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March 14, 2007
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers media resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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New Life for Parish Staffs
Unfortunately, catechetical leaders often need to live one season ahead of the folks in the pews. So today—barely into Lent—I’d like to talk a little about the spirit of Easter and parish staffs. Perhaps this season of resurrection and new beginnings would be a good time to look at how your staff might continue to grow.
I have ministered in four parishes and worked with six pastors and two pastoral administrators. I was blessed to minister alongside some wonderful men and women. Ministering together was so comfortable for us because we took time to get to know each other. We came together regularly to pray and to share our lives.
In all of the parishes in which I worked, the staff would take time off to go out to lunch and dinner together. Occasionally, we would spend a day just having fun. Most of our staff meetings began by checking on how we were doing. Regular staff meetings included a prayer, a Scripture reading and, often, a faith-sharing question.
Please don’t get me wrong: I did not expect the parish staff to be my primary support community. But I did expect support from the community that was on staff with me.
There are all sorts of materials available from our Catholic publishers to help parishes work on staff development. If needed, there is probably someone in your diocese who can facilitate a staff workshop on communications, building trust, etc. Even taking the Myers-Briggs personality test and working with outcomes can be an extremely rewarding activity.
St. Anthony Messenger Press recently published a book of prayer services that may also be of help to parish staffs. Prayer Service for Parishes by Karen Berry, O.S.F., offers an excellent short Easter prayer service for staff members. The reflection offers time for individuals to write down their thoughts before sharing them with the group.
Along with a Scripture reading from Luke and a Psalm response, the service includes a reading from Margaret Alter:
It is significant that the Risen Christ identified himself…by his scars. It was his suffering, transformed by God that made him credible. Likewise we, too, need not despair because of the scars that identify us. It is precisely these scars that God transforms into ultimate good for ourselves, and compassionate ministry to others.
She goes on to say, “When the worst that life might deal us can be so transformed, we encounter a “resurrection psychology.” (Click here to view the rest of the reading and see the whole prayer service.) What a great reading! It has offered me days of fruitful meditation.
The Easter Triduum and Families
One of my clearest childhood Easter memories is carrying a basket on Holy Saturday to my grandmother’s church to receive a blessing. The basket was filled with food she had packed. There was homemade bread, a sausage link, fresh butter carved in the shape of a lamb, hand-dyed Easter eggs and all sorts of other goodies. What memories do our children have today concerning Easter, the most important day on our Christian calendar?
In his book, Your Catholic Family: Simple Ways to Share the Faith at Home, Jim Merhaut offers some wonderful ideas for families regarding the Easter Triduum. There are several activities suggested for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There is even a commentary on the Easter bunny that offers parents food for thought.
One of the suggested activities for Holy Thursday is to have a Seder supper. Merhaut suggests getting instructions from a Web site or from the library. I would like to just add a word of caution.
The Seder supper is a sacred ritual for our Jewish brothers and sisters. Celebrating a Seder with your family would be a great tie to our ancient fathers and mothers in the faith. However, if you are going to celebrate the ritual in your home, make sure you do not add any Christian symbols or words. Doing so would be as disrespectful as other religions adapting our Mass to fit their beliefs. (Click here to read more ideas from the book.)
Finally, Merhaut offers some very insightful words answering the tough questions parents are often faced regarding Good Friday. Do the families in your parish a favor this Easter and pass on some of Jim Merhaut’s ideas.
First Communion
As I sit down to write this, Lent is just beginning and spring is still weeks away. I take heart in the lengthening of our daylight hours at the end of a dark winter. I’ve written before about Christ’s Paschal Mystery and the theme of light following darkness. We experience the evidence of this cycle of life following death in a physical way at this time of year as we creep toward spring. We also begin preparing to celebrate the Paschal Mystery in special ways in our parishes as we approach Easter and the celebration of children’s First Communion/First Eucharist during the Easter season.
Mark Link says that God’s love is both creative (life-giving) and redemptive (forgiving). We in turn are called to be life-giving and forgiving in our relationships. First Communion is a true celebration of both of these characteristics of God’s love and an opportunity to celebrate them and put them into action in our own lives.
We welcome children to the table of the Lord. Their parents gave them life and, in turn, their wonder and excitement in receiving Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time give us life. Their excitement about this special celebration invites us to explore the meaning of the Eucharist for ourselves. Our faith is enlivened, and this inevitably brings life to others.
Eucharist is also a means of reconciliation within our Church. At every celebration of the Eucharist we ask for God’s mercy, we offer each other a sign of peace, and we are united with God and others in the reception of Holy Communion. Families gather for the special celebration of First Eucharist—bringing folks together in spite of their differences. Children of divorced parents often bring their original family unit back together for the event, with a focus on what unites them instead of on what divides.
Children take their cues from the important adults in their lives. As you meet with parents and catechists in preparation for First Eucharist at your parish, invite these adults to examine the ways in which their love is life-giving and forgiving—and the ways that it is not. Encourage them to examine how their participation in the Eucharist conveys its value to their child(ren). Challenge them to shift their focus from the clothes and the party and the gifts to what’s most special about their child’s First Eucharist. And make sure they all know that, whatever their circumstances, they are missed by the community when they are absent from Sunday Mass. First Eucharist is a significant celebration because the Sunday Eucharist is THE central celebration of our Church. 
I’ve selected a video clip from the DVD collection The Mass for Children and Young People to share with you. It’s from the Ikonographics program The Mass for Young Children (Part 1) (Windows Media | RealMedia). It offers a basic introduction to the parts of the Mass, connecting them with common activities in a child’s life outside of Mass. Use it and Part 2 of this program with young children as they prepare to celebrate First Eucharist. Send it home for viewing by children who are being homeschooled. A video program of similar content for parents is the teaching segment of A Walk Through the Mass. It’s important that we—children and adults alike—understand the progression and parts of our eucharistic celebration in order to most fully enter into its meaning for us as individuals and as members of a faith community.
May the Lenten season and the anticipation of spring and Easter be a time of growth in your own appreciation of the Paschal Mystery and the Eucharist. It’s only when you are personally enlivened by these key realities of our faith that you will be able to convey to parents, catechists and children the significance and richness of their meaning.
Stories of Women in the Church
The Gospel story from the Easter morning liturgy offers a shining example of the special relationship that Jesus had with the women in his band of disciples. Early in the morning, the women came to the tomb to anoint the body of the martyred Jesus. Finding the tomb empty, Mary Magdalene is beside herself, lamenting the loss of what remained of her Lord. And then, through her tears, she sees the risen Jesus and hears him tell her to announce his resurrection to the disciples. Of all the people he could have entrusted with that task, Jesus chose one of the women disciples.
In her new book, Women in Church History, Joanne Turpin tells the stories of 21 women throughout the 21 centuries of Christian history, who have made exceptional and often inspiring contributions to the Catholic Church and the spreading of the Good News. These are moving stories of perseverance, personal holiness, moral courage and determination on the part of women called by God to shape and reshape the growing Church community over the centuries. Familiar women, like Hildegard of Bingen, Margaret of Scotland, Clare of Assisi, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, as well as less well-known women, like Macrina of Cappadocia and Ludmila of Bohemia, and more recent women, such as Jean Donovan and Dorothy Stang, all emerge as the outstanding and courageous contributors to the vibrancy of our Catholic Church. Their stories, often forgotten, are well worth the telling and taking to heart.
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