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, October 16, 2017

It Takes Time

8. The weekly atrium gatherings should last at least two hours, of which a small part is often dedicated to the catechist’s presentation, and the majority of the time is reserved for the personal work of the child. From the Characteristics of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

In a recent survey about session times, I had an anonymous question from a responder about the possibility of offering a one-hour session that would make it more convenient for families to be together for supper. I know that many faith-formation programs offer time frames like this, especially for smaller children, so I am sure it is confusing when our minimum session duration is 90 minutes and some of them are 2 hours long. This time frame can be difficult to accomplish for small children and busy, working families. This is the reasons we are seeking help from parents to find the best time in which to offer their children a 90 minute or 2 hour session. But parents rightly ask: "Why?" "Is it really necessary?" And even, "Won't they get bored?"

In the Characteristics of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, there are 32 points of reflection that set CGS apart from other faith formation approaches, programs, and curricula. These points are necessary to consider because while anyone can use the name "CGS" for their program, there is no pre-packaged, annual purchasing of the program. The investment and is not in books or even in the materials. It is in the catechists and their faithfulness to their own formation.

So the short answer as to why we offer longer sessions is therefore pretty simple: because we want to be as faithful as we can to this time-tested approach to formation for children. A better answer is because we have seen something quite remarkable in the children: a desire to be here longer!

In answer to the question about boredom, Sofia Cavalletti, an internationally-known biblical scholar and one of the foundresses of CGS, writes in her book The Religious Potential of the Child, "We should not alter too often or too rapidly the object of the child's attention, in which case the child would defend himself with an intentional indifference to this wearying, continuous movie. If the child does not have the time to dwell on anything, then everything will come to seem the same to him and he will lose interest in all things" (RPOC, 112.) When we see indifference to the mystery of God, it is not a sign we need to hurry up or give more information, but that the child may need us to slow down and give him more time to ponder.

The children have shown us over and over that this time is not a burden to them. Even at an hour and a half, they will groan and sigh when the catechist rings the bell indicating that it is time to restore our work and finish up for the day.

When the Missionaries of Charity (St. Teresa of Calcutta's order) decided to use Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in their work with children (and more interestingly: in the formation of their new sisters!) they were asked, "What have you found in CGS that is different from other catechesis?" The answer: "Contemplation."  It is not the child alone who experiences this opportunity for deep prayer and contemplation in the atrium. Probably the single greatest reason there is so little turnover of catechists in CGS is that in this approach, the catechist has time to see the child's quiet and individual encounter with God - that "incandescent moment of the meeting with God [which] occurs in secret between the Lord and His creatures" (RPOC, 53).

The content of CGS is nothing new to religious formation. We teach the faith. The striking difference comes in the way we prepare a space and allow time for the children to contemplate the mysteries they receive. In fact, the time in the atrium in which the child is receiving presentations (lessons) is much, much shorter than the time we leave for their personal work and reflection.

To those parents of small children for whom this time commitment can be a challenge: as a mother of little ones, too, I understand your difficulties. It can be hard to trust your little "seedlings" to an approach that seems so different than others around. But after 12 years in this work of CGS (which is over 60 years old and has spread throughout 38 countries in the world), I can testify that the investment in toddlers and 3, 4, and 5 year olds has already borne great fruit in countless families in our area and beyond. It just takes time to see it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Going to the Edges

"In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel," (Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, 20).

Last week I attended a catechetical leaders meeting that focused on "Inclusive Ministry." The two-hour presentation focused on practical ideas for ways that our parish religious education programs can reach out to families with children who have special needs and do a better job of serving them. The conversation drew wider as we considered who in our communities is most in need of someone to pay attention to them and let them know that they, too, are part of the community.

It sort of felt like an examination of conscience for ministry leaders. Am I spending most of my time and resources serving the people it's most easy to serve? Or am I looking to serve the ones who are in most need of the saving news and consolation of the Gospel? Am I mostly serving the ones who are comfortably "in the middle" or am I being attentive to those who are on the edges?

