It has been a joy over the last five years to become acquainted with and implement in two Catholic schools a wonderful new means of catechesis – the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
I was spurred on to consider CGS because of my observation of the all-too-frequent situation of students graduating from our Catholic schools and then drifting away from the practice of the faith. My attempts to understand why this is happening led me to consider the insight of recent popes that the Church needs to return to basic evangelization, focusing on the kerygma.
What is the kerygma? It is the basic message of the Gospel, which Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, succinctly stated: Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
Of all the catechetical methods I’m acquainted with, CGS stands out as being grounded in the kerygma. It is always concerned with the essentials, effectively deepening the acceptance and understanding of the gift of Jesus’ personal love.
CGS takes place in an atrium – a prepared environment according to the principles of Maria Montessori – where students listen to Scripture and are given opportunities to meditate on the words through the hands-on use of materials. It has been a great delight observing the children in the atrium as they engage in self-selected activities, exhibiting powers of concentration and engagement for extended periods of time.
There are two principles of CGS that stand out to me as being abundantly proven in action. The first is that children have a desire for God implanted in them by nature. The second is that children are in a special way suited to receiving the gifts that God desires for all human beings because they are ready to trust, and they do not have the unhealthy attachments to things that adults acquire. Because of this, the atrium is often a place of the untrammeled working of God’s grace in young human hearts. What an inspiration it is for the catechist to witness this!
St. Paul expresses God’s purpose for us in this way: “Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God” (Eph 3:16-19).
This is also a most apt expression of the purpose of CGS for young children.
Mike Perry is principal of St. Anthony of Padua
Elementary in Vancouver, where Catechism of the Good Shepherd is in its second
year. He was principal of St. Jude’s in Vancouver and brought CGS to the
school. He spoke at the first-ever national CGS conference which was held in Vancouver last month.