Thursday, March 25, 2010


6th grade catechism has four more class meetings this year.  The kids have been easy to teach, as usual; we are on schedule, and may even be half a period ahead on course material.  I have little mini-lectures (2-5 minutes) ready to fill in classtime if we finish a lesson plan early, and sometimes within these little bits lies the framework (a cadre, that's right!) of a bigger lesson.  A recurring theme in our class is that humans are comprised of body & soul; therefore God uses physical things to convey spiritual things.  This idea of physical media conducting divine power pops up constantly when discussing miracles, Sacraments, even Jesus Himself.  Thus far it's only mentioned as part of some other topic, e.g. Baptism.  But in the last few days I've been thinking about treating the concept comprehensively this year if class time permits, which I expect it will.

It's a great subject to teach visually, and instead of making a written lesson plan, I sketched out the little schematic below on a 5x8 legal notepad:

First see the bottom, I show the fundamentals of media.  On the left are writers, actors, musicians, anyone who wants to communicate something to others. In the middle is a TV and a book.  We'll discuss how the TV and the book (and by extension theaters, newspapers, radios, etc.) "channel" the ideas in a way that other people can perceive them with their bodies.  The ideas aren't physical, but the media are, and the way the audience accesses the ideas is through their physical natures: eyes and ears, mostly.  On the far right is a person, i.e., a body'n'soul which represents those who will receive what's being mediated.  The body'n'soul pic emphasizes the oneness of our physical and spiritual natures....not unlike the oneness of Christ's divine and human natures.  The kids see the body'n'soul 20 times a year, if not more often, so they know what it means.

Now, at the upper left we start with a standard cartoon of God the Father.  Lines of divine power stretch from Him through assorted Old Testament media in the middle (manna, water from the rock, Elijah's cloak, Naaman washing in the Jordan, and Eisha's bones) to the representative human on the right.  All of the Old Testament examples set a precedent for New Testament and Church examples to follow.  At my prompting, the kids will tell the stories more than I will. The kids have heard them all, so I have a lot of flexibility as to how much time can be spent on Moses' stick, Elijah's cloak, etc.  I have props for some of these miracles & can act them out.
Once we're done with the Old Testament, we'll discuss how Jesus Himself is a prototype Sacrament in that he, physically God, connected directly, physically with people in a new & profound way.  This is shown by the lines running  from God the Father to the Son.  In case there's any confusion, Jesus is always drawn with longer hair than his father; the kids know how to tell them apart.  Jesus is drawn twice because he is a mediator, and also something which is mediated...he's an exception to the overall scheme in that respect.

Having understood Jesus as a new baseline for physical mediation, we'll discuss the miracles he worked.  The tassel healing, clay on the eyes, and the loaves & fishes are miracles chosen for their emphasis on the physical world.  They are noted as the "Jesus on Earth" miracles.  They set a baseline for the Sacraments of the Church, which itself also has a physical and spiritual nature.

Now we'll review the 5 sacraments shown, focusing on the physical media, and why each is appropriate for what it conveys spiritually.  Time permitting, we can first discuss Paul's rag and Peter's shadow as well; they effect a nice transition from Jesus' miracles to the Church's miracles, but they aren't critical.  I don't expect to treat them if time is tight.

I plan to draw all this on the board as I've sketched out.  I'll work from left to right instead of up and down due to the board's orientation, and do the media fundamentals first, not last.  I'm aiming at having 25 minutes to do this: 2 minutes for general media, 7 for Old Testament, 8 for Jesus, 8 for Church & Sacraments.  A quick look at the schematic will tell me if I'm fast or slow.  And if I do get the chance next year, I can very easily expand this to a full 55-minute discussion.  Now that I think about it, 55 minutes might be more reasonable, but it can be adjusted for time.

This post is also available at the Amazing Catechists' website.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Ineffable Bow

In Wednesday Sunday School we emphasize the importance of being properly disposed at Mass: the fast, no serious sins, reverence. Because we all have bodies and souls, it's not enough to be spiritually reverent, but physically reverent as well:

"Y'all know that you have to show respect at Mass? Yes, we know. So tell me, then, how do you show respect? Don't talk. Yes, and? Don't fool around or daydream. Yes, pay attention and participate. Don't be like my daughters when they were 14 years old [I portray them: look at fingernails; fiddle with missalette; sigh; look at ceiling; mumble hymn; look at people; fiddle with hair; cough]. Why does it matter what your body is doing? Well, if you act bored you're probably bored. Yes, if your body is bored or disrespectful, so is your soul.

