Friday, June 19, 2009

Repetition & Repetition

I just learned something new that confirms my prejudices; therefore I am happy.

At Joe Paprocki's blog a post on the value of repetition in catechesis referred to this document: Four Hallmarks of Jesuit Pedagogy: Prelection, Reflection, Active Learning, Repetition. The word 'Repetition' caught my attention. Because I was educated mostly in Catholic schools K-12, I was required to repeat many, many things, and retained much of what I repeated (thank ya, Jesus for nuns; they beat me less often than I deserved).

By the way, the importance of repetition is also repeated at Brain Rules, a useful teacher's resource:

Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
Rule #6: Remember to repeat.

And one more remark regarding repetition: "catechize" comes from the Greek word catechein, to re-sound, and is related to "echo," itself a re-sounding. Thus the idea of repetition is implied by catechesis. One definition for catechize is 'to teach by means of questions and answers,' or as I would say, having a dialogue with the students that is managed and directed by the teacher to specific ends. And remember, before the printing press neither books nor literacy were widespread. Thus for most of human history, catechesis (κατήχηση) has been the norm.

I was catechized through 6th grade with the Baltimore Catechism (κατηχισμός). It's page after page of questions and answers which were read & recited aloud during class. The first couplet of hundreds to follow was: Who made us? God made us. Now, saying I learned the Catechism through repetition does not mean this:

Who made us? God made us.
Who made us? God made us.
Who made us? God made us, etc., ad nauseam.

That's not repetition, that's boredom. This is repetition:

Read from your books please: who made us? God made us.
Put down your books. Maureen, who made you? God made me, Sister Alphonsus.
David, who made you? God made me, Sister.Maria, who else did God make? God made me. Yes, but besides you? Umm, God made my parents? Yes, God made your parents.Mike, who besides your parents did God make? My brothers and sister!
Yes, God made our families. Jimmy, who else? My friends! Yes.
Christian, who else? Sister, God made everybody! Yes, little pagan (true nickname), God made everybody.
Mark, besides people what did God make? My dog!
Yes, Joan? Sister, did God make the devil? Joan, that's a good question. Yes. But God made him an angel, the devil became bad on his own. We'll learn about that later.
Someone else, what did God make? My house! And....Trees! And.... The Moon! And...Everything!
Yes, God made (Sister gestures with her arms to include the whole class)....everything! Yes!
Tell me again class, who made us? God made us!
Yes, God made all of us. Good children.

Repetition is not boring. Repetition is exciting. Repetition builds momentum. It goes up and down; it goes sideways. It widens and narrows, generalizing and specifying. It bends without breaking. It's ancient and fresh. Repetition teaches and learns.

The Who made us/God made us example, while simple, illustrates specific teaching tactics that are always useful. The teacher:

1. Asks questions constantly; maintains a rhythm of Q&A.
2. Asks individual students if hands aren't going up.
3. Adjusts questions to steer the discussion, usually forward, but sideways or back is fine as appropriate.
4. Answers off-topic questions briefly & returns to topic with a question.
5. Builds on answers by affirming, repeating, restating, expanding, or refining them.
6. Uses answers as the jumping-off point for the next question.
8. Lets momentum carry the class when possible: and...and...and...?
7. Maintains a repetition of sound, e.g.: God made...God made...God made.
9. Repeats the basic question to conclude the discussion.
10. Maintains a rhythm of affection and approval through a flow of small, earned affirmatives: yes...yes...good...yes...good children.

But this isn't the limit of repetition. Who made us/God made us shows repetition used for a single topic in one class meeting. But it also works across classes, i.e, in one class I may repeat a question in different ways 5 times. But I may also ask that question once per class for the next five classes. Or I may repeat a question that generates a different answer each time, such as 'who's your favorite saint?' or 'what did you give up for Lent?' Or I may ask different questions that mostly repeat one answer, such as:

Who is Mr. Slingshot? David!
What did Mr. Slingshot do? Kill Goliath!
Who sang for King Saul? David!
Who wrote Psalms? David! Yes, King David.
Who had an affair with Bathsheba? King David!
And how about Bathsheba's husband? David got him killed!Who did David confess those sins to? Nobody remembers? Nathan!
Who was David's famous son? Solomon!Who was Solomon's mom? Y'all forgot? Bath... Bathsheba! Yes!
So who was her husband? King David!


It's surprising, but until yesterday I hadn't realized just how much I was catechizing the way I myself had been catechized so many decades ago.

