Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pitchers 17: Man, the View is Tremendous

This is some refinement I'll be working into my Genesis chapters 1 and 2 classes this Fall.

When we cover the 6 Days of Creation I incrementally draw this graph on the whiteboard:
It's how I show that as Creation progresses, the things created are more like God. Once this graph is done, we move on to Eve, marriage, and God's command to be fruitful and multiply. That completes our look at Chapters 1 and 2. We then look at sin in chapter 3. But this year, I'm going to draw a bit more to make a bridge between the bliss of Chapter 2 and the Fall in Chapter 3.

I usually stop the graph at Adam as shown. But this year, when God makes Eve, I'll erase Adam's head, and draw both Adam and Eve standing next to each other with some space between them. Then when we get to God's commandment to be fruitful and multiply, I'll draw in some kids, and the top of the graph will look like this:

[In class I'll still have the animals & stuff on the slope.]

Then I envision this sort of discussion:

"So y'all tell me about the humans on this graph. Well, they're happy in Eden I guess. Yes, but I mean tell me about them on the graph. They're the highest! Yes! Which means? They're the best! Yes! Now watch this...[I draw] tell me about them.

They're on a mountain! Yes, and how do they see all the other plants and animals? They look down. Yes. And how might that make them feel? Umm...important? Yes, they are the boss? Yes, and...they can do what they want. Yes, maybe so. But what if they look up? They see God. Yes, and how do they feel then? Like God is important. Yes. Now if you see the Moon from the ground, but later you see it from the top of a mountain, are you closer to the Moon while you're on the mountain? Yes. Does the Moon look any bigger? I don't think so. Right; only a tiny, tiny bit that makes no difference. You may as well be at the bottom. But tell me about when you look down from the mountain. You see everything! Yes, it makes a big difference when you look down. Now tell me about looking up to someone. Like my parents? Yes. Well? They take care of us. Yes. And how about looking down on someone, y'all ever done that? Nobody? Well I have, and it's probably my worst habit. That reminds me, let's jump ahead to one of Jesus' parables. See if y'all can tell it.

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector." The Pharisee was bad! Like how? He thought he was better than everybody else. And was he? No. Right: "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income." And the tax collector? He was sorry to God. Yes: "...the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, O God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Which man did Jesus prefer: the proud man or the humble one? The humble one. Why? Well, he was sorry for his sins? Yes, that's a good answer.  And the proud Pharisee— how about his sins? He didn't think he had any. But did he? Yes. Right. We know for sure one sin he had, tell me when you know: "I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector." He was looking down on the tax collector! Yes, and putting himself up high, like he was God's buddy.

So are you most likely to feel humble- or proud- when you look down on someone? Proud. Yes, and if you look up to someone? Humble. Yes, good.

Now we're about to start on Chapter 3 in Genesis, the business with the snake. Y'all be ready to explain what pride and humility have to do with Adam and Eve's sin, and our sins, too— there's more to it than just eating an apple."

A few catechetical points:

1. There's a whole lot of catechesis in the concept of relative height, some of which will be covered later in the year.

2. Notice that after I read the parable's introduction, I don't read any further without giving the kids a chance to tell what comes next. It's very effective for a child to first say in her own words what comes next; then for me to read the passage the child anticipated; then ask any follow up questions on that bit; then ask them to say what happens next, and so on. This follows a couple of my class guidelines: never provide information one of the kids can provide; let the kids contribute as much as they can.

3. Drawings can be more than illustrations: they should also be teaching tools. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cri de Coeur

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

a catechist catechizing in a classroom

Last week at one of my favorite catechetical blogs, an article from 2011 was re-posted.  In it, the blogger posed this critical question:

 Are we focused on training catechists or forming catechists?

I offered my big fat opinion:

"Two years later and still an interesting topic. You know what, I can't think of any workshop I've attended that formed any faith. Not that faith was never spoken of, but not in a way that left any catechist knowing more than when she walked in. And I recall only one breakout session that really covered training. It was by an experienced middle-school teacher who was loaded with practical advice on how to run a class. She had an hour, could've filled two hours easy. She was great. She walked the walk.

