Earlier today, I had my second session with the second year Confirmation class of mostly Hispanic teens I wrote of in my last post. We gathered and began where we had left off - with a discussion about the goodness of God. They still were reluctant to name what is good in their lives... so I took them to the next level.
Convinced they needed the larger context before we could go forward discussing the sacraments, I outlined, with drawings, the story of Salvation History, from Creation to Jesus's Resurrection. We read the story of Creation, talked about the whats and whys of Adam and Eve's sin, of the warnings and promises of the prophets and the reason why our loving God sent his only Son to suffer the pain of a human death. I then connected baptism in Christ to being washed clean of the sin of Adam and Eve and receiving the gift of eternal life....
Next, we went over to church and gathered around the baptismal font, which in our parish, consists of a lower pool shaped like a coffin with an octagon smaller pool above with a small cascade of water into the lower pool. We talked about the shape - about "dying to old life and rising to new life" - as my son had described this font's symbolism when he was a teen (see previous post) - and about how, with their Confirmation, which they are preparing for, they will complete the promise of what their parents intended for them at their baptism. I asked why the water was cascading and moving, then told them the story of the Woman at the Well and the "living water." We discussed why people bless themselves with water from the font when entering church, why the font is located near the door, how the water becomes holy water, and I answered more of their questions. Most of them seemed genuinely engaged and interested. (pretty good for 8th-10th graders, really.)
What I hope I did tonight was to treat them as if they have a brain and try to show them that I care about whether they understand why church and religious education class and Confirmation are important, and to set a context - the big-picture story behind what they are doing this year. I also hoped, by showing them how much God loves human beings - enough that he sent his Son to suffer so that we might have life - that this vague, distant Being of whom they seem to have little intial personal understanding cares about them. I can't help but think that for many of them this was a first-time introduction to the love of God the Father.
Next week, with the brief intial discussion of Confirmation (next on the list of Sacraments they will learn about) I will introduce the Holy Spirit - and begin to find out more about who they are, what their gifts are, what they care about... the true ice-breaking can now begin, since (I hope) we have a common basis for understanding why they are there in class in the first place - to complete their baptism through Confirmation. When needed, we can keep going back to the big story of Salvation History as the reason behind it all.
Why did I do all of this? With a group of kids who have only had one prior year of catch-up catechesis, I was presented with a catechumenal style resource - the Liguori "Journey of Faith." This resource assumes they have had the primary kerygma of the Inquiry stage and are now ready to learn the details of Sacraments and Church, I felt the need to improvise and evangelize them, especially after last week's realization that they do not really know who God is. I sure hope this approach works! If it doesn't there is ample room to re-calibrate, since the handouts are pretty flexible.