Friday, February 28, 2014

Kennedy McMuffins-A New Favorite Recipe

I am sure this one has been around for awhile, but we have recently discovered it's easy, convenient, yumminess.

The last few Sundays I have made a about a dozen "McMuffin" eggs and we each had one for breakfast and saved the rest for the week. Jim has brought them to work and the kids have made their own breakfast with them during the week.

Here is the basic recipe:


  • something to grease the muffin pans with (I have used spray and butter)
  • eggs (enough for each muffin section)
  • sliced ham (Or not. Apparently you can use spinach in this spot too, but we haven't.)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • grated cheese (optional)
  • Thomas's English Muffins (I am tempted to say that these are ABSOLUTELY crucial. But you really don't need any bread, or you can use your favorite toasting bread.)

Heat oven to 350.
Spray or otherwise grease muffin tins.
Line each muffin spot (what do you call that?) with a slice of ham. If your ham is too thick just chop it up and drop it into each spot.
Crack an egg into each spot. I use my handy-dandy-too-small-for-gravy-gravy-boat to pour each one in. (see picture)
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, give or take.
Eat with toasted English Muffin with real butter on it. Or not.
Let the extra's cool and put them in the fridge in your choice of container for easy reheating (1 minute  microwave, or a little longer in the oven) and have them all week.

See how easy? And that is at least one more breakfast for the following week. Or not.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Shopping With The Boy

Just under the is 8pm here and I am determined to get a blog post in today!

He is proud of his Lincoln Logs creations. 

I spent the day shopping with this boy. What a delight! He is my get-things-done partner. We had to run all over town doing last minute errands before Girl Birthday Weekend begins. A's birthday is tomorrow and M's is Saturday. 

Our errand running routine is to bring a lunch (though I forgot mine) and head out the door as soon as the sitter arrives for the girls. He made himself a peanut butter sandwich "with everything on it"---by that he means strawberry jam, honey and marmalade. Some of that ended up on his pants and seatbelt. We usually listen to an audio book—today it was Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody, narrated by Jim Weiss (I recommend it). 

When we are not listening to the story he is talking. He has a lot to say, lots of ideas of how to make his sister’s birthdays special. Lots of interesting soccer tidbits (his latest love). He likes to hear stories from my childhood. I wish I could remember more of them. 

After we got home, he came up and gave me a cute, little boy, side hug and said he had a really nice time with me today. 

I am the luckiest Mama in the whole world! Just sayin'.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

First Communion Retreat in Review

This past weekend A and I went to our final First Communion meeting. It was a three hour retreat for parent and child. We did the same thing for First Reconciliation. 

It was really very nice and she seemed to enjoy the whole thing. 

When I attend these sorts of things I have a hard time turning off the inner-catechist-trainer in me. No matter how hard I try not to, I critique. And since I have been writing about parish faith formation programs over the past few months, I had an even harder time on Saturday. 

Of course I began to formulate a blog post in my head, but I didn’t want to complain about my parish. I think they do such a good job with Sacramental prep. It is very parent focused. You have three meetings for each sacrament. One parents only meeting, where you get your materials and the schedule and a talk about the sacrament and your responsibility for preparing your child. Then there is a parent/child meeting where you listen to a talk or two and get some practical training—for First Communion that meant a tour of the church and practice receiving unconsecrated hosts and wine. Then there is the three hour retreat with parent and child. The talks were spot on, focused on the Real Presence and your relationship with Jesus. They used scripture as their foundation. And they tapped into the liturgy, ending  the retreat with Eucharistic adoration and Benediction. Who could complain about that, right? 

So the methods used (using scriptural foundations, a liturgical atmosphere), the doctrine presented (focus on the real presence), and the presenters themselves were all really great. I have no real criticism for them. 

But I realized, as I reflected on the critique running through my head, that really it all goes back to that structure thing that I talked about in my recent blog posts. If I were to change anything, it would be the elements that result from the assumption that religious education ought to be like school: mass education of children, hoping that you influence the parents in the meantime. 

