a reflection by Kate Foran
This work is yours the catechist says to the child at the end of a presentation of materials within the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The child responds by choosing how to engage, and would you believe me if I told you there are few places more peaceful than a room full of three-to-six-year-olds who have entered that flow state of deep work? They quietly get to it: making art, arranging flowers, asking a catechist to light the candles at the altar they set up themselves. (Christ has died, we whisper and light the first candle. Christ is risen, and light the second candle, and just sit for a moment in that glow.)
The response of the children can be so different from my own. I don’t know, life is really busy right now. That’s how I responded to the invitation to Work; to complete the year-long Level Two training to be a catechist for six to nine-year-olds. Deb and Sarah, who offered the training, also offered me these words of wisdom: sometimes when life is busiest is when you need this time the most.
I joined St Patrick-St. Anthony when my now 12-year-old was three because I had heard rumors about the thriving faith formation program in this parish. It’s Montessori, I heard. Already fascinated by pedagogy as I watched my two children grow and learn, I was intrigued. What I knew of Montessori was that it “followed the child” in an environment prepared to encourage their independence and match their developmental needs. It was meaningful, hands-on, practical, and respectful of freedom and limits. What could that look like in terms of religious formation? And is religious formation something we impose on our children? Or is it something already brewing inside them, and they are just asking adults to help them with that hunger?
What I witnessed is that my little child was invited into a space that was designed to her scale, that approached her with respect, that assumed she and the other children already had a relationship with God. My daughter’s catechist in Level One spoke quietly in a way that made the children lean in to listen. I wasn’t sure what happened in the atrium, only that my daughter walked through the doors confidently and carefully (practicing great “control of movement” as a preschooler still learning where her body ended and the world began). And she skipped out again with her art responses and prayer cards copied in her own sprawling handwriting. The Lord is my Shepherd.
I learned more when I participated in the Level One CGS training in 2019 at St. Patrick-St. Anthony and then again through the Level Two training that just wrapped up last month.CGS is about the mystery of God meeting the mystery of the child. It’s about intimacy with liturgy and scripture rather than mastery of ideology. Catechists help the child grow closer to God and–what do you know!—the growth flows both ways.
My faith was formed by the Catholic Worker movement, with its practices of radical hospitality, finding Christ among the “least of these,” and its commitment to the deepest respect for the person before you. I found the CGS approach to praying alongside the child to be a beautiful echo of what I love about the Worker. The prepared environment–a child-scale prayer table to be dressed in the colors of the liturgical season, or a tiny container of actual mustard seeds to go along with a handmade booklet of the parable, or a wooden sheepfold with a lovingly hand-painted Good Shepherd who calls us each by name–is a form of hospitality to the child’s prayer life.
For catechists and children alike, time in the atrium is about falling in love. While the world serves us plenty in the way of stimulation and entertainment, there are few places that regard the capacity of the child to stand before Mystery. Through CGS, we hear the silent plea of the child, “help me to draw closer to God by myself.” The way we offer that help makes all the difference. The gospel must be proclaimed, but kids need what we all do: a kind of conviviality and food for the journey, a place to delight in a communal enjoyment of the gifts of God.
I will admit that it was a squeeze to commit to the CGS training. It required juggling work, childcare, pandemic cancellations and make-ups, and a hundred other responsibilities. But by the end of the week, as the catechists walked us through a celebration of Pentecost as we might practice it in the atrium with children, with a red taper lit for each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it was a balm. This work is yours.
My yoke is easy and my burden light.