This discernment of the "path the lord points out" will involve a good deal of work and a lot of discussion. We have a few volunteers who are planning to attend an upcoming Inclusive Ministry Conference (www.inclusiveministryconference.com) in November, and this is open to parents and volunteers and parish ministers alike! One thing is certain, it will take a lot of "workers in the vineyard" to identify and do the work our parish is called to do.

In our CGS program, we are putting together a sort of "task force" of interested catechists and volunteers who want to help build resources to serve children with special needs. Children who are less verbal or who are more in need of structure and schedule building will soon have a "schedule builder" with pictures of actual materials and work choices in the atria so that they can plan their time in the atrium with their catechist.

Following the lead of St. Francis of Assisi Parish's Special Needs Ministry, we are also working on the development of a picture missal that will be available in all of the pews for anyone who would benefit from having a visual way to follow what is happening in Mass. (We are looking for sponsors to help us in the printing of this project!)


Also, on the parish side, we are excited to announce that we have three assistive listening devices available (from the ushers at the main entrance) for parishioners who could use this assistance to hear the Gospel proclaimed at Mass more clearly. We are also looking for ways to better serve our parishioners who are not able to receive our Lord in the host at communion because of Celiac Disease or other reasons.

As Pope Francis says, we are not likely going to be able to help parishioners and community members while we sit comfortably in our comfort zone. I don't know what it will look like for our parish, but I invite you into the conversation. First, I suppose, we ought to explore those edges, those peripheries, and find out just who is out there. Then we will have three big questions to answer: What can we do? Who will help do it? What does it look like for us to go and make disciples of ALL?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Good Will Hunting

I remember the moment, 15 years ago, when I lay in the dark and prayed: "God, please give me a friend."

I was newly married, a new mom, in a new community, and I barely knew anyone. No one invited me over for coffee and a chat. No one came over for supper and drinks. Praise God I had aunts and uncles nearby, but in the day-to-day grind, I was pretty lonely. I was hunting for a new friend.

I didn't know what I was looking for. But even at 23 years old, I already knew that friendships don't always go smoothly. The problem of friendship is deeply linked to the problem of being human: how terrifying it is that we aren't perfect. Our great fear is that one day people are going to find us out and realize that we're a hot mess hiding behind smoke and mirrors and be done with us.

I have some regrets in friendship in my life. Even in my zeal to be a good person or to do the right thing, I have sometimes hurt people. Some of my friends have done the same to me. Navigating the right course of action isn't always easy, and despite our best intentions, we sometimes miss the mark. But if being perfect is a condition of being someone's friend, I think we are all doomed to a lonely existence.

I remember reading in my favorite book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Father Jacques Phillippe, about the most important condition for maintaining interior peace. I think it is probably the most important condition for friendship as well: Goodwill.

"It is the stable and constant disposition of a person who is determined more than anything to love God, who desires sincerely to prefer in all circumstances the will of God to his own, who does not wish to consciously  refuse anything to God. Maybe (and even certainly) in everyday life, his behavior will not be in perfect harmony with this desire, this intention...Following moments of eventual failure, he will strive to come back to his usual disposition of wanting to say "yes" to God in all things, without exception." (p. 17).

When we are searching for travelling companions on this journey of life, the most important quality to search for is not talent or skill, humor, gentleness, or even kindness. Beneath everything, the one disposition of heart that will set a great friend apart from an acquaintance is this virtue.

God has answered my prayer for friends more abundantly than I could have ever imagined possible long ago in that dark bedroom in the middle of the night. Each seems to have this one beautiful thing in common: no matter their personality, disposition, or even temper, when I look deeply and carefully, I find goodwill in the heart of each one. If you are lonely as I was, I encourage you to pray for a friend and the virtue of good will in your own heart, then, go goodwill hunting. By God's grace, you will find it.




