This is a doozy of a weekend (and why I couldn’t rise up to the level of book notes yesterday) for reasons among which are the fact that summer Sunday school is over, and that means that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd kicks off today. I’ve written a lot about CGS over the years because it’s my favorite thing. But in case you’ve forgotten, or weren’t paying attention, here are three reasons I love it and why you should do it at home with your children, or better yet, bring it to your church one way or another (it’s hard, I know, believe me, I know).
Wherever your theological convictions lie, Cavalletti is one hundred percent correct about the child. Read The Religious Potential of the Child with an eye to the child, trying your best not to get hung up on the content of the theology. She’s Roman Catholic, so if you’re Protestant, you’re going to squirm in your boots, but push past it. Her description of the way children come to faith could not be more apt.
The trouble is, you as an adult probably don’t completely remember how it was you came to a saving knowledge of Jesus. You have some jolly good ideas and memories, but the mysterious properties of how God drew you, especially if you were very young, are probably genuinely lost in the mists of time. So when you go to examine the spiritual lives of your children, you probably have a sense of exasperation in the face of the mysterious child. Do they believe? How can you know?
And clinging on to the sinner’s prayer with a extra helping of fruit checking on the side is probably not going to ultimately make you feel better. What you want is the slow, hopeful work of the atrium.
Which is the second thing I love about Catechesis. The Atrium is essentially the Sunday school room. But it’s not just a room with a table and a stack of coloring pages and the anxious, harried, Sunday school teacher beginning her year with Noah and hopefully eventually get to Jesus. An atrium is a room filled with work for the child. Every parable has an object, a material that can be worked with. Every portion of the service in the sanctuary has some visual representation to put in the hands of the child. And rather than starting with Noah and Adam, you start with Jesus, the heart of the gospel.
I have six children who have gone successively through Good Shepherd’s atria, and I’ve seen their faith unfurl before my very eyes. And believe me, if anyone were to have anxiety about the faith of a child, it would be me, given that our lives are lived in the Petri dish of the church. If someone is going to apostatize, it’s going to be my kids.
In the beginning, when they were really small, I had all manner of anxiety about the substance of their faith. But the more I plunked them down on the floor of the Atrium, the more my fears vanished away in the light of hope. They sat there and worked on the gospel, week after week, and internalized it, learned it not just with the mind but with the heart. No hinderance, for that single hour, was put in the way of their orienting themselves towards Jesus. Of course, during the week, I’m sure I many times undid all that good work. But time and the Good Shepherd are stronger than me.
I’m not promising to myself that none of them will never walk away. But I feel confident that they have encountered the riches of mercy and truth in the midst of all those little wooden figures, the tracing paper, the pasting, the single mustard seed held in the palm of a tiny hand. For Sunday at least, there are no regrets.