For example, for one segment of the retreat the kids and parents are separated. But, since A was not into sitting in a room with a hundred other kids she didn’t know and a teacher she only knows by sight as “First Communion Lady”, I went with her to her segment and missed the parent’s segment. No big deal. I was the only parent sitting there with the kids, but no one said anything. As I sat there in the back and watched the other children with my teacher eyes, I could tell that a certain percentage of the kids seemed to be paying attention. Then there was a relatively big percentage of squirmers, looky-loos, and whispering gigglers. The presenters would be able to get their attention periodically and hold it, but not for long. They were not disruptive, really. There was really good crowd control as those things go. But I know that a large percentage of that second group wasn’t getting much of anything out of the talk. And a small percentage of the apparently paying attention kids were not really listening either. That is just the way it goes. 

Now, she did the usual things to keep a large group of kids “focused”. She asked questions, used props, walked around through the crowd, kept things moving along. But I noticed there was one part when she seemed to have the attention of most of the kids. That was when she had them reciting parts of the Mass aloud together. 

I thought that was a really good use of her time with them. Everyone was at least attending to the task at hand—reciting. They were getting practice saying the mass parts in a group (a thing kids sometimes struggle with), and they were getting the idea that it was now their job to make sure they were paying attention at Mass. 

So, as I said, the only real negative to the day was the structure. The focus was on educating that large group of children (I estimate 100, but I have never been good at estimating, so it may have been more). Even when parent and child were together in the beginning and at the end, the focus was mostly on the kids. The presenter would make asides to the parents, even so much as saying “This is for you parents now.” 

Each family brought a loaf of bread to be blessed. 
The problem with this is that you continue to give the impression that the “experts” are best equipped to teach the kids, and you hope the parents pick up a few things along the way. And in the meantime you haven’t really done anything to help the parents do their job. 

So, in retrospect, if I ever had to do this catechesis-in-the-parish-thing-again, here is what I think I would do. 

Leaving the schedule the same as what happened at our parish, I would address my talks in the whole group sessions to the adults mostly, and the talks would be about renewing our devotion, as families, to the Eucharist. I might make asides to the kids, but for the most part address them as a family unit. 

During the Adoration and Benediction part, the kids were brought up to the front to kneel on the steps in front of the altar. I understand the idea—get the kids close, so they can see. It might help make it more personal. And, for the record, the kids did a really good job, considering the circumstances: 100 kids bunched together and kneeling on a hard floor. It is no wonder there was some wiggling, a few pockets of whispered giggles. But, at the crucial moments of the Benediction, you could have heard a pin drop. 

That being said, the parents missed out on a huge opportunity. The chance to kneel next to their child in front of our Eucharistic Lord and whisper in the child’s ear, and help them kneel up straight, and help them focus on Jesus, and maybe even answer a question or two. 

We have 24 hour adoration at our parish from Sunday evening to Saturday morning every week. But, I would venture to guess that only a small percentage of those families have ever been to the chapel during those hours. To be fair, most parents are intimidated by the idea of bringing kids to adoration. And for good reason—it is hard to get the kids to sit still and quiet AND help them to pray, and you are in that small quiet place where you feel that you and your child are disrupting everyone else’s prayer. But here was a golden opportunity to practice that. The parents could have been equipped ahead of time with tips on what was going to happen and how to help the child focus. 

During the Adoration segment the main catechist led the group in a reflection, with the idea of helping to focus our minds on Jesus. The problem I had was that the reflections, though good, were not so much “adoration” as “petition”. They were definitely focused on “doing” rather than “being”. 

