"What animal is that? That's an ox. Doesn't look like an ox. Well, two oxen then. It looks like just one. OK, it looks like one ox, thanks for agreeing with me. Now stop whining and look at Uzziah."
Read and draw: "And they carried the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzziah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzziah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God."
We discuss how the Ark was too pure to be touched by sinful humans, which of course is why it had carrying poles. One of the kids asks, Do you think Mary could touch it? "Wow, I don't know. I suppose; although I don't think she would have presumed to do so. And the Ark was gone by the time Mary was alive. Good question."
I was tempted right then to digress a bit about Mary being the Ark of the New Covenant, but decided to let it go. But next month when we get to the Annunciation, I'll introduce the New Ark concept by starting with this Old Ark scene from 2Samuel. I'll ask who remembers the question someone asked about who might have been able to touch the Ark and live. That'll be the jumping-off point for talking about Mary the New Ark containing sinless baby Jesus inside her for nine months.
Drawing and reading about the Holy of Holies* in Solomon's temple: "The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; and he overlaid it with pure gold. In the most holy place he made two cherubim of wood and overlaid them with gold. The wings of the cherubim together extended twenty cubits: one wing of the one, of five cubits, touched the wall of the house, and its other wing, of five cubits, touched the wing of the other cherub; and of this cherub, one wing, of five cubits, touched the wall of the house, and the other wing, also of five cubits, was joined to the wing of the first cherub. The wings of these cherubim extended twenty cubits; the cherubim stood on their feet, facing the nave. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles." Not included in the text is the High Priest at lower right, and the LORD's presence hovering over the Mercy Seat. Cherubim's swords are my addition based on Genesis.
I first drew the 30 x 30 x 30 shape of the space, and the kids recognized it as a cube. Then the other details were added on the fly as they came up while reading. The cube will matter this spring when we draw and read about a much larger one described in Revelations: "The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal." The other bits will matter when we transition from God's Old Covenant dwelling to his New Covenant dwelling.
When teaching adults, a picture is worth a thousand words. A live drawing is worth five thousand words. And with kids, a live drawing is worth ten thousand words. When I get to Revelations in April, will they remember the shape and stuff of the Holy of Holies? You bet they will.
6th-grade catechism class naturally covers a lot of Catholic themes during its year-long trip through the Bible. One of them is marriage and children. I don't ever stand in front of the kids and say, "marriage and babies are good, and divorce and abortion are bad," I let them figure it out as we go, helped along with personal testimony from me. I don't intend to form consciences; but I do intend to create the opportunity for the kids to form their own consciences themselves.
Here's a list of Bible bits that kids learn about and discuss, my intent being to help them develop a Catholic worldview without being didactic about it:
1. Creation. God's last and greatest creation is a man and a woman together, creating babies. But not just any man and woman, a husband and wife, a marriage: one man, one rib, one woman, one flesh.
2. After all, the first commandment is to "be fruitful and multiply," more pithily expressed in class as "make babies."
3. The Flood. As soon as Noah steps out of the Ark, God reminds him and his family of the first commandment: "Be fruitful and multiply."
4. Abraham and Sarah become the parents of a nation.
5. To accomplish #4, Abraham and Sarah have a miraculous pregnancy. They're so happy that their love has at last made a baby that they name him Laughter.
6. Pagan peoples living around Abraham kill their own firstborn children and offer them to strange gods, but God doesn't require that of Abraham right off. But when God does ask for Isaac's sacrifice, Abraham must feel as though he's been asked to kill all the laughter and joy in his life.
7. Isaac and Rebecca have a miraculous pregnancy, and Rebecca bears Esau and Jacob.
8. Jacob and Rachel have a miraculous pregnancy, and Rachel bears Joseph.
9. Manoah and his wife have a miraculous pregnancy, and she bears Samson.
10. Elkhanah and Hannah have a miraculous pregnancy, and Hannah bears Samuel.
11. Psalm 78 says God "appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God." So even kids not yet born or even conceived still matter to God.
