For many kids, faith formation feels like just one more thing on their busy schedules. They hurry through their school day shuffling from class to class, race to extracurricular activities, squeeze in a meal (often fast-food), and get dropped off at religious education classes, where they are usually met with a flurry of announcements and activity. And here we are, as catechists, trying to get them to suddenly come face-to-face with the issue of their eternal Salvation! It’s no wonder we (and they) experience some degree of frustration!
I propose that catechists dedicate a small chunk of time at the start of sessions to transition. Consider having the lights turned low and some inspirational music playing as the children enter. When everyone is in place and you’ve greeted the group, invite them to a short period of silence and stillness. Have a bowl of holy water on your prayer table, and invite children one at a time to come forward and bless themselves. Ask if anyone has any needs or people they would like to pray for, and then pray a brief opening prayer together, such as the Lord’s Prayer or a Hail Mary. All told this can be done in five or ten minutes. You may feel that you have so little time already that you can’t devote another five or ten minutes to transition. However, if it makes the remainder of your time more effective, it will be worth it.
Consider this interesting note: Bishop Robert Barron—author, theologian, and speaker—points out that, when entering a medieval cathedral, one would first encounter frightening gargoyles on the outside, reminding us of the evils that we confront in the world and from which we must be protected. Upon entering, one would suddenly be enshrouded in a dark foyer, making it very difficult to see—one would literally have to pause for a moment of transition for his or her eyes to adjust. Finally, one would enter the cathedral and be met with dazzling, colorful, stained-glass windows and images/icons of saints and celestial beings. The architects of these cathedrals knew that people need transition when attempting to become more cognizant of the spiritual. (Barron, Heaven in Stone and Glass) In some small ways, we catechists can do the same for our young people in faith formation.
Refer to the Effective Catechist section of your Finding God manual for hints on preparing a sacred space to welcome young people.