About this Blog

This project arises from religious education courses at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago but can be opened to other programs as well. Interested professors of religious education or faith formation should e-mail edaily@luc.edu if they want their students to be included.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Review of “Finding Your Own Way to Pray”

Review of "Finding Your Own Way to Pray"

Kevin Jones-Prendergast, Youth Update: Finding Your Own Way to Pray, Cincinnati, OH, St. Anthony Messenger, 1998

"Finding Your Own Way to Pray" is an article mean to be a resource for young people.  The article looks at different ways to pray and recognizes that there is a multitude of way for people to connect with God in prayer--it's just about finding the one that feels most comfortable for you.  The article attempts to simplify what prayer is and make it approachable for young people.  This article seems to relate to teens: it certainly takes the intimidation out of prayer.  It offers creative, expressive and simple ideas for prayer.  It seems it would be fitting to use this article with young people with all the issues they are facing based on the writings of James L. Heft in Passing on the Faith: Transforming Traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Heft aims to investigate how (or if) faith is being passed from one generation to another and how things like culture, individualism and values affect the transmission of faith.  It is a Western phenomena that young people are not "carrying on" the faith as they have in the past.  They seem to focus on what parts they like and don't want to feel confined in a small set box of rules and regulations.  Young people believe in being "spiritual," but not being "religious."  They are a generation that wants to be entertained and many times fee a tension between their faith and their personal ideals.  The book looks to the appropriate and most effective responses, rather than the clear-cut, tried and true answer of what works and what doesn't.

The Jones-Prendergast article affirms Heft's concern of teens becoming too focused on outside distractions.  The article aims to make praying seem like an east task to attempt.  "Pray" also calls on young people to use the prayer  that feels best for them.  Heft explains it is important to meeting young people where they are rather than telling them they should be at a certain place.  It encourages young people to be creative and find their own unique way to God.

LENT Time to Review Your Life

LENT: Time to Review Your Life
Michael J. Daley, Youth Update: Time to Review Your Life, Cincinnati, OH, St. Anthony Messenger,1999.

This Lenten issue of Youth Update gets the reader to reflect back upon his/her life to see how God has been present. The article encourages and reassures the reader by asking many questions and giving 3 dialogued question and answers that are based on doubts that the young reader may have. Reflective topics like family life, the larger community, and life’s dangers are paralleled with Jesus’ life. The reading aspect is very “Jesus heavy” while the questions are all based very modernly, this almost insists the reader create a dialogue between the two.

Passing On the Faith: Transforming traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is a collection of essays from multiple faiths covering the modern task of passing on faith traditions. Throughout the book the reader is reminded of old and shown many new obstacles modern cultures and societies face when dealing with its youths and young adults. The sociological restrictions our cultures imbed into the young today will need to be mended if our faiths will survive.

The Youth Update article on Lent only offers one way to mend the restrictions out youth face. By asking lots of questions the article brings the reader into a discussion rather than a lecture. The conversation is still very one sided but a conversation none the less. Because it is a Catholic publication the article has a very apparent agenda. It may seem to want the reader to become more open to God while learning the prescribed faith, the article over simplifies and even in my opinion alter the Catholic faith in order to insist upon the reader rather than convince or share in the journey. Much of what is covered in Hefts book is over looked. Insisted reading and being forced to answering “loaded” questions is not new in any form of religious education. We must use more than just printed words to get through to the youth. We must use “both” the old ways “and” new ways to teach. Technologies offer many new ways that could be used to better this old outdated pamphlet style faith sharing tool.

Review of Cyberfaith's Weekly Activity for Lenten Masses

At Cyberfaith, a Web site that is a companion to William H. Sadlier's religion books, there are weekly exercises for children that go along with the week's Catholic scriptural readings. For the purposes of this review, I will analyze the activities for the readings of March 8, 2009.

The activity, which is aimed at children in Fourth -- Eighth grades, starts with reading scripture from Mass, and then reading reflections on those passages. Discussion questions are also included. Next are proclaiming faith activities, which allow students to write down answers to open-ended questions regarding the scripture readings. They ask how the students will listen to Jesus in various areas of their lives, and how they will show trust in others.

