Saturday, August 10, 2013

Organic Catechesis

This article was originally posted at New Evangelizers; and links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

 Angel Oak

Fellow blogger Ruth Curcuru (who uses the handle RAnn) commented on a recent catechetical post, observing that the current catechetical model takes "a topic-based approach that uses scripture as a resource, rather than a scripture study approach."  Her remark clarified something about my own catechetical worldview that has always been rather vague to me.

I understand my task as a catechist is to teach Catholicism evangelically. If you count time in Adult Ed & RCIA, I've been at it since 1998. Even in that first year of Adult Ed, I was using the Bible in the classroom; but it took 11 years, 8 of them teaching 6th-graders, until I truly noticed how comprehensively the Bible had revised how I thought about catechesis.

I started blogging in October of 2008. I was 51 years old, and annoyed with half-formed thoughts that never coalesced into anything definitive. Blogging would give this non-writer an easy, non-word-processing format for writing stuff down for my own benefit. October 2008 was also the second month of my 5th year of teaching 6th grade. Soon I was writing about catechism class; I hadn't expected to. On October 26, I posted about using Bible stories to teach textbook content.  I closed with:

"The teacher's manual has both Bible and Catechism references for each chapter which are valuable, but mostly for a 180-day academic year. I'm thinking that there may be a way to teach the required content better over 30 classes by mining selected stories one at a time, and applying those lessons to the subject matter in the book. At this point it's just an idea."

Teaching the textbook's topics with the Bible was just great. I had no explicit plan, but the more I used the Bible, the easier it was to teach within the 30-class-max Sunday School format. In May 2009, I posted a list of all the Bible stories I remembered using that year. I was surprised at how many there were, but they were still individual, unintegrated stories coordinated with particular subject matter. During the following 2009-10 year, I started to figure out that using Scripture as an adjunct to the textbook was not the most effective way to be teaching the kids. I was constantly jumping around in the Bible in order to align with the textbook. Maybe it would be better to align the curriculum to the Bible, and thus be able to take advantage of its intrinsic structure and Big Picture of Salvation History. In other words, I needed a new catechetical paradigm. To maximize the teaching potential of Scripture I had to drop the existing textbook curriculum. When the 2010-2011 year began, I had a whole new approved curriculum based on following the path that had been worn over 2000 years ago. It is so easy to teach Catholicism this way. It's as though the Bible had been cleverly designed for this very purpose. As Sherry Weddell would say: It Is Normal.

That gets me back to Ruth's comment. My Sunday-Schoolers don't learn topically anymore; instead they are doing Scripture Study. That never occurred to me until today; I always thought in terms of 'Teaching Catholicism from the Bible'; but never 'Teaching the Bible Which is Catholic'. So they are learning their Catholic Faith not just in its details, but in its Big Picture- which coincidentally is confluent with the Bible in its details, and in its Big Picture. Catholicism and Scripture are organically fused. The kids' Bible Study is inseparable from their Catholic Study. They thrive together, like parents and children. Or like anything that lives and grows: where should I plant a new tree in my yard? Wherever it would naturally grow best on its own. Does the Church grow best when the faithful are fully engaged with Scripture? Surely she must. So here's a New Evangelism concept for the existing term "Organic Catechesis:" the whole Faith; the whole Bible; the whole time.


* Angel Oak, only slightly younger than the Church herself.


5 comments:

jdonliturgy said...

One of the interesting issues with Catholic teaching is that almost all of it is based on Scripture (see the number of Bible passages referenced in the footnotes of the Catechism)but that this forms a layer that seems to stand between us and Scripture. Because catechetical textbooks are all based on the CCC, they are indeed based on Scripture, so that is why what you are doing works. You are simply lifting the curtain to reveal where the truth of the teaching comes from.

Kathleen Basi said...

This is really interesting, Christian. I'd be really interested in that curriculum. I know you published a book, but as I recall it was more word for word on the content and not so much an overview of the structure. Is your structure being used in your parish or diocese more widely? Have you considered making it available? Or is that actually the purpose of your book?

Christian LeBlanc said...

Kathleen, no, I don't have a structure per se, and I'm the only person that does this as far as I know; although I have done workshops in the state for parochial teachers and catechists. I'm pitching a Bible-direct way of teaching whatever content a catechist is expected to teach. In other words, I'm not so much concerned about course content or organization so much as actively getting the Bible out in front of the other books while teaching that content.

Barb Schoeneberger said...

Good going! Putting the Bible front and center does something wonderful. The story of salvation history shows us how "Father Knows Best", pun intended. Our Faith just can't be separated from Scripture, and we have not one doctrine that is not firmly rooted in it.

Kathleen Basi said...

Christian, I think it would be worth exploring. You clearly have the creative mind to put things together, and an awful lot of catechists and maybe even religious ed directors could probably benefit from what you're doing. I'm sure you don't need more to do but yanno, to those given much... :)