Thank you, Sr. Celine.

Thank you, Sr. Alphonsus.

Thank you, Sr. Helena.

Thank you, Sr. Mary James.

They loved me like a son; my debt is great.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blood & Water

Recent posts here Crossed The Tiber and here Path Of The Weis prompted me to post this outline I use to give my 6th graders a quick overview of Baptism. I don't read it verbatim, but rather act it out (the Passover, Levitical sacrifice, and Naaman are great for this) and ask lots of questions, as is typical of most of my lessons. Like most of these lessons, it depends on the kids already knowing some stories, in this case including Abraham & Isaac, and the Passover. To any catechists out there, I'll mention that I have given up on trying to flip through my Bible quickly enough to maintain teaching momentum. I'll use the Bible for extended readings such as Passover or Creation, but if I have numerous quotes all over the place as in this post, I cut and paste them all into the lesson plan.

At the first Passover, each Israelite family sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed lamb on its doorposts to spare its firstborn:

Exodus 12:21+ Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go and procure lambs for your families, and slaughter them as Passover victims. Then take a bunch of hyssop, and dipping it in the blood that is in the basin, sprinkle the lintel and the two doorposts with this blood. But none of you shall go outdoors until morning. For the LORD will go by, striking down the Egyptians. Seeing the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over that door and not let the destroyer come into your houses to strike you down. You shall observe this as a perpetual ordinance for yourselves and your descendants.

Ritual sprinkling of blood on the faithful confirms their inclusion in the Passover Covenant:
Exodus 24:4+

And Moses....rose up early in the morning, and built an altar.....and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you......

Leviticus 8:30 And Moses took some of the anointing oil and the blood which was upon the altar, and sprinkled it upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon his sons' garments with him; and sanctified Aaron, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons' garments with him.

Blood and water together are sprinkled as a part of a ritual cleansing process:

Leviticus 14:2+ This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing ...the priest [will take] two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water. As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field.

Purification of the unclean requires the sprinkling of water made holy by the addition of the ashes of a sacrificial victim:

Numbers 19: 17-18 And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and living (i.e. running) water shall be put in a vessel: And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave.

Washing in water effects miraculous physical healing:

2 Kings 5: Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was...a mighty man in valor, but he was a leper. So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times.....and you will be clean.....Then went he down, and dipped (baptized in Greek) himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Ezekiel prophesied that sprinkled water would effect spiritual cleansing:

Ezekiel 36:24+ For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.

John the Baptist's ministry included a symbolic water baptism of repentance:

Matthew 3:4+ ...Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire...And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him. (note that as in Numbers, the living water was made holy by the immersion of a sacrificial victim's ashes, as the water of Baptism was made holy by the immersion of Jesus, the perfect victim, into it.)

Blood and water together flowed out of Jesus' crucified body:

John 19:31+ Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

The water and Spirit, present when John baptized Jesus, are joined to the blood of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of the New Covenant:

1 John 5:6+ This is he who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are of one accord.
Thus Trinitarian water Baptism includes the blood of Jesus' sacrifice. This enables us to be sprinkled in the sacrificial blood of the New Covenant, just as the Israelites were sprinkled with sacrificial blood of the Old Covenant. Catholics will recognize a parallel during the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water, in which holy water is sprinkled upon the entire congregation.

Christian Baptism for forgiveness of sins is likened to death and rebirth through Jesus' resurrection:

Colossians 2:12 having been buried with [Jesus] in were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Revelation 7:13+ "And one of the ancients answered, and said to me: These that are clothed in white robes, who are they? and whence came they? 14 And I said to him: My Lord, thou knowest. And he said to me: These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb." That is, through water baptism the saved were washed in the blood of the sacrificial victim.

Christian Baptism for forgiveness of sin recalls the Old Covenant sprinkling of blood and sprinkling of water; Ezekiel's prophecy of sprinkling water for spiritual cleansing; immersion in water for miraculous healing; the blood and water of Jesus' sacrifice; and immersion in water symbolizing death by drowning, then rebirth. Baptism by immersion emphasizes some, but not all of these aspects.

The Didache, (Greek, "teaching") one of the oldest Christian documents, was written around 80 A.D, as were some books in the New Testament. It was intended for the instruction of converts to Christianity. It shows that Baptism by either immersion or pouring was considered valid by the first Christians.
Didache, part 2: "Concerning baptism, baptize in this manner: Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water [that is, in running water, as in a river]. If there is no living water, baptize in other water; and, if you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

Christian denominations which only immerse will necessarily have a different understanding of these passages. Catholics believe the Church's understanding is authoritative.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Naked Coda

William Blake Gets It

In my prior post on marriage and creation, I noted that this last line of Genesis 2 is not discussed in my 6th grade class: 'And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.' But I want to comment on its importance, as I used to when teaching adults the same material.