In Passing on the Faith: Transforming Traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians and Muslims, James L. Heft and contributing authors surmise that today's teenagers believe in God, but that God is there to "do for them," not the other way around. Heft calls this "other religion" that teens believe in a moralistic, therapeutic deism, where God serves more as a counselor who doesn't ask anything of God's believers.

This activity, aimed at children who either already are, or soon will be, teenagers, aims to head off this, "What have you done for me, God?" focus by putting the onus on the readers to create a relationship with God. The children must listen to God, and show their trust in God by showing their trust in the people around them. God is revealed to them through the scripture readings, but it is up to the children on how they will respond.

A review of a presentation on Lent by Lisa Zolkos (on Bb) in respect to the assigned readings found in Passing on the Faith by James L. Heft

Audience: Middle School Youth of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church… Sunday March 1, 2009

Learning Objective: To understand Lent and our call to walk with Christ on this year’s Lenten journey.

Focusing Activity: Encourage the kids to brainstorm in small groups (8-12) of what they feel are ten things that they KNOW about Lent.

Movement 1: Name the experience. What is Lent? Examine the Gospel of Luke and remember Christ’s experience in the desert for 40 days.

Movement 2: Digging into the experience. What are the rituals of Lent that connect us to a shared encounter with Christ? What is the significance of Ash Wednesday, ashes, abstinence, fasting, sacrifice, almsgiving, prayer, and Palm Sunday? What are we expected to do as devoted followers of Christ to share in this journey of faith?

Movement 3: Sharing the Christian Story/Vision. How does the experience of Jesus in the desert affect our Lenten journey (Luke 4:1-13)? Does our Lenten journey connect us to Christ?

Movement 4: Dialogue between 1 & 2. Why do we have a responsibility to give alms? What does praying do anyway? Does it really strengthen our relationship with God? Does God hear us? Will giving up mean make us better Christians? Should you even try and give up meat? What are some options to meat? What did it mean that Christ was to be the Paschal sacrifice; the Lamb of God?

Movement 5: Decision for action. How do we create our Lenten plan? What you will do for Lent? What pictures could you use to remind you that for the next 40 days you are on a journey with Jesus? What charities can you plan to donate to? Who do you know that is in need (alms)? What acts of kindness will you do for others? How can you increase the opportunities you have to prayerfully seek to deepen your relationship with God?

Lisa used a power point presentation to keep a cohesive lesson plan and engage the youth in two mediums of education simultaneously; both with visual cues and auditory facilitation. It was her intention to simulate the techno-culture mediums that the youth relate to in their daily lives. There is a definite correlation between her catechetical lesson plan and Heft’s assertion that youth “learn more through pictures and sound” (Heft, 5).

The goal of the presentation was to enable the youth to make a personal connection between the traditional religious rituals and practices of the Church, Luke’s Gospel story of Christ in the desert, and to gain a foot hold on their own personal Lenten journeys. This presentation may be used to avoid a “crisis in the transmission of religious memory, practice, and tradition to the next generation (Heft, 103). It was intended to bring one’s spiritual journey into the season of Lent through the rite and traditions of the Catholic Church.

More attention could have been paid to the relationships within the youth culture and how they walk together through their Lenten journey. While the power point is mindful of the culture to which she is educating, more visual references to the youth in the community could be incorporated.

FAITH FORMATION & Evangelization


Audience: St. Mary’s 9th Grade, Oak Ride.

Learning Objective: The 9th Grade Students read the scripture and commit themselves to
the process of integrating faith and learning in perspective of opening

themselves to accept God's power and work together to share food

and companionship with less fortunate as Jesus did in his culture.

Focusing Activity: “Modern Miracles”, Luke Ch.9, from Teaching Activities Manual
for The Catholic youth Bible, 2005, 2 ed.

Movement 1: As it were in the time of Jesus and prophets, is there famine in our world today? Do we have children, old people, handicapped, and families who are hungry? Where are these people? How did you come to know their plight? Are there hungry and needy people in your neighborhood, school, family, friends, country, and parish?

Movement 2: What was the attitude of Jesus towards the sick, sinners, the hungry, widows, children, and the rich? Why didn’t Jesus dismiss the crowd as requested by the Apostles? Do the behavior and words of the Apostles to Jesus resonate with our own lack of faith and trust, fear, selfishness, and self doubt? Today the world is experiencing is experiencing the effects of economic hardships. If Jesus were to be here physically, how would he react to hungry faces of people we hear of, read about, and see in the electronic media? As Christians, what do we learn from these socio economic challenges today?

