Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: New Year, New Class, Same Me

We're back in session! This year it's different: we have a curriculum with student workbooks and a teacher's manual and a separate confirmation curriculum with its own workbooks and manuals and journals. Classes are held to about 15 students, and I have an adult assistant with me. You happy now, MrsDarwin? You happy?

Well, I am glad. We're now required to submit lesson plans to the office a week before class, which does insure that I get planning done. And there are two other Confirmation classes, taught by good people I know, so we can coordinate and bounce ideas off of each other.

And so, with all this support, plus a lesson plan, plus a teacher's manual that almost has things scripted out, I had my students open their books to the first page of the first chapter, which discusses, amid graphics and text boxes, how St. Peter gave up everything to follow Christ, and how we were going to talk about the founding of the Church...

...and blanked. I stared at that page, and I had absolutely no words to say about it. I sat for about seven seconds, with almost no brain activity -- SEVEN SECONDS of dead air, count it out for yourself -- and thought, "Screw it." I knew that two pages further on, there was a brief summary of the themes of the Our Father, and I knew I could talk about that.

"Guys, let's flip over to page 5," I said. And for the next 40 minutes we went through the Our Father line by line, and God be praised, I did not freeze.

(When I say "we talked", I mean that I talked. My group of kids is not bad, or rude, or mouthy. They are silent. It is pulling teeth to get them to talk at all. I think that they'd rather have teeth pulled than volunteer an observation. It is what it is -- and it's okay if they feel like they don't know what to say. They're in class to learn, after all.)

(And as always, this is what I can dredge from my memory after the fact. Some sections feel more abbreviated than they were in class because I can't remember exactly what I said, or how I arrived at this point from that point. Caveat lector.)


Our Father: some of you have really excellent fathers, and some of you might have fathers that are not so great (no hands, please!), but all fathers have some kind of flaw. God is the model for every father, and he fulfills all the needs that your earthly father can't. In telling us to call him father, he's calling us his children. My little baby toddles up to his dad with his arms up and a big smile, saying, "Da! Da!" We're called to have that kind of love and trust in God our Father.

Who art in heaven: Earth is not all there is. Everyone knows that longing for something bigger, something better, something that's coming. You're at the age where you really feel that, the yearning for something. St. Augustine says, "Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you." Heaven is our ultimate goal, and everything we do here on this Earth should be preparing us for heaven and for eternal life with God.

Hallowed be thy name: Anyone know the second commandment? "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Do you know anyone who takes God's name in vain? Do you do it yourself? (No hands!) God is holy, set apart, perfect.  When you use his name as an oath, do you think he doesn't hear you? "I swear to God..." Do you really? Do you want God witnessing this statement? We are called to treat God's name as holy, and to remember his perfect holiness, and to live in holiness ourselves.

Thy kingdom come: I asked whether Jesus had come to set up an earthly kingdom, and had one fellow volunteer that the church had once ruled on earth. So I talked about the dangers of the Church as an earthly kingdom, and said that anyway, when Jesus is first preaching the gospel, he says, "The kingdom of God is at hand." So where was it then, before the Church? God works in our soul and sets up his kingdom there, and that means that it can never be conquered. No matter what kind of earthly government you live under -- Roman occupation, Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, a democratic republic, a banana republic -- the kingdom of God is within you and cannot be taken from you.

Thy will be done: How can we even know God's will, anyway? How do we know what he asks of us? Jesus promised: I will not leave you orphans. God doesn't abandon us or make it impossible to know how we should live. He gives us laws and instructions, not because he is domineering or cruel but so that we can know what he wants. What is one of God's laws? Can anyone name something Jesus asked of us? Okay, how about the ten commandments? Anyone know one of those? Thou shalt not... steal, yes, thank you. Why does God command us not to steal? Because he likes to order us around and tell us what to do? Here's a story: a few years ago someone broke my husband's car window and stole his work backpack. What did the thief get? A work laptop that couldn't be unlocked, and three notebooks with several years' worth of research in them. Those notebooks were worthless to a thief, just a few hundred sheets of paper. To my husband, they were irreplaceable. When the thief stole them, he not only stole the physical property, but my husband's time and memories. There is no way to make amends for that. We often cannot fully repair the harm done by our sins. The wounds are too big for even an apology to cover. That's why God gives us laws. They help us, not just to not do bad things, but to begin to live as God wants us to, in love -- to be like him.