But you can't see your own body being slack. Who sees me be inattentive if I'm bored or tired at Mass? God? Well, yes, but who else? Who else? Yes, am I at church by myself? No...oh, other people can see! Yes, and if people are trying to pay God some attention and see me slouched and half-asleep, how does that affect them? It makes it harder for them. Yes, it's discouraging for them. Suppose the priest sees me paying no attention to his sermon? He'd feel bad. I bet he would. But I will never know in this life who I discouraged by my poor behavior at Mass.

On the other hand if bad behavior can discourage other people, reverent behavior can....? encourage people? Yes, and I know that to be true. When I was your age, 12 or so, this was my parish.  In fact, this was my classroom, but that's not part of the story. Sometimes we attended an evening Mass. There would usually be only one or two altarboys, and no music. It was a quiet Mass, and not crowded. I was usually tired and bored, since I didn't especially pay attention to, or understand, much of what went on. Well on this particular night, there was just the one altarboy, I guess he was about 16. When we began the Creed he was standing still with his hands folded like so [I play the altar server], like all of us; I don't know why I noticed him. Anyway, you may recall from being at Mass, when we recite the Creed, we bow at this line: "by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." When we got to that  line, he bowed. And his bow was...perfect [and I bow as I remember him bowing]: not fast, but not too slow; not halfway, but a full bow. Eyes open, but not with a blank stare. Bowing always seemed a bit weird to me, but he looked completely comfortable, as though bowing reverently was the most natural thing in the world. Time stood still for him and me. It seemed like heaven had come down to Earth for a few seconds. Then the line was done, he gracefully straightened back up, Mass continued.  That altar server showed me by his bow how seriously he took Mass, made me want to take it seriously, too. Most of all, I sensed he bowed for reasons invisible to me, but not to him. And it was the first time I saw holiness, experienced what I call a Holy Bubble. 

Soon after, I became an altarboy (and learned a lot of Latin).

Now here I am, 40 years later. I go to Mass and I remember that altar server. I don't how I would have turned out if I hadn't witnessed his reverent bow all those years ago. So y'all think about that little thing he did and what a big deal it has been for me. You'll never know what little thing you do at Mass will have a great impact on someone else, for better or worse.

This article is also available at the Amazing Catechists website.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


This article is also available at the Amazing Catechists website.

This is a photo from time out of mind, when I was young and my kids were little. Nothing special, just two of them helping me wash the car (1989 Firebird Formula 5-speed, debadged and optioned with the 5.0 liter TPI, dual exhaust and 16x8 snowflakes.  A monster in its day...maybe this is special.  Am I digressing?).  You can guess how much they are helping.  I could surely have done it by myself better and faster, but that's not the point, is it?  No.  It doesn't matter how little they can do; what matters is that they are doing what they can.  Likewise as they grew up, they worked around the house in other ways.  Virtually every chore they did, we parents could've done quicker and better.  Again, so what?  Helping trains the kids in good habits; and contributing makes them value what they get, because they had to work for it.  And it dignifies them: they didn't get something for nothing as a baby would.  And of course, it's all for their own good.  As one says in Latin, 'Cui Bono', that is, 'whose good?'  More easily, 'who benefits?'  And where these contributions of children are concerned, it's the children who benefit. Just in the past hour, daughter Alexandra needed to get an old bike in working order so her boyfriend could ride with her.  She had to help me the whole 45 minutes or so.  Her help was limited to passing me tools, oilcans, holding the bike steady, turning the crank, paying attention and making observations (e.g., those chainlinks need more oil).  I could've done it alone, but she does not value the working bike if she doesn't contribute to the fixing.  And her contributions, while small, were real.  And would I have fixed the bike if she weren't willing to help as best she could?  No indeed.  Cui bono?  Alexandra.

