Advanced Catechism & New Evangelization

A reference page for Catechists, New Evangelization lecturers and their students alike


 
So, you are a Catechist or an Evangelization lecturer and would like to get more ideas about how to make your lectures and presentations captivating and interesting, but most importantly, informative and effective? You are at the right place!

In catechesis in order to make our teaching worthwhile, our ultimate goal should be our students' spiritual growth. That inevitably is tied to their understanding of historical facts being linked to our second, higher spiritual existence. In addition, the history itself also needs to be linked to the reality of our present physical world. This last point is especially important for younger students, children with little life experience. Due to the lack of their life experience they need reference to something concrete, something they know and they can relate to. The Books of Bible provide the historical background quite well provided we interpret them in the right context. However the challenge of relating scriptures to this physical world is ours - the teachers'.


Before we begin let me share with you my experience in teaching young people (primarily ages 10-14). We call them kids, right? But in fact they are young men and women sitting in my classroom eager to learn something cool. So here I am, having an unique opportunity to either captivate them, making their going to church for catechetical classes and their learning experience worthwhile and actually having them to look forward to be there with me next lecture because they know they would learn something new and interesting, or I can completely discourage them, bore them to death so that they can not wait to finally receive their Sacrament of Confirmation so that "they can get out of this place" and then we will never see them in the church again. Regrettably, in Catholic churches the second scenario is more prevalent. Young children are more forgiving in that regard as their thinking still operates at the level of concrete operations (see box below). Older children (youth 11 years and older) become particularly sensitive to teaching methodology as their thinking begins switching to formal operations mode and this is where we start loosing them. It does not have to be that way though. Here, I provide the receipe for the implementation of the New Evangelization methodology into your weekly catechetical classes so that "kids" will enjoy them and will start absorbing the material deeply into their hearts (the goal of spiritual formation).
 

Child development and faith education


Child psychology research has demonstrated that young human brain undergoes a number of stages of development and remodeling, and that middle childhood is particularly important for the child’s intellectual and cognitive changes taking place. Rapid changes take place especially in the prefrontal cortex - an area responsible for reasoning, planning, decision-making and abstract and hypothetical thought. These changes take place through the process of  neuron “pruning”, where unused synapses degenerate and new synapses form. Also an increase in myelination of neurons takes place (see Schonert-Reichl 2011, pp 13-14). According to Piaget’s Theory (Piaget, 1972) critical transition between “Concrete Operations” and the “Formal Operations” (brought about by the brain remodeling mentioned above) occur just around the age of 11 and reaches its conclusion between ages 15-20 (Pearson, Chapter 8, Adolescence, section 2, pp 355-356). However, we also know that individual differences exist due to genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors influencing child’s development and that child’s age is a poor predictor of his/her maturity (Denny, 2005; Pearson, Chapter 8, Adolescence, section 2, pp 355-356).

From the theological perspective God is an abstract entity. Faith can only be instilled by the revelation of facts and by drawing to the children a clear connection between such facts and events taking place in their lives. According to Piaget's Theory in religious education one can expect not very apparent split in children’s cognitive development somewhere at the transition between their early childhood (Concrete Operations) and middle childhood/early adolescence (Formal Operations). Until this point faith is transmitted predominantly by family tradition with little understanding on the child’s part. From then on however, children become independent abstract thinkers and start looking for answers to their own questions. Therefore deep faith transmission can effectively be accomplished only at the stage of Formal Operations (middle childhood rather than early childhood, i.e. age 11 [or maturity equivalent to that age] and older) since it is only at this stage that children's hypothetical-deductive reasoning has reached its capacity for abstract thought. It follows that in our religious education (in case of North American programs using Faith First or Be My Disciples) it is only the grade 5 and grade 6 that are the most productive stages of child’s cognitive/social development for accommodation of faith. Stopping our faith formation just at, or before this critical border line of child's capacity for abstract thought weakens our previous faith education efforts substantially as the child’s comprehension during its early faith formation was substantially reduced. In Jesus’ terms analogy it can be compared to spreading the seeds of faith in the winter when the otherwise fertile soil is still frozen so that the seeds can not sprout and become totally wasted.
 

References

Denny, M. 2005. Taming the Wild Cloverbud. 4-H Cloverbud Program guidlines, New Mexico State University.

