Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
The motto of this new method of teaching the faith is "Help me fall in love with God by myself."
by The Rev. Robert J. Gaestel | Source:
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a new way of Christian education that presents the most important realities of the Christian faith to the youngest members of the Church. This manner of Christian education assumes that young children have religious potential. That is, God having already made himself present to them in their deepest being, they are capable of developing both a conscious and intimate relationship with God. They only need the guidance and vocabulary to enable them to become aware of their relationship with God and give expression to it.
This is done by means of two things, a prepared environment, and a trained catechist whose sources are Scripture and Liturgy. The prepared environment contains materials that are models of things used in the Church´s worship such as altar, Eucharist, baptism, liturgical colors, etc. The environment also contains materials relating to the proclamation of the faith such as parables, prophecies, geography of Israel, and the life of Christ. These are manipulatives for use by both the catechist and the child. The trained catechist makes presentations to the child using the materials. These presentations are chosen to convey the essentials of the faith in a manner appropriate to the child´s development. The child is then invited to internalize and respond to the presentation by working with the materials themselves. The catechist does not give answers or impart information. The catechist presents the reality, and asks questions. The catechist assists in the child´s own discovery of the meaning. The motto of CGS is "Help me fall in love with God by myself."
CGS is divided into three levels. Level 1 is age 3-6, Level 2 is age 6-9, and Level 3 is age 9-12. In Level 1 the controlling image is Christ the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep and gives everything he is for them. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and calls them by their name. The child comes to discover who the Shepherd is and who the sheep are. What stands behind all this is the first moment of the covenant, the moment of gift. Level 1 stays focused on the moment of gift with the aim of children coming to a deep enjoyment of it. The enjoyment of the gift of God´s own self to the child is the foundation of further religious insight and moral development.
Level 2 continues the reflection on the moment of gift and begins to awaken in the child the question of their personal response. The controlling image is Christ the True Vine, and the History of the Kingdom of God. The child begins to discover the vast cosmic history of God´s plan of salvation and that they have something to contribute to it. Moral sensitivity/awareness begins here and grows with the presentations of Jesus´ Maxims, Moral Parables, and Reconciliation. The child´s desire to carry out the requests of the Good Shepherd naturally flow from the relationship of loving trust that was established in the previous level.
Level 3 carries the human response further. The controlling image is the Plan of God as worked out in the Bible and human history. The child begins to deal with the advance of the Kingdom and people´s opposition to it. The paradigm of Creation-Redemption-Parousia guides a more thorough exploration of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament.
Throughout all three levels, the child encounters the essentials of the Faith. All three levels include presentations on the Sacraments, the Bible, Geography, Infancy and Passion Narratives, Prophecies, Parables, Maxims in a manner developmentally appropriate. The presentations increase in detail and sophistication as the child matures. However, the role of the catechist as facilitator of the child´s own discovery of the meaning of these things for themselves remains throughout. Both the child and the catechist find their faith nourished in this process.
An interpersonal relationship is always a mystery, and all the more so when that relationship is between God and the child. We believe that there is a deep bond between God and the child which produces in the child the desire to draw near to God. The catechist´s role is to prepare the environment and to make presentations that "call forth" the child´s response rather than "pour in" information. They listen with the child and together ask, "God who are you? How do you love us?" The adult is a co-wonderer with the child as they together enjoy meditating on the questions generated by the Scriptures with the prepared environment as a developmental aid.
In the words of Dr. Sofia Cavaletti who developed the program, "If we want to help the child draw nearer to God, we should with patience and courage seek to go always closer to the vital nucleus of things. This requires study and prayer."
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