As we know, this verse closes the Creation story, which ascends from lesser creation (light, earth, plants) to the highest: men, women, and their oneness in marriage. Chapter 3 starts right off with the Fall, so the last words of Chapter 2 are as good as it gets in Paradise.

The Fall, of course, made a mess of all Creation: we endure sin, killing, tornadoes, death, disease, misery of every stripe. Still, within this broken world, a man and his wife can both be naked, and not be ashamed. This last-described characteristic of life in sinless Eden persists beyond Eden into our world of sin. And for me this is a big, big deal. Obviously in Eden, Adam and Eve were sinless in every way. But Genesis specifically mentions just this one particular way that they were sinless, i.e., 'not ashamed.'

Through this verse I imagine marriage as an 'Eden bubble' where there is still a real link to the prior state we miss, and to which we hope to return. A real link, not symbolic. That's why, ummm, marital relations are so otherworldly, transcendent: it's how humans maintain a physical continuity with our ancient sinless existence. In a world separated from, and driven out of Paradise, this one thing isn't. And by no accident, it's the thing that continues the creation that started there.

It's too bad I haven't figured out a way to say this to the kids.

Coda: (music) A passage which brings a movement or piece to a conclusion through prolongation.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dirt & Ribs

Sons & Daughters, what's the first book in the Bible? Genesis! Right you are, and what happens in Genesis? That's when God makes everything. Yes. The first two chapters of Genesis are about Creation. We're going to look at Creation, especially the last thing God created, because it's not obvious, but it's very important.

Genesis, γένεσις, is the Greek word for origin, birth, beginning, creation. It's related to words such as gender and generation.

Trick question: in the beginning of the first chapter of Genesis, what are the first three words? Umm, God made everything? Not a bad guess, but no. The first words in the beginning of the first chapter of Genesis are: In...The....Beginning! I win! fair! Yes fair!

So, we read: 'In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth. The Earth was without form and void.' We've talked about this before: what's a void? Emptiness! Yes, that's how Genesis explains that there wasn't anything yet...not even space or time. There wasn't even nothing, which is hard to imagine.

So then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. This is important to remember: the things God creates aren't neutral, they're good. Even rocks. You have to remember that so that you get the point the story is going to make later. By the way, the two Bible languages are....? Greek! Yes, and.....Hebrew! I'm impressed, y'all got them both this time. What's the other language the Church uses, especially at Mass? Come on, (I sing) "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata..." Oh, Latin! Yes, Latin. In Latin we say 'Fiat Lux' for 'Let there be light' (I write it on the board). Como se llama 'light' in Espanol? (One of my Spanish-speakers will answer, 'luz' which I write under 'Lux.') See, Spanish is close to Latin, it's one of Latin's beautiful daughters. Who's heard of Chrysler? Yes? What does Chrysler do? They make cars! Yes. An Italian car company owns Chrysler now (I'm adding the Chrysler stuff in today, and will use it this upcoming year); its name is Fiat, just like in 'Fiat Lux.' In Latin, fiat means "Let it be done" or "Let it be made." It's the sort of word used by a king....or God. I believe the car company is named Fiat because it "lets cars be made." Italians familiar with God saying 'Fiat Lux' at the start of creation would find Fiat a very grand name for a carmaker. And let's remember, Italian is yet another one of Latin's beautiful daughters.

So, God says 'Fiat Lux' and there's light on the first day. What does God 'fiat' next? Earth? Good guess, but not yet. He fiats the sky on the second day. On the third day? Earth? Bingo! and the sea, and plants. And he saw that it was.... good. Trick question: God made light, darkness, earth and sea. Then he made plants. What makes plants different from those other things? Plants are alive! Yes. And what's more like God, things such as the earth, or living things like plants? Living things. Yes. On day four, God creates the sun, moon, stars and planets. And he saw that it was...? Good! Yes. On the fifth day God creates birds and fish. On the sixth day God makes all the animals. What's more like God, plants or animals? Animals! Yes. They have what in Latin is called an anima (goes on the board), a life force that plants don't have. So things that have an anima are...animals! Yes, they're animated! So as creation moves along, the things created are more and more like....God! Yes. The things created later are closer to God. And God saw.....that it was good! Yes.