We began the whole retreat focusing on the image from the Gospel of John about the vine and the branches. We reflected on Jesus’ command to “Remain in Me”. Then here we are in front of HIM and we were too busy thinking about what we should DO (love our neighbor as ourselves) and not enough focused on remaining IN HIM (love our God with all our heart). I would have loved some help with words of Adoration. I am sure the other parents and the children could have used that too. 
The kids put a leaf with their name on it onto the vine. A is reaching for grapes. 

In my imaginary world where I direct the retreat, I would have found some words and phrases of praise and worship to say slowly, and suggest the participants repeat them silently, or whispered in the child’s ear. 

A Mama-Daughter Selfie
If it was necessary to separate kids and parents—if, for instance, you needed to talk about things you didn’t want the kids hearing, like how to deal with kids doubting, or challenging doctrine—then I would rework the kid time. 

Do not expect to teach much in that big session. And what you teach is best done by reciting—the whole group responding together. Reciting Mass parts, reciting doctrinal points (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—one of the presenters had us all repeat it several times and that was great!), learning a Eucharistic hymn. You have 30-40 minutes with these kids. You can’t make a personal enough connection to really impart deep knowledge or faith. You can only give an impression, and help them review what they already know, or perhaps memorize something they haven’t learned yet by reciting it aloud several times. Then, give the parents a list of what they recited, said, or sang. 

Again, all of these changes would, I think, naturally arise out of a restructuring of the faith formation programs for children. If, in fact, we were truly aiming to help the parents to form their kids in the Faith, we would naturally be giving them tools and opportunities to do that on the spot, during the retreat. We would not for a second act as if WE were the experts. We would not just tell them it was their job, we would truly help them do it. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Living in the Land of Counterpane

Just reflecting on the blessings of sick days. 

Since last Thursday we have had a convalescing kid in the house. First D, then A (this is a common train of germs here--D to A often skipping M-we hope). 

Although I hate it when my kids are sick ("Don't say "hate" Mama!"), I am pleasantly relieved when it is a sickness that doesn't involve the stomach. 

I am thanking God for this and for the fact that I know, in a few days, all will be well. I pray and offer my little sacrifices for the mama's and kids who don't have the comfort of assured recovery and minor symptoms. 

Sore throats can be a little difficult to treat (who wants to swallow ANYTHING when your throat hurts) but, so far they have been short lived and have allowed just enough energy for listening to stories, watching and playing on the iPad (kids have it so easy these days!) and quiet play. 

I thought of the poem by Robert Louis Stevenson when I saw this scene yesterday. 

The Land of Counterpane
WHEN I was sick and lay a-bed, 
I had two pillows at my head, 
And all my toys beside me lay 
To keep me happy all the day. 
And sometimes for an hour or so         5
I watched my leaden soldiers go, 
With different uniforms and drills, 
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills; 
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets 
All up and down among the sheets;  10
Or brought my trees and houses out, 
And planted cities all about. 
I was the giant great and still 
That sits upon the pillow-hill, 
And sees before him, dale and plain,  15
The pleasant land of counterpane. 

Watch for more this week about our last Sacramental Prep meeting this past weekend and about my changed opinion of soccer. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Missing Babies

I had no intention of writing about this today. I have other things ready to go...but they will wait till tomorrow. I have to fill 7 days after all.

But today a friend on Facebook shared a blog post by a blogger I have never read before. It was a challenge to the pro-life world to be consistent. We are very clear about the reality of abortion at any time--it is the loss of a person, a person the world will never know, a person who could have been the next (fill in the blank famous important person to the world).

But when a mother loses a baby through miscarriage it seems we suddenly forget all of that. We are supposed to move on, hope for the best in our next attempt to grow our family. Read Rachel's blog post and I think you will recognize some of the sincerely misguided sentiments.

I have been guilty of telling MYSELF some of the things she mentions!

But, I don't write today to accuse anyone (not even myself). Nor do I write today to ask for sympathy. I write today to acknowledge the six little persons we never held. To acknowledge their eternal souls. To acknowledge the pain of the "what if's".

