Practical Strategies for Working with “Life in Abundance: Celebrating the Year of Faith”

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by Kate Ristow



(2012-2013 Catechist Formation Series)

See the end of this article for an idea to help students discover what Scripture says about faith.

The University of Dayton Catechist Formation Series in association with CATECHIST magazine titled “Life in Abundance: Celebrating the Year of Faith” was the perfect backdrop for entering into the thirteen-month celebration of the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI (October 2012 to November 2013). The Year of Faith has two major goals: renewing or deepening our faith commitment to Jesus and sharing our faith with others.

Reading the articles in this series will help you discover suggestions for personal formation and activities that can be used with your class during this special time. Additionally, you can use the following highlights from each article to emphasize the major themes of the Year of Faith.

A Lifelong Journey

Sister Janet Schaeffler’s article in the September 2012 issue titled “Faith: A Journey that Lasts a Lifetime” examines the three dimensions of faith: intellectual, relational, and active faith (go to, Article Archive, and search KEYWORDS a journey that lasts a lifetime and AUTHOR Schaeffler). Sister notes that all three dimensions are necessary for our faith journey. As important as it is for us to know the truths of our faith, we must also practice, live, and celebrate it with others.

Activity: Invite students to share an experience in which they worked with a community—for example, members of the family or classmates—to serve others. Help students appreciate that these are communal (relational) experiences in which they put into practice (active faith) the teachings of the Church (intellectual faith).

Activity: Have intermediate and junior high students read and reflect on James 2:14-17 in their Bibles. After discussing its meaning, divide the class into small groups and give several different issues of the parish bulletin to each group. Direct groups to find examples of parish organizations that demonstrate both faith and works.

A Catechetical Invitation

Sister Angela Ann Zukowski’s article in the October 2012 issue titled “Out of the Desert: Through Crises of Faith” tells us that today’s young people often experience “a rollercoaster ride” in the search for mature faith (go to, Article Archive, and search KEYWORDS out of the desert and AUTHOR Zukowski). Sister emphasizes the importance of catechists being well-versed spiritually, in addition to having a strong catechetical, biblical, and theological background to help young people who are struggling with faith issues. Sister challenges us to develop new methodologies for communicating faith in today’s world.

Activity: Junior high students become confused or even skeptical about how faith is lived when their life experience contradicts what they are learning. Deal with the issue directly by encouraging kids to name specific examples in which faith is not being lived. Their observations may range from the mundane (rude behavior among drivers in the parish parking lot following Mass, gossip, failure to exercise common courtesy) to serious instances of people failing to live with love (the slaughter of innocents in a religious or civil war, the imposition of the death penalty, workers not earning just wages). Remind the class that the kingdom Jesus promised has not yet come and that we continue to fight against the effects of Original Sin. Although we cannot put an end to all the evils of the world, we can dedicate ourselves to living with love, trusting that our small acts of goodness help to prepare for the Reign of God.

Activity: In response to Sister’s call to identify new methodologies, meet with other catechists for a “Swap and Share” session. Ask everyone to share their most successful idea or activity. Consider different ways to breathe new life into your classes: guest speakers, off-site service opportunities, gathering all the junior high kids for a large-group activity related to that week’s lesson before breaking into individual classes. These create opportunities to broaden students’ experiences and help them become a community of disciples. As the October article points out, even though desert experiences are a normal part of faith development, having a faith community to rely on can be a healing oasis! You might also consider “shaking things up” by making your lesson plan less predictable. Keep the kids engaged and involved by changing your routine.

Biblical Witness

In his feature in the November/December 2012 issue titled “The Joy of Love: Encountering Jesus,” Bishop Charles Jason Gordon states that “Christianity stands or falls based upon the encounter with the Risen Lord” (go to, Article Archive, and search KEYWORDS a joy of love and AUTHOR Gordon).

In discussing these New Testament encounters, Gordon explains that the people do not recognize Jesus until he enables their recognition. The bishop calls this the “Christological key.” One example is the disciples’ failure to recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus—until he breaks bread with them. Gordon urges catechists to provide opportunities for kids to encounter Christ through prayer and silence as everyday experiences.

Recall that one of the goals of the Year of Faith is to deepen our commitment to Jesus. In order to do this, we need to encounter Jesus. We can help our students meet the Lord by teaching them how to meditate and by providing opportunities for meditation as part of our weekly sessions. This is not a one-and-done type of activity. Meditation requires practice, consistency, and time.

Activity: Try a meditation strategy called “The Four R’s”: Relax, Remember, Read/Reflect, and Respond. First, have students quiet themselves or relax. Next, set the theme of the meditation by inviting them to remember a human experience related to your meditation theme. For example, if you are going to have students meditate on the story of Jesus’ seaside appearance (see John 21:4-13), invite them to remember a time they went to the beach. Then slowly read the Scripture passage to them. Finally, have students sit quietly and respond to the reading by letting Jesus speak to them or, in the silence of their hearts, by telling Jesus how much they love him. Be sure to provide a period of silence between each movement. (Try this meditation technique beginning in September. Use a brief selection from the weekly Gospel as the reading. Each week, allow time for volunteers to share their experiences after the respond phase. It will not take long for students to see the value of meditation and look forward to meeting Jesus one on one.)

Affirming Our Faith

William H. Johnston’s article titled “Creeds: Words of Life-Giving Faith” in the January 2013 issue is filled with ideas for working with the creeds of our faith. Here is another technique that works with intermediate and older kids (go to, Article Archive, and search KEYWORDS words of life giving faith and AUTHOR Johnston).

