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November 15, 2007
 
Autumn 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."Let us embrace this good work as we celebrate the ordinary time of autumn with gusto!
—Jeanne Hunt

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Sacred Seasons
 
 
The liturgical year is a wonderful sacred circle of life that is meant to engage us and draw us into the energy and grace of the Church. It is an ongoing challenge to bring that circle alive for adult Catholics as well as our children. I would like to offer some good ways to bring these holy days and ordinary days to life in our homes and in the classrooms.
First, this wheel of color that we display on the classroom wall should jump off that poster and into our environment. To create a Catholic presence within the walls of our homes or teaching spaces requires forethought. Yet, one of the most obvious ways to do that is to use the colors of the liturgical season. Let the purples of Advent and Lent hint at the seasons. Use greens in all their shades to sing the days of Ordinary Time. When a great feast occurs, furl out the white and gold that mean a high feast in the Church year. You can take this color statement up a notch by adding a little seasonal color to your wardrobe. (Perhaps a red tie on the feast day of a martyr could be an introduction to a moment of Catholic evangelization at the lunch table.)
To stay in touch with the movement of the liturgical year, keep good resources in hand. A working Catholic calendar is a necessity; as catechists we should be working ahead. I like to anticipate the next month’s feast and holy days and give some thought to planning special prayers and activities. Americancatholic.org is a great a place to begin. Saint of the Day and Bringing Home the Word make every catechist’s job so much easier. Whatever resources you choose, have them readily available so that liturgical seasons are never an afterthought while planning lessons.
 
     
 
 
When the Saints (and Other Ideas) Come Marching In
 
 
Every catechist thinks about saints in November when we celebrate the feast of All Saints. But what about the rest of the year? The Church year offers a wealth of heroes and heroines that deserve our attention throughout the year.
When I was growing up, a parish calendar hung in the kitchen. Each morning at breakfast, my mother used to read the biography of each day’s saint. Through the years I collected a treasury of saint information from that early morning ritual. After all, a little saint trivia can always liven up a lesson and may become that teaching moment. St. Lucy lost her eyes, St. Jerome was a grump and St. Tarcissus was an amazing little boy. It is a wonderful project to create a resource library on the saints. I would suggest Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feasts, edited by Leonard Foley, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., as the first addition to your collection. The challenge is to teach that the energy of the Church year is not static. These feast days and seasons are meant to engage us in a walk with Jesus Christ. Each day reveals a new word of encouragement or a new hero from which to learn a lesson.
A lectionary-based curriculum is another way for this energy to play out. Every week we should be teaching about the upcoming Sunday readings. This discipline is meant not only for students but also for every member of the assembly. Catholics should not need to read from a missal. By the time we gather as a community on Sunday, these readings should be well planted in our hearts. A good way to do this lectionary-based preparation is to employ Judith Dunlap’s book, Bringing Home the Gospel: The Year of Matthew. This is a third book in a series. It offers great reflections and connections with the Scriptures that work well in the family or in a religious education program. Judith uses everyday experiences to teach that the sacred is always found in the ordinary events of life. Our job is to take this good resource a step further and reflect on personal moments when the gospel became a part of our own living testament. This is a difficult skill for the holiest in our midst. However, it is never too soon to teach this skill to our children.
Whether you are spinning the liturgical wheel into the color of the season, the saint of the day or the Sunday Gospel, each element is a part of a larger scheme that reveals the living grace of the Church. The Holy Spirit is still creating a powerful wind among those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the story of the liturgical year. It is always an amazing inspiration and never boring. While the curriculum in any program requires attention to the liturgical year, many catechists are at a loss as to how to use it. Each week, plan a little taste of the seasons and saints of the season. It is a heritage every Catholic child deserves.
 
     
 
 
Video Updates on the Church Year
 
 
Most of our lives are governed by a calendar—whether a traditional planner or an electronic version. While my husband carries his electronic one and syncs it with his computer, I manage quite well with my paper versions.
Soon my husband and I will be looking back over our family calendar at the events of this year as we prepare our annual (and much-anticipated!) Christmas letter. There have been births and deaths, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, Girl Scout meetings, dentist appointments, vacations, volleyball games, parish events and car repairs. Looking back over the events of the year, we see the story of our family’s life.
The Church’s calendar is full of stories as well: stories of Jesus and the Church, and our own stories of faith. Far from being artificial or imposed, the Church year is a structure that grew out of the experiences of real people—from Abraham and Sarah in the Hebrew Scriptures, to Jesus himself, through the earliest Christians, down to our present day.
As we prepare to begin a new liturgical year, it is good not only to prepare our hearts for the Advent-Christmas season but also to enter into the experience of the Church’s calendar with new openness for the ways God speaks to us through the biblical stories read at Sunday Mass throughout the year. The most important of those stories is the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection is the center of our faith, making Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, the center of the liturgical year. Every Sunday—which we call the Lord’s Day—the Church keeps alive the memory of the Lord’s Resurrection as we gather to celebrate the Mass.
The Church Celebrates: The Liturgical Year and Sunday, a Catholic Update Video that is now available on DVD, provides an overview of the Church’s liturgical year and an explanation of Sunday’s importance within it. In the teaching segment, Father Tom Richstatter, O.F.M., emphasizes and explains that “The Church year is the way we read the Bible.” Click here (Windows Media | RealMedia) to see a video clip from the witness segment of The Church Celebrates: The Liturgical Year and Sunday. These everyday Catholics share their personal understanding of some aspects of the Church year.
Use this video with those participating in the RCIA and with other adults who have an interest in learning more about the Church’s liturgical year (e.g., worship commissions, liturgy planners, liturgical ministers, small groups). The story segment can also be used as a marriage preparation or marriage enrichment resource.
May you experience God’s grace and peace in the story of your own lives as we come to the close of one Church year and embark on another.
 
     
 
Gifts of Inspiration and Prayer
 
 
While looking at some of the new books available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, you’ll see that several stand out as just the kind you’ll want to pass along or give as gifts.
An inspiring book focusing on the life and lessons of a saintly missionary of our time, What Mother Teresa Taught Me, by Maryanne Raphael, offers an intimate portrait of Mother Teresa drawn by a woman who actually worked with her and was inspired to write about the experience. Full of personal anecdotes that bring the real Mother Teresa to life, this book is a must read—and a great gift.
How about a gift for someone who is thoroughly Franciscan at heart? Prayers From Franciscan Hearts is a beautiful way to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan order. Organized around pilgrimage stations near and dear to Franciscans, these prayers by and for Franciscan men and women are rich in Franciscan spirituality.
Finally, a gift for someone in your life who is serving in the military: God and Country: Reflections for Catholics in Military Service, written by a retired Army colonel who served as a chaplain in Vietnam, Panama and Desert Storm, this book contains traditional Catholic prayers, brief inspirational stories and meditations on Scripture. Inexpensively priced (only $2.95 each), God and Country would make a great gift for parishioners serving their nation in these challenging times.
 
     
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