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, August 22, 2017

A Treasure Hidden in a Yellow House

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." Matt 13:44.

I've wrestled with this parable for years now, and I've always been a little confounded by what it means. Why did the man hide the treasure again? How did he find it? Was he trespassing? I was certain I was missing something. Only in the last few days do I think may finally be starting to understand what this hidden treasure is all about.

My grandmother's funeral was last Saturday. Veronica Jane Koebel was 91 years old and up to a couple of weeks ago she was still attending Sunday Mass and living on her own. She never drove a car. Check that. I think she tried to drive one once, and decided quickly that driving wasn't going to be a thing she did. She was content to be driven around in a very memorable station wagon by her husband of nearly 50 years until 1995 when he died. Three of her nine children lived within 3-20 minutes away, but still, she always said she'd rather just be home. She lived hidden in that same big old yellow house (which is now tan, but my memory refuses to believe it) for my whole life.

I realized that as a person who has moved 26 times in my life, she was perhaps the only constant I could rely on.  I could always imagine her watching EWTN or Danny O'Donnell. I could picture her by her computer typing up emails in large font, or watching her screensaver slide show of family pictures. Or else she was at the sink, washing dishes by hand. Because she was always there. She said it was her "fun."

I was blessed to have a final day after they discovered the cancer and just days before she died. During that most amazing day with Grandma, she talked the ear off of anyone who would listen. When we fed her ice chips, which is all she could take in, she said, "You think this is going to shut me up, but it won't." Knowing that she'd worry about our long drive home, we tried to head out while it was still light. I leaned in to say goodbye and tell her it was so good to see her. She said she was glad she could see me, too. "Thank God my eyes still work." She also told me not to feel like I had to go and draw out the goodbye to everyone. I should do like my cousin's son who just went to the door, turned around to everyone and said, "So long, everybody!"

I went to the hallway and cried through my laughter as I hugged my cousin and aunt. The woman was not afraid to die. She was saying goodbye with such dignity and poise. Every silly story about grandmas on motorcycles that she was telling was just a chance to hold on to someone's gaze and someone's hand.

At her wake, the priest spoke of her death in the most amazing terms. Following those few extraordinary days with her family, she started sleeping more. Surrounded by her favorite images our Our Lord, she held on to her rosary and slipped away almost stealthily. She was so peaceful. My 6-year old daughter Lucy said to me, "When I die, I want to die happy, like Great Grandma."

Grandma was a simple woman. She worried about her family, but she left the big job of doing something about it to God. She lived an ordinary life, hidden away from most of the world, just loving her family (which numbered over 100 of us: children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and spouses) and holding us together in her heart. If she suffered, she hid it.

Her sanctity was so everyday. It was hidden in the dishes and in the lawn mowing (which she did up into her 80s). It was the rosary hidden in her pocket. It was never in a voice that said, "Look at me!" (Although she did like a good audience for her stories!) It was even hidden in her passage to the Kingdom that was so gentle that we were convinced it must not have been much of a change for her. A hidden treasure in her home and family, she was already living the Kingdom. Now she just lives it in a new way.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Great Trampoline

It seem like bedtime is the perfect time for children to come up with pressing and dire concerns or questions that simply cannot wait until morning. The other day after the lights were out upstairs and my husband and I thought we were officially in kid-free zone, a child appeared at the bottom of the stairs to request a trampoline for her birthday, promising that she would use it every single day if we could just buy her one. This request was met only with the infamous parental finger pointing up to the room where she could go and dream about a trampoline.

The other night, however, one of my daughters came to me after bedtime with a much different problem. Deeply distraught, she gave a painful cry to her mother's heart: "Prayer isn't working."

As I prodded her a bit, asking what brought on this despair, she confided that she had been asking God to help her get rid of some fault, but she is still failing and falling all the time. She wants to be good, she wants to be better at loving others, but she isn't getting better. God isn't answering her prayer.

"Amen, sister," I thought, "that's the universal experience of trying to be a better person, isn't it?"

I consoled her that her apparent faults are not a sign that she is failing God. God seems to like to perfect our humility before He perfects our other virtues. If it is always easy to be good or kind or generous or gentle, we may think that the power to do these things comes from us. Luckily, God can even use our falls to bring us higher and closer to Him... so long as we choose humility as our response, rather than despair. If we are perfect in every other virtue but full of pride, all is lost. The reverse however, is not true! Even if we fail in every virtue except for trust and humility, God can still work with us, because our hearts are His.

The great secret to humility is that this "little" virtue can do more to defeat the devil than any other act. The primordial sin really is: "I can do it without you, God." If you can rid your heart of that lie, you've done quite a lot.

It is a fact: we're going to fall. We're going to sin. Sometimes it is on purpose, and sometimes it is an accident. But we should take heart: God isn't surprised. It is not always easy to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. He knows what we are made of and He has told us how He responds to the sheep who says, "I will not follow." (Luke 15:1-7). He does not leave us, but draws closer and brings us home on His shoulders.