Now I want us to slow down. What's left for God to fiat? People! Yes, people. And as creation developed, the later something was created, the closer it was to God. So God created man last, in his own image, in the image of God. Man is as close to God as creation gets. And remind me please, God saw .....that it was good! Yes.

But let's look at how made man. He didn't just say, "let there be man;" He didn't fiat a man. How'd he make a man? He used dirt! Yes, Genesis says: "God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." God's breath, his respiration, is in man. The Latin word for breath is spiritus so man has a spirit, not just an anima like animals do (breath, respiration, and spiritus go on the board).

I forgot, what was the name of the first man? Adam! Yes...trick question: why is his name Adam? OK, this is a hard one. Genesis was written in Hebrew. The Hebrew word for the earth, the ground, is Adama (goes on the board).... He's Adam 'cause he's made from the ground! Yes, genius! Adam was made from Adama, earth! Isn't that cool? Remember what Isaac means? Laughter! Yes, and there are other names in the Bible that help tell stories like this, we'll see some more of them later on.

So God made Adam carefully, and made just one of him. And being the last thing God made, Adam was closest to God, most like God. Then God put Adam in Eden to be happy. And of course, all this was very good. But then God noticed something was not could that be? Tell me what was not good? Adam doesn't have Eve yet. Yes. So even though the whole universe was good, if Adam is alone, that's....not good! That's right! It's awful! God said "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a suitable helper." And what did he do then? Make Eve! No, not yet. First he brought all the animals to Adam, "but for Adam no suitable helper was found." No kidding. I can imagine God suggesting I'd be happy with a dog instead of a thanks. So what now? God makes Eve! Yes, from what? Adam's rib! Yes!

Now we need to slow way down. The next few lines of Genesis are to me, the most beautiful in the Bible. Genesis says: 'So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.' OK. Trick question: why did God take a rib and not, say, a toe? No guesses? How about an ear? Or a hunk of Adam's butt? Ewww, that would be gross. Yes, Eve should come from a dignified part of Adam, and a part that wouldn't disfigure him or kill him to lose it. For example, since we know Adam will love Eve, what would be a good part of Adam to use to make Eve? His heart? Yes; but if God took Adam's heart and closed him back up, what would happen? He'd die. Right again. So God used a rib from Adam's side, in part because Adam and Eve would be equals, side by side; and losing a rib won't kill you. And can you guess what side of Adam the rib came from? What's by my ribs on my right side? Your lung? Yes, and on the left side? Your other lung. Yes, and something more important...oh, your heart! Yes, so what side do you think the rib came from? The heart side, Adam's left side! I think so too. Genesis doesn't say either way.

Also notice after God takes the rib, He closes Adam back up, so we know He didn't replace the rib. Is Adam complete without his rib? No! Right, Adam's missing his can he have his rib again? By having Eve! Yes, he can hug her against him like this (I pretend to hold my wife close to my left side) right next to.....his heart! And when Adam does this, is he missing his rib? No! Right; with Eve by his side, Adam is complete. But when Eve is away, he always misses her.

Speaking of Eve, was Adam made last after all? No, Eve was last. Yes, and Adam was made of....dirt! And Eve from...Adam's rib. Which seems better, to be made from dirt or someone's rib? A rib! And in the creation story the later you're created the closer you are to God, right? Well yes, but....aren't they equal? Yes, I think so; Eve was made from Adam, so they are one flesh, but on the other hand, women get to have the babies! I think they have a little advantage there. I'm a bit envious of that.

Let's look now at the last line of this passage: 'God brought her to the man.' I like this line because God brought my wife to me, too, like a wonderful gift. I know just how Adam feels when he says, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" I think of my wife the same way. She's a part of me now just like my arms and legs, and heart.

Then we read: 'Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Cleave is an odd word; here it means to cling or adhere to, like this (I press my hands together in prayer), and that's what married people do. They become one. And we know when married people become one, the result is.....babies! Yes, more people. All creation didn't stop on the sixth day. So I think that the last thing God created wasn't Adam....what was created last? Eve! No, Eve wasn't last either. The last thing God created was
Adam and Eve being together, being one, which we call what? Marriage! Yes, the last and highest of God's creations is marriage. Marriage allows God's creation of the creatures most like him, made in his image and likeness, to continue into the future.

It continues in and through you, sons and daughters.

Dear reader, you may have noticed I left this out: 'And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.'

