Welcome to All Saints CGS: a blog detailing the happenings and fruits of our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program and some musings (some theological, some humorous, some both) of the catechists in our program. If you've ever wondered about the impact of Good Shepherd on the life of the adult, the atrium (the CGS classroom), or the "work" your child is doing, you've come to the right place!

Monday, February 19, 2018

This, Too, Shall Pass

When I was in college, I remember one particular day when I called home to talk to my mom. I was going through a particularly challenging time, and could use a shoulder to cry on (even if it was a couple hundred miles away). Since this was before the days when everyone had a cell phone, my dad answered the house phone.

He asked what was up, and instead of saving my tears for Mom, I poured them out on my dad. It seemed like the whole world was ending, and he could probably hear it in my voice that I was a little too caught up in the details of this particular situation to see the big picture of life.

I remember that he did his best to comfort me in his own way, including pulling out time-tested, if cliché, idioms that he hoped would comfort me, such as: “In every life, a little rain must fall,” and "No one promised you a bed of roses," and other platitudes. I kind of groaned inwardly, hoping he would finish up and hand the phone off to Mom. But before he handed the phone over, he gave me one last thing to remember.

"I love you, honey, and remember, ‘This, too, shall pass.’”

To be honest, I don’t remember anything else about that phone call. I only remembered those four words.

My parents hadn’t always had it easy. There were plenty of tough times. Yet, when I thought about it, somehow my parents always weathered the storm and ended up better than before. Dad wasn't just saying those words because he wanted to make me feel better now, but because it was exactly this kind of attitude--hope--which would lead to a better and brighter future.

When I sat in class for the rest of that semester, I wrote them on top of my notebooks, and decorated them with vines and flowers over and over. “This, too, shall pass…” And Dad was right, it did.

Over the years, this hope for joy and a future full of hope has never left me. Whenever I get mired down in the troubles of the world, I remember my dad’s promise that this is all temporary. Sometimes, when I see my children laughing and singing, or when I sit with my husband on the couch and listen to him talk excitedly about some big project, or when I know that the time is coming to say goodbye to people I love, I think of the other side of that little saying.  “This, too, shall pass.”  Yet even grief is a passing thing.

Now that Dad has a cell phone, I don’t “accidentally” receive his wisdom when I am calling my mom. She’s a fabulous font of wisdom, too, but as a man who has borne his share of suffering and struggle, he is a bulwark in my life. He is a man who can steadfastly look with hope to the future.  When I really need it most, he sustains my courage by his own example and deceptively simple words that go right to the heart of my life.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Three Things

When people talk about Lent, they usually get stuck on what they're going to "give up." I remember the sweet movie from the 1960s, Trouble with Angels, where two of the girls had snuck away to try smoking. One of them said that she didn't think she liked it very much. The other, a precocious teen named Mary, responded. "Now you have something you hate that you can give up for Lent!" It was a pretty funny line, and at least she was thinking about Lent. But if we get stuck on just the fasting component of Lent, we might miss the point.

A good way to remember the three big things the Church reminds us to practice with more diligence during Lent is summed up by a sweet little song. My daughter came home from School of Mary (a local Catholic Montessori co-op school) last year singing a little ditty to the tune of "Are you sleeping, Brother John?" It goes like this:

Prayer and Fasting and Almsgiving. We are meant, to repent.
Forty days of sacrifice. Being super extra nice. (this had a cheesy little arm movement that went with it)
This is Lent. This is Lent.

I thought it had a nice ring to it, but for the sake of the atrium and not risking the kids getting too silly during prayer time, we changed the words to:

Prayer and Fasting and Almsgiving. We are meant, to repent.
Forty days of sacrifice. Change our hearts and change our lives.
This is Lent. This is Lent.

In the atrium last week, my Level III (4th-6th grade) children, were brainstorming ideas about ways we can prepare for Easter this year during the Lenten season. Since people usually think about the fasting part first, we decided to focus on almsgiving and prayer.

Most kids don't have access to much cash, so giving to the poor might be a goal that is a little outside of their reach. But there are ways around it. One 4th grade child in our atrium, for example, just finished a fundraiser that was his own idea. He and his mom spent a day making tamales and sold them to benefit Inner Visions Healthcare, a local clinic to help pregnant mothers in crisis. He gave his time, and other people gave money!

