Centuries ago St. Jerome wrote, “Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ.” And since Vatican 2, the Church has explicitly emphasized Bible literacy. The Church is right: there is no substitute for a Catholic faith that is firmly grounded in Scripture. Not just a Bible story here, a verse or two over there; but understanding the Catholic faith and the Bible at the same time as a unified whole. To achieve that goal in the middle-school catechetical classroom, I’ve written The Bible Tells Me So: A Year of Catechizing Directly from Scripture.
The Bible Tells Me So recounts one year of Bible-based teaching for 6th-graders, featuring both Bible-sourced Catechesis and the give-and-take between teacher and students. The text is edited from recordings of the classes, plus my lesson plans and accumulated class notes. It’s intended to provide a firm Scriptural foundation for today’s Catholic children and catechists, giving them an invaluable familiarity with the Bible and their faith at the same time. Because the text is written as a dialogue between the teacher and the students, the reader will learn not only what has been taught, but how it’s been taught.
My catechetical career began in the spring of 1999. Our pastor asked my wife and me to teach RCIA; the year before we had managed an adult class in which the topics were determined by consensus. We were interested in doing RCIA, and our adult class, which had not gone through any formal faith instruction since the 8th grade, agreed to attend as well. But we soon realized that the RCIA course wasn’t ideal for Catholics in the Bible Belt: it worked mostly with the Catechism, and documents from Vatican II. Our catechumens would need to learn their Catholicism directly from the Bible in order to better explain (or defend) the Faith to their Evangelical and Fundamentalist neighbors and family members. In other words, the Catechism would be a resource, and the Bible would be the textbook. After we outlined a new syllabus, we were allowed to design a new curriculum. The catechumens, candidates, and Catholics all learned a lot that first year, and had a great time doing so.
But a couple of years later I was needed as a 6th grade catechist. I did not want to deal with kids: what do they care about the Council of Nicaea? But God does work in mysterious ways. I was wrong to think I’d have to dumb things down for them. 6th-graders are ready to learn, ready to think, and ready to know more about God and Faith. They have an as-yet unjaded view of life, and a natural disposition to take God seriously. They grasp big ideas quickly, adjust to new information, and leap to conclusions in a single bound. Their brains are more nimble than an adult’s, and they come to class with much less baggage. They like to be respected as people, not just as children. They will meet high expectations and enjoy doing it.
But the orthodox and substantial 31-chapter textbook was designed for a 180-day school year; we have at most 28 evening classes. It would be impossible to slam through a week’s content in 55 minutes. I decided to cover the material that the book expected the kids to learn, but in a way that worked within our time constraints. Each Thursday I began to write out a scratch lesson plan on a legal pad for the next Wednesday’s class. Because I was accustomed to using the Bible as the textbook, I included Bible references. But unlike adult class, where I could just give a verse or two, and rely on the individuals to already know, or check, the bigger passage on their own, the kids needed more context. For example, if I were discussing baptism with adults, I could just summarize the story of Naaman and Elisha; but with the kids, I needed to tell the whole story. In fact, I wound up acting the story as much as telling it, which was great fun, and the little brains soaked it right up. At the end of that first year, I noticed how often Catholic concepts were communicated through Bible storytelling. Some stories, such as the Healing of the Paralytic, came up several times.
Over the next few years I continued to catechize through increased storytelling, acting, impromptu skits with the kids, using props, and directed Q & A. I also continually revised and added to my lesson plans. Parents often sat in the back of class, and told me how much they were learning.
Increasingly, the textbook’s content was covered by acting out and discussing Bible stories more than by direct reference to the textbook, which by that point the kids did not bring to class. By 2008 (my 5th year of teaching 6th graders) I was using over 50 Bible stories (or topics involving multiple stories), and for my own benefit was writing down what happened in each class. In 2009, I began writing a custom syllabus that would make the Bible be the spine of the catechetical year. The kids would learn their Catholic faith, but they‘d be doing it directly through Scripture. In the Spring of 2010 my DRE approved my reorganization of the curriculum. The Bible Tells Me So: A Year of Catechizing Directly from Scripture is the condensed recounting of that of Bible-sourced catechesis from the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.
The Bible Tells Me So is divided into three Units: Units 1 and 2 treat the Bible chronologically from Genesis to Revelations, emphasizing the Catholic understanding of Scripture. These classes were taught directly from a highlighted Bible. Unit 3 then examines the Mass in lessons which draw from the knowledge gained in the preceding units, using the same highlighted Bible and a highlighted Missalette.
Because the lessons are taught from the Bible, not a particular textbook, any catechist can easily use the content in the classroom. Most Bible quotes in English are from the Revised Standard Version- Catholic Edition. No materials are required beyond the contents of this book, a Bible, a Missalette, inexpensive props, and a whiteboard. The students don’t bring a textbook to class, and have no paper, pencil, or anything else to distract them except for the occasional art handout.
The Church speaks of the New Evangelization; The Bible Tells Me So will help you prepare our children to be among the New Evangelizers. Now is the perfect time for these young minds to acquire a Bible-Catholic framework, a cadre, which will serve them for the rest of their lives.
If you’re interested in knowing more about The Bible Tells Me So, follow the link to download the Table of Contents and Chapter 1, Adam’s Nose: https://www.createspace.com/3835986
Copyright 2012 Christian LeBlanc