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!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

From Feast to Feast!

This Advent, we've had two special feast days land on Wednesdays, and the children in our CGS program have been quite busy celebrating them.

Since our parish claims "All the Saints" for our patrons, children don't just zero in on one saint to study and celebrate. Our Level III children will often research a saint in their work time and paint an icon (which adorn our wall downstairs!)

This year, Catholic Charities had a #belikestnick drive for their Emergency Family Shelter. So, on St. Nicholas' Feast Day (12/6), we invited a parishioner to come and bring his big red bag for the CHILDREN to fill with items that would help people in need. (One of the children was sure that the man behind the beard was Father Harris!) Side note: The workers at the Emergency Family Shelter recognized our parish because there is a parish group that has been preparing a Sunday meal for the families there once a month for many, many years. We were happy to help in a new way!

And on December 13th, a very ambitious group of 4th-6th graders have planned a feast day celebration for St. Lucy! Traditions for celebrating this martyr's feast day (which involved candles, star boys, and sweet rolls) captivated them. So they wrote a play and invited Father Harris and the other children in their 4pm session to come and celebrate Mass and a feast!

And this is not to mention preparations for Christmas!! Truly, we are a Holy Day people. Our whole liturgical year is a journey from feast to feast. It is beautiful watching the children embrace this rhythm of life that celebrates our communion with the saints in God!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Prepare Ye

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light" Isaiah 9:2.

This week, many of our Level I children as young as three years old heard these words spoken eight centuries before Jesus Christ was born. God is preparing His people for a gift, we tell them, and through the prophets, God tells us for what and whom, and even where, we should look.

A light. A star. A ruler. A son. Born of a Virgin. Emmanuel: God with us. Bethlehem. A child with authority. Wonder Counselor. God-Hero. Father-Forever. Price of Peace.

All of these things the prophets foretold. As we prepare these children to celebrate the mystery of Christmas, all of these signs point to that child who lays there in a feed box for animals. It's an incredible paradox: King of the world. Foretold for centuries. Heralded by angels. Lying in a manger?

It's all there, just like the prophets said, but it isn't quite as we might expect it. Good thing God pointed the way for all those years, or we might have missed it!

As the children grow, we offer further reflections on the Messiah "who is to come" from the prophets. In Level II (for 1st-3rd grades) and Level III (4th-6th) we hear about the incredible peace that will flood the earth. The wolf will lay down with the lamb. The young lion and the calf shall browse with the young child to lead them. No harm or ruin on all my holy mountain. The earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea. There will be no mourning or wailing. Death will be destroyed forever.

Is this what we see on Christmas? Even the most stubborn optimist would have to admit it is not. Jesus is the Savior, and He did come to establish His kingdom. Yet we wait for the day when "everything is subjected to him" and "God will be all in all" 1 Cor 15:28.

With the children, we reflect deeply on the prophets' words because they have relevance for us today. The prophets had a call, a vocation, to listen deeply to the word of God--to encounter Him in their own hearts. From the depths of this relationship of listening, the prophet speaks God's message. It is not just to the people of their time, but of our time as well. Their words not only prepare us to recognize and accept Jesus Christ who is born on Christmas morning as the Messiah foretold, but to look and prepare carefully for the Parousia: that time in which God will be all in all.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Making Time, Making Space

In CGS we often quote the beautiful response of the Missionaries of Charity when they were asked why they chose to implement CGS in their homes and in the formation of their sisters.

"Because of the element of contemplation."

But what does that mean? Do we ring a bell and let the children know that it's time for contemplation now? Do we have the children sit criss-cross on the floor with our eyes closed in silence for 30 minutes?  No. Neither of these things.

Contemplation is a depth of prayer that is really a gift. You can't schedule it. You can't force it. But you do need to make room for it.

In the atrium, we offer the child the core truths of the Christian Proclamation (the kerygma) as content worthy of reflection and we give them free work time in order to go deeper. "We offer rich food," Sofia Cavalletti says, "but not too much of it." Then, as much as 75% of the child's time in the atrium is his or her own. With this gift of time and a prepared environment, the child can choose to work with any material he has seen, find extensions work that is related, or (in the older years) research.

Sometimes it will happen that a whole atrium will fall into a concentrated silence, and the catechists look at each other and sit down carefully and quietly so as not to break it! Other times, the children seem to "take turns" at being absorbed in thought, while others give the catechists a run for their money.