In his amazing book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace, Fr. Jacques Phillipe teaches that humility is like a springboard, a trampoline. It makes even our falls a benefit to us, because with it we can rebound to an even higher level.

The knowledge that God loves me even when I fall doesn't make me a more brazen sinner, it makes me a better jumper, and getting up from our falls more quickly is what gives us the strength and power to acquire all of the other virtues besides. I am the servant of a God who is greater than I can even imagine, because He loves me even when I find it hard to love myself.

This great trampoline is our original birthday gift. Let's use it. Every day.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Be Good

If I asked you what moral formation is, what would you say? Usually when I ask this question, people respond very quickly: "Learning right from wrong."

But really, if we look at moral formation this way, we are missing some of the most important aspects of human development and what being a moral person really is. Just choosing right over wrong is not a sign that a person is a good person. For example: the Pharisees were champions at following the rules but Jesus didn't have very nice things to say about them.

Usually, the admonition to "be good" has a not very subtle "or else" stuck to the back of it. If we are honest, we might admit that our mental image of God looks more like the tattle tale who nobody liked in third grade who kept meticulous record of our mess-ups, than of the loving Good Shepherd that Jesus tells us he is. So what gives?

In her book, The Religious Potential of the Child, Sofia Cavalletti quotes Father Dalmazio Mongillo who warned that we must be careful not to think of our good actions like we think about ornaments on a Christmas tree. As pretty as the ornaments are, they are still dead (and so is the tree). Rather, we should consider our moral actions as the fruit on a tree. If the tree or plant is healthily rooted in the ground, fruit will come. Just as it would be absurd to focus on the lack or plethora of fruit in a plant that is uprooted, we must look at our healthy relationship with God as the source of our action. 

My college pastor at St. Stephen the Witness at the University of Northern Iowa, Father John Haugen, always told us that our sins were like idiot lights on the dashboard. They are warning signs that something is wrong under the hood. Unscrewing the light bulb for the "service engine soon" light will not solve the problem.

When we see our children (or ourselves) struggling to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, it may be a better course of action to work at rebuilding the relationship, not just focusing on nipping the bad behavior in the bud. How is my prayer life? Do I read the scriptures? Do I believe that God loves me, no matter what? When is the last time I went to confession and received Communion?

Sheep stray. It isn't a big surprise when sin pops into our child's life. We must have confidence in the love of the Good Shepherd who, as Pope Francis says, never tires of lifting us up on his shoulders and bringing us back home. As parents we must do all we can to imitate the patience of the Shepherd. If we make it our focus to bring their hearts home to Him, the fruit of good action will come.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Parousia is Coming!

What an incredible month! I was privileged in early July to spend some time (5 days) up at the American Martyrs Retreat House in Cedar Falls with a wonderful group of 20 catechists-in-formation. They're a dedicated bunch of people. The retreat atmosphere was especially wonderful.

I arrived home and had enough time to wash my clothes, kiss my babies, and board a plane to Seattle where I spent 12 days encountering the "second plane child" (6-12 years old) with about 80 other men and women from around the USA and the world. For this National Course in CGS, we did have two women from South Africa join us! What a surprise when we discovered that the chapel at the retreat house was Good Shepherd Chapel!

Sylvia and Tracy from South Africa were both such a treat!

The catechists for our parish are very excited about the upcoming year in the atrium. Our carpet fundraiser in April has led to a new look downstairs, and I keep hearing from catechists who are chomping at the bit to set up their atrium environments and get a handle on what materials need to be made/mended before September.

This coming year already offers much to be joyful about. After announcing another 90-hour Level I adult formation course beginning this fall, we already have 10 participants signed up. Better news than that? SEVEN of them are men. Three years ago when a few of us headed down to Phoenix to the International Celebration of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we heard one of the United States' premier CGS catechists, Rebekah Rojcewicz, talk of how we will know that the Parousia (the time when Christ will come back and God will be all in all) is coming: there will be more men in this work. This fall we will have at least three trained men working in the atrium, and it looks like more to follow. Praise God!
Father Nick Schneider of the Bismark, ND Diocese also attended the National Course
I am off this weekend for another 5 days of training catechists in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, but time marches on and September draws near! If you have children/grandchildren whom you wish to enroll in our program, please register soon so we can be sure to get them placed in an atrium this fall. There is still time to volunteer to help with our program this year or even enroll in this fall's formation course as well. Check out our website at www.dmallsaints.org/cgs for more information!

And as a bonus for making it through this update, enjoy this video from Sister Josephine. It is a great song for Easter!


God Bless!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Lord is My Shepherd, There is Nothing I Lack

A guest reflection by Jeremiah Evans. Jeremiah recently completed our Level I training course in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I asked him to share from a man's perspective how this course impacted his life. This was his response.

