Be an Amazing Catechist
The Bible Tells Me So: A Southern Gent Wows Catholic Kids with the Bible
But he doesn't teach the entire Bible. "It's not comprehensive or exhaustive. We're just skimming the tops to see how the Bible works, providing a Catholic framework."
Raised in Louisiana in a totally Catholic environment, Christian says, "I didn't know there was a single human being that wasn't a Catholic. On Good Friday, everything closed."
But at the age of eight his family moved to South Carolina. "I went through terrific culture shock. From that point on I was percolating in a much more explicit Bible culture than in Louisiana and it became an integral part of my evolving world view."
Married for 24 years, a father of 5 and grandfather to 2, Christian and his wife, Janet, an Art History professor, had been teaching RCIA since 1999 using a Bible-based program they created themselves (with their pastor's permission). But when he was asked to take on the sixth grade eight years ago, he was annoyed:
"I did not want to deal with kids: what do they care about the Council of Nicaea? But God does work in mysterious ways. I was wrong to think I'd have to dumb things down for them. Sixth graders are still very open to learning about God, their brains are nimble, and you can move along at lightning speed, changing references and jumping from Abraham to David to Christ in a heartbeat."
So, using a program designed for adults, Christian began to find his way with the kids. "Unlike the adult class, where I could just give a verse or two, and rely on individuals to already know, or check, the bigger passage on their own, the kids needed more context. For example, if I were discussing baptism with adults, I could just summarize Naaman and Elisha; but with the kids, I needed to tell the whole story. In fact, I wound up acting the story as much as telling it, which was great fun, and the little brains soaked it right up."
About 25% of the children in each of his classes are Hispanic. "They speak English better than I do, but they're shy," he says. So he finds ways of drawing them in and affirming them by asking questions no English speaker can answer.
"Spanish kids make a contribution to class that is very important. I tell the kids that Spanish is one of Latin's beautiful daughters. The Spanish names for things almost never have the same exact meaning of the English word. When I use the Spanish child as a resource, it's good for them to see they knew something the other students didn't know. It's important for the English speakers to realize that Catholicism is Catholicism all around the world, for over 2,000 years, not just in Greenville, speaking English."
"How do you say, 'Christmas' in Spanish?" he asks everyone.
"Navidad," responds a Hispanic child.
"What does it mean?"
"Christmas!" everyone replies.
"No, what does it MEAN?"
"Oh, nativity!" says another Hispanic student.
From there the discussion covers birth and babies, the helplessness of the infant, and God's extraordinary humility.
To emphasize God's fatherly love and the tenderness of Jesus' condescension in becoming an infant, he brings a small child's chair into class and describes the way he used to squeeze his huge adult body into a very tiny seat in order to sit for ten minutes at a time and play Tea Party with his young daughter. The children are "just roaring."
"Why did I do that?" he asks them.
"Because you love her," they all respond immediately.
"They know. They know the answer without thinking," he says. And the point is indelibly made.
Lisa Mladinich is a Catholic wife and mother, catechist and workshop leader, and the author of the popular booklets, "Be An Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children," and "Be an Amazing Catechist: Sacramental Preparation" available from Our Sunday Visitor. She is the founder of www.AmazingCatechists.com.