By asking cui bono there's a lot about Catholicism that's easier to understand...maybe everything: Sunday Mass, Lent, Holydays of Obligation, Confession, pre-Cana, pre-Baptism, have to, have to, have to. So, who benefits?  Not God, he doesn't need benefitting.  Who's left?  Us.  Yeah, it's for our benefit, not that we like it all the time....or most of the time.  Like my kids.

Indeed, there's a parallel between my kids & me, and us & God.  Like my kids' chores, the work Catholicism requires of us provides training, engenders appreciation, and dignifies us.

Speaking of work, the Greek word for work is ergon, (εργον) as in energyErgon is a cousin to the word we use for the work done at Mass: liturgy. In fact, the Mass is called the Divine Liturgy by the Eastern Churches. Liturgy (Leitourgia, λειτουργία in Greek; literally, people-work), a word predating Christianity, means "the public work of the people done on behalf of the people" (Wikipedia). In an Old Testament sense, it's "the service or ministry of the priests relative to the prayers and sacrifices offered to God" (Strong's Concordance). And the Biblical concept of the "priesthood of all believers" suggests the inclusion of the people in the priestly work of the New Covenant.

Let's recall the Mass has two main parts: the Liturgy of the Word (when we read from the Bible); and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which immediately speaks of the 'people's work': "we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made....we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands..." We do not offer wheat and grape juice. Yeah, so?  Well, why not?  Because Jesus offered bread and wine, and Melchizedek offered bread and wine.  So there.  Yes, all true....but maybe more is being hinted at in those opening lines.  If we produce grapes and wheat we work, but the work isn't creative, transformative.  Plant a vine, it makes grapes.  Plant a wheat seed, it grows into a stalk of wheat.  Take care of sheep, they make lambs.  That's all to the good.  But offering those things wouldn't hint at, or participate in, the point of the Mass, which is Jesus transforming mundane matter into his Body and Blood. Consider grass (wheat is a type of grass) and grapes: both predated the creation of Adam and Eve.  They're stuff God created.  But when we use them to make bread and wine, they cease to be wheat and grapes anymore.  In a physical sense, humans create something else in bread and wine: the wheat and grapes are irretrievably transformed into entirely new stuff.  It's permanent and irreversible change due to human action and creativity.  It's a prelude to the change Jesus will work.

"So the people's work transforms the plants into something new: bread & wine.  Then Jesus accepts these offerings, and transforms them into something new again.  Now, 6th grade trick question: can Jesus effect Transubstantion with wheat and grapejuice?  Well, can't Jesus do whatever he wants?  Yes, of course....but do you think if we brought up wheat and grapejuice at the Offertory, that they'd become the Body and Blood?  No, that wouldn't work. Right.  Why not? Ummmm....

"Ok, think about my daughter and the bike.  I wouldn't do most of the work if she didn't do a little bit herself.  Why not?  Because that's how she shows it really matters to her.  Yes.  Could she just sit inside and surf the net and tell me the bike's important?  No, she has to do something, she can't just say it.  Yes.  If I do the big fixing, she has to do the....ummm, the little fixing?  Yes.  Likewise at Mass, if Jesus does the big transformation, creating his Body & Blood, we have to do the....little transformation!  Yes.  First we do our little work by transforming wheat & grapejuice into.....bread & wine! Then Jesus does the big work, changing them into....Body'n'Blood!  Yes."

"The Liturgy, the people's work, makes it appropriate for Jesus to do his work.  As the creative love of husband & wife cooperate with God's creative love in making new life (also known as....babies!), so does the people's transforming work in the Mass cooperate with Christ's work of Transubstantiation.  And if the people don't do their work, will God do his?  No!  That's right.  He depends on us to do our part.  If we don't, nothing will happen. Can you imagine how much Jesus loves us to depend on us?  By the way, since Jesus loves us, why does he require us to do something when he's powerful enough to do it all by himself?  It's just good if we help.  Yes, when we help God, it dignifies us.  Just like when my wife used to make brownies with my kids: they were dignified by their work, their contribution.  You know what happens to kids who get everything from their parents without doing anything themselves?  They're spoiled.  Yes.  God doesn't want to spoil his kids. God helps those who help themselves as much as they can, just like a loving parent should."