The children also thought that maybe another way to give would be to be sneaky about doing their siblings' or parents' chores. That way they can give something just for the sake of giving, not the recognition that goes with it.

Another child shared how her mother makes a "crown of thorns" out of wood and sticks toothpicks in it. Each time a child does something kind without being seen, he or she can come and take a toothpick out of the crown of thorns and place it in a jar. She said that on Easter morning, the toothpicks are gone and the jar is full of jellybeans!

The children also thought about their prayer practices. Do they pray to God each morning when they get up? When they go to bed? Are there prayers that they want to learn this Lent?

Everyone's Lent is going to be different depending on who you are and where you are in your journey, but one thing is certain, we have to think hard and dig deep if we really want to allow God to "change our hearts and change our lives" this Lent. Don't be like Mary in Trouble with Angels and just give up something you hate! Remember the Three Things, and find your way from there!




Monday, February 5, 2018

How Many Times do I have to Tell You?

I love the Abraham year.

In Level III (4th-6th grade) CGS we have five typologies that we work through on a three year cycle: Creation and Sin in year one, Flood and Abraham in year two, and Moses in year three. I really do enjoy each one, but I think Abraham is my favorite.

Typology studies are as much a gift to us catechists as they are to the children. This is my third time through Abraham since beginning Level III in CGS, and I learn something new every time. To start, we spend several weeks reading the account in the Old Testament. In the case of Abraham, we read several passages from Genesis and use a few card/description packets to help us understand what Abraham's time and life was like. One child was inspired to make a card packet of his own "Ankeny life" in comparison with Abraham's nomadic life.

Our weeks and weeks of reading and studying and waiting for the son of the promise, Isaac, to be born were nothing compared to Abraham's 25 year wait. The children's jubilation at Isaac's birth is quickly turned to sorrow and pain as we immediately follow his birth story with the Genesis 22 account of that fateful day when Abraham was "put to the test." It began with that same voice that Abraham had heard so many years before.

Answering the First Time

"Abraham!" God called.
"Ready!" replied Abraham.

The exchange that follows is so difficult to understand in a world that has been formed by 3800 years of monotheism. What? God is asking Abraham to offer his "only one, whom you love" and offer him on a "height I will show you"? What is going on here?

It is helpful that in our atrium we had lived with the children the previous 4 weeks in the world of Abraham. Abraham didn't know the future. He was the only person in the whole world who believed in the One, True God. He was surrounded by polytheists who had allegiances all over the place or by henotheists who were singularly dedicated to their own god, but didn't believe that their god was the only one. It was not unusual for religious people at that time to prove their love and devotion to their particular god by laying down the most important thing, or even the most important person, in their life.

When God calls Abraham, Abraham's response makes us think that Abraham was expecting this request. The Lord calls his name only once. "Ready!" he replied.
So often, looking back on this event after nearly 4 millennia, we can only respond with horror, wondering how or why God could do this. But, as we point out to the children in the atrium, the really shocking thing about this story is not so much that Abraham, a man of his own time, would be "ready" to do this, but that God stopped him. Many years later, through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord tells his people that human sacrifice is something that the One, True God never "considered, or said, or commanded" (Jer 19:5, cf. Jer 32:35).

"Abraham! Abraham!" 

Abraham was ready to obey the Lord at the first call, but I find it very interesting that it did take calling his name two times for God to convince Abraham to stop. The Lord was training up the very first monotheist. Abraham, our father in faith, had to have a pure heart in serving the One, True God. Not even the promise, not even the son, could be more central to his life than God. Abraham was so ready to make the sacrifice of obedience that God had to tell him twice to lay down the knife. The Lord asks us for everything, but He doesn't always take it.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to study Abraham, but this time in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament (typology). How many times can we read and study His Word and still let it escape our notice that our God loves us so much that He turned history and the whole idea of sacrifice on its head? 

As Abraham tells his son on the way to Mt. Moriah, "The Lord Himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice" (Gen 22:19). And so it happened.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lexio Divina

Last weekend was the 5th out of 6 weekends for Level I CGS formation. (I've mentioned this group before, as there are 7 gentlemen participants. They call themselves the "Seven Sacra-men." This was better than their first option which was "The Seven Gifts to Women" which was voted down by the larger group. Ha). So it was a busy weekend and I had every excuse to skip out on the inaugural talk for the Catholic Culture Lecture Series which began last Saturday night.

