The Word of God—A Living Force

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by Kate Ristow

For an idea on how to help younger students interact with the psalms, see Praying the Psalms with Gestures at the end of this article.

It has been nearly 45 years since the publication of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum, DV), one of the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council. The document clearly lays out our understanding of how God speaks to us and helps us to appreciate that through the Scriptures “the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks to them” (DV n. 21).
The theme of this year’s University of Dayton/CATECHIST Magazine catechist formation series was chosen to respond to the call of Pope Benedict XVI and the bishops at the October 2008 worldwide synod: “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” The synod highlighted the importance of Scripture formation as fundamental to the faith life of today’s Christians.

This call is central to our ministry as catechists. The seven articles in our series invite us to study and pray the Word of God as individuals and challenge us to find creative and authentic ways of leading our students to the Bible. In this article, we will outline specific ideas for incorporating the insights from the series into our ministry.

Five Definitions

Dr. Margaret Ralph’s September article, “Relevant and Powerful” offers five meanings for the phrase “the Word of God.” Review the five descriptions and order them in terms of their importance and experience in your life. Consider how your understanding of this phrase impacts your faith, your teaching, and your lifestyle.

Ralph reminds us that all things came into being through the creative Word of God. Read with your class the first account of Creation found in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:1-2:3). Divide the class into groups and invite students to illustrate a Creation mural on a length of white shelf paper. Assign a “day” of creation to each group and have the group decorate a panel on the mural. As the groups work, emphasize that it was God’s spoken word (“God said”) through which the wonders of our world became present.

Meaningful Gifts

In the October issue, Bishop Anthony Bosco wites eloquently about Scripture as a “gift-giving communication that furthers intimacy.” He tells us that in the Bible, “God is sharing secrets!”

As catechists, we know that Christmas is about secrets and that it is never too early to think about lesson-related Christmas presents for students to make for their parents. Build on Bosco’s article by providing materials for students to make Scripture bookmarks for family Bibles, a refrigerator magnet highlighting the importance of God’s Word, or a Bible scroll ornament.

First, talk with students about why Scripture is a gift to us, and have each student write a short paragraph explaining his or her thoughts. Next, have students vote on the gift they want to give their parents. Gather or purchase the materials needed so that the students can make their gifts in the next class session. The highlight of each of the students’ presents should be the biblical passage they choose and print prominently on the gift. Plan this activity far enough in advance so that it is not a last-minute “add on” to class.   

Ecumenism and the Word of God

Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski’s November/December article provides a springboard for reaching out to other Christian denominations for Scripture-related activities and sharing. Think of the possibilities!

Can you arrange for a joint catechist/Sunday school teacher session with another church community focused on techniques for teaching the Bible? Have you considered planning a shared VBS this summer with the local Lutheran, Baptist, or Evangelical church? It will require a great deal of advance work—leadership will first need to meet to agree on the approach, the materials, and the “big picture” issues. Then a joint planning team should be formed to organize the week and all the work involved. Finally, volunteers will need to come together to do immediate preparation for the week.

If planning an entire ecumenically based week is too daunting, why not work with the other community to plan a single theme-based evening or afternoon that your students can experience together?

Responding to the Liturgy of the Word

In the January article, Dr. William Roberts states that our “ultimate response to the Liturgy of the Word is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.” He says, “At the Offertory we bring forth our gifts of bread and wine as a symbol of the other offerings we contribute for the well-being and mission of our parish community.” Roberts then makes the connection between our personal gifts and our efforts to live in the Spirit of Christ.

At a faculty meeting, invite catechists to pair off or form triads. Ask them to share with one another the specific gifts they both give and receive from others that help them live in the Spirit of the Lord. After allowing time for pairs or triads to thoroughly identify these gifts, have them share the highlights of their discussions with the larger group, while you list their comments on newsprint. Emphasize the goodness of God in blessing your community and program with such a variety of abundant gifts.

Steeping Skills

Dr. Grenough’s February article encourages us to “steep ourselves in God’s word” as a way of nourishing our faith so that “our words and life make God visible in everyday life.” She encourages us to make reading the Scriptures a daily habit. This is a goal catechists can certainly pass on to junior high students.

Begin by choosing a Gospel together. Mark is a good first choice. It’s relatively short—only 16 chapters. If the kids accept the challenge of reading a chapter each day, it will take them just over two weeks.

If possible, provide each student with a small notebook with lined pages and ask them to record their reflections after reading the chapter of the day. List a few sentence starters on the board to help them think about what they are reading. For example: What surprised me about what I read? What did I learn? How would I have reacted if I had been an eyewitness to what Jesus said or did?

As a bit of an incentive, you may also want to create a poster chart listing each student’s name and a column for each chapter. Each time you gather, have the kids check off the chapters they have completed. This is positive peer pressure!

Imitating Our Blessed Mother

In March, Fr. Buby emphasizes that Mary is our model for reflecting on God’s Revelation. He says that in the Scriptures, we see that Jesus’ mother “ponders over the words and events that happen in her life in light of her trust and faith in God.” Catechetical leaders can assist catechists in making this skill part of their regular prayer experience.