Monday, September 18, 2017

Risk the Descant

The first weeks of the atrium are always interesting. Bringing in a couple dozen new children who are under 4 years old, it's not surprising that it takes a while for everyone to get used to a new routine, a new way of living and being together. In these first few weeks, we see some children who seem to be seeking out the edges, searching for what's allowed and what's not allowed. It is part of the process of figuring out what kind of world we live in. "Is this okay? How about this?" Some children don't seem to do this very much and go along and get along pretty easily, while others do it Every. Single. Minute.  It's like trying to lead a choir to sing in unison, with someone boldly risking the descant part and missing the mark.
Most of us, if we can sing at all, are comfortable singing the notes that everyone else sings. The majority of us aren't exactly solo types. If we've been in a really good choir for a while, we could even venture into some 4-part harmonies (written on the page for us to practice), where we can sing along with someone else on a harmony part while others carry the melody.

This reminds me of the Level I atrium. Some children are good little "choral singers" and can find the unison part right away. They pick up on the expectations of how we will live in community together. Other children might need some one-on-one practice. Just like you can't really sing in a choir if you don't know some of the basics about singing, the grace and courtesy lessons in the CGS atrium help build the skills necessary for community living.

But there is another aspect to choral singing that reminds me of atrium life: the descant. It takes a great amount of courage to try to pick out a harmony without someone else to help you, or if you are really inventing it as you go. It is much easier to go VERY wrong, and you might get a few looks from the others in the choir as you're working on it. When it is done well, however, it adds a richness and beauty to the whole song. Not everyone can be a descant singer. You have to be confident, strong-voiced, and very brave. Not to mention a very good singer.

I wonder if some of the children in the atrium who we think are "testing the boundaries" might actually be the equivalent of our future atrium descant singers. They are seeking to belong and to create peace in the community, but it is difficult to do when you aren't acting in unison with the others in the group. They want to sing along, but for one reason or another they are drawn to searching out a different part than everyone else.

Life is a lot more interesting when you meet those brave souls that can risk being fun, unexpected, and surprising. In the beginning, the child may have just seemed like a bad singer who missed the mark, but well-encouraged and carefully observed, our role is to recognize that this present difficulty may be a sign of something extraordinary: someone who is willing to risk the descant. Let us do all we can to help them sing it well!

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Venerable Fulton

I really couldn't let it pass that not one, but two, babies born to catechists in our CGS program this past month were named Fulton. In speaking to one of the families, it turns out that there is another baby boy sporting that name at a nearby parish as well. All of these babies seem to have one fabulous thing in common: their parents are greatly inspired by and devoted to a remarkable man of the past century: the Venerable Fulton John Sheen.

It is something of a Catholic tradition to choose names for our children that are chosen from great saints and biblical heroes whom we hope our children will emulate. It is also a way to ask for a special patron for our child. It isn't just because her name is so beautiful that you find so many Catholic girls named Mary!

Fulton Sheen is probably best known for his TV and Radio programs, the most memorable of which is called "Life is Worth Living." Can you imagine one of the most popular broadcasts of the 50s and 60s consisting solely of a man in clerical garb speaking for an hour in front of a chalkboard?? He even won the Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality twice!

Now it is easy to listen to his timeless talks via apps and youtube and websites online. He proved that the truth and holiness is attractive and that being a saint simply means being who you were made to be. In Archbishop Sheen's case, God used his extraordinary talent to spread His message in a totally new way.




Though I doubt you will see the name "Fulton" topping the list of most popular boy names soon, I am excited to watch these little boys grow into the great name they have been given. And who knows? Perhaps the cause for Archbishop Sheen's canonization will progress as quickly as we all hope, so that when these little boys reach the age of Confirmation their venerable name will be one of a canonized saint!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Join us pho dinner!

Our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd year officially begins this next week (September 12th and 13th). We serve the children in our parish who are infants (really!) up through 6th graders. This year we have almost 200 children and 67 volunteers who will serve them over the course of four sessions. We are especially grateful to the Knights of Columbus who will be serving as our hospitality ministers and hallway monitors on Wednesday nights. It is such a joy to see the whole parish pitching in to keep our young people safe!