"And this is true for other Sacraments.  For example, in Confession God will forgive us, but we have to.....confess out loud to the priest!  Yes...but how about Baptism, what does the baby do? Ummm....babies can't do anything.  Right.  They can't even feed they starve?  No, the parents feed them.  So at baptism, if the baby can't decide it wants to be baptized....?  Oh, the parents decide for the baby!  Yes, the parents act for the baby.  But can parents just drop into church after Mass & say, hey we need our baby Baptized quick, or we'll be late for a movie?  Ha, that's silly!  That's right, the parents and Godparents have to agree to take charge of the baby's Christian life, to do the work until it's old enough to do it itself."

"So y'all see how Catholics first do the People's work, and in response God does His work. And y'all see how my blood sons & daughters are required to do work for their own good. It's like that in class, too. Honorary sons & daughters, in this class can you just sit there in a stupor? No! What do you have to do? Pay attention!  Yes, and?  Answer questions!  Yes. I want you to use your brain to....think!  Yes.  When you participate, do your work, then I can do mine.  Cui bono- who benefits?  We do.  Yes.  And I benefit, too.  I'm happy when you learn."

Friday, March 12, 2010

I Feel Good

A Catholic day.

First, I got back from the hospital, where I held my second grandchild, born about 6am. If you aren't a grandparent yet, lemme tell ya, you want to be one.

(In profile he looks just like George de la Tour's baby on the right)

We ran into the other grandparents there. They are taking care of the first grandchild today; we had him yesterday. Since they are both in RCIA this year (following their daughter into the Church), we suggested they come along to the Knights of Columbus St. Patrick's Fish Fry, which they did, bringing along grandson #1. In addition to the food, there was a group of Celtic dancer girls who put on a great show. One piece of music wouldn't cue properly so they danced one number to the clapping of the crowd, which was terrific. The grandson, who is a 2 1/2 year-old dancing fiend, went nuts, dancing like a leprechaun, much to everyone's delight. My wife & I spent the next hour visiting with friends who have kids in college, etc., as we do. My three youngest kids (18, 18 & 20) came too, and having been away at school, were warmly received by those who hadn't seen them in a year or so. All in all, a fine day.

And to top it off, I got this little plug:
Amazing Minute podcast, March 12, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

¿Quién aquí habla Español?

We have a sizeable Hispanic membership in our parish: one of our five weekend Masses is in Spanish. So in most years my 6th-grade class has at least one child who speaks some Spanish. Having a Spanish-speaker is an asset, because Spanish words often express concepts in a different way than the equivalent English word. Here are a few examples.

"Honorary sons & daughters, what's the business with St. Peter and the keys? Well, Jesus gave him the keys. Yes, to his car? Jesus didn't have a car! Peter got the keys to heaven. Oh yeah, heaven. I bet they were huge keys, heaven being so big and all. They weren't real keys. Well, put it this way, heaven is a spiritual place, so the keys would need to be spiritual not physical, but they might still be real. Anyway, before the key business, Jesus changed the name of the guy he gave the keys to. What was his name before Jesus called him Peter...y'all have heard this before....(on the board I spell in slow motion: 'S'...'I')... Simon? Yeah, Simon. What did Jesus say to Simon when he changed his name? Do come along, y'all know this: Thou art Banana and...ThouartPeteranduponthisRockIbuildmyChurch! Yes! What language is that? What language? Is it Chinese? Chinese? No, it's English! Yes. Sometimes English doesn't make things in the Bible as clear as other languages do. Like Simon's new name...Peter! Yes...what's Peter mean? Rock. Right. Do we ever say, "Peter broke the window with a peter?" What? Do we say, "I stubbed my toe on a peter"? Ha! We say rock. Right. We might also say stone. 'Peter' is just a name to us in English. But let's see... ¿Quién aquí habla Español? Who speaks Spanish? Me! OK m'ija, digame, cómo se llama Peter en Español? How do we say Peter in Spanish (always repeat in English)? Pedro. Yes...who already knew Pedro is Spanish for Peter? Almost everybody, good. [I write Peter and Pedro on the board] Hija, when Jesus changes Simon's name to Pedro, how does he say 'rock'? Roca. Oops, sorry, how does he say 'stone'? Oh...piedra! He says "piedra". Yes, 'piedra' [piedra goes on the board beside Pedro]. Y'all see, it's more clear in Spanish that Peter is the Rock, the Stone, the words are almost the same. And by the way, how do the French say Peter? Pierre? Yes, Pierre, which is also exactly how they say stone [Pierre goes on the board under Peter, Pedro, and piedra]. It's perfectly clear to the French that Peter is the Stone. In French you can say, "Pierre broke the window with a pierre."