I'm so glad I didn't.

Lest you think that I am going to find every excuse to title my articles with a Latin word from now on, the title of the first talk in the Diocese's once-a-month series was actually Lexio Divina, words which translate simply enough to "Divine Reading."

The speaker, Bo Bonner, is an assistant professor and the Director of Mission and Ministry at Mercy College in Des Moines and also has a show on Iowa Catholic Radio called The Uncommon Good. I'm lucky enough to have had a few conversations with him, and even one very enjoyable argument, so my expectations going in were fairly high. Yet for a super smart, obnoxiously well-read guy to give a talk on what really is just prayer, I wasn't sure how this would go. Would I hear a cerebral talk all about the ancient church fathers and why they thought we should take time everyday to pore over God's word? Would I hear how the Benedictines developed this practice over the centuries? Not even close.

Mr. Bonner offered a challenging warning to those of us who would attend a lecture series on Catholic Culture, or who think that the Catholic Church is going to have anything to offer to a crumbling culture, without seriously examining our own pride and lukewarmness in our faith lives. The word culture comes from the word that means to cultivate, to prepare for crops. You have to get down into the soil and get it ready for good seed. But do we have good seed to offer? He quoted a Latin phrase which is a favorite of my friend, Dr. Tom Neal, (who I now know did not make it up): "nemo dat quo non habet," which means: "You can't give what you don't have."

Mr. Bonner pointed out that Lexio divina is just divine reading. It is reading divine words, and letting the Divine read you. It is taking a bite out of the scripture and gnawing on it for a while. He made not a few references to food and took several opportunities to poke fun at his own love affair with food. "Have you ever tried to teach someone to chew? Well, I have. My kids are chokers. It's impossible." For a good portion of the talk, I wondered whether comedian Jim Gaffigan and Bo Bonner were related. 

I came away from the talk with a strong commitment in myself to take a bite out of the scriptures each day, and really chew on them. Let the divine words bug me. Let them seep into me. As we so often hear, "You are what you eat." Just reading God's word is not enough. We must allow ourselves to be cultivated by it, by God. Only then will we be prepared to do the hard work of building the Catholic Culture that this world needs.

The next talk in the Catholic Culture Lecture Series will also be held at St. Augustin parish in Des Moines while work is finished at the Pastoral Center. The speaker is Katie Patrizio whom we all love from our Summer Bible Institute. Her talk on Modern Intellectualism and Christianity is bound to be excellent as well! There will be hors d' oevers and drinks at 7pm and the talk begins at 7:30pm on February 24th. Q and A is done by 9pm. It is a free event!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Credo

Do you believe in God?

I am guessing most people who read my articles would respond, "Yes, of course." But maybe a second question is in order. When you say that you believe in God, what do you mean? Are you saying, "Yes. I believe God exists" or even "The idea of God is something I think is probable"? Is it much different than saying you believe in democracy or that the world is round?

According to a scholar named Wilfred Cantwell Smith, the words "I believe" in modern times (since the 1800s) have lost something that was an essential meaning of their Latin parent:--the word "credo." Whereas our current understanding of "I believe" tends to limit the meaning of our baptismal promises to something like an affirmative "yep," credo's rich history meant something more akin to "I set my heart upon..."

In the book Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, James Fowler discusses Smith's observations and explores how much our society lost when "believing" in something came to mean merely that you think it is true. Perhaps a more appropriate question, he posits, is to ask: what is the ultimate concern of my life? What is the most important value I hold? If I am to be honest with myself, would the answer be "God"?

In our work with the children in the atrium, we strive to give them authentic encounters with the teaching and person of Christ. The purpose is not merely to equip them to be able to answer questions on some arbitrary exam, but to help them find the core meaning around which their whole lives will be built. We strive to help them find answers to the deep questions every human being asks: "Who are you, God? Can I trust you?" The response must come from deep within them.

What could happen to our relationships with others if we were frame this question of faith not as a matter of argument over what we think is TRUE, but over how we all choose to respond to the ultimate and central concern of our lives? It is a shift, not in dogma, but in focus. As so many interactions between our Lord and the Pharisees warn us: just being right does not make one holy.

