And lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. ~ Matthew 2:9-11
Just as the Star of Bethlehem led the Three Kings to the Infant Messiah, the Word of God lights our way to Christ and transmits graces to those who read it, hear it, and contemplate it. It contains the very life of God, a force both gentle and transformative. Like the great lion, Aslan, in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, our Lord speaks to us through the Bible with all the tenderness of a mother, while His strength inspires our awe and holy fear.
But don't you have to be a scholar to create Bible-centered lessons in the Catholic faith that are vibrant, intriguing, and memorable? And in this era of video games and cell phones, can we really initiate a new generation of children (and adults) into a daily and devoted relationship with their own Bibles? You bet you can!
Just let that magnificent lion out of its cage.
Here are some guidelines to get you started:
1) Read Sacred Scripture aloud, often. Bible stories are great for illustrating important abstract concepts like:
Temptation and original sin (Adam and Eve: Genesis 3); faith in God's power (Moses Parting the Red Sea: Exodus 14); reconciliation (Jonah and the Whale: Jonah); faithfulness and courage (Daniel in the Lion's Den: Daniel 6 or David and Goliath: 1 Samuel 17); God's healinglove (Lazarus Is Raised: John 11 or The Blind Beggar: Mark 10:46-52); transubstantiation and the abundance of God's love (The Loaves and Fishes: Mark 6:30-44 and The Last Supper: Matthew 26) . . . and so much more.
These are only suggestions. To find just the right story to illuminate your lesson, do a key-word search at the excellent Protestant website, Bible Gateway (i.e., "noah" or "feed five thousand") and then read the passage aloud from your Catholic Bible to avoid errors in translation. (Children under age 8 will need a children's version with pictures.)
If you're not sure which Bible stories to use, check out the index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (free online at www.usccb.org) and look up the concept that is most central to the day's lesson (i.e. "baptism" or "reconciliation"). Pretty much everything in the Catechism is referenced to Sacred Scripture, giving you a rich supply of appropriate readings from which to choose.
Prayerfully study the passage ahead of class-time, asking the Holy Spirit to inspire you and to fill the classroom with His love. Feel very free to dramatize what you read using gestures, changes in vocal tone and pitch, and using eye contact to maintain a connection with the children as they listen, wide-eyed.
Teacher Perk: Kids adore great stories and will love you for sharing them.
Student Perk: Bible stories are love letters from God and actually nourish their souls.
2) Next, act the story out together, keeping things simple, brief, and fun.
a) Allow every kid to play the role he or she wants to play. Five children can be Jesus or Mary or Judas, for instance; they just act in unison. This actually helps shy kids participate!
b) Forget about props and costumes; they are completely and totally unnecessary. Remember, kids have great imaginations.
c) For pre-readers and new readers, just feed them simple lines of dialogue and have them repeat after you. Get right in there and encourage them with your own acting talents! They'll be hesitant at first, but after a few weeks of working this way, they'll be eager to jump in and play with you.
d) For confident readers, you can actually hand them slips of paper with a few lines of scripture typed out on them, and they can huddle together to recite the actual words of sacred scripture rather than improvising their lines. It is a wonderful and moving sight to see children speaking God's holy and living words aloud.
e) Keep scenes short and to the point.
f) Avoid perfectionism: Enjoy the chaotic feeling of a creative group activity. Tolerate a little good-natured silliness. You want them to enjoy this and remember it.
g) Strictly enforce a "no touching" rule to keep the action from spinning out of control. (i.e., All violence should be mimed without making any physical contact. The Good Samaritan is a great example: The robbers wave their arms a safe distance from the poor traveler and he/she reacts as if beaten. If Jonah is thrown from the whale onto the shore, he gently "throws" himself. And so on.)