To acknowledge their dignity. And mourn our loss.

[NOTE We named our babies with hyphenated names because we weren't sure whether they were boys or girls, and because they sound like religious names. Their names also have a connection to a feast day or a special devotion, or the relationship of the two saints.]

Benedict-Scholastica d.2003 who is the sibling between M and D. Named after the Holy Twins to whom we have a special devotion.

Joseph-Mary d.2005 who is the sibling between D and A. Named after the Holy Family.

And the little ones:
Dominic-Maria,  d.2008. Named for a favorite saint and his special devotion to the Blessed Mother, as well as our special relationship with the Dominican Order throughout our lives.

Francis-Clare d. late 2008 Named for the two holy friends from Assisi.

Daniel-Marrianna d. 2009 Named after the patron (St Daniel Comboni) of an order of missionaries who spoke at our church on the day we found out we lost our baby. And also for the Blessed Mother and her Mama.

Zachariah-Elizabeth d. Advent 2009 Named after the husband and wife who conceived so late in life.

May the rest in the arms of Jesus.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

7 Posts in 7 Days

Starting Monday
February 24- March 2
Joining in? Visit Jen to add your link to make it official.

*I freely admit that I shamelessly stole the above words and picture right off of my friend Mary's blog, though the picture comes from Jen's blog. I hereby promise to be more original with my upcoming 7 posts. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Let's Just Stop Catechizing Children!"

In Part 1 of my series of rants and ramblings on the state of religious education in the Catholic Church in America, I confessed where I was coming from and tried to explain my negative attitude while at the same time not making people in the official trenches feel hopeless. I hope I accomplished that. I also noted that I WAS in the trenches myself, and that my husband and I are catechizing our little corner of the parish the way the Church meant them to be catechized. In the home. 

So now I want to turn to what I think is actually happening in the parishes, based on my reading and observation, and maybe get to some ideas of what we might do better…or stop doing…or do over. We’ll see…

For the past 30 years at least, the way faith formation appears to work in the average parish is that we spend most of our time and resources on gathering children, as early as possible, into groups and catechizing them according to the general developmental state of that age group. Most parishes in this country use the model of the average American school, plugging in the Sacraments to the general age level that the diocese suggests: baptism = infant; Confession and Eucharist = Second Grade; Confirmation = all over the map but usually high school. Add to these programs Youth Ministry (which may be more catechetical than social, or not). 

If you look at an average Sunday bulletin, the majority of information, especially in the fall and spring, are about faith formation of children and School news. Next, we usually have all the parish ministries: lectoring, choir, social justice, pro-life ministries (which isn't always grouped in with social justice) and fellowship (I am sure there are others I am forgetting). 

We happen to be a part of a parish that has lots of opportunities for Adult faith formation, but for many parishes the least amount of time and resources appears to go to Adult education in the form of RCIA, marriage preparation, other marriage help (marriage encounter, Retrovaile). 

I decided to search out some statistics to see how this structure is working for the Church. According to statistics I found (which seem to ring true with my experience in parishes) more than half of the parishioners are not involved in any of these activities and this particular survey says that 14% are involved in "education or evangelism". I am assuming that this statistic applies mostly to people who are doing the educating and evaligizing, not receiving it. 

I also found a study quoted in this article which says that in the space of ten years there has been a 42% drop in infant baptisms, a 51% drop in adult baptism and a 45% drop in Catholic marriages. Other studies confirmed that somewhere between First Communion Preparation and Confirmation Preparation there is some drop off in attendance. And by the time those Confirmed kids get to college 85% of them have stopped going to Sunday Mass (according to the FOCUS website)

The book I reviewed last month confirmed this grim picture and especially focused on the fact that only a small percentage of those people involved in their parish life are what the author called “intentional disciples”. 

So why is this? I am sure much of it is due to the surrounding culture. Not only do we encounter immorality on TV, in popular movies and music, but we also encounter an attitude that denies objective truth and transcendent realities. The modern mind believes nothing really MEANS anything so you are free to make your own meaning. 

