Catechesis of the Good Shepherd ‘hands-on’ religious education gets a look in Texas
formation courses at St. Martha. “When I work with adults, I tell them to think about their favorite hobbies and how it feels for them to be that engaged with something that interests them,” she stated. “That is what we are trying to help the young child do – to make that connection early on so that is part of their personality and they really seek that out. Then they are much more intentional about their faith. It is the ultimate Montessori goal: the true end being the child’s religious development.”
Martha Burns, the formation co-sponsor at St. Martha, said Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is “thoroughly saturated in authentic Scripture, going far beyond a mere exposure to key stories, sayings and parables … It encourages even the youngest children – as well as the catechist – to reflect deeply about the meaning of these passages. God is the author of our textbook.”
Burns appreciates how the catechesis teaches children about the “liturgical actions and equipment of the Church” through hands-on contact with them. “Even the littlest children are led to understand the meaning of liturgical colors and the difference between an altar and an ambo,” she said. “In addition, they become familiar with the prayers and sacred gestures associated with liturgy, enabling them to enter into the mysteries more fully and planting priceless seeds for vocations.
“The Catechesis combines both knowledge of the ‘basics’ of Catholicism and a deep prayerful spirituality. The atrium is a place of silence, meditation and intense concentration nurturing ‘heart knowledge’ as well as ‘head knowledge’”
According to Burns, the catechesis also effectively nurtures the existing bonds between Jesus and the child through song, prayer, Scripture and the atrium. “We all search for a closer relationship with God. The deep faith and spirituality that saturates this program is a powerful reminder that the Holy Spirit is still working and is intimately involved with our holy Catholic Church,” she said. “The catechesis is based on the conviction that God and the child are in relationship. The child has a deep need to experience and a special capacity to enjoy the presence of God.”
Peggy Rittenhouse of St. Martha Church initially became interested in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd because of her fondness for young children. “It appeared to me that this was a very special way to work with children and introduce them, in some small way and yet in an effective way, to Jesus,” she said. “At St. Martha’s, I have also been introduced to the literature surrounding Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as well as national organizations.”
She found one instruction from formation leaders to be particularly special to her: “Both children and adults are in a ‘listening mode’ before the mystery of the liturgical celebration,” Rittenhouse noted.
Stimulating the ‘wonder and awe” in children
Barbara Molaison, a technology teacher at St. Martha School, said she is impressed with how much is conveyed to young people through few simple words. “The emphasis on stimulating the ‘wonder and awe’ of the mysteries of our faith really do tap the children,” she said of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. “The children are free to form their own response without adults getting in the way. The relationship they form is uniquely theirs.”
The teacher views such active participation lending itself to the “developmental characteristics” of the children served. “It fosters in them the freedom to discover God in the manner and to the degree that they are ready to encounter Him. I think what is most powerful is that the children are simply allowed to fall in love with Jesus – the Good Shepherd,” she said. “When that relationship is formed I think everything else flows naturally and will be built on a solid foundation. The Montessori method or approach in this formation is key to the children forming their unique response. This atmosphere allows them to be in control of their own personal response.”
The formation course has helped Malaison acquire a much broader sense of the spirituality of the child and learn that the same “innate spirituality” still exists in adults. “The rites and rituals of our faith still have the power to touch our hearts and shape theirs. As I sit in training, I have truly become aware that this same child who enters the atrium is no different than the child who enters my computer lab at St. Martha Catholic School,” she said. “Everything I am learning in the Good Shepherd Formation serves me quite well as a teacher. It has made me more aware of the need to be a better facilitator. If I had to come up with one specific and dynamic facet of this formation, I think it would center on the importance of preparing the environment for the child and minimizing yourself so that you do not hinder the process.”
Malaison considers the positive and lasting qualities of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to be infinite. “It is a wonderful program and provides the means of forming faith in the young child at a critical juncture in their development. It is a method that is in sync with who they are, where they are and who our loving God is for them,” she said. “It has the capacity to make them life-long learners in their faith. It fosters vocations, a life of service and a deep love of Christ.”
(For more information about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, contact Charleen Katra in the archdiocesan CCE office at (713) 741-8793 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Texas Catholic Herald (www.texascatholicherald.org), official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas.
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