I found myself referencing it quite a bit.

Glavich has a knack for making things applicable and relevant. She describes complicated matters of faith in a way that is fun and interesting. For example, in the chapter on the communion of saints, there’s this:

The people in the Church’s three states, like a family, lovingly help one another.

Saints on earth. Did you ever say to someone, “I’ll pray for you”? We can pray and offer our good works and sufferings for people on earth, and they can do the same for us.

Saints in purgatory. We can also pray and offer good works and sufferings for people in purgatory in order to hurry their purification. That is why after someone dies, we have Masses said for them. You can pray for your deceased relatives or even for people in purgatory who might not have anyone to pray for them. Those in purgatory (sometimes called poor souls) can also pray for us.

Saints in heaven. Likewise, we can turn to the saints in heaven and ask them to intercede, or pray for us. Friendship with the saints can help us grow closer to Christ.

There are 39 chapters, two appendices, and an index. It’s arranged much like the big green Catechism, and it’s written for a younger crowd (I would call it middle grade). Each chapter starts with a reference from the Catechism and an introduction. There are “Did You Know?” callout boxes, “BTW” facts, and a “Catholic VIP” highlighted in each chapter. Each chapter has a “Scripture Link,” with a relevant passage from the Bible, “Brainstorm” activities that aren’t hard or weird, and ends with a “From My Heart” and “Now Act!” that could well be assignments.

In fact, I think this is maybe the closest I’ve found to a perfect “textbook” for grade school age kids. (And you should know this: I’m NOT a fan of textbooks for religious education.)

Each chapter has a short bulleted “Recap” list, and it’s laid out in a way that I can only call brilliant. It’s fun to look at and read, and it sure doesn’t hurt that the content is stellar.

The Faith: A Question-and-Answer Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

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Fr. John Hardon, S.J. (Servant Books, 2014)

If you’re anything like me, you looked at the Catechism and thought, “There’s NO WAY I can read that and understand it, retain the information, have any luck at all.” I was shocked when I started reading the Catechism (after my spiritual director had encouraged me for, oh, three years or so) and it was NOT SO BAD!

Even so, there’s a lot in the Catechism. It’s really more of a reference than a fun reading adventure (though it can be that, don’t get me wrong). What Servant has pulled together here is a great companion to your reference shelf. I caught myself diving into this when I was looking for additional information on different topics for Confirmation Boot Camp, and I know I’ll use it in preparing talks and columns.

This book is designed and arranged to be a companion to the Catechism. It’s easy to use and it’s cross referenced with paragraphs in the Catechism.

Here’s a little excerpt, from Part Two, Chapter Four: Other Celebrations of the Liturgy.

ARTICLE 1: SACRAMENTALS

The Church’s liturgy is primarily the sacraments, which directly confer the grace they signify. Besides the sacraments, however, there are also sacramentals. Both should be seen together, because both are sources of divine grace. But sacramentals were not immediately instituted by Christ. They were, and are, instituted by the Church, which is guided by her Founder, Jesus Christ.

663. What are sacramentals?

Sacramentals are sensibly perceptible prayers, and often actions or things, which resemble the sacraments and which signify spiritual effects obtained through the intercession of the Church. (1667)

664. How do sacramentals differ from the sacraments?

They differ from the sacraments in not being instrumental causes of grace. Rather, they arouse the faith of believers to better dispose themselves for the reception of grace from the sacraments.

665. What is the characteristic of all the sacramentals?

They always include a prayer and normally an object or action that signifies some profession of faith, such as the Sign of the Cross recalling Christ’s crucifixion, or holy water recalling our baptismal incorporation into the Church. (1668)

This is an indispensable guide for all Catholics. Whether you want to learn more about your faith, need a boost in teaching it, or are just curious, this book is sure to provide clear and concise information.

Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction

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Diana Jenkins (Pauline Books & Media, 2014)

There are topics that make parents and catechists shudder and quake, and Diana Jenkins has gathered them all in the covers of this book. She’s addressed them with the fearless face of faith and her approach is unique and more than a little brilliant.