You could also argue that the content of our catechesis is anemic. That was certainly the case when I was growing up (though my elementary school was an exception). But, I think we have greatly improved that situation over the past 20 years. It’s not perfect, but textbooks and catechist training has greatly improved from the hippie peace, love and macramĂ© days. 

So why are things so much worse? I would argue that the real problem is in THE WAY WE CATECHIZE. I mean the STRUCTURES used at the parish level (and driven by the diocese) to pass the Faith on to each generation. 

To begin with, we think too linearly (is that even a word?). We think we need to start with the youngest and move through the ages up to adult. If we get them when they are young, as the adage goes, we will make faithful grownups. Kinda like school. 
In a nutshell, the current model looks something like this (for the moment, I will leave aside the Catholic school aspect): 
Step 1: A child is brought for baptism and parents take a brief course/rehearsal 
Step 2: A certain percentage of those parents bring the child back at about age 6 or 7 and child is put in grade level class. They pass through a class or two and receive Eucharist and Confession. Some continue for awhile after that if there is time in the child's schedule and parent doesn't have to fight too hard to get them there.
Step 3: A certain percent of the parents who went through step 2 bring their child back in time to get Confirmation. A small percentage of those kids get involved in some youth program until High School gets too busy. 
Step 4: A HUGE percentage of the kids confirmed go to college and stop practicing their faith. 
Step 5: A fraction come back and want to get married in the church. 
Step 6: A smaller fraction of that group begin step 1 again. 

This is what the numbers show. We are no longer spinning our wheels. We are sliding backwards. 

This structure is based on the assumption that the best place to catechize the next generation is in the parish hall. And if we only had better textbooks, and thoroughly trained catechists we could transform the parish. 

And parents get this idea that it’s the job of the experts in the parish office to catechize their kids and get them ready for the sacraments. They treat the parish Faith Formation office like a school. “I hand my kids over to you and you educate them. It is my job to get them there and help them with their homework and support the school as much as I can. It is your job to do the rest.”

The problem is that the Faith is not passed on this way. Especially not to children. You don’t become an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ without a personal connection to someone who loves Him and has earned your respect. For children that is primarily their parents. 

So, I propose we need to look at the this completely differently. Parents are so crucial to the faith of the child, but we practically ignore them, especially for those early years when they are meant to be laying the foundation of faith for their young children. 

Here are my ideas: 

Focus on the core, what Blessed John Paul II called “the primordial sacrament”, marriage. The family. The parish is made up of families (not just parents with kids, but marriages without children, and adults in post-marriage (widowed), pre-marriage (single looking to marriage), broken marriage (divorced separated), or those called minister to all the others (discerning vocations, single for life, etc.). If the sacrament of marriage, as foundation of the family, is at the center then everything radiates out from there. 

One way to do this is to take advantage of threshold moments by making personal connections and providing support, social contexts and educational opportunities. 

Threshold moment #1 is the Sacrament of Matrimony. Getting married in the Catholic Church is like making a public declaration of faith in God and the intention to follow Him and His Church.* Lets take them at their word and help them make real connections to their parish. I am thinking of mentoring families (many parishes use this idea for marriage prep, so how can that carry over to the first years of marriage as well), retreats meant for newlyweds, learning opportunities, personal invitations to Mass and other liturgical events. 

Threshold moment #2 is the Sacrament of Baptism. When a couple bring their baby for baptism they are making a commitment, again, to the Catholic Faith. Lets take them at their word and begin immediately to prepare them to bring their baby to Faith. I am thinking connecting them again with mentor families, helping them to form personal, long lasting relationships with other families. Maybe classes in child development from a faith perspective. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd comes to mind as well. 