Movement 3: Let us apply Jesus’ miracle of feeding the crowd to our own culture and daily life situation. Read loudly once more Luke 9:10-17. Do you notice: dismiss the crowd from here; give them some food yourself; we don’t have enough to share; it is dark let them stay; and group them. Do you notice prayer and blessings to seek for Divine intervention; and the miraculous power of God through prayerful faith and trust?
Can you trust God’s power to perform modern miracles of feeding the hungry?

Movement 4: As young teenagers, is it possible to enjoy your happiness and life comfort when there are so many teens, children, and families sleeping hungry and needy? How should you identify with Jesus in letting them recognizing them and show you care? In what ways can we be the voice, hands and hearts of Jesus to all needy? Do you feel God is telling you not to fear but trust and do the little you can?

Movement 5: Let us suggest some of the practical simple and concrete act you feel you can do to perform modern miracles of providing basic needs of other people.
As energetic and caring Christian students who have been blessed by God, can we initiate and organize viable programs through which we can identify ourselves and connect with the hungry, vulnerable children, the old and poor families? Which of the following programs suite your support and active contribution: food drives, collection of canned foods and beverages to aid local food banks or soup kitchen, charitable donations? Which part are you going to play?

Review of “Modern Miracles” from Navarro, Christine S, et al.: “Teaching
Activities Manual for The Catholic Youth Bible” , 2005, 2nd ed.

“Teaching Activities Manual for The Catholic Youth Bible” is a catechetical resource book designed by its authors for the high school teenagers and religious teachers who have taught or are familiar with teaching high school students. The learning and activities have scriptural basis for the teens to “read it”, “Live it”, and “do it”. The features articles focusing influencing personalities in the bible, biblical roots, Catholic connections, beliefs and practices. The articles and different activities are structured to help the students grasp the perspectives of different cultures and how the culture of young people can connect and blend with the homogenous cultures of the Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

The idea is then to read the books of the bible faithfully and effectively, get basic knowledge and feeling, and engage the knowledge and faith in daily life and development.

As Jesus performed miracle of feeding a large crowd in his time, geography and culture, so are youth able to recognize the power and grace of God already working in them. By reading the scriptural texts and participating in learning activities the teens themselves feel by themselves that the messages of the good news are relevantly applicable in and out of season. Today our modern time is experiencing the effects of economic hardship. The modern culture cannot afford to ignore the disbursing images of hungry faces and poor people being seen everywhere. Like adults, the youth have a responsibility and an opportunity to make a difference in the life of humanity.

For this reason, Heft and his co-authors believe that the ever changing culture of the youth should be embraced and gauged in order to pass the faith traditions. You are full of energy and creativity. They can be influenced and challenged positively if their culture and way of thinking are appreciated and acknowledge. The church has to walk with and by young and help them to live positive aspects of their culture within the faith traditions and practice. I see the culture of young people as poignantly ripe for performing modern miracles as we can see in the student activity.

The 9th Grade Activity: “Modern Miracles”

This activity asks the students to open themselves to accept God’s power and work together to share food and companionship with people in need, as Jesus did when he was on earth.

1. Read Lk. 9: 10-17 aloud with the student. Make the following points in your own words:
-Though Jesus is no longer among us performing miracles, God continues to work miracles in and through us every day. We can see the power of God’s miracles when people work together to accomplish God’s will.

2. Raise the issue of hunger in the students’ own community, and connect it to the hunger of the crowd in the Gospel reading. Guide the students to brainstorm creative ways that they could gather others to bring food to these who need it. Help them choose one of heir ideas, develop a plan for implementing the idea, and carry out the plan. Fore, example, they might host a talent show or variety show, collect gifts for food as the price of admission, and donate the food to the local shelf. Or ‘they might host a soup supper for older people or homeless people, incorporating a movie or some other form of entertainment and each bringing a can of food to add to the post.

3. After the students perform their service, gather them for a brief discussion. Invite their observations and feelings from the experience. Try to respond to their questions and concerns. Emphasize the idea that God works through people to bring about modern miracles. Note the power of pulling together, and how much people can do when they share their gifts and talents. Conclude with a prayer asking God to help you and the students always remain open to doing “God’s Work.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Review of “The Challenge of Forgiveness”

From Christine Schmertz Navarro, Teaching Activities Manuel for ‘The Catholic Youth Bible’, Winona, MN, Saint Mary’s Press, 2000.