Generally catechist workshop speakers tend to affirm and encourage, which is ok if you need affirming or encouraging. Others may present a lot of data, but don't show how they or anyone has already used it to be better catechists. In either case, faith formation or training, over a decade I see a real disconnect between the content of workshops, and catechists getting the faith, knowledge, and skills to be good catechists.

On the other hand, as an architect I attend seminars whose speakers offer concrete, specific information and techniques for problem-solving in the construction business, based on their own experience. Typically I come away from them worn out from trying to absorb all the useful info they imparted.

I'd like to see the same thing in the catechetical world. To that end, these are some topics off the top of my head I'd like to see being covered at workshops at a serious adult level:

How I make a lesson plan.

How I run my classroom.

How I cover the Sacraments in general to K-3 kids.

How I teach Baptism to middle-schoolers.

How I prepare 7th-graders for Confirmation.

How I use the CCC as a resource.

How I help youthgroup teens grow in faith.

How I teach the Beatitudes.

How I help first-graders come to know Jesus.

Notice that these are all first-person topics. No-one would speak if they lacked personal success at these tasks; would be speaking from personal experience; and would offer real-world examples from their own classrooms. And because each speaker is giving her personal experience of success, it invites people in the audience to offer alternatives based on their own teaching experience. Finally, each topic may impart both faith-formation and training at the same time.


Thinking about the parlous state of catechesis some more, I do remember Joe Paprocki did a workshop based on his book A Well-Built Faith. It was part formation, part training. I thought it was useful.  I've also attended non-catechetical presentations and lectures by local priests such as Fr. Jay Scott Newman, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Michael Cassabon, and Fr. Chris Smith; authors Gerry Matatics, Mark Shea, George Weigel, Scott Hahn, and Pat Madrid; Msgr. Bruce Harbert of ICEL; and Fr. Dennis McManus, whose totally dynamite seminar on the New Translation may have been the most absorbing 3 hours of my life.

This points to much of my catechetical complaining: all those presentations were pitched at generally-interested Catholics, not catechists. Yet their content was much more useful to me as a catechist than what I hear at catechist-specific events. None of them were invited to exhort, affirm, or encourage the audience. They were invited to teach, to form faith; which they all did. Any catechist would have found their lectures to be terrific faith formation opportunities. So as far as catechists' faith formation goes, why do we get cups of milk when run-of-the-mill Catholics get platters of red meat? Of course guys like Mark Shea are stars; but the choice shouldn't be between Mark Shea and pablum.

I already said I favor having can-do catechists and religion teachers from K-to-Youthgroup give how-to sessions for catechist training. Maybe for faith formation, catechists would hear from sisters who teach religion; RCIA lecturers; priests, deacons, seminarians and their professors; street evangelizers; and laypeople who run Bible studies or small groups.

So I complain, gripe, whine, bitch, mule and pule. Because I'm almost 56 years old, and I've been hearing about bad catechesis all my life; and from what I continue to hear, it's still bad. And it's about 3 minutes 'til midnight.

Art by Mark A. Hicks

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Greenville-Ephrathah 15: Ordination

 Li'l 'Phrathah

Congratulations to Son-of-Ephrathah Father James Renaurd West, who was ordained yesterday in the Cathedral Church of the Holy City.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review 4: History

Read this book review right here at my blog, or at this more glamorous location.

I love history. And I also love not just books about history, but reference books about history. They clog my bookshelves because I learned it's cheaper to own them than check them out of the library over and over again. They do tend to be big, though. I just got up from my chair and grabbed a few favorites that gather no moss: The Story of Civilization by Will and Ariel Durant (12,000 pages); Natasha's Dance, a Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes (700 pages); A History of Architecture by Sir Banister Fletcher (1,600); 30,000 Years of Art, collaborative (1,000); and Europe, by Norman Davies (1,400). What can I say: big thinking requires big writing- right?