Isn’t it weird how you can say a word again and again until it loses its meaning? Isn’t it sad how we can hear a passage of scripture again and again until it loses its meaning?

You don’t see that same tendency in children. As G.K. Chesterton says, the child never tires of the swing, or the story, or the game. “Again, again!” they cry with glee, and again and again it is as new to them as the first time. But then we grow up, and we say, “This again?”

I wonder if this is part of what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 18:3, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” We cannot tire of listening to the Word of God, or ever assume that we understand it completely.

Training in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is often called “Remedial Childhood,” and for me I don’t think that there’s a better example than Psalm 23. It’s probably one of the best known verses, certainly the best known Psalm. How many of us have written it, recited it, cross-stitched it, or reproduced it in some other craft as children, but how many of us think about it on a daily basis? How many of us are moved when we hear it proclaimed at Mass?

I wasn’t.

How sad it is that I can become immune to the wonder that every child seems to experience so naturally? People tell me I know things, I clearly love Jesus, shouldn’t I be dumbfounded by this?

Well, I am now. Not through knowledge, but through humility.

Psalm 23 is a very hard teaching. Not hard to grasp intellectually like how Jesus is both Human and Divine, or how the Eucharist appears as bread and wine but is actually the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. It is hard because it demands humility, which as an adult with adult responsibilities, in a culture that tells me to focus on myself and what I want, seems almost impossible to have.

There is nothing I lack? What about the new car/clothes/computer I want? What about the will power to control my temper or my appetites?

What about the four children whose names are inscribed on a block of marble?

Don’t tell me there is nothing I lack.

But maybe I just haven’t been listening. Maybe I need to say as the child does, “Again!”

What does it mean to lack nothing in the face of loss? How can I become a child again with all the responsibilities that come with being an adult, a parent, a member of my faith community?

Going through CGS training helped me to rediscover this verse, to see it in a light I hadn’t before. To sit with it, ponder it, taste it. To ask for the Father who gives so many good gifts to show me those gifts.

I’m still learning to be as a child. I’m learning to not be defined by what I have, what I know, or even what I’ve lost. I am not those things, I am a child of the Father, a sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd.

The Father, the giver of gifts, who has given me every one of my talents, has blessed me in countless ways. He has given me so many friends, my family, my wife. The children I hold in my arms, and the children who intercede for me without ceasing.

He is my shepherd, and He has given Himself to me.

And if I have Him? There is nothing I lack.

We are happy to announce that another 90-hour Level I formation course will be offered beginning this September. All Saints is able to offer this course at a significant discount for parishioners. For more information, check out our parish website at www.dmallsaints.org/cgs-formation-courses.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Led to Christ

This is the second year that we have had toddlers involved in our Youth Summer Mission. We might have thought that we were doing this to lead the little ones to Jesus, but I think it's the other way around.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Youth Summer Mission Week

As I write this, we are a little less than half way through our Youth Summer Mission week for 2017. This year has been beyond fantastic as our relationships with Benedictine College Youth Outreach and the Nashville Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia have continued, along with the addition of Fr. Simon and Brother Levin from St. Benedict's Abbey in Atchison, Kansas. All in all, our program served about 150 youth ages 0-18.
Preparing for Mass on Day Two

Sister Veronica Marie showing 3-6 year olds her 15 decade rosary. Both sisters are trained in the second level of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Fr. Simon (Dave and Linda Landwehr's nephew) is talking to the children at the end of Mass about this special chalice which was donated by the first priest who came from our parish (Fr. Reece: Christine Routson's uncle)

We had 6 men on the team. They gathered with the 1st-7th grade boys each day for some time to chat about guy stuff. They called it the "Man Cave"

We had over 20 adult helpers and 10+ teens volunteering each day to make things run smoothly. We couldn't have done it without them! 
Over and over, we keep pinching ourselves, watching the white flowing habits of the sisters walking in our halls, the energetic and faith-filled college kids leading song (varying from worship to silly songs about papayas), and the smallest among us (from our toddler environments) spending time with Jesus in the Church. Our teens even got a small taste of what worship was like for the early Christians who had to keep their faith practice hidden for fear of the Romans.

The team also felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the hospitality that they were shown. From the host families to the incredible food, snacks, treats, and smiles, they commented over and over how amazed they were at how much our parish came together for this incredible work. So many of you, even without children in the program, donated your time and yummy food to help out. It means so much to me, and to the sisters and team. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

But adults! Even though this was our Youth Summer Mission, we do have some great things in store for you! Don't forget to sign up for the Summer Bible Institute (which begins TUESDAY at 7pm!) You can go to www.actsclass.com to register, or just come on Tuesday a little before 7pm to get signed in! Married Couples: We also have our last Teams of Our Lady Informational meeting that night at 6pm! There's something for everyone this Summer!