"Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ." ~ St. Jerome
Last week, I presented some classroom-tested, kid-approved methods for sharing Sacred Scripture through first reading aloud and then acting the stories out. This time of year, wouldn't it be wonderful to reenact the journey of the Three Kings? Advent is such a time of searching and longing for all of us! The perilous and beautiful story of the Three Kings has such resonance for all who bear with suffering and long to see the face of Jesus Christ. Try the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 2, verses 1-15 -- so rich and beautiful and full of excitement and intrigue! (Remember, keep things simple and let as many children as want to play each role. No props, no costumes, no nothing -- except imagination!)
It really can't be said enough: the Holy Bible contains the living Word of God. It is essential to a living, growing faith to prayerfully read scripture on a regular basis. We're very blessed, as Catholics, to hear so much of the Bible in our daily liturgies. But we are missing something critical if we don't do more than absorb it passively in church. We've got to love it and learn it before we can truly live it.
With that in mind, let's revolutionize Catholic culture and make it one rich in affection for and knowledge of the Word of God. Here are two more suggestions for working with children toward this end:
1) Have them memorize passages that will stay with them for a lifetime. Use rhythm, music, movement, competition, games -- whatever it takes to help them absorb and treasure the gospels, the Psalms, the words of the prophets, the great old tales of faith and redemption. Here are some great ones:
John 3:16 -- "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
(I simplify the words and have the children do it as a cheer with hand movements: "For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, that believers would not die, but have eternal life!")
Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things in him who strengthens me."
(I do this as a song, girls taking one part and boys the other, repeating and making it very dramatic and fun. I encourage grand gestures with arm movements at the end.)
Isaiah 41:10 -- "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand."
(Try having the children recite this back and forth between two groups, each side alternating short segments of this passage, finishing with everyone saying the final segment together, nice and loud. Have them cheer at the end and raise their right hands in the air.)
Spiritual Perk: Memorized scripture arms us against sin and can be used powerfully by God in moments of temptation and danger, arising in memory at just the right moment.
2) Teach them to look up the Bible passages and stories they have been learning in class.
- For a whole month, have confident readers (say, third grade and up) bring their family Bibles in from home. Don't criticize if they are not Catholic Bibles. Let them be proud of them. The first time you do this, allow plenty of time for admiring the pictures, the gold-leaf on the edges, and the family records contained within. Praise their Bibles for their beauty; let them know you think they're special, too.
- Explain about books, chapters, and verses. Use a dry-erase or blackboard to make it more visual. Have children take turns coming up and writing scriptural notations on the board, based on the ones you've been memorizing. Make sure everyone understands the system.
- Have them work in small groups to look up a passage you have read previously, and which you have written out on the board. Give them hints, i.e., "It's between Matthew and Luke, toward the end of the Bible . . ." Praise and applaud those who find it first, but keep encouraging those who are lagging behind. The spirit of competition is great fun and emphasizes the excitement you want them to feel about Sacred Scripture.
- Once everyone has found it -- and you'll have to walk around and give lots of encouragement to get to this point -- read the passage aloud from your Catholic translation while they follow along in theirs. Tell them it's okay if their Bible expresses it a little differently.
- It's a good idea to have an extra Bible or two on hand in case a child's family doesn't own one. However, in my experience, parents will go out and buy a Bible if their child needs one for class. They are very generous and should be appreciated for this. God uses this generosity to bring His holy Word into their homes!
Lifelong Perk: Helping kids feel an affectionate familiarity with their Bibles permanently opens its life-giving pages to them. Even if their family Bibles are gathering dust at home, these exciting experiences teach them that God's powerful love is only a turn of the page away, and they'll be much more likely to pick it up when they need it most.