I don't think it's something 6th graders are ready for.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sex & Sixth-Graders

Eventually some of the children will try to corner me into talking about sex, by which they mean physical sex. That's fine with me. One of my goals is to take their interest in, and curiosity about, physical sex and direct it toward what’s important about sex in terms of children, marriage, love, faithfulness, commitment.... the big picture of sex. Most of what I say comes from reflecting on my own marriage, wife, and children, and is reinforced throughout the year by bits of Abraham, Sara & Isaac; Adam & Eve; David & Bathsheba; Psalm 128; Cana; Jesus & His Bride; the wedding parable, JP2, Humanae Vitae, etc.

"Honorary sons & daughters, apparently some of you want to talk about that right? Yeah! What about it, exactly? know..... Uh-huh, I can guess; OK then. Y'all are very lucky that I am an expert on this subject....I have 5 kids. But we're gonna talk about sex on my level, the adult level, not the popular-culture trash level."

To start, what do we say God is? God? Huh? Do come along class, God is many things: for example, God is infinite; God is all-knowing....what else? All-powerful?...yes, c'mon, I'm looking for something else.....the subject is sex, isn't it? Yes! God is Love.

And why did he bother to create the universe and put Adam & Eve in it? Because he loves us? Yes, God's love is creative. Love always wants to create, even if it only creates a pretty picture for someone, or a plate of cookies. People always say "what is love" but we're gonna think about what love does instead of what it is. This is what love does: it creates.

Now y'all know how much I love my wife, and that God handed her right to me, saying, "Stratopops, you don't deserve this woman but I'm giving her to you because I love you so much. Try to measure up." So when I look my wife, I see God. Why, let's look at a picture of her right now! (I get out a photo..."Babydoll, I miss you so much, but I have to to make these kids suffer until 7:30," kiss the picture & put it away. This picture kiss will show up later when we discuss images, icons, statues & idol worship.) And your fathers probably think the same about your mothers.

Now if we married people love each other more than words can say, what's the result of our love? Ummm...what? OK, what did God's love do? It created! Yes! So how about our married love? What does it do? It creates? Yeees...and what does it create? Cookies? No guesses? Tell me please, a person is made of...a bodynsoul! Yes! So when men & women get married, they love each other with....bodynsoul? Yes. And that body and soul love creates things that also have a.....bodynsoul? Yes, and those created bodynsoul things are....? Oh... kids? Class of Geniuses, yes, married love is like God's love, it creates you, our children.

Remind me please, where did Adam come from? God made him from dirt! And Eve? From Adam's rib! Where do the rest of us come from? What? Where does everyone else come from....does God keep scraping up dirt and yanking out ribs? Oh, we come from our parents! Yes, from people who get married. Are your parents 'all-powerful life-creating supermen' ?(I say this like the Terminator) Ha, no! Where do they get that power? From God? Yes, God loves married people so much, he lets his creative love work through our love to make more people. He doesn't do it by himself anymore. He relies on us. Could he do it by himself? Well...God can do anything. Of course...but why doesn't he? Umm...? OK, do you ever help your parents with something they can do fine by themselves, make cookies maybe? Yes. So, why do your parents want your help? Because you feel good if you help! Yes, they want you to share in doing good things. The good work comes from you too, even if you help just a little, but do your best. When you cooperate with your parents, you show that you love them. And like a parent, God seeks our cooperation. He doesn't say, 'let me grab some more dirt & ribs and I'll make y'all a couple of kids.' Instead, He asks, 'why don't the three of us make some children?' God relies on men & women's married love to make more people. That is, God depends on our human love for His divine love to continue to create new people. Married people mediate God's creative love, as in Confession the priest mediates God's forgiveness (they already know the concept). The Church teaches that married people are God's collaborators, God's co-creators. That doesn't mean we're equal to God, but it means that married love is very important. If people decided to not have any more children, God wouldn't go back to using ribs and dirt; there just wouldn't be any more people. He loves us and trusts us to do the right thing, although unfortunately there are many ways nowadays that people can avoid having children.

But Stratopops, my cousin had a baby with her boyfriend and they weren't married. Yes, that happens because every gift God gives us can be misused. We can sin because God gave us....a free will! Yes, geniuses! Free will.