For all you catechists, here are the translations:

In Spanish: "tú eres Pedro, y sobre esta piedra edificaré mi iglesia"

In French: "tu es Pierre, et que sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon Église"

Here are some more (not all) occasions that I seek assistance from my Spanish-speakers. Languages are never a separate issue, but part of the fabric of the lesson plan, so these bits don't reflect their wider context:

Class, what's 'Christmas' mean? It's when Jesus was born. Yes, good, that's what Christmas is...but what does Christmas literally mean? Oh, Christ's Mass. Yes again. And you're right, it celebrates Jesus' birth. ¿Quién aquí habla Español? Who speaks Spanish? Me! ¿Cómo se llama Christmas en Español? Navidad. Yes [Navidad goes up on the board]. Does it mean 'Christ's Mass'?  No, it just means the baby is born. Right. In English we say Nativity [on the board]. Somebody tell me, what's a Nativity scene? It's the little statues of baby Jesus and the 3 Kings and all. reason I like the word Navidad is that it reminds me of Jesus being born in that little humble stable.


Who remembers the Hebrew word for Passover? It starts with a "P"! Yeah, that's good enough, here we go: P-e-s-a-c-h [on the board], Pesach. And the Last Supper was a Pesach meal, but for the New Covenant...and who is the New Passover Lamb? Jesus. Yes. We call Jesus the Paschal Lamb: Pascha [on the board] is our word for Pesach. Was the lamb sacrificed at that dinner? No, on the cross the next day! Yes. We observe the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. The next day is....Good Friday, yes, then Holy Saturday, and then....Easter Sunday! Yes. What word does Easter have in it? Umm....east? Yes, and where does the sun rise? In the East. Yes. The word Easter refers to Springtime, it's an old pagan word, but now we use it for a Christian holyday...we baptized it so it's a Christian word now. You can't baptize a word! You're right, I don't mean it literally. Hey, cómo se llama Easter en Español? What's Spanish for Easter? Pascua! Yes, P-a-s-c-u-a [on the board under Pesach]. That's how the Spanish say Pesach. Most countries say "Passover/ Pesach" when we say "Easter" because the whole 4 days from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday make the Passover, the Pesach, of the New Covenant.


So, it's Lent. I notice there's more daylight now when y'all get dropped off, why is that? The days are getting longer. Yes, it's almost Spring, and the days get longer...they lengthen [on the board]. Sometimes we say Lent, sometimes we say Lenten season. Look now (I use my finger to erase letters in lengthen so it says len-t-en), why do we call it the Lenten season? Because the days lengthen! Yes, and Lent is short for Lenten. ¿Quién aquí habla Español? Me! Honorary son, what's Spanish for Lent? Cuaresma [on the board]. How many days is Lent, Cuaresma? Forty. How do you know? Because cuaresma is like the word for forty. Which is? Cuarenta [on the board]. Class, what's up with forty, why not 38 days? Because Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, yes, and the Israelites were in the desert for...forty years! Yes, good. Forty is an important number in the Bible. In these cases it signifies a time of preparation.


From the class on "keep holy the LORD's day":

We know from our Genesis reading that God created for 12 days, and... no six! yes six, and rested for three... no, one day! yes, right. Six and one. And Shabbat is how to say rest in Hebrew, so the day of rest is called...Sabbath [on the board]! Yes...what day of the week is that? Saturday. Yes. Who is Saturday named after? Oh, Saturn. Yes, a Roman make-believe God. Now I need a Spanish-speaker to tell me how to say Saturday in Spanish. It's Sabado [on the board]. Yes, does it mean Saturn? No, it just means Sabbath. So is Saturday our Sabbath, our day of rest? No it's on Sunday now. Yes, the Christian Sabbath is on Sunday. Jews have always kept Sabbath on Sabado, Saturday. And in Spanish, Italian and Greek,  Christians still call the sixth day 'Sabbath,' even though Sunday is the Christian Sabbath day.