“Today’s young teens will face many challenges before they reach adulthood,” she writes in the introductory section, “and they’ll need faith to guide them along the way. But it’s not easy for kids—or adults—to apply Catholic principles to real life when they’re overwhelmed by temptations, peer pressure, media influences, stress, family issues, physical changes, society’s problems, and a culture that is increasingly out-of-sync with Christian values.”

Each chapter includes seven elements:

The Facts: This is the statistical informational part. As a teacher or parent, you may or may not actually share this with students.

Scripture and the Catechism: While this too is designed for the adult leader, many times it will be helpful for the students.

The Story: Each chapter is centered around a fictional story. Depending on your set-up, you might decide to read it aloud, to have students read it on their own, or to rework it a bit.

Discussion Questions: Though I roll my eyes at the plethora of discussion questions in everything these days, in this application, they’re not only helpful, but they’re well done.

Activity: While there’s an activity for each topic/chapter, there’s also an index with ideas for adjusting them too.

Prayer: These are great. GREAT. And let’s not forget that, among the many teaching tools we have as parents and catechists, that prayer is the most powerful.

The Message: This is a round-up of practical suggestions for students to apply the chapter’s issue.

All in all, this is a resource I am glad to have on-hand and which I’ll be sharing with all the parents and catechists I know.

Two Books for Praying Stations of the Cross with Children

You know what I love about our Catholic faith? There’s always next year. Or next week. Or, hey, the next hour!

Here it is, Good Friday. Have I prayed the Stations? No, I have not, and don’t even ASK if I’ve prayed them with my children. My litany of excuses is long and impressive, but it’s still just a list of excuses.

I love the idea of the Stations, but I’m not very comfortable with them. Blame my convert status, though I suspect it has more to do with my laziness.

But, thanks be to God, in my basket of review materials, I have two new books that will help me.

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I love that both of these books are beautifully hardbound and illustrated. They’re not dumbed down, but they’re also written at a level that I know my children will be able to understand.

The Garden Way of the Cross

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Based on the writings of Father Thomas A. Stanley, Illustrated by Louise Tessier (Novalis, 2013)

Oh, how I love my garden. And so do my children. And that makes me love it all over again, even more.

This book is an approach to Stations that speaks to my garden girl mentality. The opening encourages the reader, “As you meditate on each station along The Garden Way of the Cross, imagine yourself walking slowly in a quiet garden.”

And isn’t this appropriate in so many ways? Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemene. Gardens are quiet and naturally lend themselves to prayer.

At each station, as you pause in your quiet garden walk with Jesus, there’s the traditional opening prayer (“We adore you, O Christ”), a passage of Scripture, and a meditation based on a plant or a flower. The plant is illustrated on the facing page.

The way the plants and stations are interwoven is a beautiful experience. I think I’ll be doing some adding to my flowerbeds based on what I’ve prayed in this book.

Walking with Jesus to Calvary: Stations of the Cross for Children

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By Angela M. Burrin, Illustrated by Maria Cristina Lo Cascio (Word Among Us Press, 2014)

This is a book that can read like a storybook, which I know will engage my younger kids. The story’s told at each station, and it’s followed by a four- or five-line prayer.

The book opens with an explanation of what the Stations of the Cross are and how to pray them.

It’s appropriate for ages 5-10, and I can see where this would be a great resource for catechists of all ages, though with older kids you might just use the explanations and not the pictures (though don’t discount the power of pictures).

Two Statues: Book Review

Review by Fr. Juan R. Vélez, author of “Passion for Truth, the Life of John Henry Newman.”Cover_Two_Statues

Two Statues, by Brian Kennelly is a beautiful novel about the lives of men who find meaning in their suffering through a strange series of religious experiences. The story involves various elaborate suspense-filled plots of two sets of characters: two priests teaching at a college in Worcester, Massachusetts, and two men retired on an island off the coast of South Carolina.

The charming descriptions of the coastal town settings and a peaceful South Carolina beach, as well as the intricate resolution of the main plot point, reveals the beauty and power of God, whose Providence guides the lives of men and gives meaning to their suffering.

