I am a rookie catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), in my inaugural year working with the program. I was trained and certified as a Level I catechist last summer, and this school year my friend Kara and I, with the help of our parish’s director of religious education, organized and began an atrium for three to six-year-olds.
Before I enrolled in the CGS training, a friend — an all-pro, longtime CGS catechist — actively recruited me for the training. Her recommendation was simple. CGS will change the way you approach your children. And it will certainly change the way you approach God.
Being of a generation when religious education was watered down at best, my friend’s comment was quite the testimony. And you know what? Her words have certainly proven to be true. CGS, in short order, has indeed changed the way I approach my parenting and more importantly, has helped to strengthen my relationship with the Trinity.
If you aren’t familiar with CGS, my best suggestion is to spend some time observing a program in person. It is one of those things that is really tough to put into words, as most Divine things are. But I’m going to briefly try (really, though, head over here for the official info!).
For over 50 years, CGS has offered both child and adult a method of faith formation focusing on the religious capacities of the young child. Children gather in a prepared environment called an atrium to pray, to work, and to ponder the most essential themes of our faith. Using Montessori principles of education, the atrium provides an opportunity for children to observe and ponder a variety of presentations rooted in scripture. Then children are given time and space to work with the materials specifically designed for those presentations.
One presentation is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, based on the parable of the Good Shepherd found in the Gospel of John, chapter 10. Here’s a peek at some of the materials for this presentation.
At the heart of the parable is the lesson that the shepherd knows and calls each sheep by name. He has a personal relationship with each of them. We adults know from John 10 that the shepherd represents Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and the sheep represent us. But in my catechist role, it is not my place to reveal all these meanings behind the parable. There is much beauty in the joy of discovery, so I am to leave much of this presentation open-ended, to not push for the children to “get” it. This allows the children to grow in relationship with Jesus over time.
Then there are the times when I’m the one who needs to “get” it to grow into a deeper relationship with Jesus. This week was one of those times.
After reading the Good Shepherd parable to the children, I set out the materials as shown in the photo. As the children and I discussed the materials, one child asked,
“Why is the shepherd carrying the sheep?”
“I wonder …,” I questioned back in return. “I wonder why the shepherd might be carrying that sheep?”
The child replies, “Maybe the sheep hurt his leg and couldn’t walk anymore.”
Then another child picks up the conversation, “Yeah, I bet the sheep hurt his leg and got tired and couldn’t walk anymore. So the shepherd picked up the sheep and carried him for a while because he was tired and limping.”
I reflectively say, “That was really kind of the shepherd, wasn’t it? I know when I’m tired and limping, it sure helps me when someone lifts me up and carries me.”
At that point, all I could do was fight back the tears. Because on that particular day I was feeling so very tired and simply dejected by some other things going on in my life. I was limping along, at best, and all I needed to hear was the sweet voice of a five-year-old reminding me that sometimes the Good Shepherd just needs to pick up and carry one of the sheep from his flock until that sheep is ready to walk on her own.
I reached out to my CGS mentor and mentioned this story. I wept as I retold it. I wasn’t a crier before CGS! I promise, I wasn’t! Dang you, CGS! :) My mentor beautifully reminded me about the gift of simplicity of heart. And that’s probably been the biggest gift CGS has already given me in my short time working with it. Our time in the atrium with the children can, if we are open to it, cultivate in us a simplicity of heart as well. What a tremendous gift, one that I will continue to pray for. I thank God that on that particular day, my heart was open to recognizing that all I needed was to simply allow the Good Shepherd to give me a piggyback ride for a while.