“The kids don’t know anything! They don’t go to mass!” Put two catechists at a table, and it’s a complaint you’re likely to hear. Why does it matter? In addition to being one of the obligations of the faithful, and essential to the well-being of the soul, the liturgy is also an integral part of catechesis. I want to take a look today at an upcoming event in my diocese, as a way of illustrating how our weekly formal religious education programs fit as one piece in the bigger puzzle of catechesis and evangelization.
1. We start with the Catechism
What does the Church teach about sex and marriage? About the sacredness of human life? Quite a lot. Openness to children is one of the essential elements of a Christian marriage. Abortion is always and everywhere a grave evil, because the innocent child in the womb deserves protection and respect. We teach this to our students at every age. We lay the foundations with very young children by talking about how much Jesus loves them, how precious they are to God, and how important it is to show our love and respect for others. As students mature, we fill in the details year after year.
2. We support the efforts of parents as primary educators.
Sex, contraception, abortion . . . these are sensitive topics, and we rightly leave parents to decide when each child is ready to learn which facts. Organizations like Family Honor host “Catholic Sex Ed” courses that students can attend with their parents. Parishes can use curricula such as Ascension Press’s Theology of the Body for Teens to teach purity and chastity to teens; a course or handbook for parents (as well as parental oversight and consent) is an essential part of these programs.
3. We give students chances to act on our faith.
Do you take up a collection for the local crisis pregnancy center? Does your youth group march in a local or national March for Life? Is your parish tallying Rosaries for Life this month? Within the religious education program, and as part of the ministry of the parish and the community, even the youngest students can have a chance to act on their faith.
How do you explain “crisis pregnancy” or “abortion” to a very young child? Try these:
Having a baby is a big responsibility. Some parents don’t have enough money to buy their babies the things they need, or to pay their doctor bills. Some mothers don’t have friends and family to help them care for their baby. The “crisis pregnancy center” is a place mothers and fathers can get help to take care of their baby.
When we go to the “March for Life”, we are showing that we want our government to pass laws that protect all children, even teeny tiny babies. When we pray a “rosary for life”, we are praying that all babies will be well taken care of, and that nothing will ever hurt them. We are also praying for parents, that they will have everything they need to be able to take care of their babies.
We can get frustrated at students who don’t participate in our programs and events as much as we’d like. Remember that sometimes the reason the student is absent is because the family is in the midst of a crisis — the student is getting hands-on experience in living out the faith at home.
4. Enter the Liturgy: Lex Orandi Lex Credendi
The USCCB has written an official Rite of Blessing for a Child in the Womb to be used within or outside of mass. Here’s the heart of the blessing our bishop will be extending this Sunday at my parish:
God, author of all life,
bless, we pray, these unborn children;
give them constant protection
and grant them a healthy birth
that is the sign of our rebirth one day
into the eternal rejoicing of heaven.
Lord, who have brought to these women
the wondrous joy of motherhood,
grant them comfort in all anxiety
and make them determined
to lead their children along the ways of salvation.
Lord of the ages,
who have singled out these men
to know the grace and pride of fatherhood,
grant them courage in this new responsibility,
and make them examples of justice and truth for
The simple act of showing up and saying the blessing sends a powerful message from the bishop, priest, or deacon: Your child matters. Parents, I support you. I want you recognized for the part you play in the plan of salvation.
A friend shared that she had been present at a blessing for unborn children before she even knew she was pregnant. Shortly after, she lost the baby to miscarriage. She was greatly consoled to know the Church blessed and remembered her precious child, barely known to man, never for a moment forgotten by God.
5. And back to catechesis.
After our Mass for Expectant Parents this Sunday, there’ll be information tables for parents. (Also snacks, of course.) The diocese has lined up representatives to share information on Natural Family Planning, to support parents facing a difficult prenatal diagnosis via Be Not Afraid Ministries, and has invited the local Catholic schools and homeschooling groups to give parents information about their choices for Catholic education for their children. We’re fortunate to also be able to giveaway four copies of Sarah Reinhard’s new book, A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy, a treasure-trove of catechesis.
Cramming for Finals?
As catechists, we can sometimes feel the pressure to teach the entire Catholic faith in twenty weekly lessons. That’s neither possible nor desirable. As a Church, do we say “Christian Formation” and think “CCD class on Wednesday night from 6:30-7:45”? Do we talk about young people participating in the life of the Church, and reduce it to a special club for teens, led by the one person in the parish who “works with youth”? Our baptismal calling isn’t like a restricted driver’s license, limited to certain hours until we’ve reached the age of 18.
How does your parish integrate liturgy, service, and catechesis? As we embark upon the Year of Faith, how would you like to see your students grow in their understanding and practice of the faith?