Thursday, February 20, 2014

Book Review 7: Not the Fist, the Fingers

This post links to Convert Journal

I was given a review copy of Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church: Living Out Your Lay Vocation by Russell Shaw. I looked at the cover: a blob of faceless people dressed the same, doing no-skill-no-brains heavy lifting, participating serf-like in yet another Hidebound Church Ritual. As my mother-in-law says: Oh Dear. I anticipated the usual disembodied dull platitudes and tiresome restatements of the obvious. Fortunately I read the book anyway, and was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was the opposite of the cover. It's about each lay person as a uniquely-gifted individual, not all of us en masse. 

The book kicks off with a history of the laity, the clergy, and their relationship, from Acts of the Apostles to the end of the 19th century. Huh- I didn't even know the laity had a history. Turns out we do, and it bears directly on what our roles may be today. Moving on to the 20th century, you'll be familiar with Catholic Action, the Catholic Worker movement, and Opus Dei. They're included not so much to explain what they are, but to show how they fit into a 2000-year-old stream of non-clergy doing their own thing. I like that.

Vatican 2 is treated at length, both in its specific attention to encouraging the laity to Get Out There Without Waitin' for Faddah an' Sistah t'Tell Ya What t'Do; and the difference between what V2 asked the laity to do, and what the laity's actually done so far. Apparently lay Catholics are still too much beholden to the clergy, which I understand completely, having been born in 1957. It wasn't that the Church didn't say, "Y'all lay folks got your own charisms, go use 'em." She did. But the people were thinking in terms of doing stuff within the established system, and following the initiatives of that system; and Mama Church didn't argue. Even today the typical Catholic has yet to jump on the chance to figure out his or her unique gifts, and then act on them without necessarily seeking the Church's approval, guidance, or control. But that was still V2's message.

So what's the problem? We could rattle off a few, but I would not have included clericalism among them. You know, what Pope Francis talks about every Tuesday. Shaw writes: "Clericalism....assumes that clerics not only are, but are meant to be the active, dominant elite in the Church, and lay people the passive, subservient mass." Careful attention is given to clericalism; how it curbs the laity's initiative and sense of responsibility; and how to minimize its effects. (Shaw wrote this book in 2005. Francis must have read it.)

That's the first half of the book, thematically if not physically. The second half discusses how the laity can get on with it:

1. Taking the idea of lay vocation seriously. That is, every lay person is called by God to Do Something, no less than Faddah or Sistah. God called you. Yes, you. Get on with it.

2. Figuring out your vocation and the charisms you received at Confirmation. So you can get on with it.

3. Taking responsibility for the Church.

4. Evangelizing the World wherever you find yourself. Get on with it. You could die tomorrow. OK, that's me talking, not the book, but a sense of urgency is a good thing.

If you're already on the New Evangelization Express, doing the Intentional Disciple Thing, you probably don't need to read this book. But you'll profit from its broad and deep scope if you do read it. If you're on the fence, or behind the fence, then yes, you need to read this book.

Get fired up about Jesus and His Church.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Look Inside

I browsed a couple of catechist-related books yesterday. Not reading the books, but reading through the Look Inside bits on Amazon. Fr. Philip N. Powell mentions them at his blog.

The first one is The Pedagogy of God: Its Centrality in Catechesis and Catechist Formation. My Look Inside rating: No Sale. I'm the wrong audience for this prose.

Whoops- I should define my rating system. It's a lot like Sun Bear's rating system. Who? Sun Bear, "who was born Vincent LaDuke, was a writer and actor who is probably best known for founding the Bear Tribe in the 1970's in Washington." A New Age personage. I don't know much about the guy, but I have been fond of a Sun Bear aphorism for about 35 years. Here it is:

“If your religion doesn’t grow corn, I don’t want to hear about it.”

Speaking as a catechist, I love it. Modified to fit my situation, it's “If your catechetical book/ article/ post/ workshop/ lecture won’t improve my catechesis, I don’t want to hear about it.” I don't mean something mightn't be useful to someone else, but if it doesn't look like it'll help me in my classroom, I got other things to do. Like what things? Like read the second book:

Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis. My Look Inside rating: Buy. As I said, I only read the excerpts, but that's one way I decide to spend money on books. Or not. I don't care for this book's writing style either. But it appeals to me based on the 12 Keys of Catechesis listed at the book's end; and how I do or don't reference them in my 6th-grade class:

1. HOLISTIC: the Faith Professed, the Faith Celebrated, the Faith Lived and the Faith Prayed.

I'm good on the first 3. We don't pray a lot in my class. An opening prayer and a closing prayer. For all I know that's typical in all catechism classes. Maybe we do pray a lot. Classwise, I'm more focused the other three. I want to know more.

