Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lesson plan for adult religious ed

Situation: Adult religious ed tonight at 6:30; each class covers two topics (seemingly randomly picked). Tonight's are "Last Things" + "Personal Prayer". The textbook is "The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth" (one of the best textbooks I have ever seen).

  1. To outline the basic concepts.
  2. To give memorable conceptual keys that provide a certain unity to the concepts.
  3. To relate to their lives.
  4. To address obstacles to acceptance.
Basic concepts [brackets indicate not covered by textbook]:
  1. Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, (if it comes up: Limbo)
  2. Two judgements, particular and final
  3. Communion of Saints, Prayer for the dead
  4. Prayer as relationship; [prayer in the Holy Spirit, prevenient Grace, not something "we do"]
  5. [Difference between personal prayer, public devotions, and liturgy].
  6. Vocal*, Meditative, Contemplative prayer; [need for asceticism].
  7. Difficulties--distractions, dryness, accedia.
  8. Devotions
Unifying concepts
  1. God's infinite freedom and our finite freedom ("Why is there a Hell? How is Heaven everlasting if we are free?")
  2. God's total goodness and the need for purification ("Why is there a purgatory?") - Balthasar quote about God hating evil.
  3. The Communion of Saints and prayer for the dead *(Linking 'last things' with prayer--C.S. Lewis quote!)
  4. Prayer as conforming us to the life of Christ; praying in the Spirit, through Christ, to the Father - the paradox of unity and separation, divinization and self-immolation.
Images and relations to life
  1. Freedom and salvation (Dante's Inferno! Gotta get some illustrations)
  2. God's total goodness (Soap in the powdered water, just like Mr. Wizard!)
  3. Prayer for the dead (I think we can rely on the C.S. Lewis quote... c'mon, who could hate Lewis???)
  4. Prayer in Jesus (perhaps a little field trip to our [wonderfully] cruciform church?)
Otherwise, there's a lot in the material itself can easily be directly plugged into daily life. With respect to the Last Things, I'll just ask people when they've felt the most "free" or the least "free" in their lives; I might suggest, if they are married, that their engagement and honeymoon love might have been such a time. Freedom + love for t3H w1n!!!11!!!one!

And personal prayer, well, I can just use the questions from out of the textbook.

Obstacles to address:
  1. "How could a good God punish souls in Hell for eternity?"
  2. "Purgatory isn't in the Bible; it seems like a made-up doctrine."
  3. "If Heaven is a place of freedom, then how can I be sure I won't fall from Heaven once (if?) I go there?"
  4. "If God knows all of my thoughts and needs before I even think of them, why do I need to pray?"
  5. "Why is God so silent? / Why doesn't God give me what I ask for?"
  6. "The very concept of memorized prayers offends me--how can memorized prayers come from the heart?"
  7. "If God is infinite and self-sufficient, why does he need our prayers?"
(I tend to do best with these if I stay 'impromptu' but also have my resources handy).

Handy quotes and links:

C.S. Lewis famous defense of purgatory

Henry Suso on Prayer: "Thus such people fall into a depression, case aside prayer, and say to themselves, 'How can you imagine that such befouled prayers are a help to you?'... They do not realize that their prayer, with all these incursions they deplore, is very pleasing and delightful in God's eyes... It is this repugnant existence itself that calls them to God's caring attention. In his eyes the bitterness of their sufferings turns into a pleasing prayer that approaches him more closely than otherwise, more quickly making him favorably disposed to them... Whatever purity in prayer one loses because of the inroads of suffering becomes pleasing in God's eyes for this very reason, just as one is often more ready to listen to a sick and weakly person who can hardly talk than to a strong and healthy person." --Henry Suso, "Lectulus Noster Floridus" in Christian Eloquence: Contemporary Doctrinal Preaching, C. Colt Anderson, (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2005), 201-202.

Hans Urs von Balthasar on Prayer: "Our praise, gratitude and worhsip do not spring solely from our existence--though we can never thank God enough for it; our existence itself was only given to us because of a thought in God's mind prior even to that of our existence--'before the foundation of the world.' Indeed, our whole being is immersed in the ocean of the Father's love, who creates nature and its laws to act as a foil to set off his miracles. When we contemplate the Word of God, we must let ourselves be gripped by this primary truth, namely, that the whole compact mass of created being and essence and the everyday world we are so familiar with sails like a ship over the fathomless depths of a wholly different element, the only one that is absolute and determining, the boundless love of the Father... Once we have suspected or felt the muster of our existence, the necessity of prayer and especially of contemplative listening in prayer becomes evident. For the relation between God and creature is now seen to depend on the marvel of God's incomprehensivle love, and shows him, in setting up this relation, as the Lover absolutely. Then the creature itself is seen as a sustained utterance of prayer; and man only needs to know, in some degree, what he really is, to break spontaneously into prayer." --Edward T. Oakes, Pattern of Redemption: The Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc., 2005), 124, quoting Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer, trans. A.V. Littledale (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1961), 35-36.

Balthasar Again on Prayer: "How immediately a landscape from which men are absent can unite us to God, for example high mountains, a large forest or a freely flowing river! The handwriting of the Creator can easily be read in them; even those who have forgotten how to pray will once more learn, with deep joy, to listen to the sound of the sources of existence. In the cities, however, only man's handwriting is everywhere visible, and much more so in the modern than in the ancient ones that were still built according to human measurements. Concrete and glass do not speak of God; they only point to man who is practically glorified in them. The cities do not transcend man, hence they do not guide to transcendence. Quickly and greedily they devour the surrounding countries and turn it into a dirty, defiled forecourt of cities. For some years now the Roman Campagna has ceased to exist, the Swiss landscape likewise. The Rhine has long 'had it.' Overnight, 'nature' will be turned into a reservation; it will become a 'national park' within the civilized world; and besides, in national parks--mostly crowded!--it is not very easy to pray either." --Oakes, 170, quoting Balthasar, The God Question and Modern Man, 57.


Br. Thomas said...

Good luck, and may God bless your zeal!

If this works for you, if people seem the least interested during your presentation... if they show up, consider your vocation a thousand times confirmed!

And, if it doesn't go as well as you have prepared (extensively and impressively), then don't be disappointed.

When I was preparing a Lent series of talks on the liturgy of Holy Week the good pastor chided me to stay practical, saying "people don't understand what you mean by 'enter into the force of the mystery,' heck, I don't know what you mean by that!"

Your soap and water example will work, I've seen this and similariae done before, and people love it.

It was after the major bombing of my adult ed. series that the discernment 'clicked' and I was out of the parish and the diocese by the end of that week, feeling more free and happy than ever before! I realized I just don't have the requisite skills to be a good parish priest, and I could either destroy myself and offer mediocre ministry, or chance a risk and land in freedom.

Ok, enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think about me? ;)

Jeff said...

Well, I spent 90% of the lesson on the "Last things" component (and even then mostly on Hell and Purgatory), but it went very well.

This was not a workshop that I was coordinating on my own; it already has a regular teacher. The idea is that I come in at regular intervals to talk on certain subjects. So I had a captive audience.

The regular teacher told me that, though I was introducing some complex topics, there was nothing that was too complicated or unclear. She said that my (extensive and crazy) use of the whiteboard saved me from obscurity.

With the subject of personal prayer, because I was short on time, I focussed exclusively on the areas I felt were missing from the textbook--the need for asceticism (perfect for Lent) and the fact that prayer depends on Grace.