Now I have to digress a bit about that last book, Norman Davies' Europe. His history of Europe isn't like other histories of Europe. Unlike the others, Europe has, in supplement to its chronological text, a sprinkling of hundreds of small essays called capsules. Each one reaches forward and back in time, and beyond Europe when appropriate; but each is especially relevant to something on the same page as the capsule. Even after 15 years, I'll still pull Europe down and randomly browse a few capsules, such as Adelante, Fatima, and Szlachta.

Europe set a new standard for me for reference history books. Not just for the capsules, but the capsules themselves were reason enough. [What other reasons? Go check out the book and see.] But suppose you aren't a maniac about European history- or any history? Can't such subjects be competently covered in, say, a mere 500 pages? Thinking big- but writing small?

I like that number 500, because Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series on DVD recently gave a worthy answer to the question, "how does one treat Catholicism in all its aspects in only 500 minutes?" One approach would be to spend 15 seconds on each of 2,000-odd years. That would be thorough in a punctilious way- but would anyone learn anything that mattered? Probably not.  But half of the fun in watching Fr. Barron is to appreciate not only what he chose to talk about; but also what he excluded. Every second had to count. It was that carefully edited. (I'm optimistically assuming every one of you Dear Readers has seen it.) But being a reader as well as a watcher, you now want to know about treating Catholicism in all its aspects in only 500 pages.

Last week I started reading James Hitchcock's History of the Catholic Church. It's subtitled From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium. It thinks big. But it's only...wait for it...500 pages long, 4 years per page! Just kidding: it's 500 pages, and it takes the small-essay concept of Europe's capsules; and expands it into an entire history. In other words, what one normally expects in a history book, pages of narrative, is replaced by a timeline stream of digestible individual articles. I was joking about 4 years per page, but the articles are about 4 to the page. For example in the "Reform and Counter-Reform" chapter, p. 297 lists these: Protestant Divisions, The Tridentine Spirit, The Baroque, and Patrons. They may be read as freestanding articles; but they're arranged to lead from one to the next, and cohere over the span of the chapter into a comprehensive understanding of the whole period.

History is a unique joy. Pick an era, browse the subtitles in the margins. Stop on one that strikes you. Read that article for a couple of minutes. Proceed to the next one, or jump to another page. History is less of a braid, running from top to bottom; and more of a long tapestry, going back and forth as well as up and down. And like Barron's Catholicism, each few minutes of information has been carefully edited into a self-contained little essay, a thought capsule, to use Europe's term. For example, I just read Hitchcock's capsule on Fr. Damien of Molokai. 230 words don't just tell us why he matters, but draw an empathetic portrait of the saint that unexpectedly pricks my heart, as Chaucer would say. Like Catholicism, in History every second, every word counts, sometimes movingly so.

The structure of the book aside, History's content reflects the mind of the Church. That is, it covers what matters to the Church, and how the Church matters to the World; and does so from a Catholic perspective. That's not to say the book isn't critical of the Church, it is; but its critiques are orthodox. 

Theology, Scripture, politics, people, art, society, philosophy, architecture, music, science, and Church, are all treated by 2,000 or so interrelated chunks in a mere 500 pages. In its comprehensive and compact wholeness, Hitchcock's History is both Catholic; and catholic.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

More FID

I'm participating in a summer-long discussion of one of my favorite books, Forming Intentional Disciples. What follows are my selective comments based on questions relevant to Chapter 1.

Have you always been Catholic? How did the instruction and mentoring you received help you – or prevent you – from having a personal relationship with God?

I was born in 1957, and during my first eight years I steeped in the Catholic universe of South Louisiana.

Before I was old enough to go to confession I would accompany my father when he went to confession. This was before I was in first grade, and had not yet received any formal catechesis. I was, however, already very well catechized my extended family, such that I understood that in confession, Jesus forgave a person's sins. In church I was optimistically expected to behave while Daddy was in the confessional. But I was curious why no-one entered or exited from the middle part of the confessional, just the ends. So on one occasion I stuck my hand under the middle curtain to find out just what was in there. Maybe you can imagine the shock of Jesus grabbing my hand! If that was not shocking enough, I actually saw Jesus' hand as it gently and firmly put my little mitt back outside the booth. I never said a word about this to another soul until I was an adult.