The story conveys a rich religious content through many simple and real life conversations between the protagonists, as well as the music of a violin played at sunrise on the beach. The well-developed characters and their actions evoke the compassion of the reader, who thus enters into the tension between suffering and Providence.

Fr. Peter, a young priest, battles with unresolved pain from early childhood abuse by an adopted father who was an alcoholic. Yet, he recalls the love of nuns who had previously raised him until the age of ten at an orphanage. In his youth, he falls into a life of addiction to drugs before discovering his purpose in life and returning to God.

Walt, a Catholic and retired widower, prays every day to God for a son he abandoned when his wife died shortly after delivery. At sunrise, he speaks to his deceased wife Olivia, while playing the violin on the beach.

These two lives, riddled with deep sorrow and frustration, need to find healing and reconciliation. Fr. Paul, another young priest, and Buck, a Protestant and single retired man, each help their respective friends to come to grips with God’s forgiveness for their past sins and discover a deeper sense of meaning for their lives.

But all this is only possible through grace. In words of the famous novel, Diary of a Country Priest, “all is grace.” God’s Providence at work through a strange event involving two statues of the Virgin Mary leads Fr. Peter and Walt to meet and experience God’s mercy.

The reader would have benefited from some additional narrative on the lives of the priests, offering insights into their thought processes, and showing them at prayer. Even more, the author might have presented the message of the Mother of God in a slightly more maternal and spiritual manner.

The reader wishes the denouement to have been prolonged a little further, yet the novel still gives him or her a powerful sense of God’s grace restoring a priest to his calling. In all this, a little orphan girl from Guatemala shows us how charity unveils God’s mercy and how God always responds to prayer, here in the form of the sounds of a violin.

Two Statues is an inspiring tale of love and hope.

Brian is now writing a novel on the life of Bl. Giorgio Frassati, which will attempt to capture the same Providence at work in the lives of imperfect men and women.

A Beautiful Advent Story

Donkey BellsOne of my favorite Advent books and one that I read every year at this time is a book by Catherine Doherty called “Donkey Bells,” published by Madonna House Publications. I love to read this inspiring book curled up in a comfortable chair by the wood stove, a hot chocolate or apple cider beside me, Advent and Christmas music playing quietly in the background. This lovely book is filled with heartwarming stories, customs and traditions (such as the Advent wreath, baking, the blessing of the Christmas tree) and moving reflections for the season. It is a beautiful way for children, teens and adults to prepare their hearts for Christmas.

The following is a story from Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas by Catherine Doherty
(Available as a paperback and e-book)

Donkey Bells (by Catherine Doherty)

It came to me, during these days of Advent, that I should share with you a custom which is not necessarily liturgical but which adds to the enjoyment of this lovely season. It has deep spiritual connotations; at least it did for our family, and for many others I knew when I was a young child.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that if I was good during this holy season of Advent, and offered my little acts of charity and obedience throughout Advent to the little Christ Child for a gift on his birthday, then sometime during Advent, at first very faintly and then quite clearly, I would hear bells. As she put it, the first church bells.

These were the bells around the neck of the little donkey that carried Our Lady. For mother explained that Our Lady carried Our Lord. She was the temple of the Holy Spirit, the first ‘church’ as it were, since Christ reposed in her. And the donkey, carrying Our Lady and sounding his bells as he walked, wore the first church bells.

Around the second week of Advent, mother wore a little bracelet that had tinkling bells. As she moved her hand I could hear them tinkle, and I got excited because I associated them with the donkey’s bells.

As young as I was, my imagination would build up a lot of little stories about the trip of Our Lady from Nazareth to Bethlehem — stories which I would share with my mother, and which would spur me on to further good deeds and little sacrifices.

During the third week of Advent, mother’s bracelet miraculously got many more bells on it. The sound grew louder and louder as Christmas approached. It was wonderful.

My brother and I used to listen. Mother’s bells were first around her wrist and then around her knee too. Then more bells, as it got closer to Christmas. We were really excited about them.