PEARSON, Chapter 8, Adolescence, section 2, pp 355-356 
http://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/hip/us/hip_us_pearsonhighered/samplechapter/020559526X.pdf

Piaget, J. 1972. Intellectual Evolution from Adolescence to Adulthood. Human Development 15:1-12

Schonert-Reichl, K.A., 2011. Middle Childhood inside and out: The psychological and social worlds of Canadian children ages 9-12, Full Report. Report for the United Way of the Lower Mainland. Vancouver: University of British Columbia 
http://earlylearning.ubc.ca/media/publications/uwlm_middle_childhood_full_report_2011.pdf
 


Children and youth:


See the on line Grade 5 lectures outline together with the linked class notes for reference. My lectures posted here are based on the Catholic Church's Faith First and Be My Disciples programs for Grade 5 students (mostly children 10-13). As you will see from my posted lecture notes, my lectures go much, much deeper into spirituality than their books do and I endeavor making a direct link between the Faith First/Be My Disciples teaching, spirituality and reality of the present life. This is what for my students makes the difference between boredom and worthwhile experience. This is accomplished, among other things, by supplementing my lectures with real life scenario clips and movies with religious and morality themes. Kids absolutely love them! Of course, the films must be accompanied by an in-depth narrated discussion else the pedagogical value would be lost. My course is structured with more mature audience in mind and since it covers historical and spiritual facts which are universal, with minor adaptation this course can be extended to post-confirmation evangelization lectures for youth and adults as well. 

It was not long, after I began teaching, before I realized the shortcomings of the Faith First, and later the Be My Disciples design. The material in both books was scattered all over the place and the course lacked organized flow. The didactic was compromised until I reorganized the topics placing them in order so as to improve the flow (see the outline). The Faith First and Be My Disciples provide you with the raw material - the bricks and mortar. You, the teacher must use them to build the house - faith of your students. Of course, in order to build the house you must have the plans - the Holy Spirit. Rergrettably, during my teaching career I have seen many, many senior Catholic catechists actively "building their houses" without plans. The outcome was already mentioned earlier. After I got the flow of topics in order so that it made much more sense I began expanding and deepening the contents of both programs to encompass as much spirituality as I could. This can be accomplished well without compromising the doctrines of the Church. My studens provided me with a positive feedback Suddenly among the kids I observed much more interaction and their interest was rising. Then I began adding movie clips to make the point. This was a winner. Finally, we also began incorporating a number of movies and made them compulsory part of our curriculum at St. Malachy's. Our enrollment to Sunday School began skyrocketing.

There is a number of worthwhile films around that can, and should be presented to your audience. The Faith First and Be My Disciples hopelessly lack any reference to the active presence of Christ and Mary around us. Therefore for our children, first we included movies about apparitions of Mary to later day visionaries and prophets. It is not by coincidence that Mary and Our Lord choose appearing to young women and children. This worked for us, as our young students can relate to the stories of these young saints better. Suddenly our kids began to see for themselves, "hey, this is real stuff!" and their faith began to deepen. When we start discussing morality in the second half of the course, a film still with a religious theme but with a serious moral message is called for. At St. Malachy's we opted for the following content:
 

Level Movie, fall semester Movie, spring semester
Grade 4 Miracle of Fatima
Grade 5 Song of Bernadette The Mission
Grade 6 Quo Vadis Joan of Arc

All these films were carefully selected to give our students the lacking historical perspective of Christianity while fitting the spiritual and moral message expected from the Sunday School program according the priciples mentioned earlier in my introduction.

The concept of New Evangelization is not new. Since Vatican II, Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have used the term "new evangelization" to refer to the unique situation that the Catholic Church is in today. In the 80s Pope John Paul II called for new ardor, new expressions and new methods to reach out to an increasingly secular culture. New Evangelization was to encourage Catholics preaching the Gospel to the world using inovative means and approaches. Besides the very existence of this particular web site for example, a second good example I can share with you is from my teaching experience. It is about teaching our children to pray Rosary. Rosary is a relatively long contemplative prayer. Many of our students, especially those coming from families relatively lukewarm to the faith had difficulties with this prayer. Even the students who knew how to recite this prayer relatively well did not understand the meaning of the individual mysteries. They did know to say "the fourth joyful mystery is the presentation of Jesus in the temple", but they had no clue what that means! One way for me getting the message across was showing them clips about the presentation of baby Jesus in the temple taken from historical films about the life of Christ. Now, when my kids saw it with their own very eyes, they will always know, and never forget. This method worked extremely well.
 

Catechism for children and youth:

On line course

Evangelization for youth and adults:

On line seminar


FCMM Spiritual Renewal Index | Catechism Grades 5 & 6 | New Evangelization Seminar Series | Mary's Corner

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