•God and the child have a unique relationship with one another.
•The growth of this relationship should be assisted by the adult,
but is directed by the Spirit of God within the child.
•Children need their own place to foster the growth of that relationship.
•The child’s spiritual growth is best served through tangible but indirect means.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CATECHESIS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
The idea for the process of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd came about as a result of a long period of observation of children. It evolved by accident, simply, without planning, the way God often comes into our lives. In 1954, Sofia Cavalletti, a Hebrew and Scripture scholar was asked to give religious education to a young child. Sofia at first refused, believing she knew nothing about children, but eventually she consented. What Sofia saw in that first child and many others since, was a way of being in the presence of God, unique to children. From that time to the present, Sofia reminds adults to look to the child to see the indicator of a deeply religious life – joy – and then to ask themselves “What face of God does the child need to see?” Sofia says, “The child will be our teacher if we know how to observe them.”
HOW CATECHESIS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD WORKS
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd addresses the religious formation of children in a specially prepared environment called an atrium (place of preparation). The children gather in the atrium and work with a variety of materials readied for their use. Catechesis is rooted in the Bible, the liturgy of the church and the educational principles of Maria Montessori. Maria had a great influence in it’s creation. The motto of this process is; “Help me discover God by myself.” You might wonder how “materials” can enhance the religious life of a child. If, for example, you hear a beautiful passage from the Bible, you may find the same passage and read the words again slowly to more completely appreciate and understand them. You may think deeply about the words and speak to God in a prayer about them. But a little child, especially one too young to read, needs another way. In the atrium that child can ponder the biblical passages or liturgical prayers presented to them by working with the materials provided for that text – placing wooden figures of sheep and shepherd in the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd, setting figures, representing the apostles, around a Last Supper table, exploring The City of Jerusalem, in miniature, or preparing a small altar with tiny replicas of the same articles we use at Eucharist. Older children can chose from copying parables from the Bible, laying (in order) written prayers from the rite of Baptism, planning a liturgy, discovering what their spiritual gifts may be, preparing a personal missal, or exploring, discovering and labeling a time-line showing the history of the kingdom of God.
Each of the three levels, ages 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12, offers age-appropriate themes for children taken from scripture and our liturgy. Each level builds on the previous one.The heart of catechesis for the child under six revolves around the Parable of the Good Shepherd, revealing the absolute and unconditional love of God. The child in the second atrium is captured by the image of the True Vine. I am the vine, you are the branches. How God works through us is their focus. For the children at the third level, the focus shifts to a presentation of the history of salvation and God’s plan for community – a plan to link all people together. The emphasis at that point is on the child’s own responses to the gifts of God and the responsibilities that come with receiving those gifts. “What is the kingdom of God and my place in it?” is a question which begins to lay the foundation for their relationship with and commitment to God.The catechist’s role is to foster an interpersonal relationship between God and the child by making presentations that “call forth” the child’s response rather than simply “pour in” information. The adult is a co-wanderer with the child. The catechist and the child work together addressing questions generated from exploring Scriptures with one another.
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