Threshold moment #3 First Sacraments. If we have done a good job with the first two thresholds, we should have many more families ready to take this on. Those that haven’t been tuned in for the first years of their child’s life will get the idea quickly that it is their job to pass the Faith on to their child. We just need to help THEM do it. 

I know that most parishes really strive to make the parish a “family friendly” place, but I think they often miss the mark. Imagine if more parishes had frequent celebrations of the feasts and seasons of the year that were both liturgical and social, but less about entertaining kids or raising money for the school. What if every parish had a big celebration on the feast of their name saint that included a liturgy (Mass, processions, singing and decorations) as well as lots of great food (with fun connections to the saint or his life) and some entertainment for all ages (music, a play about the life of the saint)? What if other major feasts were treated in the same way—again, less about raising money and kiddie fun and more about real interaction between the grownups in the parish. 

As you can tell, I am in agreement with Joann McPortland over at Patheos when she said "Let's stop catechizing children." Of course I am in favor of children BEING catechized (as is Joann), but the current school-like format that completely absorbs all the parish funds and energies is NOT working. We need to focus on the grown-ups. 

* I have a mental blog post about this. It is tentatively called What if Getting Married in the Catholic Church was Like Joining the Marines. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Lenten Journal for You

Today I offer a little plug for a great product from a wonderful group of people for whom I once had the pleasure to work. 

There is a new, very important website with lots of great new products for all who want to raise intentional disciples of Jesus Christ (and be one themselves).

It is called Education in Virtue and is brought to you by my good friends the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. 

The particular product that I am plugging today (like that alliteration?) is so brand spanking new that they are taking PRE-ORDERS!

It is a Lenten Journal (see a sample here) and it is meant "to help you prepare a ‘fitness’ plan for the heart in order to grow closer to our Loving God. "

Sounds good to me! I pre-ordered mine today and I had a question which was immediately answered (like within 15 minutes of sending the email) and then a second email after a response to the first (again, sent very quickly) I am told that I will be informed when the journal was ready to ship. Can't wait!!

I ordered 4 at $7 a piece, but haven't been asked to pay yet. They just need to get an idea of the number for the printing. 

We also own the Family Starter Kit of the virtue materials and are working on Orderliness. So far, the kids have added making their beds first thing in the morning to their list of good daily habits. Yea!!

NOTE: stay tuned for part 2 of my rantings and ramblings on the subject of religious education!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Confessions of a Catechist (Part 1)

NOTE: I wrote this a few months ago, but it sat on my computer because I wasn't sure if it was relevant. But then a firestorm was lit over at Patheos about religious education and I got my courage. This is only a part of what I wrote and it is still long. Sorry. For a list of all of the Patheos blog posts about this subject look at this post and the links at the end of it

I hated barbies. 
But I loved baby dolls and playing school. 
I always wanted to be a teacher.

Of course, I always wanted to be a mom too, but being a teacher was more in my control. 

So, in about my second or third year at Long Beach State I set out  to be a teacher. It worked well for me because I could basically continue my eclectic choice of classes, get a degree in "general education" and then get my teaching credential. 

My first job was as a third grade teacher in a public school. One of the big truths I learned about my role as a teacher was taught to me during my first set of parent teacher conferences in that third grade classroom. Each child in my class, with their strengths and weaknesses (as well as I could see them), their attitudes towards learning and towards me, was clearly a reflection of their parents. Each kid began to make sense when I met mom and dad. I learned that I could not overcome any learning difficulties without the super involved help of mom and dad, and I was not in any real way responsible for the learning success of my students. 

The public school experience lasted three years, then I decided to follow my new found interest in my Faith and teach at a Catholic School. There I taught second grade, which meant preparation for First Holy Communion. It was the early nineties.

This is when I first encountered the situation in parish catechesis. I had to work with the DRE (didn't even know what that meant at the time--Director of Religious Education) for the Parish. My first big battles were over Communion in the hand and the song every kid in the parish sang at their First Holy Communion. 