12. In Psalm 128, David reflects on the joy of family: "Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table."
13. Israel falls on hard times, and some parents kill their babies to appease Molech: "Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of deceit, you who burn with lust among the oaks, under every green tree; who slay your children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks?"
14. But God still loves his children in both fatherly and motherly ways: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands."
15. God knew Jeremiah, and had a job for him before his mom was even pregnant: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
16. Baby-killing continues in Jeremiah's day: "Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,"I will let you dwell in this place if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt. The people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by burning incense in it to other gods; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal." The kids figure out on their own how such passages relate to abortion.
17. Zechariah and Elizabeth have a miraculous pregnancy, and Elizabeth bears John.
18. Mary has the most miraculous pregnancy, and bears Jesus.
This is not an exhaustive list, just the things we have time for in catechism class. By the time we get to Mary, the children can place her at the end of a line of mothers that stretches all the way back to Eve; and have acquired a holistic Scriptural basis for a pro-life conscience.
Adopted Son of Ephrathah Josh Bathon was recently accepted to the Novitiate for
the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Josh officially became a member of the Congregation of Holy
Cross in August. After a Novitiate
year of intense prayer and continued discernment in Cascade, Colorado, Josh will
profess temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in August 2015, then
return to the University of Notre Dame for 4 years of graduate theology, followed by Deaconate
ordination in September, 2019, and then, God-willing, ordination to the Holy
Priesthood on April 18, 2020.
Every year in our journey through the Bible and the Mass, the kids learn about All the Arks. Like everything else in our Salvation History curriculum, I cover them as they come up. But the theme of Arks teaches a useful Catholic lesson that can be covered in a single class period like this:
0. Prelude: the Garden of Eden.
Per Genesis 2 and 3, Eden isn't the whole of the Earth, but a distinct, separate place:
"And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers."
[I draw a quick picture of God, Adam, Eve, the Tree, and the Snake; and show them contained within the Garden.]
God dwelled in Eden in some physical way with Adam and Eve:
"And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."
So even though Eden is not an ark, it prefigures arks:
a. God is present in Eden in a way that he is not present outside of Eden. In more general terms, what's inside of Eden is better than what's outside of Eden.
b. Eden is relatively small, and holds precious things inside: God's Stuff. That is, the Tree of Life; and Adam and Eve before they sinned.
c. It's protective.
1. Noah's Ark
"God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch."
[I draw the Ark with people and animals sticking their heads out.]
Right off I ask the kids what an ark is. Someone will say a boat, which is the starting point for looking at what an ark is, because it's not always a boat. In the case of Noah's ark and Moses' ark, the Hebrew word is tebah. Tebah is only used in these two cases, but no-one is sure of its meaning. To keep it simple in class, I say tebah means container. And if the container floats, then it must be a boat. Then we discuss the Ark's 'arkiness'. It contains God's Stuff, precious things, i.e., Noah's family and the animals; things are better inside the Ark than outside; it protects; and it separates the relatively good inside from the sinful outside.
2. Moses' Ark
Exodus 2 says "1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 3 And when she could hide him no longer she took for him an ark (Hebrew- tebah) made of bulrushes, and daubed it with bitumen and pitch; and she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds at the river's brink. 4 And his sister stood at a distance, to know what would be done to him. 5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, and her maidens walked beside the river; she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to fetch it. 6 When she opened it she saw the child; and lo, the babe was crying."
The kids will jump all over this Ark because they already know about Noah's Ark: baby Moses is precious; he's God's Stuff; he's better than what's outside of the Ark; he's protected. The Ark floats so it must be...a boat, yes, but in general an ark is just a container.
3. The Ark of the Covenant
Before getting to this Ark, the kids have to know about Moses and the Israelites' exiting Egypt, and becoming nomads for 40 years. Being nomads, they live in tents. So if God is going to dwell among his people again, he needs a tent, too; what in Latin is called a tabernaculum, a little house:
"And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it."