Activity: Divide the class into four groups and assign one of the following topics to each group: God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church. Give each group a sheet of newsprint and a marker. Direct students in each group to discuss what they believe about their group’s topic. After reaching a consensus, have them write on the newsprint four or five statements about those beliefs. Afterward, post the newsprint sheets for all to see. Ask volunteers to read aloud the statements. Invite students to name any important truths of the faith that may be missing from the statements—for example, that Jesus is the Son of God. When everyone is satisfied with the completeness of the creed, pray it together. Before your next class, make handouts of the class creed and give each student a copy for prayer at home or during your sessions.

Windows and Mirrors

In the February 2013 issue, Rev. Donald Senior’s article titled “Bread for the Journey: The Scriptures and the Spirituality of the Catechists” emphasizes the role Scripture plays in deepening our faith (go to, Article Archive, and search KEYWORDS bread for the journey and AUTHOR Senior). Father says that there are two ways we can approach the Scriptures: 1) We can read the Bible as if it were a window, enabling us to “see” the facts of the story—what happened, who it is about, and so forth. 2) We can approach the Bible as if it were a mirror. Using this approach, we help students uncover the meaning of the story and how it relates to them today. This section of Father’s article reminds us that we need to ask different types of questions when we read Scripture stories with our students. Here are two you’ll want to use when you work with a Bible story.

Activity: “Comprehension questions” often begin with the words who, what, where or when. Father Senior would call them “window” questions. They get at the facts of a story. They are not designed to get a lively discussion going. Their purpose is to determine if the kids understand what they’ve read or heard.

Activity: “Open-ended questions” generate discussion. In Father Senior’s parlance, these questions are “mirror” questions. They often begin with the words why, how or if. For example: Why did Jesus cure the lepers? or How can you live the Great Commandment? or If you had been at the Last Supper, what would you have wanted to ask Jesus?

An Authentic Guide to the Faith

Daniel S. Mulhall’s article titled “A Compass: Implementing the Catechism” in the March 2013 issue overviews the history, purpose, and structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), whose twentieth anniversary we celebrate during the Year of Faith (go to, Article Archive, and search KEYWORDS implementing the catechism and AUTHOR Mulhall). Mulhall urges catechists to study the CCC, pray with it, and use it as a reference tool.

Activity: Introduce junior high students to the Catechism by explaining that the chapters they study on a weekly basis are drawn directly from the truths of our faith that have been handed down from generation to generation. Explain that these truths are found in an important document called the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Then do the following activity with the class.

1. Have students form small groups and give each group a copy of the Catechism.

2. Ask students to turn to the “Contents” pages to locate and name the four main parts of the Catechism—The Creed/Profession of Faith; Sacraments/The Celebration of the Christian Mystery; Morality/Life in Christ; and Christian Prayer. Tell students that these four sections are called the four pillars of the Catholic faith. Help them understand that their lessons were developed in conjunction with the teachings found in the Catechism.

3. Conclude by calling out a number of topics taught in your text and ask students to use both the “Contents” pages and the index in the back of the Catechism to determine which topic relates to which pillar. For example, the topic of Baptism relates to Sacraments. The topic of the Seventh Commandment relates to Morality. The topic of the Our Father relates to Christian Prayer. The topic of the Resurrection relates to the Creed.

The Perfect Disciple

Father Bertrand Buby’s article in the April/May 2013 issue titled “Mary: Disciple and Woman of Faith” helps us understand the criteria for being disciples and explains how the Scriptures portray Mary as the most faithful disciple (go to, Article Archive, and search KEYWORDS disciple and woman of faith and AUTHOR Buby).

Activity: Divide the class into six groups and assign one of the following Scripture passages to each group: Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 1:16-25; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 1:46-55; John 2:1-12; John 19:27-28. These are the passages Fr. Buby cites in the Gospels that show Mary as a true disciple. Have groups read their passages and be prepared to report back to the class on how their passages portray Mary as a perfect disciple. Consult the article to help clarify the students’ responses. It is so fitting to have students do this activity in May, a month we traditionally devote to Our Blessed Mother. When students finish reporting their findings, pray together the Hail Mary.

Making a Faith Mobile

Challenge students to call out words that are synonyms for “faith” or are part of our faith experience. For example: belief, trust, gift, grace, response, virtue, and so forth. You may also want to invite kids to name people of faith they admire. Ask volunteers to print the words and the names on colorful construction paper circles and staple them to ribbons of varying lengths. Form the frame of the mobile by crisscrossing two dowels and securing them together by wrapping the intersection with yarn. Affix the ribbons to the dowels in a way that creates a balance so that the mobile will hang straight. You can make one mobile for your classroom or have each student make a mobile to take home in honor of the Year of Faith.

Kate Ristow, Contributing Editor to CATECHIST, has worked in Catholic publishing for over 25 years as a national speaker and writer, building on a wealth of experience in the religious formation of children and catechists in both parish and Catholic school programs.

What Scripture Says about Faith

Sister Janet Schaeffler’s article titled “Faith: A Journey that Lasts a Lifetime” in the September 2012 issue states that there are 447 passages about faith in the Scriptures. Invite students to use a Bible concordance to find their favorite quotation and then memorialize it by making a bookmark.

Each student will need a Bible, markers, a 2” x 6” tagboard strip, and access to a concordance (print or online). The following link connects with an easy-to-use online concordance for the New American Bible:

Divide the class into small groups and give each group a concordance or supervised access to an online concordance. Have them look up references to faith until each student in the group finds one passage that has special meaning for him or her. To ensure that the students explore different books of the Bible, announce that they must follow one rule: No one in the group can duplicate another student’s quotation.

After every student has found a meaningful passage, have them letter it on the tagboard strip and then decorate the bookmark. Afterward, invite volunteers to share their faith quotations with the class.

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