2. GRACEFUL: We maintain the primacy of grace. 

This, I don't know...."maintain the primacy of grace"? This sort of statement bugs me. What does that mean in the classroom? Why not: maintain the primacy of love? Why not: maintain the primacy of faith? Or: maintain the primacy of Christ? Dunno. I think it means we hope for mercy instead of justice. We cover that explicitly in class. But I'm intrigued. If I buy the book, I expect to have it explained.

3. ORGANIC: We practice an organic reading and teaching of the Faith.

I already apply the term 'organic' to my catechesis. Curious if the authors and I mean the same thing.

4. PERSONAL: Doctrine and its transmission is essentially personal.

Yes to this. I believe personal witness is the sine qua non of catechesis. I look forward to reading more.

5. TRUE: We proclaim the mysteries of the Faith as true...

Yes...seems awfully obvious though.

6. ATTRACTIVE: We highlight the innately attractive nature of the Faith...

Yes. I do this explicitly and continually. I want to read the book to see what specific examples the authors will provide.

7. PURPOSEFUL: We immerse doctrine within the dynamic of God's plan...

Yes. Intrinsic to class. The book may show ways of being purposeful that I don't know about.

8. FAITHFUL: We use the Catechism, drawing on the language of Scripture and Tradition.

Yes. I'm on this 100%, and curious as to the book's take on this all-important synergy.

9. EVANGELIZING: (go Look Inside)

I'm not moved at all by the book's phrasing here, but an explicit goal of my catechesis is to evangelize and catechize at the same time, all the time. Tell me more.

10. SCRIPTURAL: We let our catechesis be soaked in the Scriptures...

Yes. 100% on this, and want to read more.

11. LITURGICAL: (go Look Inside)

Not fond of the phrasing. Still, understanding the Mass is a big deal in class, so I want to read more.

12. PRAYERFUL: We make our catechesis a school of prayer...

Sounds vague and fluffy. I say it should be a school of faith. I'll want some elaboration.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets


Each year in Wednesday Night Sunday School we spend a few minutes on the fun parts of Isaiah 22.  I play the role of King Hezekiah and two volunteers play Shebna and Eliakim. When we get to Matthew 16 a couple of months later, we recall Isaiah 22. Then when we discuss the Mass in April, the kids learn that Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius were some of the popes that succeeded Peter. But I have never connected those guys to either Isaiah 22 or Matthew 16. I want all learning to be integrated with other learning, and this was a weak point in that respect. But this year is different, and better.

This year we did our Eliakim skit as usual in November. Then last Wednesday I treated Matt 16 like so:

I got two volunteers to come up and be Shebna and Eliakim. We did a quick refresher on Is 22. The kids remember only Eliakim's name, but that's ok. I care about the story and why it matters. They remember it just fine. We quickly re-enact it. Corrupt Shebna sits down. Now we cover Matt 16. I read bits from the chapter, and the kids figure out I'm now Jesus and the other actor is now Peter. We act out the keys again, and draw parallels between the two Kings and their Prime Ministers. The rest of the class play the 11 other apostles. They figure out the significance of Jesus borrowing from Isaiah.

Then I get five more boys to come up and stand in a row next to Peter. I stand behind them with my invisible keys. Peter dies and falls to the floor. The kids tell me to pass the keys to the next boy, he'll be the next pope. As each pope dies and falls to the floor, the King of Heaven gives the keys to the next boy. At the end they're all dead. I get them all to stand back up.

"Y'all tell me who these people are. Umm...they're the first popes! Yes! Some of them. Who's the first one? Peter! Yes, that was easy. Who's next? No guesses, that's OK, he's Linus. Linus, your name is...Linus! Yes, ya too smart, Linus! And these other popes are Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, and Cornelius. Do those names sound familiar to anyone? Yes! Where do you know Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, and Cornelius from? Umm....I don't remember. That's OK, we'll find out in April."

"Who's the pope now? Francis! Yes. He's the 266th pope. Who was before him? B...Benedict! Yes, good. Is Benedict dead? No, I think he just stopped being pope. Yes. That's very unusual, for a pope to retire. Trick question: in the Isaiah story, who picked Eliakim, the new prime minister? The King! Yes, Heze...Hezekiah! Yes. And who picked Peter? Jesus! Yes. Who is...the King! Yes. Did Benedict pick Francis to succeed him? No the other people did. Who exactly? Bishops? Well, sort of. They all wear a bird...that is red...cardinals! Yes, a small group of bishops called cardinals. The bird is named after the men. Cardinal means hinge in Latin. Y'all remember we talked about hinges in December. For example, doors hang on, depend on, hinges. So to say something is cardinal, like a cardinal rule, means it's important like a hinge because other things depend on it, hang on it. But the cardinals don't just pick who they like for pope...remind me who picked the first pope. Jesus. Yes, so who still picks them? Umm...Jesus? Yes, good job! The King still has the power to pick his key-man. But Jesus put the cardinals in charge of making his pick. That's why the cardinals all pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them in making the right choice."

It only takes a few minutes to knit this together. And it prepares the children to jump all over Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, and Cornelius when those names pop up in our Mass classes in April.