And from there we discuss why the New Covenant Sabbath is on Sunday.

There are other occasions that Spanish contributes to our class, but these vignettes should be enough to show how it can be done.

This post is also available at the Amazing Catechists website.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Samson and Eucharistic Prayer #1

This post is also available at the Amazing Catechists website.

We're in the middle of a month of learning about the Mass. We just finished this part of the Eucharistic Prayer:

"Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the bread and wine offered by your priest Melchizedek." We review the offerings of these three (a lamb, a ram substituting for Isaac, bread & wine); the kids have seen all of them before. Now I pull out this bit from the Greenville, SC newspaper:

"Hey, y'all look at this, Bob Jones University (the local Fundamentalist college) is staging an opera called Delilah. I mention it because I know y'all love opera as much as I do. We don't like opera! Well, you should like opera. Anyway, somebody tell me who Delilah was. She cut off Samson's hair. Yes, genius; now somebody else tell me about Samson. He was strong as long as his hair didn't get cut. That's right. Look at that long hair, must be a wig.

"Hey, who were Isaac's parents? Abraham & Sarah! Right, why were they sad for so long? 'Cause they couldn't have any children. Yes, and then? God gave them Isaac. Right. Well, Samson's father Manoah, and his wife had the same problem- no chirrens. But then one day an angel, which in Greek means....? messenger! yes, a messenger appeared to Manoah's wife and told her she would soon conceive a son. Later on, the same messenger (they couldn't tell he was an angel) also spoke to Manoah, and suggested Manoah should make an offering of Thanksgiving."

 "So Manoah took a young goat with the cereal offering, and offered it upon the rock to the LORD, to him who works wonders. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground." (Judges 13) Wow, they didn't know he was an angel 'til he took off!

"Tell me, what's the deal with the flame going up to heaven? Huh? Why does it matter which way the fire goes? Well, it's going to heaven. Yes...what's going to heaven, exactly...not the flame...oh the offering is going up! Yes...all by itself I suppose, a burned up goat....why is the messenger going up? He's going back to heaven, too. Yes, so the angel and the offering are just going up separately, but at the same time to heaven, right? It's just a coincidence? Well...maybe the angel is taking the offering up.  Yes, I think so. The messenger takes the offering up. The angel connects earth and heaven. And where's the offering starting from? Earth. Yes, be more specific please, listen: "when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar." Oh, from the altar. Yes. So the angel carries the offering from the altar up to heaven.

"Now, let's look at the picture on this handout (it has this pic, and the relevant bits from Judges and the Eucharistic Prayer)...

...and read this next part of the Eucharistic Prayer:

"Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven."

"What does that sound like? It's like what Samson's father did! Yes, it's like the angel taking Manoah's offering  from the altar on Earth up to heaven. But the picture and the prayer are both from....Mass! Yes! We don't see the angel who does this, but it's part of our prayer, we believe it happens. Why can't we see this? C'mon, we're blinded by something....oh, sin! Yes, and to believe in something we can't see we Yes. Saints might see something like this, though. And what is the angel taking up? Well, the offering. Yes, but what's being offered at this point? Umm, bread and wine? No, there's no more bread and wine. Oh, Jesus is the offering! Yes. That's Jesus being carried up; not some goat like Manoah offered but a perfect Lamb. And we are offering Jesus to whom? God. More specifically, please...God the Father. That's it.

"What's everybody doing in the picture? Huh, they're at Mass. No, I mean their posture, they're all bowing (at least their heads) at this moment, why is that? No takers...let's read the last bit about Manoah again:  "...the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground." Why'd they fall on the ground? They were scared when the angel took off. Yes, a bit scared I'm sure, but they were in the presence of a miracle, and it made them feel very humble. If I had seen that, I'd have fallen on the ground because I had passed out. People long ago would lie down on the ground in the presence of God, or even a king. Nowadays we bow, lying on the ground is messy. But do you ever notice at Mass, the altar boys bow way down, their heads almost touch the ground when they bow. They bow like Manoah in the presence of God's miracle.