The Catholic Youth Bible is a bible produced for a youth or young adult to study and pray over. Throughout the bible are several articles that could be of use to the youth while reading the text. The Teaching Activities Manuel is full of activities for a catechist to use in guiding a student’s understanding of the biblical text in respect to our lives today. The activity entitled “The Challenge of Forgiveness” has the students read Luke 15. The conversation begins with a discussion of the parallels of the parables Jesus presents in this chapter, and continues with a focus on the Prodigal Son. An emphasis of the conversation is to be put on God’s ultimate love and forgiveness for us. The students are asked to reflect on the emotions the characters might be feeling throughout and after the story. They are also asked to reflect on the challenges that forgiveness present on both sides. The students then split into groups and create a skit depicting what the relationships between these three characters (father, older son, and younger son) might look like a week later. The activity concludes with a prompt for future discussion.Heft and his colleagues present several ides on the challenges that youth face today in religiosity, as well as some tactics for addressing these issues. Some of the challenges posed are those of modern secularization, individualism, rejection of the institution, and the idea of a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”, or a God that simply helps us lead a good life and helps us in tough times. Throughout the several studies presented, there were several tactics that seemed best to work in attracting and keeping youth active in the religious world. Many of the contributing authors spoke to the need for open communication with the youth and the need for their acceptance in the community. They need a place to share their stories and have their views both accepted and challenged when necessary. “The Challenges of Forgiveness” activity is actually a very strong activity for a group of youths in the Church. It gives them the opportunity to read scripture in a way that is appropriate for them, and to understand the message in relation to their own personal story. The main critique is that the activity is solid, but only offers a basic guiding question for the concluding discussion. I feel that the tying up conversation is the strongest part of the activity, because that is where the connections are made for the students. If the catechist or discussion leader really offers the chance for them to share their stories and hence have some ownership of the conversation, it will meet them better where they are. If the activity is left at only discussing the challenges of forgiveness with out any real life connections, then it is fairly weak.

An Evaluation of Spiritual Anatomy: The Heart in Light of Heft’s Passing on the Faith

The activity reviewed in this entry is entitled, Spiritual Anatomy: The Heart from Doug Fields’ Simply Youth Ministry. This activity can be found here. High school students are the intended audience for this activity. This lesson can be used with either large or small groups. The objective of this lesson is to help students see the importance of keeping their hearts open, or soft, to God.

The lesson begins by dividing the students into pairs or small groups. Each group is then given half of a can of Play-Doh®. Half of the groups will have fresh Play-Doh®, and the other half will have Play-Doh® that has sat out overnight so that it has dried out somewhat. The students are then instructed to make a decorative heart out of their Play-Doh®. After completing their hearts, the students are invited to discuss the task with each other noting the ease or difficulty of the activity, the process of molding and shaping with both sets of Play-Doh®, and how they felt during the activity. Following this discussion, Mark 3:1-6 is read and discussed. The questions should deal with relating the scripture to the students’ lives. Providing that the discussion is appropriate for the audience, this lesson has the potential to be very effective and meaningful, as well as to address the problem raised by James L. Heft and the contributing authors in Passing on the Faith: Transforming Traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

In his article, “Looking for God: Religious Indifference in Perspective,” Melchor Sanchez de Toca states that there is a trend today for teenagers to have a “new religiosity,” which through the “absence of a personal God” becomes a “religion of the self.” (Heft, 32). While acknowledging that this new religiosity can be problematic for those entrusted with passing on the faith to the next generation, the author maintains a sense of hope that by developing a new language and approach religious traditions can be successfully passed on to today’s youth (Heft, 34).

