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August 16, 2007
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Jeanne Hunt. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers media resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." God bless us in this good work
—Jeanne Hunt

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Gearing Up
Just when we found our rhythm in the last, hazy days of summer, the school bells begin to peal and it is time to get back in gear. No matter how many years I have weathered, I still feel those back-to-school vibes. In fact, I look forward to reorganizing my desk with fresh notebooks, rulers and pens to celebrate the season.
As we prepare to enter a new season of ministry, it is a good time to assess the communities in which we work. I attended a recent convocation on small Christian communities at which author Ronald Rolheiser spoke. He presented five characteristics of what small Christian communities “are not.” His comments offer insight for the goals of the catechetical community, the parish community and the small faith community. As we gear up for another year of faith formation, these insights direct us toward healthy and holy growth: First, we need not be like-minded. There is room for a variety of opinions and thoughts. Second, we must honor one another even if we do not necessarily agree or like the other. Third, we cannot base our life together on fear. When we huddle in fear we are operating out of the wrong motivation. Fourth, we can’t substitute our spiritual family for our biological family because each has its own gift. And finally, we need not have a common task or common mission. Faith formation is an avenue for a variety of experiences.
These thought-provoking insights encourage us to reevaluate what it is we do and why we do it. We, each in our own way, want to restore a sense of order to work, school and family life. These wonderful summer days have brought the gift of leisure, but the return to work with earnest brings a new gift: the energy to set new goals and priorities for a time of learning and growth. As the leaves begin to blaze with color and there is a slight chill in the night air, we can ask God to inspire us with new visions and renewed devotion.
Getting It All Together
There is a serious side to this preparation time for fall in family life. Our children face heavy demands on their schedules when they return to school. It is all parents’ responsibility to guide and protect their children as they make choices for academic, social and leisure activities. The good old days when life was simple and children had a singular focus on school and family are no more. A young person must deal with sports schedules, academic competition, the attraction of media and electronic games and many more outside influences that distract and sidetrack even the most disciplined child.
The eye of parents must be on a healthy lifestyle for their child. Kimberly Young, PSY.D., and Patricia Klausing, O.S.F., have authored Breaking Free of the Web: Catholics and Internet Addiction. They offer basic facts, how-to measures and real-life scenarios about the struggle to kick Internet addiction. While the book is directed to adults with addictive patterns, I found it very useful in addressing the signs of addiction in children. It is a helpful blend of faith and fact that can keep us tuned in to the proper place for the Internet in your home life.
The best service parents can provide for their child is to provide firm guidelines and boundaries. As school begins and family life assumes a different pace, it is a good time to create these new guidelines. Here are a few suggestions for supporting your children to provide a stress-free family life as we gear up:
  • Have a family meeting and decide together how much time is needed for study and chores. Then agree how much time your children will watch television, use the computer and play with electronic games. Write out a family plan and consistently uphold the policy.
  • Keep computers, cell phones and televisions in common rooms rather than bedrooms. Parents need to be in complete control of what their children see and do with these devices.
  • Ask your child to choose only one extracurricular activity for each quarter of the school year. Too many outside activities can undermine even the best student. Let the choice be up to your child.
  • Help your child develop positive friendships with schoolmates. Invite their friends to your home and host a social evening. This is a great way to get to know their friends and guide them in keeping good company.
  • Pray together as a family. Evening mealtime is a wonderful time to begin this practice. Let everyone offer a heartfelt spontaneous prayer and give thanks together. In addition, keep the practice of attending Sunday Mass as a family.
As parents our role is to provide the fertile ground to form our children’s minds, bodies and sprits. This is hard work and requires constant vigilance. This fall is a wonderful time to recommit to this good work. If you have failed in the past there is no reason to believe that this school year can’t be different. Life is always full of new beginnings.
Electronic Media Resources for Getting in Gear
The biggest challenge I faced in learning to drive was the fact that my official driver’s education was in a car with an automatic transmission and all the vehicles my family owned had manual transmissions. So my mother had the task of helping me to apply my new driving skills to our three-speed, stick-shift International Scout. I only went off the road one time. The first time I had to shift down into second gear while negotiating a turn, I was so focused on shifting gears and working the clutch and accelerator just right that I forgot to turn the steering wheel far enough to make the turn. And so, I learned a valuable (and embarrassing) lesson about balance.
As we shift gears from summer mode to fall/school-year mode, it’s important to plan well so that we don’t get so focused on one aspect of our lives that we neglect the others and run off the road into a ditch. It’s important not to start too many new things at one time. And if a problem develops in one area, we need to be able to deal with it while still maintaining some kind of equilibrium in our other areas of responsibility. Often that will mean asking for help and delegating some tasks.
Achieving balance requires both vigilance and motivation. When I neglect even one area of my life, all parts of my life suffer in the long run. This takes its toll not just on me but on others around me as well.
So, how do we achieve “life’s perfect balance”? Dave Durand has some helpful insights on this effort in his book Perpetual Motivation: How to Light Your Fire and Keep It Burning in Your Career and in Life. Dave is a Catholic husband and father whose faith guides his approach to his career and personal life. He is a professional speaker and motivator, and has developed a time-management system that emphasizes balance.
The six key balance points that Dave has identified are family, financial responsibility, health, social contribution, education and vocation (knowledge in motion) and faith. I’ve selected an audio clip to share with you from the audiobook of Perpetual Motivation (Windows Media | RealMedia). In this clip, Dave compares balancing the six key aspects of our lives with spinning plates. I think you’ll find his analogy a helpful one for seeking and maintaining balance in your busy lives.
Use this resource for your own enrichment, and then share parts of it at meetings of your parish staff, faith-formation catechists, Catholic school teachers and opening gatherings of parents at a program orientation or parent organization meeting. Share some of it with your RCIA team and participants. Lend it to small faith-sharing groups. This time of the year presents many of us with greater challenge in keeping our lives balanced.
I pray that you’re able to keep all of your plates spinning, and that God blesses you with the wisdom to achieve and maintain balance in your life.

Books by and for Young Adults

In an age that is increasingly devoid of clear values and enduring principles, it seems that Catholicism often fails to really connect with the current generation of young adults. This month, Servant Books has published two books that do connect with young adults, written by young adult Catholics, for young adult Catholics. Either or both of these books would make a great gift to a young person you know and love.
Catholic and Loving It: Traditions for a New Generation contends that the time has come for a new generation to reclaim its Catholic heritage, including the many prayers and practices that have enriched Catholic life for centuries. Rather than look at the oddities connected with pre-Vatican II Catholic practices, the young authors (recent alumni of the University of Notre Dame) explore the riches that these prayers and practices represent: the blessings and the sacramentals, the novenas and the celebrations. This book is a welcome connection with a rich Catholic tradition for a new generation.
I Choose God: Stories From Young Catholics is an intensely thought-provoking book that shares the personal stories of young Catholics as they make the fundamental choice to “choose God” in their own lives. These 21 honest and heartfelt stories of faith, trust and conversion will move you, inspire you and encourage even the most confused seeker. A great book for your college sons or daughters. These stories will reassure them that they’re not alone in their struggles to come to faith.
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