By BRENDA SEVCIK, Special to the Bulletin | Published May 25, 2023
ALPHARETTA—Six-year-old Rose is at the child-sized sacristy cabinet. She moves slowly, opens a small drawer, finds the white cloth and with great care places it on a mini altar.
“Altar cloth,” Rose whispers. Next she finds the child-sized paten, sets it on the altar, names it, then reaching into the cabinet grasps another article. “Chalice,” she says, placing it to the right of the paten. She pulls two candles out of the cabinet, setting them on the altar, then closes the sacristy doors.
“Jesus invited us to be with him at a special meal,” her tiny voice proclaims.
Rose then asks for help. A nearby adult lights the candle on the left side.
“Christ has died,” Rose says. The candle to the right is lit. “Christ is risen.”
Alexander, age 3, is sorting flat glass stones of many colors. With concentration, he places the red glass stone in a small container lined in red. He matches the green stone with its proper container, and then a blue one. With intent, he continues.
Over by a raised map of Israel, Taylor, 5, is placing a marker with a flame near the top of the map. Its magnet base securely attaches to the map. “Nazareth.” Next, a marker with a yellow star is in his hands. “Bethlehem.” He studies the map, south of Nazareth, slightly passing the center, and affixes the marker there. Finally, he places a cross marker not far from Bethlehem. “Jerusalem,” he declares.
A catechist rings a bell, and all children in the atrium freeze.
“It’s time to put away your work and gather around the prayer table,” says the catechist. With no complaints, the children restore their materials to congregate so they can talk to Jesus and sing songs. This is not a movie, but a typical session in Level One of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS).
“The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is anointed,” expert Sister Mary Matthew Fox writes in her book “Following God’s Pedagogy: Principles for Children’s Catechesis.”
CGS is an important gift the Catholic Church not only needs to preserve, but nurture and grow. According to CARA, by the age of 13 half of all children brought up in the Catholic faith have decided to leave. Could this startling statistic reflect how unsatisfying much of our catechesis is to young hearts and minds?
CGS was developed to prepare children to receive the sacred gifts of our sacraments. It relies on Scripture, liturgy and an experience of reality to explain these gifts. Using traditional Montessori methods, it integrates the response of the child by observing what they need and adapting. The work must respect the dignity of the child, their capacity to receive the essential truths of our faith and invite them to an intimate relationship with God. Developed by Sofia Cavelletti, biblical scholar turned child faith teacher, she only kept a lesson if the child responded with joy and wonder. Otherwise, she put that lesson away and crafted another. Although Cavelletti died in 2011 at age of 94, her work lives on.
CGS is not only for the child; the formation to be a catechist is thorough with more than 90 hours of training. And, adults are flocking to it. Why? I’ve been through all three levels of training at least twice, and I’m still not done. It’s complete and satisfying. We form the faith by proclaiming Scripture and tradition to the child, then ponder questions that never stop. We are often floored by their responses. We learn that there is so much out there, that the Kingdom of God is as infinite as he is, and he desires an abundant, joy-filled life for us.
We also center everything in reality. In Level One, for ages 3 to 6, we introduce the geography of Jesus’ time—how he was a real person, in a real place, during a real time. In Level Two, ages 7 to 9, we explain the three great moments of creation—formation of the world, redemption, and the promise of Parousia, or eternal bliss with God in heaven. Level Three, ages 10 to 12, is especially important for the child, as they are deciding if they truly believe in God and the Catholic faith. It relates the cooperation and disunion of the human family throughout history and then centers on God’s intervention, starting with the Jewish people and continuing with Jesus who, like the cross, connects us to each other horizontally and to him vertically, all centered in the sacraments and driven by our advocate, the Holy Spirit.
St. Thomas Aquinas Church is holding a Level One training in early June. The demand has proven so great that we had to close registration. There are more than 30 individuals in this faith formation program, representing 16 different parishes.
Brenda Sevcik is a CGS catechist at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Alpharetta.