Invite catechists to choose a recent incident or situation in their lives and consider it, as Fr. Buby suggests, in the light of their trust and faith in God. Allow time for silent, individual reflection. Then ask them to respond to the following questions:
* How does this way of thinking about our circumstances give new meaning to the situation?
* How does imitating Mary’s way of responding to God’s Revelation help me better cope with my experience(s) in life?

Our Story

Joyce Kelleher’s article in this issue is filled with great ideas for classroom use. Why not plan on using her “For Reflection” sidebar as a part of every catechist meeting in the coming year?

Duplicate a copy for every member of the catechetical staff. After a brief opening prayer taken from Scripture, refer catechists to one or two of the questions on the handout. Be specific! “This evening, we are going to reflect on and share our responses to the first two questions.” Have catechists discuss the questions in small groups and then report their insights to the large group after allowing about 15 minutes for small-group sharing. 

Adapting the Monthly Study Guide

Use the suggestions below with your students to adapt the Discussion/Reflection Questions and the Exercises that accompany each article.

September: Encourage students to share responses to Discussion/Reflection Question 2: How has Scripture influenced my life? Ask students to name a favorite Bible story and tell why it is meaningful for them.
October: Build on the third Discussion/Reflection Question topic by asking students to respond to a question from Bosco’s article: “What can we give in return for the gift of God’s Word?” Allow time for students to share their ideas. Discuss how they can make their suggestions become realities in their everyday lives.
November/December: Follow up on Exercise 4 by inviting a parishioner involved in your parish’s ecumenical activities to be a guest speaker at an upcoming catechist meeting or class session. Ask the speaker to share his or her experience of working on projects with individuals from other churches.    
January: Read Matthew 25:31-46 with the class, as suggested in Exercise 3. Then have students locate the lists of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy in their texts. Using books about the lives of the saints books or profiles from the internet, ask each student to find a saint who is an example of one of the Corporal Works of Mercy and another who exemplifies one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Have students prepare reports to introduce their saints to the class.
February: Invite students to do an adapted version of Grenough’s suggestion in Exercise 2. Have them enter the keywords “youth Bible studies,” “children’s Bible studies” or “children’s Bible resources” into their search engine. Ask students to prepare printed lists to distribute to the class of the five best scriptural websites they find.
March: In addition to creating a personal Marian Prayer Book as suggested in Exercise 2, pray the Litany of the Blessed Virgin with your class. Provide each student with a copy of the prayer. Discuss the descriptions of Mary found in the litany. Invite students to research any titles with which they are unfamiliar. Invite students to name specific ways we can honor Mary as individuals and as a class.
April/May: In her first Study Guide Discussion/Reflection Question, Kelleher challenges us to examine how our texts integrate Scripture into a lesson. Keep in mind that no matter what your textbook provides, catechists can always add engaging Bible activities to their sessions. For example, have older students choose a psalm and prayerfully study it in light of what God is saying to us today. Then ask students to “interpret” the psalm creatively in media—for example, creating a collage, putting together a medley of instrumental music, or preparing a Power Point presentation using photographs that illustrate the psalm.

Dei Verbum: An Overview

Several of this year’s authors mentioned the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) in their articles. How wonderful it would be if every catechist could take the time to read it! Perhaps a little peek at the document will “pique” everyone’s interest.
* The phrase Dei Verbum, Latin for “Word of God,” is taken from the first line of the constitution. This is a common practice for Church documents.
* It is a very brief document—only 22 articles divided among six chapters.
* Chapter 1 outlines the many ways God has spoken to us throughout salvation history.
* Chapter 2 summarizes how Divine Revelation is transmitted from generation to generation.
* Chapters 3, 4, and 5 briefly discuss the interpretation of Scripture and the purpose and meaning of the Old and New Testaments.
* Chapter 6 emphasizes the importance of Scripture in the life of the Church and encourages us all to read and pray with God’s Word.

Dei Verbum is available online. It would provide an excellent topic for a catechist session or a parent meeting. Reading or re-reading the document will provide helpful background information for the catechetical staff. It may be just the catalyst we religious educators need to make Scripture a priority in our lives. 

Kate Ristow, Contributing Editor to CATECHIST, is National Catechetical Consultant for RCL Benziger. She has been involved in children’s religious education for over 25 years as a Catholic-school teacher and parish catechist

Praying the Psalms with Gestures

Explain to students that the psalms are prayer songs found in the Old Testament. Emphasize that the psalms tell us about the feelings of the People of God. Write the following paraphrased version of Psalm 150 on a poster or the chalkboard.

Praise you, O God, in heaven.
We praise you with trumpet blasts.
We praise you with pipes and strings.
We praise you with crashing cymbals.
Let every living thing praise you, O God!

Go through each line of the psalm and invite students to suggest one or two gestures to accompany each phrase. Take care not to overcrowd the prayer with too many movements—it will just confuse the students and make it impossible for them to remember the gestures. Practice the gestures as you read the psalm aloud several times.

Ordinarily, younger children feel a great sense of accomplishment for remembering the gestures and praying a psalm so creatively. Be sure to praise them for using their whole bodies to praise God.

Other psalms that lend themselves to interpretation with gesture are Psalm 23; Psalm 67; Psalm 119; Psalm 139; and Psalm 148. Don’t attempt to have the children create gestures for more than five or six lines. Be choosy. Select passages that make a mental picture, and encourage the children to enter into this experience joyfully!

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