First, I had a student, a boy, who was known by all to be, shall we say, active. His mother felt that he would struggle to receive reverently if he was to receive in the hand. She wanted him to receive on the tongue. Final "ruling": for the sake of conformity at the First Communion ceremony, he would receive in the hand. Then he "had a choice after that". I did not agree but it wasn't my decision to make. 

Second battle: The song sung at the First Communion Mass was some song about peace that never mentioned God, let alone the Eucharist. It was a nice song, I guess. But not, in my opinion, appropriate for First Holy Communion. So, I found a song that went like this: 

I love you Jesus
And I lift my voice
To Worship you,
O my Soul, Rejoice
Take Joy, My King
In What you Hear
May it be a sweet, sweet, sound
In Your ear. 

(not sure where I found it and I have never heard it outside that school or my home-my kids sing that song each night as part of their bed time prayers.)

I lobbied for it and it was changed. At least as long as I was there. 

My experience at the Catholic School showed me that the Faith was not being passed on very well and I thought that clearer, more faithful textbooks were the answer. 

So I left my teaching job and headed east to Stuebenville, Ohio to get my Master's Degree in Catholic Theology and certification in Catechetics and, so I thought, to write textbooks.

There I learned my Faith the way I probably should have before I graduated from 12 years of Catholic school. With an MA hanging on my wall, I basically had an adult level understanding of the Faith. 

My teaching experience along with my catechetics training made me a perfect candidate to teach methods courses. For a year I taught undergraduate religious education majors the methods of passing on the faith. Most of these students would go into youth ministry or some sort of parish catechesis. Some would be Catholic school teachers. I really have no idea how much my teaching helped these young people since I had very little contact with anyone after that year. But I do know (from talking to my fellow graduates) that many of them would go out into parishes and feel very isolated and alone in their adherence to the Faith.

From there I went to a job as a DRE for some small Catholic Schools in another state. I was responsible for training the teachers and for helping to integrate the Faith into the daily life of the schools. 

I know we did some really good work while I was there. We came up with a written curriculum plan (I have quite a few copies left if anyone is interested) and we designed our own plan for training the teachers as catechists. Many of the teachers had very little training in teaching the Faith, their focus and experience had been teaching all the other subjects. So we had to bring their knowledge of the Faith up to at least the grade level they were teaching, with hopes of taking it further. And we had to help them distinguish between a subject that was purely academic (math, science, etc) and one that was meant to transform the learner into a true Disciple of Christ. But so many of them, like the catchists in our parishes, had been virtually unchatechized since their own sacramental preparation as a child, and did not truly understand discipleship. They were sincere in their desire to pass on the Faith, but wholly unprepared to do so. 

Over the years between getting my M.A. and being a DRE I had also done some teacher training at the diocesan level, and there I ran into a larger number of people whose real issue was not bringing Christ to the kids in their class, but their own problems with Church teaching. I often felt myself in a hostile environment, not because of the teaching methods I was passing on to them, but because of the content of the Faith they were meant to pass on.

I remember my catechectics professor saying that anyone under the age of 50 had to be entirely re-catechized. That was 15 years ago. I doubt we have successfully recatechized any significant number. 

If I sound negative, I don't mean to be. I really try to be hopeful, especially about the Church. And I was hopeful then-- excited, in love with the idea of really transforming catechesis and lighting a fire in the heart of children and their teachers.  

But I also knew what any savvy catechist knows--if the parents are not actively supporting what you are doing, you are fighting a losing battle. 

I began to see in retrospect that the only really reliable way to pass on the Faith was through the family. We succeeded in the school a little more than the parish faith formation programs simply because of time. It was a mathematical equation. 30 hours a week (in school) could not entirely counteract 168 hours (at home). It might influence it, though. Certainly, 2 hours a week (in parish religious ed) could rarely do either. Even a great parish faith formation program or a great Catholic school is a supplement. 

