I’m still processing the many wonderful presentations from last week’s MidAtlantic Congress in Baltimore, whose theme was Witness Hope. But I’d like to share a few highlights while they’re still fresh in my mind. Suffice it to say that overall it was an extremely positive experience.
It was a very diverse congress, which I appreciated, because I went there with the full, active intent of sampling the variations of viewpoints within the Church, and getting a clearer sense of my Catholic family’s current state of being. I did hear a lot of ideas, and found much of value to take home with me.
As you know from last week’s column, I’m trying not to be so judgmental toward my fellow Catholics but yes, I had some criticisms, especially the assertion by the last plenary presenter that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is a “boy’s club.” I feel very strongly that we Catholics should be setting an example of respectful disagreement, as we do in our homes. I know it’s hard. I absolutely struggle with this, myself. But it’s important to keep trying.
That said, the conference was an overwhelmingly positive experience. On the first day, Dr. Michael Carotta, an expert in adolescent spirituality, gave a truly superb workshop that was sponsored by Our Sunday Visitor and called, “Reclaiming Religious Education.”
He identified several critical skills to be mastered by the religious educator:
1) naming the adaptive challenge (the goal);
2) regulating the “heat” of the discussion (some topics need gentle handling, some need more intensity);
3) protecting all the voices in the room (giving everyone a chance to be heard respectfully);
and my favorite,
4) using powerful questions.
I’ve always wondered how really great teachers get everybody in the room buzzing and really moving the discussion deeper. Dr. Carotta does that so naturally that you almost feel like you’re helping him teach the class, you’re so engaged. For Dr. Carotta, one way is to ask powerful questions, like: “What have you learned by heart?”
Once the question is asked, Dr. Carotta advises, don’t leap in to fill the silence. Ask a powerful question and then shut up. If you are quiet after asking a question, it pulls a response from the listener. “Let silence do the heavy lifting,” he says.
And if someone gives a powerful, emotional response to your question, follow it up with some respectful silence. He explains, “Some insights and emotions can only find you in silence. The stronger the emotion, the more silence is deserved.” Protect the person and the response by not allowing anyone to jump in too quickly with another comment.
He shared a Native American quote that I really liked, because it is so apt for our culture:
“Where in your life did you become uncomfortable with the sweet territory of silence?”
(I’d like to pause to recommend a resource for all of us who are inundated with noise, especially electronic distractions like social media, cell phones, and email. Matt Swaim, producer of the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick, wrote a terrific book, Prayer in the Digital Age, which goes into depth on the question of our spiritual need for silence.)
Just quickly, a few other highlights:
One of my favorite catechists, Dr. Joseph White (who I interviewed last month here at Patheos), shared a study that shows the percentage of content typically retained when taught in various ways. Mull over how you can enhance your lesson planning using this as a guide:
Discussion group: 50%
Practice by doing: 75%
Teach other, immediate use: 90%
Interesting, isn’t it? Dr. White also reviewed the use of Multiple Intelligences for teaching in effective, fun, creative ways, and recommended his “Teach It” series, for lots more great ideas.
Tom McGrath, author and Vice President of Product Development for Loyola Press, was also excellent, as he spoke on a topic near and dear to my heart: “Parents Aren’t the Problem, They’re the Solution: Practical Ways to Engage Parents in the Faith Formation of their Children.”
He told wonderful stories demonstrating how parents really are the best and most important teachers of their children, capable of inspiring faith through the example of their lives. He likes to get parents talking about their goals for their children in the context of religious training. It’s kind of a sneaky trick, but the good kind.
For instance, according to the consensus of our group, typically parents want their children to:
1) celebrate the sacraments
2) understand their faith
3) have a belief system to turn to in times of trouble.
Once you’ve got parents expressing these goals, you’ve implicitly made a contract with them that makes them more active participants in the process! Clever fellow.
And after he’d gotten us all talking to each other and thinking about some interesting issues, he said something that I really liked: “Once you’re talking to each other, it’s a sacred place.” I think that makes a lot of sense. It’s one thing to passively listen and be inspired in the solitude of your own mind, but another to open to another person’s reactions and share your own. It creates a sort of community that amplifies the value of the discussion, because it becomes more personal.
I also want to recommend the CDs of a Catholic singer/composer who performed at the MAC’s beautiful Way of the Cross on Friday evening, Danielle Rose. Her “Agony in the Garden” was truly haunting and intimate. I just had to run over to the Exhibit Hall and buy a couple of her albums: Mysteries, which features all the mysteries of the Rosary in poetic expressions from various points of view, and Defining Beauty, her first album, with more Catholic faith songs. Take a look at her site. Her bio is very interesting.
There’s so much more, I can’t possibly fit everything I learned into one column. I loved Cecilia Regan’s presentation on whole-community catechesis. A DRE for more than twenty years before taking on the position of Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Metuchen, Regan made the spiritual formation of her catechists her first priority. She created a spiritual “community” among them, out of which flowed well-informed and inspiring teaching. So wonderful!
All in all, the Mac was a very instructive and enjoyable event. I’d like to thank the organizers once again, for inviting me to cover the congress as a media representative. Thank you so much, Therese Brown, Fr. John Hurley, CSP, and Paul Hendersen. Thank you to Father James Martin, S.J., Dr. Joseph White, and to Michael Ruzicki, for their wonderful pre-event interviews.
And many thanks to Elizabeth Scalia and Dan Welch, here at Patheos, for all their support. It was exciting being able to quickly blog about the MAC at Summa This, Summa That. If readers would like more details on some of the other MAC presentations, check out the blog for concise summaries.
Thanks! God bless you!
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