On earth as it is in heaven: I let this one pass because we already talked about heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread: We are not just souls trapped in a body. Our body and soul are intimately connected, so that what we do with one resonates in the other. What happens when you're hungry? You get hangry, cranky, your temper gets short, you lash out at other people, you might be tempted to steal. What we do with our bodies matter, and how we treat our own, and other people's bodies, matters. Your body is not just for use. Other people's bodies aren't just for use. You deserve always to be treated with dignity and respect, and you have an obligation to treat others that way. We ask for our physical needs to be met, and we try to meet others' physical needs. Have you contributed to a food drive? Bought school supplies for someone in need? Donated clothing? You're helping others. God cares about our bodies, and he wants us to ask for what we need.

And forgive us our trespasses: Jesus will never refuse us his mercy -- he wants to grant us mercy far more than we want to receive it. But we must ask for it, because asking for forgiveness and mercy means acknowledging our guilt. We don't get far without admitting that we're sinners, that we break things that we can't fix, that we hurt people willfully, and that we need God's mercy because only he is able to fully heal the wounds of sin.

As we forgive those who trespass against us: God's extending his mercy to us means that we don't get to hold grudges. It's said that we only love God as much as we love the person we love the least. That's a scary thought! But note that our forgiveness is linked to God's forgiveness -- we're not always humanly capable of extending forgiveness, so we tap into God's great ocean of mercy. All forgiveness comes from him.

And lead us not into evil: There were things I should have said about this, but most of them didn't occur to me until just now. And that was okay, because I'd filled my time and was able to spend the few remaining class moments covering some other things we needed to talk about, such as Pentecost and the Holy Spirit and the church.

Pentecost: Was everyone here baptized as an infant? No? Do you remember your baptism? A little? We've all been baptized and brought into God's family. So why do we need confirmation? Wasn't baptism good enough?

What happened after Jesus rose from the dead? He visits the apostles, shows them his hands and feet and his glorified body. They knew about crucifixion. It's an evil way to die, designed to cause suffering. And here they see him risen from the dead. And not just them -- Jesus appeared to many people after he was risen. He stayed with the apostles and taught them and strengthened them.

So what happened after Jesus left them and ascended back to heaven? Did they go right out and evangelize and teach and preach? No, they were cowering locked in a room. Even seeing God risen from the dead wasn't enough for them. They needed the Holy Spirit before they were even able to go out of that room. They could not start the Church on their own. Their human strength wasn't enough.

(Here I tried a slightly theological explanation of the Trinity, as opposed to the shamrock version, but I don't know how it went over, or if it was absorbed at all.)

The Spirit came to give his gifts to the church as a whole. In confirmation, you receive the spirit individually. Your own unique talents and gifts -- you as a completely unique person, never before seen and never to be replicated -- are revealed and strengthened and sealed in the Spirit.


Antoinette said...

An excellent explanation of the Our Father making it relevant with examples they can relate to.

mandamum said...

So here's one of the awesome things about our confirmation prep (that I am experiencing only as a parent at this time): Our Archdiocese insists on 2 yrs of prep. So we have 2 yrs of prep in our parish. We're new to this area, so I assumed naively that the reason the 1st year prep (last year) started in January was because we were actually getting more like 1 1/2 yrs prep, to spread the (packaged) materials out properly. OK. But this fall, when it came time to register, I discovered that they had *FALL* classes and *SPRING* classes, each only a semester in length, because they have TOO MANY PEOPLE and not enough space/manpower to run the classes all year. So we are getting, not 2 yrs prep, but 1 yr prep SPREAD OVER 2 YEARS!!! Solely in order to meet the ArchD requirement, I think. Now, I'm not sad to have fewer classes to shuttle my homeschooled (in a private school "in the Catholic tradition") teen to, but GOOD GRIEF! She should have been allowed to get confirmed last Spring, instead of being forced to tick multiple school-year boxes as part of her prep in order to make some bureaucrat happy.

(NB: My confirmation-class child appreciates your class summary posts - thanks for taking on one more student without realizing it :) )

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Banshee said...

Argh. I will never stop being annoyed about the violations and almost-violations of sacramental rights, that seem so prevalent in the US Church. It just happens so many bad ways!

Re: blanking out, have you considered taking Vitamins D and B12? You're getting older and you're a woman, and that means your body is less efficient at processing vitamins from food (and sunlight, in D's case). You might need more than is provided in your multivitamin.

B12 also has a tendency to be destroyed in the stomach, so you will see "sublingual" pills in the vitamin aisle. Sublingual pills are fast-acting too, because they are absorbed into the bloodstream.

The caveat is that you have to balance getting more D and B12 with getting more potassium, etc. in your diet, because they like to use potassium. Also, if you really go whole hog on B12, it increases your amount of bloodmaking and thus your blood volume. And that can mean high blood pressure readings! So be cautious; but the right vitamins do help us ladies get more energy and verve!