"Daughter, read the second line, please: "Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing." Yes, let's review for a second. At the offertory, what do the people bring up to the priest? Bread and wine. Yes, then does the priest offer the bread and wine to God the Father: here's ten bucks' worth of bread and wine, Father, please forgive our sins? Ha, that's silly! Yes, so the priest offers what? Jesus. That's right...and who turns the bread & wine into Jesus' body & blood? The priest. Wow, he must have super powers. Let's remember, Mass isn't mostly about what people do, it's about.....what Jesus does, yes, so who made it happen? Jesus. Yes. But Jesus works through the priest, so that was a good guess. Then we see in the picture the angel carries our offering from the altar on Earth up to the altar in Heaven...bye! So how do we "receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son" if it all went to heaven? Well, some got left behind. Yeah...think about it this way:

"When my wife puts on Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, she does a ton of cooking and preparation, and the guests know she worked hard for days. When the guests arrive they usually have something with them, what would that be? A present? What kind of present do you bring to a dinner, a power tool? Ha, no, food! Good guess, and maybe for the adults something...wet? Umm, Yes indeed. Why do guests bring presents? 'cause they are glad you invited them! You got that right! They are not just saying 'thank you' but showing it by bring a thanksgiving offering. How do the Greeks say 'thank you' at their festival? Efharisto! That's right...Eucharist. Now if someone brings my wife a nice bottle of wine, does she say thanks, and put it away for another occasion? No, I bet you drink it right then! Right! She says thank you so much, let's open it's a glass for you, let's all have some. It's like Mass: she does most of the work; the guests show their thanks by offering a small gift; she is gracious and offers them back some of their offering. God does the same thing: we offer Jesus; God says thank you; y'all have some too. And when we "receive from this altar the sacred body and blood" do we put it in our pocket for later? No, we eat it right then! That's right! That's how we show thanks at a feast: we eat it all right then!"

That finishes our coverage of this part of the Eucharistic Prayer. By the way, this does not exhaust the teachable content of that picture; for example, I did not mention the crucified Christ...that's not a mere crucifix.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Textbook Fatigue

This post is also available at the Amazing Catechists website.
Kids get textbook fatigue...I get textbook fatigue, too. Information presented in a textbook lacks the authenticity of the same information found elsewhere. If something is in a textbook it's because the people who write textbooks think it matters, which is fine with me, but it's not an especially compelling endorsement for 6th-graders. Even something as simple as a map of France has more credibility and impact when it's in a travel magazine or a book about wine & cheese instead of a geography textbook. It's why German in Der Spiegel has more vitality than German in the speech lab. In school, knowledge is managed & packaged for the kiddies- they're aware of that by 6th grade; but out in the world- it's raw and real!

That's one reason I prefer for the kids to read the textbook at home, and then in class learn the material from other sources, usually the Bible or the Catechism. They are good sources, but they're both On the Reservation, so to speak. For kids they're just one step removed from the textbook.

So it's always a pleasure to find a secular discussion of a moral/ religious/ Catholic topic that not only shows the relevance of what we do in class, but can be a source for actually learning the material. I prefer newspapers or serious periodicals, because the children know that unlike their textbooks, newspapers aren't kidstuff. Newspapers, those symbols of maturity, set the standard for grownup, adult reading. I can't say for younger kids, but 6th graders are definitely interested in the maturing process, and in being treated as more than mere "children." So they know that when I use the paper in class I have respect for them.

Recently we covered the 8th Commandment, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, which in 6th grade means don't lie. But the textbook wisely expands the commandment beyond mere lying into sins such as slander, detraction, and gossip. By coincidence, this article about gossip appeared in the Wall Street Journal on the same day as our class.

Killing Gossip With Kindness -

That evening, when we got to the topic of gossip, I displayed the paper and said we'd learn about gossip from today's news.  The article's opening sentence was a perfect attention-getter: "Wendy Fandl sees a lot of children growing up without a lot of guidance. They say harsh and hurtful things about each other, and the words come too easily. Encouraged by the snarkiness in pop culture today, they seem more sarcastic than past generations."

