Written by Sam El-Azem, Tri-parish Director of Formation for Children
During the season of Easter, we witness of the joy of the Sacraments, especially when our youngest friends are invited to receive Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time. This is always such a special time for the children and our parish communities.
I want to share with you the process to prepare for the Sacraments within the methodology of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Beginning in Level 1 (K3-K5), the child is invited to consider their friendship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd. It is a friendship that, we believe children already have with God, and is rooted in love and security. Drawing on the Kingdom parables, these themes in the Scriptures are presented and the children are invited to respond.
Once in Level 2 (1st-3rd Grade), the children are starting to consider their place in the world, their families, their friendships, and their relationship with God. In Level 1, they grow in the foundational and unchanging love of God and in Level 2, we ponder our response. We start to consider all of the amazing gifts that God has given to us, there is an even greater gift that God wants to give to us—Jesus in the Eucharist.
At the beginning of the year, we gather as a group and the children are invited to consider if this is their year to receive Jesus in this special way. When we think about child development, we discover that not all children develop at the same rate physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and yes, even spiritually. Our mixed age group classes allow for children to be exposed to this process of discernment and to assess their own readiness to start preparing to receive these gifts of Reconciliation and the Eucharist for the first time. This is the first year that we approached preparation this way and the fruit of this is beyond words.
For the children who discern that this is their year, their focus shifts a bit when it comes to presentations and work with the materials in the Atrium. As their moral lives start to develop, we ponder the moral parables that Jesus gives to us like the Good Samaritan, the Found Coin, the Found Sheep, and the True Vine. We think about what it looks like to love God with all of our hearts, our souls, and our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus also gives us Maxims in the Bible that help us think more deeply about these commandments—”love your enemies,” “your body is temple of the Holy Spirit,” “do not blow a trumpet before you,” and more. These Maxims invite the children to consider their own lives and how they live (or do not live) these out. This is our response to the gifts we are given. We also study the Mass more intentionally and the children work on a big project of writing out certain prayers of the Mass to make their own first Missal, or guidebook to the Mass.
In April, we have three extra sessions that include the child and the parent(s) where we ponder the parable of the True Vine, being connected to Christ, the moments of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the gift of the love of God. A highlight of this entire process, however, is the Sacrament retreat. The children and at least one parent attend a retreat, a time of intentional preparation, on Thursday evening, Friday evening, and most of Saturday. On Friday, we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time, recalling our connection to Jesus, the True Vine. After receiving the Sacrament, the children then light a candle from the Easter candle as a sign of this Light of Christ being renewed within us.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is deeply connected to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is why we celebrate the two of them so close together. When we link the Sacrament of God’s mercy and healing with the celebration of the Eucharist, the children know the deep love of the Good Shepherd, a love that is their own, no matter what. That in renewing the Light within us, we can more fully receive all the love that God wants to give. What a gift!
These gifts are seen as a part of the whole gift of having a lived relationship with Christ and gifts that we continue to receive as a sheep in the flock of Christ. I encourage parents to not wait to sign their children up for formation when they are in that 2nd grade year. Children have a deep friendship with Christ even from a youngest of ages. Consider enrolling them in our Level 1 Atrium (K3-K5 aged children) so they can spend time cultivating the foundation of Christ’s love so that when they get to Level 2 (1st-3rd grade) and to Level 3 (4th-6th), they can build upon it.
Sign up for our 6-week summer sessions is open now and fall registration will open in the middle of summer.