Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Religious Potential of the Child--Getting Ready

Less than two weeks until Lent begins!  If you're like me, that sentence induces a bit of mild panic, even though Lent is about as late as it's possible to be this year.  Ryan and I still have some Lenten planning to do.  Are we doing any extra prayers as a family?  Which ones?  Any particular sacrifice which we then translate to almsgiving with money saved as a result?  Service opportunities we want to pursue?  We usually do these things, but also during Lent I like to take on some additional spiritual reading or study.


This year I am leading a book study of The Religious Potential of the Child by Sofia Cavaletti.  If  you're not familiar, the book fleshes out the principles behind Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is the religious education derived from Montessori education.  Now that I've made it seem extremely complicated, it really isn't.  Non-complicated explanation anon.  It's a book that's been coming up constantly, and I feel I really need to read this.  Anthony's principal encouraged me to read it months ago, and now that we are homeschooling next year it's an even higher priority.  Also my very favorite Auntie Leila featured it on her blog not that long ago, and it has lately come up in casual conversations with other women.  I'm taking those as signal graces!

I think it's especially timely because of Pope Francis's emphasis on creating a "culture of encounter."  THAT'S what Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is about.  Getting to know the Good Shepherd.  If you're a Baltimore Catechism kind of gal, you'll know God made us to know, love, and serve God in this life so we can be happy with Him forever in the next.  There's a reason "know, love, and serve" is listed in that order, as each flows from the one before.  Small children aren't mentally ready for memorizing questions and answers, but they certainly have the ability to know and love a person! Little Katie Rose loves to give kisses to Jesus and Mary.

 If we can plant the seeds for that relationship when they are very young, the rest of religious education will later all flow from the love already growing in their hearts.  It will not become, as so often is the case, an empty requirement to get a grade or to be a "good" child.  If any of it is to make a real difference in the lives of the children, the Good Shepherd must have taken root in the heart as well as the brain.  Attending Mass, and even praying a daily family Rosary, is not enough without there being a personal relationship with Christ to sustain the child.  Even Scarlett O'Hara recited the Rosary every day before her first marriage, and we all know how she turned out!

Extending the seed analogy, the other beautiful thing about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is that the catechist is not ultimately responsible for the child's response.  The adult is very conscious that she is only presenting the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit is the one actually doing the work in the child's soul.  We can provide the sun and water, but only God gives the life to make the seed bear fruit.  This requires a certain level of trust in God on the part of the adult!  In my own life, God is leading me to Him just through doing my duty as a mother.  If I'm bringing my children to Him, doesn't it make sense that I would have to walk toward Him too?

At least four women are coming to my house to study it together throughout Lent.  I've barely begun the book myself, so I'll just be staying ahead of the group!  Although I'm already itching to devour the whole thing.  The children's drawings in the appendix just make my heart melt.  My plan is to post here study questions ahead of time, and then a summary afterwards of the discussion with whatever insights we've come up with.  I know of a couple of people unable to join the real-life group because of distance or work schedules, so they can still join virtually!

If you would like to read along with us this Lent, you can get the book through Leila's post, which is very insightful as usual.  She gets a little kickback anytime someone buys something from Amazon through her blog.  Even if you don't see yourself homeschooling or sending your children to a Montessori school, it's inspiring (as well as incredibly useful for our vocation!) to understand how even the smallest children can encounter God, and maybe encountering Him yourself along the way.


  1. I just bought this book! It has indeed been coming up a lot lately, both in my online and face-to-face encounters, and I was very moved by a conversation I had with a CGS teacher to look into it further. I hadn't thought to read it during Lent; I just might imitate you. :)

    1. Awesome, Rosemary! You will love it. Every sentence is a nugget of clear wisdom, interspersed with lots of real-life illustrations of the principles. I'm finding it a book I want to read slowly and savor each section before biting into the next.