I introduced this little custom in Madonna House. During Advent, I wear a kind of bracelet that can be heard as I walk or move, in whatever room of the house I may be. The members of our family tell me that it spurs them on, even as it did me when I was a child, to meditate more profoundly on the mystery of Advent.

Here at Madonna House, we have begun in these last few years to make a collection of miniature donkeys — of wood, glass, ceramics, rope — you name it. And we have an album of Christmas cards (which we save from the many we receive) that depict the donkey in the manger scene.

The presence of the donkey and the ox in Scripture is symbolic of the prophets who foretold the Incarnation. And also of the fact that “the ox and ass know their Master’s voice, but Israel doesn’t know the voice of God” (Isaiah 1:3). So, you see, there is some spiritual foundation for my love for the donkey which brings such great joy to my heart.

I’m sure that, as a child, Christ rode on a donkey many times. And also as a man, of course. In Scripture we know of only two times: one was when the donkey carried Our Lady, who in turn carried God, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The other was when the donkey carried Christ into Jerusalem as the people laid palm branches before Him, proclaiming him king.

Let us think for a moment: What kind of animal is a donkey? It is a beast of burden, the animal of the poor. Once again, the immense theme of poverty is illustrated in an animal. God chose the humblest, the smallest in status, because among the animals the donkey is considered very low. So God is teaching us a lesson here — a lesson of humility, of poverty, and of simplicity.

Have you ever seen a newborn donkey? Well, every donkey has a black cross on its gray fur, a marking which is especially noticeable just after it is born from its mother’s womb. It gets less clear as the donkey matures, but still is visible. I share this fact with you to teach you to open your heart to the bells of the donkey that carried Our Lady and also God.

The breath of the donkey and the ox made the stable warm. So we meditate on several things at once: the poverty and humility of the donkey God chose, and which should be our poverty and humility; and the breath of our love, which should warm God in our neighbor constantly.

Let us remember that the donkey also had no room at the inn. Neither woman, nor man, nor donkey had a place at the inn. So they went to live in a poor stable that wasn’t too well prepared for animals, let alone as a decent habitation for human beings.

Now, another meditation comes to us. Think of the millions of people who are left homeless on our streets. Tragic is this situation. We, as apostles, must be very careful that we do not exclude anyone from the inn of our heart.

I pray that our heart, our soul, our ears will hear very clearly ‘the bells of the donkey,’ not only in Advent but throughout the year. For whoever who is pure of heart and childlike shall hear the bells of the donkey ring in their life.

(Creative Commons Licence Pass It On by Madonna House Publications is free to re-publish under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.)

Do you have a favorite Advent or Christmas story? Please feel free to share.

Hungry Souls Cry Out, “Love Should Not Die at Death!”

Did you know that the Holy Souls in Purgatory are desperate for our prayers? Did you know that they will pray for you until YOU enter heaven if you pray for them? Have you always wanted some terrific books to share with your students and your family? I’ve got some recommendations for you, and I hope you’ll pick one and start your own personal inquiry into one of the Catholic Church’s most fascinating and hope-filled devotions.
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The devotion to the Holy Souls is a long-standing practice of the Catholic Church, based on scripture and the consistent teaching of the Magisterium, as well as many confirming messages from the Blessed Mother and the saints, through apparitions, visions, and private writings. If you’re unsure if you should believe such things, stop in to this lovely Catholic website and do a little reading!
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The Catholic Company sent out an intriguing e-newsletter today (Oct. 31) advertizing a book I am definitely ordering, called, “Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory.” It’s packed with eyewitness accounts of visits to living persons from the Holy Souls — just in time for All Hallows Eve celebrations and our November devotions to the Holy Souls!
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I also wanted to personally recommend two more terrific books on the subject – each unique and a gem to share with adults and children:
Tassone_holy soulsThe first is a tiny daily devotional for November with brief prayers, saint quotes, and teachings of the Church, by Susan Tassone, “Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls.” http://www.amazon.com/Thirty-Day-Devotions-Souls-Susan-Tassone/dp/159276052X I really love this book and have used it for 4 or 5 years. It has brought me so much comfort and increased my devotion to the Holy Souls. (Susan Tassone has several more books on the Holy Souls, which you can find at her website.)
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The second is a book I borrowed from a dear friend a few years ago (you know who you are!), about Maria Simma, an Austrian mystic acting under obedience to her bishop, who receives visits from the Holy Souls and has Masses said (or whatever they request) to release their souls from purgatory. Her stories are amazing and humble. These personal accounts, told so lovingly, convinced my then eleven-year-old daughter of God’s mercy in a new way. Such a blessing! It’s called, “The Amazing Secret of the Souls in Purgatory: An Interview with Maria Simma by Sister Emmanuel of Medjugorje,” and can be found here.
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A friend of mine with a longstanding devotion to the Holy Souls once told me that if we pray for them, they will pray for us. They can do nothing for themselves, so they need our prayers, but their prayers for us are powerful. Nice to have friends!
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A blessed All Hallows Eve to everyone!
Love,
Lisa