So the husband & the wife & God all together make new life, and we share in God's glory this way. Now if God lets us share this power, and we are co-creators of new life with God, what kind of person would I be if I said, "No thanks, God, I don't want to share in your creative power, I don't want to change stinky diapers at 4 a.m., I want to have a bunch of fun cars instead?" You'd be selfish! Yes...very selfish indeed. Selfish like an adult? Are real adults selfish? No, selfish like a baby! Yes. And let's remember, I was once 30 years old, unmarried, and had a bunch of fun cars, which made me....a 30-year-old baby! Yes. Boy....y'all are harsh.

Honorary sons & daughters, we see that God shares his creative power & love with married people, so when I look at one of my beautiful daughters, who do I see? Her! Yes, of course, I see my daughter. I expect you to think harder than that, who else? OK, usually a child looks like two other people....what two people, Santa Claus and Batman? Ha! No, their parents! Yes, kids look like their parents. So when I look at one of my beautiful daughters, who do I see? Your wife! Yes, I see my wife, whom I love, in my daughter, whom I also love. Who else do I see? Yourself! Yes, and one more....? God! Yes, I see God in my daughter. It is one of the greatest feelings in the world to be in the kitchen with my family and see God, my wife, and myself in my kids. I'm so used to being a father now, I can see God in all of you as well, which is why when you aren't giving silly answers you're my honorary sons & daughters.

Y'all remember Mr. Slingshot? King David? Yes. He wrote about half of the Psalms, we sing them in Mass, the Responsorial Psalms...I hope y'all sing them and don't sit there and mumble like my daughters do. Anyway, whoever wrote Psalm 128 was a father, like me. Here's part of that Psalm:

You will be happy and prosper.
Like a fruitful vine your wife within your home;
Like olive plants your children around your table;
May you may share Jerusalem's joy and live to see your children's children.
(I can sing this Psalm; depending on classtime and the kids' mood, I'll sing it)

When I'm at the dinner table with my family I feel just like that.

That's what sex is for grownups.

Someday soon y'all are gonna be of marrying age. Most of you will get married. You'll love someone like your parents love each other, the way Jesus loves his Bride....? The Church! Yes! You'll have children too, because you'll share God's creative love. And that will be when you'll understand how much your parents love you, because you'll love your children the same way. Children are great gifts. Ask your parents if you are a gift from God, and report back next week. That's your homework.

Isn't sex interesting?

Image: The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, van Eyck

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

God, Time, Space & 6th Graders

The kids are always interested in the idea of eternity, how God already knows everything, how we can pray for the soul of someone who is already dead, how places such as Heaven or Purgatory don't exist in time.

"Y'all know we say there's no time in Heaven; or God 'sees' everything at once; or that time doesn't pass for God. That's so because God existed before there was time. How can he do that? Well, we know he existed before he created the universe, right? Right. And even though it's not obvious, time is a part of creation just like galaxies and monkeys are."

Remember the first book of the Bible? Genesis. Yes. The first line of the first chapter is: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void'...what's a void? It's a hole. Yes, what else? It's something that's empty. Yes again; a void is emptiness, nothingness. So what that means is in the beginning nothing physical existed. Before the beginning only one thing existed, which was....God. Who does not have what? A body. And with no creation yet, there's no day & night, nothing moving, nothing getting old...there's no time. But as soon as God created physical stuff, and things began to change, there was time. If nothing ever changes there's no time. The universe God created changes, so there's time in the universe, it changes all the time, as we might say. But does God change? No. Right, God is eternal. But he can see everything he created, that makes sense. And if time's part of what he created, then he sees time all at once too. Yes, but how can he do that?

Look at it this way:

Have any of you taken trips up to the (Blue Ridge/Smoky) mountains? Hands go up. What are the roads like? They're twisty! Yes, they are very twisty; and they don't only go left and right all day, what else do they do? They go up and down! Yes, they're very tricky roads....there are lots of accidents on roads like that...why? Because people can't see around the corners or over the hills. Right. Let's imagine you're all in my car and we go for a ride on one of my favorite twisty roads, Highway 178. People joke that when big trucks go around the tightest turns, the driver sees the back of his trailer in front of him. So let's start, we drive along a bit of straight road, then there's a blind turn, which means? You can't see around it! So what do we do? Slow down! Yes, we get around ok, then there's a rise in the road with a blind crest, which means? You can't see over it! So what do we do? Slow down! (act it out, yank the wheel, stomp the brakes, try to see over and around) Yes. And it's like this whole way. We're constantly surprised because we can't see what's ahead. Look, a bear! Look, a waterfall! We almost hit that deer! (act it out) We can only see where we are, and remember where we've been. So we can 'see' the past in our minds, and right now we can see....the present......but we can't see....the future! Right, we can't see the future. But eventually we get to the end of the road and the trip is all in the past. Now suppose instead of being in the car, you were in a balloon way up in the air over the road, an observer. If you were high enough, how much of the road could you see? All of it? Yes, it's only a few miles long, you could see it all at once. You'd see every hill, every turn. You'd be able to see our whole trip in an instant. You'd know when we'd slow down or speed up, what we'd see and when we'd see it, and know it all before we even left home. So while the people in the car could only experience the drive moment-by-moment in time, and mile-by-mile in distance and space, the observer could understand their whole trip at once, even the parts the people in the car hadn't gotten to yet, their future. The way the balloon observer exists outside of the world of the road is similar to how God exists outside of time. It's as easy for God to see all of the time and space of the universe at once as it is for the balloonist to see the whole road trip....easier, even.