After I left my job at the Catholic school to get married and have children, I still had my hand in professional catechesis (not necessarily paid, just me going out and speaking or writing because I have training that other people want to legitimately tap into). I did some talks for volunteer parish catechists and a little bit of writing. 

Wherever I went, though, I ran into catechists who struggled with feelings of uselessness and hopelessness. They knew that very few of their students had the support at home to grow in their faith, and that those that did would probably be doing just as well without the CCE class--not that they didn't enjoy it, just that the family life of some was supportive in such a way as to make a 2 hour weekly class practically unnecessary. 

By the time my kids were born I had a very strong aversion to spending my time this way. I wondered why I would want to sacrifice time with my kids to plan and deliver a talk on catechetics to an audience that was either mostly un-interested (if not hostile) OR to folks that were fighting a losing battle in the trenches of parish faith formation? I thought "Sure, I could give them some hope, but someone else without small children could do that just as easily". 

So, for the past decade I have been focused on catechizing my own children. 

And for a long time now, I have had a sinking feeling in my gut that we are fooling ourselves about the success of our programs of catechesis. Now I am trying to be realistic about this one part of the institutional Church (catechetical programs) at this point in time.  

To be clear, I am not without hope. There are many things for which we can rejoice in the Church today. For example, there is a resurgence of religious vocations in some sectors. The Sisters that run the schools that I used to work for are a perfect example. Also, more and more lay folks are producing more and more great materials to facilitate conversion and help people know and understand the teachings of the Church. Perhaps this is why it is so frustrating to watch the institutional Church…the official Catholic bureaucracy...spin their wheels with the same approaches to evangelization and catechesis. 

I have had to really examine this gut feeling of the futility of the vast majority of faith formation programs. I don't like to offend people, I don't want to make someone feel hopeless about their work as a catechist. I don't want to discourage those who so generously give of their time. For me, this is not about the people who catechize; it is not about the content or in-class methodology (though those may need tons of improvement). It is about structures, "programs", bureaucracy, policies. 

In examining my thoughts and feelings about Parish catechesis programs I began to wonder about the thoughts of my former colleagues “in the trenches”. And that led me to the book I reviewed last month. But in the process of that survey of current thoughts on the subject, I began to realize that far from being “out" of the trenches for the past decade, I have been truly IN THE TRENCHES. We, my husband and I, have been experiencing catechesis of children in the way that the Church intends its. 

In the Rite of Baptism for infants, the Church has some strong words for parents: 
You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

On your part, you must make it your constant care to bring him (her) up in the practice of the faith. See that the divine life which God gives him (her) is kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in his (her) heart.

[Parents] will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachersbearing witness to the faith by what they say and do 

And so we have taken our three baptized babies and made it our constant care to bring them up in the practice of the faith, guarding and growing the divine life that we ASKED the Church to instill in their souls. 

I am not claiming we have done it all right. Our kids are not saints yet, but then again neither are we. But we are working it out, in fear and trembling. And we have learned some things about bringing children to Faith. 

We have learned that we do not APPLY faith to our children like sunscreen, it is God Who moves in them. 
Our job is to help them see that God is moving in them. 
Our job is to bring them into HIs presence as often as possible (Mass, Adoration, Confession, prayer at home, recollecting Christ throughout the day, living the liturgical year)
And our job is to help them understand Who He is, why He created them and what He wants from them. In short, how to be truly happy in this life, and the next. 

None of this takes a Master's Degree in Theology or training as a catechist to do. All that does is sometimes help to answer questions without having to look them up first...sometimes. Rather, it is done through love (no one loves our kids more than we do) and grace (no one else has the grace of a sacrament--Matrimony--to help them raise our children).

Frankly, no one else is better at training our children in the practice of the Faith. 
No one but my husband and I. 

Not the RE teacher, not the DRE, not Sister Mary Wonderful, not the Pastor. 

Not even Pope Francis. 

Not even St. Francis.