To celebrate the beginning of our year, our program would like to cordially invite you ALL to come for a special Pho Dinner on Wednesday, 9/12, either for lunch from 11:30am-12:30pm or for supper from 5:30-6:30pm in the parish hall. This dinner (which is a Vietnamese chicken noodle soup or fried rice) is free-will donation and proceeds will support our CGS program. (Want to help out? Click here!)

If you can't make it on Wednesday (and even if you can!) you can also celebrate the beginning of the year by participating in the parish Donut Sunday next weekened (9/17) which happens to be Catechetical Sunday. We will have our atria (rooms) open downstairs after both masses for you to take a look. You will be amazed at all that our parish volunteer catechists, assistants, and of course many generous and talented parishioners have accomplished. Our spaces are prepared and ready, and our newly-carpeted St. Dominic room is adorned with photos from Father Harris's parish trip to the Holy Land from a few years ago, and some beautiful prints of Pope St. John Paul II's visit to a CGS atrium in Rome.

All Saints has a long history of making children's formation a priority, and we are proud to carry on that tradition. Thank you for your support!


Monday, August 28, 2017

The New, Older Child

Because Catechesis of the Good Shepherd begins at such a young age, (which is 3 years old for the majority of our parish children and even younger for our volunteers' children), it is not uncommon for new children to join in 3 or more years after their atrium-mates have been in formation. Many times, the new children look around and see the others hard at work and prayer and simply follow suit. Sometimes, though, especially for older children, there is more of a struggle. So how can we help to prepare the older child for this method of formation? I'll give three ideas for parents and catechists that I hope will help make this a beautiful experience for all!

Parents:

  1. Learn all you can about this new program that your children are joining. The Missionaries of Charity and the Nashville Dominicans both use CGS in their schools and the formation of their sisters(!) Your child's catechist has been preparing for years to work with your older child. www.cgsusa.org is a great resource and so is our parish CGS blog: allsaintscgs.blogspot.com.
  2. Encourage your child to be an active participant. This work is very individualized, and your child will receive short presentations each week, but the majority of his or her time will be self-directed work in a prepared environment. After receiving presentations, some children choose to dive in to biblical geography. Others spend time making their own missal. Others take on the big work of memorizing all of the books of the Bible. Others do a little bit of everything. The atrium is full of things to do. Your child may need encouragement to "get active" in their formation.
  3. Talk to your child's catechist or your parish director of religious education early and often. You are always welcome to come and observe in your child's atrium. We like to give the children a heads up that we are having a visitor, so a week's notice is great. You may decide you want to jump in and get involved. Our community of catechists is growing each year because of parents who fall in love.
Catechists:
  1. Get to know each child in your atrium and make sure to meet the parents, too! The more you know about each child (especially the older, new child), the better you will be able to follow that child and determine what he or she needs.
  2. Don't forget the Good Shepherd! The older child may need the Good Shepherd and other primary works presented to them in a different way (less moving of the 2D figures), but they still need to have the proclamation (kerygma) which is the foundation and hallmark of our work in order before moving into moral formation (parenesis) or synthesis work. You must be sure that the child has had time to enjoy the covenant relationship with Jesus first!
  3. Observe carefully! A quiet child is not necessarily a happy child. Think carefully about who you might "match" this older child up with as a work partner. The second plane (6-12 year old) child is a social child who is learning how to live his faith and his life in community. You know that there is so much you want to pass on to this child, but take it slow and always follow the child!

Catechists and Parents: Take heart! We have had so many beautiful experiences with the older child who comes in new to CGS. Two of these children had work that was published in the same CGS Journal 6 years ago (back when we were rookies). The Holy Spirit moves, even when we are unsure. Trust that!





God's Blessing on you and your families, this week and always!