Do I just believe in God, or do I set my heart upon Him?

Credo.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Patient, Prudent, Peaceful People

*WHACK!* "WAAAAHHHH!" No home with small children is ever totally free from sound effects like these.

Before the *whack*, there may be words like, "Hey, that's mine!" or some other complaint of unfairness, but when the poor parent who turned his back for just a moment on children who seemed to be playing peacefully returns to a puddle of tears and cries, there's really only one response: "Well, that escalated quickly."

Why does this happen? How can we stop living at DEFCON 4.5 all of the time in our homes? As I was talking to a friend whose toddler and preschooler have recently made Sibling War Games a thing, I got an idea that helped me to understand the root of violence not only in my children but also in myself: impatience.

Peaceful negotiations and the attempt to come to mutually-agreeable resolutions tend to take more time and a lot more thought. If in my mind the justice of the thing is clear cut ("That's my thing. You took it. I'm taking it back.") then I'm far more likely to skip the stage where we try to work things out, and just cut to the chase and take my thing back, regardless of who gets whacked along the way.

What is a peaceful person, really? He or she is someone who values communion enough to move slowly and carefully when fighting for justice, even when he knows he is right.

Take Abraham, for example. There is a story in Genesis, right before the famous story of Isaac and Mt. Moriah, where Abraham is meeting with a king who was feigning ignorance that his men had unjustly seized a well ABRAHAM dug. Abraham was a peaceful man, and it seems that he did all he could to avoid a fight. He had every right to tell his own men to go and take the well back by force. Wells were very important to the desert nomads, and this was kind of a big deal. Abraham showed incredible skill and patience in dealing with the king by giving the king seven ewe lambs as part of a pact. The king was confused. since the pact they agreed on didn't include ewe lambs which are a very valuable gift (that keeps on giving!)  Here's a paraphrase of their conversation in Genesis 21:

Abraham: About this well... Your guys seized it by force. It's my well.
King: Well? What's a well? Never heard of it. Don't know what you're talking about.
Abraham: Hmmm.. Well, let's make the pact we came here to make.
King: Sounds good. Hey, why are you giving me these seven ewe lambs?
Abraham: Oh, those? Those I give you in exchange for your agreement that the well was dug by me.
King: *reduced to silence* Uh, of course. Thanks.
Abraham: *whistles a tune as he walks away*

Amazing. I don't think it ever would have occurred to me to make a personal sacrifice in order to buy back my own thing, but Abraham was able to preserve an important alliance and friendship (even when the king didn't seem to mind throwing it away) AND he got his own well back. Win-win.

As Jesus says in the beatitudes, God's children are peaceful people. As we seek to raise children (and ourselves) to be people of peace, maybe the virtues of patience and a good deal of prudence are a good place to start. Peace takes time and work. But it is worth the effort. If we can make our families more peaceful, it is a great beginning to bringing about a more peaceful world.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Year Ice Cream

Sometimes it's hard to be the child of a director of religious education. When other kids are enjoying their Christmas break, your mom may decide your family should go hang out at a monastery for the Feast of the Holy Family (actually happened a couple of times) or, unable to do that, she may just throw together an impromptu Family New Year's Retreat.

Last year around this time, with only minimal eye-rolling from family members, I put together the fastest-planned and implemented family retreat in history. I had been reading the book Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly, and was thinking of ways that I could pass on to my children some of the insights that I'd gained from reading that book.

On a whim, I pulled together a few activities (such as making a "growth chart" where each of us looked at where we feel that we've grown the most in the past year, and maybe highlighting some of the places where we want to focus in the coming year). We also read a chapter of Matthew Kelly's book together and talked about it, and then I invited over a couple of fabulous friends who I asked to be spiritual mentors for my kids, and each of us took one child at a time out for ice cream and talked about prayer and how our relationship with God is.

I think the kids liked it. Especially the ice cream part.

As I write this, there are still a few days before life gets back to full speed from the holidays. I hope to use this time to help refocus myself on goals and priorities, not just for my work or for my physical fitness, but for my soul. What do I need to grow in holiness? It is important to help my children consider these things, too. I think I see a few ice cream (or hot chocolate!) dates in my future!