I’ve been a catechist for over ten years, and in that time I’ve found a number of helpful books. While nothing beats the essentials, I’ve been thrilled recently with the resources I’ve seen published. Here are three that caught my eye and that I just had to share.
Totally Catholic!: A Catechism for Kids and Their Parents and Teachers
Mary Kathleen Glavich, SND (Pauline Books & Media, 2014)
For adults, there’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For teens, there’s the YouCat. And now, for the rest of us, there’s Totally Catholic! I actually read this cover to cover and enjoyed every bit of it. As I prepared for Confirmation Boot Camp and for some other lessons, I found myself referencing it quite a bit.
Glavich has a knack for making things applicable and relevant. She describes complicated matters of faith in a way that is fun and interesting. For example, in the chapter on the communion of saints, there’s this:
The people in the Church’s three states, like a family, lovingly help one another.
Saints on earth. Did you ever say to someone, “I’ll pray for you”? We can pray and offer our good works and sufferings for people on earth, and they can do the same for us.
Saints in purgatory. We can also pray and offer good works and sufferings for people in purgatory in order to hurry their purification. That is why after someone dies, we have Masses said for them. You can pray for your deceased relatives or even for people in purgatory who might not have anyone to pray for them. Those in purgatory (sometimes called poor souls) can also pray for us.
Saints in heaven. Likewise, we can turn to the saints in heaven and ask them to intercede, or pray for us. Friendship with the saints can help us grow closer to Christ.
There are 39 chapters, two appendices, and an index. It’s arranged much like the big green Catechism, and it’s written for a younger crowd (I would call it middle grade). Each chapter starts with a reference from the Catechism and an introduction. There are “Did You Know?” callout boxes, “BTW” facts, and a “Catholic VIP” highlighted in each chapter. Each chapter has a “Scripture Link,” with a relevant passage from the Bible, “Brainstorm” activities that aren’t hard or weird, and ends with a “From My Heart” and “Now Act!” that could well be assignments.
In fact, I think this is maybe the closest I’ve found to a perfect “textbook” for grade school age kids. (And you should know this: I’m NOT a fan of textbooks for religious education.)
Each chapter has a short bulleted “Recap” list, and it’s laid out in a way that I can only call brilliant. It’s fun to look at and read, and it sure doesn’t hurt that the content is stellar.
The Faith: A Question-and-Answer Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Fr. John Hardon, S.J. (Servant Books, 2014)
If you’re anything like me, you looked at the Catechism and thought, “There’s NO WAY I can read that and understand it, retain the information, have any luck at all.” I was shocked when I started reading the Catechism (after my spiritual director had encouraged me for, oh, three years or so) and it was NOT SO BAD!
Even so, there’s a lot in the Catechism. It’s really more of a reference than a fun reading adventure (though it can be that, don’t get me wrong). What Servant has pulled together here is a great companion to your reference shelf. I caught myself diving into this when I was looking for additional information on different topics for Confirmation Boot Camp, and I know I’ll use it in preparing talks and columns.
Here’s a little excerpt, from Part Two, Chapter Four: Other Celebrations of the Liturgy.
ARTICLE 1: SACRAMENTALS
The Church’s liturgy is primarily the sacraments, which directly confer the grace they signify. Besides the sacraments, however, there are also sacramentals. Both should be seen together, because both are sources of divine grace. But sacramentals were not immediately instituted by Christ. They were, and are, instituted by the Church, which is guided by her Founder, Jesus Christ.
663. What are sacramentals?
Sacramentals are sensibly perceptible prayers, and often actions or things, which resemble the sacraments and which signify spiritual effects obtained through the intercession of the Church. (1667)
664. How do sacramentals differ from the sacraments?
They differ from the sacraments in not being instrumental causes of grace. Rather, they arouse the faith of believers to better dispose themselves for the reception of grace from the sacraments.
665. What is the characteristic of all the sacramentals?
They always include a prayer and normally an object or action that signifies some profession of faith, such as the Sign of the Cross recalling Christ’s crucifixion, or holy water recalling our baptismal incorporation into the Church. (1668)
This is an indispensable guide for all Catholics. Whether you want to learn more about your faith, need a boost in teaching it, or are just curious, this book is sure to provide clear and concise information.
Tackling Tough Topics with Faith and Fiction
Diana Jenkins (Pauline Books & Media, 2014)
There are topics that make parents and catechists shudder and quake, and Diana Jenkins has gathered them all in the covers of this book. She’s addressed them with the fearless face of faith and her approach is unique and more than a little brilliant.
“Today’s young teens will face many challenges before they reach adulthood,” she writes in the introductory section, “and they’ll need faith to guide them along the way. But it’s not easy for kids—or adults—to apply Catholic principles to real life when they’re overwhelmed by temptations, peer pressure, media influences, stress, family issues, physical changes, society’s problems, and a culture that is increasingly out-of-sync with Christian values.”
Each chapter includes seven elements:
The Facts: This is the statistical informational part. As a teacher or parent, you may or may not actually share this with students.
Scripture and the Catechism: While this too is designed for the adult leader, many times it will be helpful for the students.
The Story: Each chapter is centered around a fictional story. Depending on your set-up, you might decide to read it aloud, to have students read it on their own, or to rework it a bit.
Discussion Questions: Though I roll my eyes at the plethora of discussion questions in everything these days, in this application, they’re not only helpful, but they’re well done.
Activity: While there’s an activity for each topic/chapter, there’s also an index with ideas for adjusting them too.
Prayer: These are great. GREAT. And let’s not forget that, among the many teaching tools we have as parents and catechists, that prayer is the most powerful.
The Message: This is a round-up of practical suggestions for students to apply the chapter’s issue.
All in all, this is a resource I am glad to have on-hand and which I’ll be sharing with all the parents and catechists I know.