From there we went on to discuss gossip. I'd read/ paraphrase the following excerpts, and the kids would make comments and observations.

 "...before they say something to or about someone else, they should ask themselves: "Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?"

"It's emotionally lethal. It's leading to suicides......If you stop gossip in your own life and bring it to the attention of your community, then people will follow your leadership."

"It's always around fifth grade when students start calling each other names...."
Young people especially are at greater risk today of being damaged by gossip, given the growth of Web sites where students leave cruel, anonymous postings about their peers.
Years ago, people who were picked on or gossiped about in high school could graduate, move away and start fresh. "These days, the gossip follows them. It's online forever...."
The article closed with a great little story, which ends: 
"Treat everyone the way your mother would want everyone to treat you."
And after we were done with the article, I closed our discussion of gossip by telling this ancient fable (from this scene in the movie "Doubt' ):
"A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew - I know none of you have ever done this - that night she had a dream. A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke, and she told him the whole thing.

‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?’

‘Yes!’ Father O’Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly broughtup female! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!’

So the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness.

‘Not so fast!’ says O’Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!’

So the woman went home, took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed.

‘Did you gut the pillow with the knife?’ he says.

‘Yes, Father.’

‘And what was the result?’

‘Feathers,’ she said.

‘Feathers?’ he repeated.

‘Feathers everywhere, Father!’

‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!’

‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’

‘And that,’ said Father O’Rourke, ‘is GOSSIP!’

 And the article is now in my lesson plan for next year.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Off the Reservation

This post is also available at the Amazing Catechists website.

The general attitude in the Postmodern West is that Christianity is ok (well, tolerable) as long as you keep it private and out of the Public Square, as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus would say. Stay on the reservation and there won't be any trouble. One way for the kids to learn otherwise is by seeing Christian morality presented in secular media such as newspapers and magazines.

Last Wednesday night the subject was the Mass: specifically the first half, the Liturgy of the Word. As part of the discussion of the Psalms, I mentioned King David, and the Psalms I like best, including Psalm 51 (excerpt): "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me."

This reflects David's inescapable burden of guilt due to his affair with Bathsheba, and the wider woe that it caused; as the introduction to the Psalm says, "A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba." I spent a couple of minutes on David & Bathsheba to remind the kids that Psalms weren't written out of thin air, but were reflections on what was going on in David's life; and we moved on to the Epistles.

Then in Thursday's newspaper, editorialist Cal Thomas referred to David and Bathsheba in his article about Tiger Woods ( I saved the paper, and began tonight's class like this:

Sons & Daughters, remember last week we were talking about the Psalms...who wrote 'em? David. Yes, King David. I like Psalm 51 about David's guilt when he says "my sin is before me always" because that's how I feel until I drag myself into Confession. Tell me, what particular sin was bugging David? He had an affair with Bathsheba. Yes. Who's the famous golfer who had a bunch of affairs and now the whole world knows about it? Oh Tiger Woods! Yes. There was an article in the paper last Thursday about Tiger (I'll pull out the newspaper & show the article), and it compares Tiger to King David like so (I paraphrased from the following excerpt):

"King David understood repentance when he wrote Psalm 51. After committing adultery with Bathsheba and getting her pregnant, David ordered her husband, Uriah the Hittite, home from the battlefield, hoping he would sleep with Bathsheba so David might deny paternity. When Uriah refused for the sake of his troops, David ordered he be placed in the front lines where he was killed. Nathan the Prophet exposed David. King David repents (“against thee and thee only have I sinned” he tells God) and while God forgives him, he still takes the life of David’s son born from the adulterous affair.

It is a startling account many learn in Sunday School, and the lesson is that God does not regard sin lightly, as modern culture does."

Class, my point isn't to beat up on Tiger Woods, but just to show ya, lotsa people out there in the public world outside of church and Wednesday Sunday School speak up for what God says is right and wrong, and you should too.

If anybody wants to have the article, ask me after class.

(At the top, is that a reservation? Nope, it's a pic of Area 51 because there are no good images of Psalm 51.)