Then there are the days like last Tuesday. Two little girls in a Level II atrium decided to work together to make a prayer book for the atrium. One of two catechists in the room (both male) came and shared the girls' work with me at the end of the session. We stood in awe. We could never make something like this happen. We can only make space for it.

 "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He stays with me wherever I go. If I get lost he shall leave the others and go to find me. He takes me to green pastures which I have my fill. I listen to his call I follow him because I know his voice. If another shall come I do not follow for his voice is not familiar.

"Lord I love you. I pray for those who don't. I love you I serve you. I give up my life for you. You are my Lord my God and my savior. You are The God That Makes Miracles you are the God that made the world. You are the God that made me.

"God I thank you. You gave us Jesus Mary the Saints and all the angels. You created them for me. To help me understand you. I thank you for my friends my family. For my relatives and most of all my life. I thank you Lord!"

"When you get a moment, without hesitating lower to your knees, fold your hands, lift up your eyes to heaven. Tell God inner worries, cares, faults, doubts, pain, catastrophes and ruckuses. In some ways God is like a candle extinguisher. The candle is all your inner worries, cares, faults, doubts, pain, catastrophes, and ruckuses. God's love easily put out the evil flame. So when you feel evil in you, take a calm moment and talk to God!"

Monday, November 27, 2017

Little Shoes

Advent is such a beautiful time of preparation and memory making. A friend told me long ago to be very attentive to what I do with my children in a season as charged as Advent and Christmas. Everything takes on the air and feel of a tradition!

One of those traditions is to begin our Advent with a small basket on our family prayer table that represents a manger. We have a container with pieces of yellow yarn and shredded paper close by. We begin on the first Sunday of Advent, by remembering that when Jesus came, there was no room for him, no soft place to lay his head.

Our family makes a special focus to make a soft place for baby Jesus in our home and in our hearts. Each time we offer a sacrifice or choose a kind word when it would have been easier to be harsh, we can put a piece of "straw" in the manger. On Christmas Morning, we process with our baby Jesus to the manger which has been prepared for him.

Another favorite tradition is centered around St. Nicholas Day (on December 6th). Our children remember (even if we forget) to set out a shoe (just one shoe in my family!) before bed on December 5th. In the night, "St. Nicholas" brings chocolate coins and one real silver coin and places them in the waiting shoes. Sometimes there is even a chocolate orange, but heaven help me if I forget to pick up the chocolate coins! (I found them at Hobby Lobby this year)! I've never thought to take a picture of the little shoes all lined up.

Getting ready for Advent this year, I can't help but notice that my children are not so little anymore (at least, most of them aren't), and my oh my how those little shoes have grown. We really do have only a few years with them when they are small. So I invite you, parents, to do as I do as we prepare for this holy season: take a breath and say a prayer for the grace to be present to and grateful for this special time with your family. The special grace of sharing this season with children is not a blessing that everyone receives, and those shoes won't be little for long.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Fence Post Theology

Early on in our marriage, my husband would joke that I could take even the most unrelated job or activity, such as sitting on the front step as neighborhood kids are coming home from school or starting a picture framing business, and find a way to make it a “ministry” in my own head. I suppose this is because my definition of ministry has always been very broad. A few years ago, when Dr. Matt Halbach came and spoke at our diocesan catechetical leaders meeting about the process of evangelization, I was vindicated in my belief.

Dr. Halbach outlined Pope Francis’ understanding of the mission of the Church as a ministry of accompaniment. It isn’t always overt, Sacramental (with a capital S), or even on church property. Often times, ministry is just being truly present to someone, even if it means standing at the fence post and talking to your neighbor. This perspective takes on an urgent significance when encountering people inside the Church building as well: before they can be “theologized” they must be evangelized. You cannot try to give someone moral formation (parenesis) or the plethora of theological details before they come to deeply know the proclamation of God’s boundless love for them (kerygma).

Years ago, I complained to my friend and mentor, Dr. Tom Neal, that I met so many people who are thirsty for God, who need Him in their lives so desperately, but that I felt incapable of helping them. Catholicism is so dense and rich that all I had to slake their thirst was a fire hose. Tom sent me a short little message that challenged me to place a higher priority on my own theological formation. He quoted Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

The study of theology, especially my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation which takes the richest content to offer to the smallest ones, is a quest to understand God’s plan of salvation well enough to equip me in the ministry of giving a drink of water to these thirsty ones without drowning them. It is to know the big picture well enough to be able to help others form their own understanding, line by line, stroke by stroke. Theology and Ministry aren’t just the tools and approach we use for sacramental classes or catechist in-services, they are for the fence-post, too.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Faith Seeking Understanding

After all these years, I've finally decided to jump in and begin working toward a Masters Degree. People pursue masters degrees all of the time, but it turns a few heads and raises a few eyebrows at cocktail parties when a lay person seeks to obtain a masters in theology. Theology? Really? Why would you want to do that?

