Family Catechesis at St. Barnabas: Saving the Toughest Topic for Last

Finding God Family Catechesis tools

This past Sunday was our last teaching session of the year for family catechesis at St. Barnabas, and we saved the “toughest” topic for last: the moral life! Of course, we didn’t actually save that for last; it just happens to be the last unit of the Finding God program. The theme of the session was, “The Moral Life: Stop Trying to Fix Yourself,” which gave us the opportunity to lay the foundation for the moral life as a response to the grace of God that comes to us through our Savior, Jesus Christ. Here is a summary:

  • I was happy to have my co-presenter, Deacon Andy, back! It takes a lot of pressure off of me to have someone I can partner with so that I can catch my breath (mentally more than physically) as he is presenting.
  • After our opening prayer ritual (prayerfully setting up the prayer space with sacred objects), we began by having a “Family Resemblance” contest in which we asked for pairings of family members (parent/child or siblings) to come forward if they thought they bore a family resemblance to one another. We had fun as six or seven pairings came forward, and we did an informal show-of-hands to see which pairing bore the most resemblance to one another. (We had a tie!)
  • The activity brought lots of smiles and laughs, and I used it to talk about how every one of us—in fact, every human being—bears a family resemblance to God, since we are all made in the image and likeness of God. I stressed how this resemblance is not about our physical features, but about our very essence. We bear the image and likeness of God (God’s “characteristics”) in our very being and are capable of growing in our likeness to God through the way we live. The moral life is all of our attempts to live in the imago Dei.
  • We then sent the children and their catechists to their lessons, and the parents remained with Deacon Andy and me.
  • Deacon Andy started off with the “good stuff,” focusing on the gift of God’s grace and how our moral life is lived in response to this unearned gift. Andy led the parents through an explanation of actual grace as those moments when we sense a nudge from God, who is trying to get our attention. Andy told a great story of how, when he was a child, his grandmother would greet him or say goodbye to him by holding his face and kissing him while saying, “I love you.” He used this as an example of actual grace—a moment when he felt nudged by God to recognize his loving presence. He then invited the parents to discuss similar moments in their lives when they felt nudged by God. As always, the parents really seem to enjoy these moments of sharing, which are non-threatening but still nudge them to think and share about their relationship with God. I guess we can say that these discussion moments are experiences of actual grace!
  • I then followed with an explanation of sanctifying grace, comparing it to a relationship that sustains us in an ongoing way, even when we are not in the presence of the other person or actively engaged with that person. I talked about how we encounter sanctifying grace in ongoing prayer, reception of the Eucharist, and celebration of the sacraments. I used this as a jumping-off point to talk about spirituality and, specifically, Ignatian spirituality, which invites us to recognize God’s grace all around us (“finding God in all things“) as a basis for the moral life. We then watched a wonderful short video by Br. David Steindl-Rast, which captures the beauty of finding God in all things and being grateful.
  • Deacon Andy then explained that, with all of that as a foundation, we can now look at the concept of sin, emphasizing that God’s grace comes first and that our moral life is based on how we respond to that gift of grace. Andy explored the concepts of original sin, mortal sin, and venial sin with the parents and outlined the principles that we use to judge the seriousness of a sinful act.
  • I followed by talking about making moral choices and revisited some of those same principles that Andy covered to illustrate how parents can help their children to pay closer attention to their moral choices and the consequences of their actions. We spent some time talking about the differences among accidents, mistakes, and sin, which is a basic component of preparing children for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. We also talked about how sometimes we, as parents, can overreact to accidents and mistakes and how we can go back to our children and apologize for those overreactions, assuring them that what happened was only an accident or a mistake.
  • Finally, I talked about how we use an examination of conscience, not to wallow in our sinfulness, but as part of our ongoing efforts to be better persons. I referred to the scene from the movie, As Good as It Gets, in which Jack Nicholson’s character tells Helen Hunt’s character, “You make me want to be a better man.” I used that to come full circle, explaining that God’s amazing grace compels us to want to be a better man, a better woman, or a better child, and that we can only do so through the embrace of God’s healing and saving grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ. We are incapable of fixing ourselves, and we need God’s merciful grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ.
  • After a closing prayer, we realized that, even though this topic was one of our toughest, we somehow ended early! The parents had about 10 minutes to relax and talk over refreshments as we awaited the return of their children.
  • Our next and last session will be on Sunday, May 19—Pentecost—and will be a celebration of this year of Family Faith Formation!
About Joe Paprocki 2739 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at

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