What are we doing here? Sam Rocha: A Primer for Philosophy & Education

I accepted a review copy of Sam Rocha’s A Primer for Philosophy and Education with trepidation: Academics tend to write horribly, and philosophers are the worst of the lot.  Well, I found a jewel. Not only can the man write clearly and well, he can think straight, too.  Sam Rocha’s Primer is a treasure trove of measured, thoughtful reflection on what makes education, and how to become educated.

I recommend his book wholeheartedly to anyone who is serious about education – teachers, catechists, parents, principals and directors of religious education, pastors, students.  The reading level isn’t babyish — you have to put on your grown-up and think about what you’re reading — but it’s geared toward the intelligent layman who truly cares about the topic.  Pour a cup a tea, put up your feet, and get your pencil ready to highlight your favorite lines.

Today I’d like to share a few quotes from the book that I think speak to the state of catechesis today, and share my own reflections on what we educators need to consider.

“Students like these are motivated by a sense of entrapment, a feeling that they must go to school and get good grades in order to get a respectable job, good reviews and promotions, a pay raise for having an advanced degree, so on and so forth – to avoid disappointing family and friends.”

This doesn’t just happen in academia, it happens in the parish.  How many teens are cycled through confirmation because it will please Mom & Dad?  How many parents baptize their children in order to silence Grandma’s nagging?

When someone walks through the door seeking sacraments the way they seek a diploma or their 1st Aid certification, we should welcome them wholeheartedly.  And then show them a better way.

“The problem with grades, credentials, and formal schooling is that it generates a culture and mentality of fear, distrust, and paranoia.”

Our diocese, like most, sets out a few minimum educational requirements for persons requesting the sacraments.  These standards are, at their heart, ordered toward a very serious matter: We must ensure that the individual is indeed prepared to receive Our Lord in a worthy manner.  But it is important that we communicate – in our words and in our policies – that what matters is not the sitting in a room or checking off of to-do items, but that the soul be prepared.  Classes are a tool that can help prepare students for the sacraments, and I am grateful for the excellent volunteers who’ve helped my own children grow in their faith.  But education is different than attendance.

“Of course students who attend a school that assigns grades should want to get good grades.  They should obviously not want to get bad ones.  However, you should not confuse this institutionalized process of grade-getting, school-going, degree-worshipping, and job-seeking with what philosophy and education have to offer you. . . . Formal schooling does not have the monopoly on philosophy or education.”

Our courses should be such that students and parents want to attend them.  And in guiding parents and students, we need to direct them not towards the checklist as the measure of spiritual growth, but to the serious questions of heart, soul, and mind.

“Google is full of information, but it has no wisdom of its own. A person who is full of information is not necessarily full of wisdom. . . . To win at games like Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit does not require wisdom, it only requires information.”

In catechesis, information nutures wisdom, and wisdom thirsts for information.  If I love God, I’ll want to know more about Him.  The more I know about God, the more reasons I’ll have to love Him.