[I draw the outline of a big tent, just walls and roof. Then as I continue to read, inside the tent I draw the ark; the rings and poles; the seat; and the cherubim and their wings.]
"They shall make an ark of acacia wood; two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 And you shall overlay it with pure gold, within and without shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a molding of gold round about. 12 And you shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. 17 Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel."
Now we learn the contents of the Ark: a pot of Manna, Aaron's staff, and the Commandments. The kids once again can explain the arkiness: only God's Stuff goes inside; the Stuff is protected; it's better than what's outside the Ark; it's separated from the sinful stuff outside. If your kids don't know about the contents already, you'll have to give them some background before you start on the scripture bits above. We learn a new Hebrew word arown, which means chest, and the word always used to denote the Ark of the Covenant. I point out it's another word for container, kind of like tebah. (You can skip the Hebrew if you want to.)
Time permitting, I'll draw how Solomon's Temple placed the Ark in a cube-shaped Holy of Holies, a box-in-a-box concept of sorts.
4. The Ark of the New Covenant
[I draw Mary and Gabriel]
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, * the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. ...And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" 35 And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."
[I add a dot to Mary's tummy.]
Through guided discussion/ Q&A the kids sort out:
The dot is Jesus. Jesus is contained in Mary's tummy. He will dwell in Mary for 9 months. [I show Jesus growing bigger inside Mary.] Jesus is way precious, more valuable than just God's Stuff- Jesus is God Himself. If Mary is containing Jesus then we might refer to her as an Ark, the Ark of the New Covenant. Because Jesus has no sin, and lives in Mary, connects to her through his belly-button, Mary has no sin either. She and Jesus are separate from the rest of the world in that way.
5. The Tabernacle
[I draw the east end of a church interior, basically an altar, some candles, and a big crucifix.]
I get the kids to quickly tell me Jesus' story in stages: Jesus was born, became an adult, founded his church, died for our sins, resurrected, and went to heaven. But Mary's not the last Ark, nowadays we have one in every church. If the kids can't guess what it is, I re-read this bit of Exodus: "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it." They then can connect the tabernacle, the little house in that Exodus passage, to the tabernacle in the Church. [I add the tabernacle to the picture, and always show it as a little house with a gable-roof.] We see how they are related, and also how like Mary, the tabernacle isn't just a container for God's stuff, but a little house for Jesus to dwell in. It's close to how God and Adam and Eve dwelled in Eden together, but Jesus doesn't talk or walk around in the afternoon like God did in Eden. If a child asks why we don't call the Tabernacle an Ark, I remind them a house is a container that people live in. So Jesus' container is called a tabernaculum, Latin for little house, or tent, like the one God dwelled in among the nomadic Israelites.
6. The New Jerusalem
But remember as we say at Mass, the Church is a pilgrim church, which means it's on a journey. At the Second Coming, we will have reached our destination, and we won't have the Church anymore. In the Book of Revelation, St. John says: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; 3 and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them."
So what sort of place will this be, where a few billion of us (one hopes) will dwell with God? Let's see: "And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal...The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits by a man's measure, that is, an angels. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass."
Kids don't know what a stadion is. Now I draw and talk, "Let's see how big this New Jerusalem is...a stadion is is about 1/10 of a mile long, so it's about one thousand two hundred miles long...and this dot is a person...and "its length and breadth and height are equal" like so...and the kids figure out as I draw that the New Jerusalem is a huge cube. Why, it's just a big container, a huge...Ark! So at the end of our long journey from Eden, we'll live with God in a big Ark, where all of us can fit. We won't be separated from God ever again.
Then we do a quick review of all the Arks. If the board is big enough I don't have to erase, so I can point to all of them. And I remind the children to always think of all the Arks whenever they think of one of them.