One of the essays I must write for my application process is about the concept that theology is really “Faith seeking understanding.” Some critics see this statement as the claim that somehow through study, one can take their faith and replace it with concrete understanding. This is, of course, ridiculous. Yet "faith seeking understanding" still is a definition of theology that I can reconcile with my own experience, because it does not mean for me that wish to systematically unpack each mystery and define it until it no longer evokes awe, wonder, and humility. It is rather the opposite.

One of my favorite stories, told to me by a Benedictine monk named Father Albert, was of St. Augustine considering the mystery of God by the seashore. He saw a young boy taking buckets of ocean water and carrying it to dump into a small hole. When the saint asked the young boy what he was doing, the boy answered that he was trying to put the ocean into the little hole he had made. St. Augustine replied that this was impossible, the ocean could never fit in such a small space. The child responded, “Neither can you fit God in your little mind.”

I remember considering this story in the quiet of a monastic Basilica as I looked up at the images of the great saints who had spent their lives seeking God’s face. I imagined myself with a little cup in my hand. God is like the ocean, and that little cup is like my mind. I knew I could never “fit” God into myself, but I knew that I could fit into God. So I decided to throw my cup into the ocean.

“Faith seeking understanding” is the decision to dive in to the wide expanses of an ocean that I could never see, know, or explore all at once or ever. The object of my faith is a Creator who has fearfully and wonderfully made us all and who desires us to know Him. I consider my desire to know Him in return and to seek to understand Him etched into my humanity and extending through all eternity. In other words, by this very seeking we anticipate the heavenly reality now and we wiill continue to practice theology even when God is “all in all”[1] and when the “knowledge of the Lord covers the earth like the waters cover the sea.”[2]

[1] 1 Cor 15:28

[2] Hab 2:14

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

It's a Work of Mercy, Dad.

We started a tradition about 10 years ago that our children will simply not let us break. On Beggar's Night we dress up the kids and sometimes even the adults in our family and head to a nearby nursing home for a climate-controlled evening of thrills and chills. Aside from the fact that there are copious amounts of candy, the night is a great chance for our kids to bring some joy to the residents, and to have a ton of repetition when they practice saying "Thank You" while looking in someone's eyes.

About 6 years ago, we decided to step up our relationship with the Care Center and make it a weekly thing to go and let the girls play their instruments or sing for the "Memory Lane" hour. This served a few purposes: 1) The girls had more motivation to practice their instruments because they were going to be playing in public. 2) Because aside from "going to church", I knew that we needed something in our lives that was a regular, on-the-calendar, thing, that would teach my children what it means to live as a Christian: to live for others.

Sometimes the concerts were absolutely wonderful. Sometimes, however, they were an exercise in restraint and pain. It's tough raising kids in front of people and it wasn't always easy to get the girls to offer their talents freely.

As the girls got older and our lives got busier, we have gone down to 1 hour visit per month. The nurses and aides line up the wheelchairs, and we come in with our guitar or ukelele, a few violins, and we play their piano. The girls pretty much put together the whole concert now, and I just watch (and chase David who is busy winning over the ladies). We try hard to learn the names of the ones who come, and our hearts have been saddened when we find that one has died since we were there last.

When the month of October rolled around this year, the girls were all busy trying to figure out what they would do for Halloween at the nursing home. My husband was giving my girls some guff about dressing up this year. "Aren't you a little old for that?" he wondered aloud.  "Dad," our oldest responded, matter-of-factly, "It's a work of mercy. When we dress up it makes them happy."

"Fine," replied my husband with a smirk, "Dress up. But you don't need to take any candy."

Then my 13 year old piped in, "And break their hearts?"

Visiting our friend Karen who always has some good candy for us
Matt relented and the girls dressed up as super heros (David was Clark Kent dressed as an alligator). When we walked into Beggar's Night, one of the nurses said, "Look, it's our most faithful family." I could see the girls' eyes beaming. I pray this lesson goes with them their whole lives. Whether it's with violins, guitars, or super-hero capes, anyone can visit the lonely and perform a beautiful work of mercy.