During the year we'll be discussing things that are outside time, such as Heaven, Hell, Sheol, and Purgatory, as well as God, who existed before time as well as existing out of time. When these subjects come up, remember the mountain road and....? The balloon!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rembrandt & Reconciliation

Class, this painting was done a few centuries ago by an artist named Rembrandt. He was Dutch, so what country did he live in? Holland? Yes. What is Holland famous for? Windmills! .....Wooden shoes! Yes, geniuses!

Rembrandt painted lots of Bible stories, like this one. Can you guess the story? No? Actually it's a picture of one of Jesus' parables, the Prodigal Son. I like this painting because it reminds me of how I feel when I go to confession. Y'all have heard the story before, and now you're gonna hear it again, but with cartoons. Won't that be all the fun you can stand?

(I draw two faces, but without mouths) This is the Prodigal Son and his Father. Where are their mouths? I'll put some in later. Let's listen as Jesus tells the story:

"There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them."

What do you call it when a parent's property is divided among the children? Inheritance? Yes, the part each child (usually they're adults, like the Prodigal son) gets is his inheritance. Do my kids have their inheritance yet? Ha, no. How do you know? Because you're not dead yet. Yes; a father's estate doesn't get divided among the kids 'til he's dead. So how would the father feel when the son asks for his inheritance? Sad. (I put a sad mouth on the Father) Yes, the Son can't wait around for his Father to die so he can get the goodies. But the Father goes ahead and gives the Son his share, which today might be a million dollars or so. How does the son feel? He feels great! (I put a happy mouth on the Son) He's an ingrate, but he feels great (haw!); I bet he has tons of self-esteem, but not a lick of self-respect. He's very proud of himself, and all the money he has that he didn't earn.

Then Jesus says: "Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living." What's that mean, to "squander property in reckless living?" To waste all his money! Yes, but how? Buying lots of stuff, cars and things! Yes, and probably getting drunk, gambling and behaving badly with women like King David did...what today we might call Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll. What's wrong with Rock'n'Roll? Well, sometimes it's ok; other times, especially if people aren't behaving well, it can make it easier to behave even worse. Like what? Like, ask your parents; this isn't a Rock'n'Roll class. It's a Learn About God class.

By the way, 'prodigal' means 'wastefully extravagant.' He just blew that money right out the window! Do you think the Son would've done that if he'd earned the money himself? No! That's right! You should always carefully spend the money you're given as though you had to work for it yourself.

Then Jesus says: "After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he was hungry. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the swill that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything."

How does the younger Son feel now? Sad. You bet he does (I erase the Son's smile, replace it with a sad mouth). Who does he feel sad for? Himself. Yes. And notice how Jesus says "no one gave him anything." The only person we know who gave him anything was his Father, who loves him. But he was mean to his Father, so too bad for him now.

Then Jesus says: "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men."

Now this is starting to look a lot like Confession. The son realizes he's sinned against his Father; we'd say he's examined his conscience. And he decides to go confess his sin to his Father. And why is he doing this, why does he now realize he's offended his father? Because he's hungry! Yes, he's still thinking about himself, but he's thinking about his father as well, so that's progress. And is he still prideful? No, he's humble. Yes. That's progress, too. And he knows he doesn't deserve to be treated like a son since he's already wolfed down his big slice of pie in one huge bite. How's he gonna pay all that money back? He can't! That's right! A million bucks flushed down the toilet, squoosh! So he can't make amends! What's the only thing he can hope for? That his father will forgive him. Yes; the Son doesn't want justice. He wants what? Forgiveness! Yes, he wants a merciful Father. As we say, "Have mercy on me Lord, a sinner."