We tend to slip into a false dichotomy, setting up hard facts against feelings, or precision against grace.  Not so.  The human mind and soul languish when the scales are loaded on one side only.  Demanding love without knowledge is an arranged marriage; demanding knowledge without love is a business relationship.  In our catechesis, we need to help our students love God in all four ways that He Himself has directed – heart, mind, soul, and strength.

“Read for the truth.  Write and speak to show what seems true.  Ask questions to get at what might be true.  Attend classes to seek the truth.  Do not settle for shallow, impoverished grades, and cheap, degrading awards. . . . Philosophy and education require courage.”

Recently a catechist (not from my parish) approached me privately with a difficult situation: Several fellow catechists in her program had shared with her various ways in which they are freely, and with full knowledge, choosing to act, in serious matters, in ways contrary to the Catholic faith.  They are committing no crimes, and they are not actively teaching dissent in the classroom.  But they clearly do not believe that the Church in her wisdom possesses the fullness of the truth.  The catechist wanted to know what she should do? She didn’t want to be a tattle-tale, and she did want to address the problem in a way that would help her colleagues grow in their own faith and embrace the fullness of the Church’s teachings.

She also knew instinctively about the essential relationship between education and truth: You can’t teach something you don’t believe is true.

***

Read the whole book. Beautifully written, and the whimsical line drawings create delightful moments to pause and reflect.  Well worth your time.

31 Proven Strategies for Better Religious Education (A Review)

31daytobecomingJaredDees

Looking for ways to become a better religious educator? You can find 31 days of easy tips and strategies to improve your teaching approach, your classroom management skills, and even your spiritual life in Jared Dees’ new book, 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator. Jared Dees is the creator of the popular website TheReligionTeacher.com. His book’s valuable advice stems from years of experience teaching religion both in parishes and in Catholic schools.

31 Days’ first challenge encourages us to remember why we became catechists in the first place. According to a recent informal poll of faith formation professionals, most people became catechists because of a spiritual awakening, or feeling of being called. This feeling can become lost in the day-to-day struggle to make a difference in students’ lives. Jared urges us to renew our commitment, and to let it inspire us going forward.

The book’s excellent advice is organized into four separate sections on becoming a better disciple, a better servant, a better leader, and a better teacher. “Only as disciples and servants can you become a great leader,” and ultimately a great teacher, the book states. The section on discipleship guides readers though a deeply spiritual and personal journey to reconnect with the workings of grace in our lives. The section on becoming a better servant counsels us to develop one-on-one relationships with our students so we can discover how best to help each one as an individual uniquely loved by God. The last two sections provide nitty-gritty classroom and teaching strategies to aid us in communicating the faith more effectively.

Each short chapter is designed to take only ten to fifteen minutes. First, a Scriptural quote sets the scene. Then, Jared explains the topic and why it’s important, and assigns a task to accomplish that day. Each chapter ends with an invitation to go deeper in prayer or spiritual reading. Jared’s website — www.thereligionteacher.com/31days — provides additional resources, like an online reminder to stay on schedule during the entire 31 days.

As a pre-Cana instructor, I benefited most from the first two sections of the book. The section on becoming a better servant, for example, stresses that identifying our students’ top needs is the key to helping them in ways that matter. Much to my dismay, I have seen that many engaged people don’t understand why God and the Church are relevant to their married life at all. Their deepest need is to realize how God and the Church can help them to fulfill the desire for soul-satisfying, long-lasting love that burns in every human heart. If I forget that, my students’ attention will vanish in an instant.

CCD teachers or Catholic schoolteachers might gain the most from the last two sections of the book. In these sections, Jared covers techniques like streamlining classroom procedures, using textbooks effectively, and assigning long-term projects that require parental participation.

At the end of reading 31 Days, religious educators should feel spiritually renewed and refreshed and better equipped to take on the awesome task of bringing Christ to souls through educating them in the faith.  Teachers and students alike can benefit from that!

To purchase this book from Amazon, click here.

For Marc Cardaronella’s interview with the author, click here.

Many thanks to Ave Maria Press for providing a free review copy.