At first glance, it may seem that the Fields activity would perpetuate the narcissistic understanding of a religion of the self found in the new religiosity because its main focus is on the students themselves. It is indeed possible that this might occur, especially if the discussion is not facilitated properly. However, with carefully thought-out discussion questions, the facilitator can lead the participants away from a self-centered understanding of religion and towards a more personal relationship with God. The activity focuses on the importance of keeping one’s heart open to God. Thus, this activity is encouraging each student to form a personal relationship with God. A true relationship is marked by mutuality and communion which do not allow room for narcissism. While there are potential pitfalls, with appropriate facilitation this activity has great potential to encourage students to develop a personal relationship with God.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review of Disciple Hunt through the lens of James Heft's Passing on the Faith


Review of Disciple Hunt from Beyond the Written Word, Exploring Faith Through Christian Art by Eileen M. Daily, Winona, MN, Saint Mary’s Press, 2004. First, Beyond the Written Word, is a booklet of various religious artwork that is used to “speak” to the student. Instead of articulating your religious thoughts verbally, you have a series of different pieces of art from various collections, to review and reflect how they “speak” to you. Its an awesome way to “see” biblical passages in a different way. Its a great way to focus on a particular religious theme in a new vane. For people that have difficulty making sense out of words, viewing “religion” from artwork is an awesome vehicle. The pamphlet is accompanied by a teacher guide, whereby, there are several projects that coincide with the artwork to drive home a specific religious theme or point.

Second, Disciple Hunt, is one activity outlined in the Beyond the Written Word teachers guide, that students can engage in to begin a dialogue with regard to discipleship. I chose this activity, because given the state of lukewarm religious reception of youth today, Disciple Hunt sounded like a Nintendo game or a detective quest that youth might find interesting. At the very least, the title will engage them enough to open their minds to the activity.

Disciple Hunt can be used individually or in small groups. I would recommend small group discussions because I find those helpful and beneficial in engaging conversations. Once you decide on the small groups, there’s a handout included in the teacher’s manual, to be passed out to each group. The handout lists the “quality of discipleship” in one column and then a blank line next to each statement. It’s the student’s job to use the pamphlet with paintings to discern which painting goes with which statement. The teachers guide supplies the answers - which painting goes with which discipleship quality. When the small groups are finished, each group can present their answers and discussion can ensue. There is also room for discussion on how the discipleship qualities could be identified in today’s world.

James Heft, S.M., and others, in Passing on the Faith, Transforming Traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Fordham University Press: New York, 2006, (sections 1 and 2) discuss the passing on of faith in the twenty-first century. They introduce three surveys that discuss teens and young adults in their quest for spirituality or religion in today’s world. They identify that college students, young adults, identify themselves as spiritual, as opposed to religious. This I find to be right on target with people I’ve come in contact with that use the term spiritual more freely than religious. There appears to be negative connotations related to identifying oneself as religious as opposed to spiritual, or, referring to oneself as a non-practicing Catholic.

Heft identified the youth of today as passive in their religious identity as they face society with a “whateverism” attitude. This century, in the past forty-years, has rapidly advanced via technology, science, and so forth. However, religious identity has not soared in such a way. The youth are easily moved by this techno-culture and religion isn’t “cool” enough to keep their attention.

The activity, by name alone, should be engaging for youth today. Heft notes that “for most teens, school, friends, work, television, and other forms of fun play much more significant roles in their lives...” (Heft, 2006, 63) Disciple Hunt is fun, by name alone, because it sounds like a mystery; which I find engaging. Just as a test, I asked my fourth-grader if she would find Disciple Hunt engaging, by name alone, and she was intrigued. Then, after she looked at the artwork she thought it would be “cool” to try it. That speaks to me.

According to Heft, a “vast majority of U.S. Teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their faith.” (Heft, 2006, p. 63) This activity is useful in helping students identify and articulate items of faith that maybe unfamiliar to them. In giving them the pictures and the words you help facilitate conversation. I’m a very visual person and find the artwork to be stimulating and helpful.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Week of February 21, 2009

This week marks the launch of this faith formation review forum. Students in my Religious Education, Evangelization, and Cultures course at Loyola University Chicago will be reviewing faith formation activities and resources from various Christian denominations. Faith formation is a broad term that is meant to encompass what Christians call religious education, Christian education, Christian formation, catechesis, and Sunday school.

Each week for the remainder of this semester, students will post reviews of faith formation materials. Each week, the analysis reflected in the reviews will be grounded in a different reading. This week, the reviews are grounded in the cultural analysis done in the book, Passing on the Faith: Transforming Traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, (from the Abrahamic Dialogues Series), edited by James L. Heft (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006).

The students in this class are just that, students. They are not expressing their own opinions here but are applying the work of one author to another. The opinions they express are the result of an academic process, not necessarily opinions they hold to be true within their own faith tradition.