Then Jesus says: "So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."

I think the Father is surprised his Son is even alive, and runs out to hug and kiss him. How does the Father feel? Happy! Yes (Father now smiles) But isn't the Father the offended party? Yes. So why is he glad to see his good-for-nothing-blow-a-million-bucks younger son? 'cause he loves him anyway. Yes....and who is the father thinking about? His son! Yes. If he thinks about himself, and how thoughtless his Son had been to him how would he feel? Sad. Yes.

Now, does the Father know the Son's sin, how the son offended him? Yes! Can he tell the Son is as sorry as he can be? Yes! But instead of saying, "hush now, you don't have to apologize," he lets the Son confess his sin out loud, even though he already knows what he's going to say. Just as we do in Confession, the younger Son repeats out loud his Examination of Conscience: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." Why does the father let the Son confess? So the Son will feel better! Yes. Confessing our sins out loud to a priest isn't for God's benefit...who's it for? It's for us. Yes. And who is the Son thinking about? His Father. Yes...a little about himself too; he's miserable, who can blame him?

Now let's look at Rembrandt's painting. The poor Son is exhausted by his sins and his guilt. His shoes are falling apart; he's penniless. Just a poor, forlorn sinner like me. This is just how I feel when I'm in Confession and the priest tells me Jesus has forgiven my sins. The Son looks peaceful and relieved and sorry all at once. And the father is patient and affectionate....he can stand there and comfort his Son and welcome him home for as long as the Son needs him to. Rembrandt painted this when he was old and near death. He's showing how he hoped God would forgive him his sins.

OK, back to the story; Jesus says: "...the Father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'

So the Son, having confessed, is forgiven by the Father, who restores him to an even better situation than before he left, as we'll see in a minute. At this point how does the Son feel? Happy! Yes, maybe happier than he's ever been. (happy mouth on the Son). And the Father? He's happy too! (two happy faces). And the Father is thinking about...the Son! And the Son....his Father! Yes, they're not selfish, but.....selfless! Yes. I draw an arrow from each face toward the other face to show this.

Now Jesus says: "So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field...and he heard music and dancing. A servant said 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound. The older brother became angry and refused to go in the house."

And who's this (I draw a new face)? The older son. Which person is he in the painting? The man on the right. Yes, both he and his father are wearing red, an expensive color. Who're the other people? Servants probably. Does the older Son look happy his brother is home? No, he's mad. (I add the sad mouth and angry eyebrows)

"So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends." Now, who is the older Son thinking about? Himself. Yes. I draw an arrow from his face that curves back around to his face.

Then the Father says: "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because your brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." And let's see...who's happy? The Father and the younger Son. And who are they thinking about? Each other! And the older Son is...thinking about himself! unhappy. Yes.

Now the older Son is a problem for most people: he's obeyed his Father, isn't it reasonable for him to be annoyed? Maybe so....but my guess is he's like most of us. I say, oooh, that Prodigal Son, he was so bad. He needed to apologize big time to his Dad. But me, I've never been that bad, I don't need to apologize, I do what God wants. But like me, the older Son is a sinner, too. He has things he should apologize for to his Father; we all do (even saints). But he wants to focus on his brother's sins. That way he can keep his pride, and not have to examine his conscience; he'd rather examine his brother's conscience. He doesn't want to apologize out loud like his brother. Plus he sees his father and younger brother are closer than they used to be....he's jealous of that, but doesn't want do what's necessary to have that closer relationship with his Dad: to admit out loud he's sinned, too. It's harder for him to ask forgiveness for his small sins than for his younger brother to apologize for his big ones. So the lesson we learn from the older brother is as important as the one we learn from the younger one. Sometimes I'm like the younger Son: I know I need forgiveness. Sometimes like the older Son: I've been pretty good, I don't need any forgiveness, I haven't been that bad. But God doesn't care how big your sins are; he cares that you repent and confess your sins out loud so He can forgive you.

And we're made of what...? Bodynsoul! Yes, we have two natures: spiritual and...physical! So we need to confess spiritually and....physically! Yes, so God can forgive us spiritually and.....physically! And in Confession, how do we get physical forgiveness? The priest tells us we're forgiven! Yes, right in our ears. Just like King David heard the words of forgiveness from Nathan's mouth.

This is a great gift, sons & daughters, but we have to use it: to confess, repent, and be forgiven even our worst sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You can even bring Rembrandt's painting with you.