In a strictly physical sense, that was not Jesus in the confessional; but close enough for a kid who was raised with a sacramental worldview. The world has always seemed to be soaking wet with God. I never didn't believe what the Church taught. There were many years when I didn't want to hear it, but I always accepted that the Church was right. Priests, Nuns, Saints, Angels, Satan, Mass, Purgatory, Trinity, Keys, Relics, Miracles, Bible stories; all were part of the visible and invisible reality that I swam in.

Truly, I can't remember a time that Jesus wasn't Right There. I used to think I could grab Him right out of the nothing that lay within my reach; and who knows, maybe I did. I owe that natural, vivid faith to my parents, my extended family, the Marianite sisters, and the Louisiana culture. Unlike later ethnic Catholic immigrant enclaves in America, Louisiana (1702) predated the United States, and was not part of the US until 1803. So there was no impetus to 'become American' by diluting our Catholic distinctives.

Then my family moved to Greenville, South Carolina when I was 8. Culturally it was a bigger leap than spending a graduate-school semester in Italy. Catholics were worse than mere outsiders: to some, we weren't even Christian. But gentle (and not so gentle) prodding by concerned Evangelical and Fundamentalist friends and neighbors gives Catholics an incentive to know the Biblical reasons (versus catechetical ones) for being Catholic; and accustoms us to talking about Jesus and religion in a very direct, even blunt, way. It has been a real blessing to live here. On the other hand, the Church is not where it needs to be regarding Scripture and evangelism; and poorly-catechized Catholics remain easy marks for the Biblically literate.

In your parish, how’s your retention rate? What percentage of 8th graders in your parish are still practicing the faith at age 18?At age 24? Do young adults in your parish stay in touch with their childhood faith community, or do they drift away to an unknown fate?

Oh man, I dunno. Just considering the kids I've catechized over the last 9 years, many families moved away; the kids that turn 18 here often leave to go to college; and of those, many won't return to Greenville; and of those who ultimately stay, many will attend another parish, as my eldest son does. At Mass I do see a few young adults I taught years ago; then again, we have 5 Masses each weekend. But our parish is healthy. We have a school with full enrollments, run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. Youthgroup content is substantial and orthodox. We receive a constant stream of Fundiegelical converts. And our pastor steadily nudges the parish toward an explicitly Scriptural-evangelistic worldview.


Other stuff I've written about FID:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fine Art 10: St. Apollinare in Classe

My parish included this mosaic in today's Corpus Christi missalette:

It's located in St. Apollinare in Classe, Italy. Classe is near Ravenna, which has some spectacular mosaics, including these two which I already use in Catechism class to discuss Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek as they show up in Genesis:

Two scenes from Abraham's life

Abel and Melichizedek

They're both in San Vitale, which was consecrated in A.D. 546. St. Apollinare was consecrated in A.D. 549, so it's no surprise that the art is similar.

Anyway, per this older post I use these mosaics in September to lay the groundwork for discussing this line from the Mass in April:

"Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as once you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim."

But next year I'll use the St. Apollinare mosaic to discuss the Mass instead of using the two San Vitale mosaics twice in the same year. I'll point out that the mosaic of all 3 men and their offerings together around a common altar directly illustrates that line in the Mass. It shows that early on the liturgy was explicitly connecting their sacrifices to the sacrifice re-presented at Mass. Like a lot of things in Catechism class, I can always tell this to the kids. But when they can see it for themselves they learn better.


By the way I checked online for the oldest extant text of a Mass, and found the Gelasian Sacramentary from about A.D. 750. It says:

" accepta habere, sicuti accepta habere dignatus es munera pueri tui iusti Abel, et sacrificium patriarchae nostri Abrahae, et quod tibi obtulit summus sacerdos tuus Melchisedech, sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam."

In English:

"...and accept, just as you deigned to accept the offering of your just servant Abel, and the sacrifice of our patriarch Abraham, and that which your highest priest Melchisedech offered you, a holy sacrifice, a unstained offering." (thanks to Steve Perkins)