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Archive for February, 2014

We had an interesting class last night. The students responded very well to a group project for the first half of the class, but some were somewhat less cooperative during the discussion phase during the second half. This really is not a surprise. We seem to go through this nearly every year around this time. We have become comfortable with each other, but also the wear of the weekly grind starts to show. As I have said in the past, this is overall a really good group. But the more we engage in a less restrictive, open-discussion kind of program, the tougher it is to keep some of our band focused on the main class activity. We have to work to keep it from degenerating into a total  free-for-all.  Defying gender stereotypes, it is a few of our boys who are the real chatterboxes. For our next regular class (not until March 26), I think I’ll separate the boys’ social club and tighten up a little on our discussion format.

I had not originally planned to milk the Ten Commandments for three entire class periods, but I’m glad I did. Our class last night focused on one activity. I introduced it by telling a story of Moses receiving the Commandments from God with some alterations. When he came down from Mount Sinai, the Israelites realized that many of the Commandments, as presented, had little relevance to fifth graders.

“Do you mean like that ‘covet your neighbor’s wife’ thing, Mr. Sullivan?” asked one student.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean.”

So Moses went back up to the mountain and told God that he needed some additional commandments that would address the issues facing fifth graders. I broke the class into three groups of three or four and asked them to imagine, just for the purposes of this exercise, that they were God. What kind of commandments would God issue that would be relevant to today’s fifth graders? I gave them a piece of poster board and a marker to list their commandments.

This part of the exercise went pretty well. One group worked well as a team and produced an excellent group product. Another team didn’t work well together, but each student came up with their own list. The third group quickly came up with a list of five commandments, then crossed them out, and spent the rest of the class squabbling among themselves. Sigh.

I was really impressed with what the students came up with. For the most part, they took the assignment seriously and came up with some very interesting commandments.

When that was complete, we went around and had each group present their commandments and discussed them. This was a bit of a struggle, but we got through it.

We spent the last few minutes of the class discussing the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Out next CCD session will be in three weeks, March 19, and it will be a Lenten Penance service just for CCD students and their families. I passed out and briefly discussed a “cheat sheet” for students’ examination of their conscience and the procedure for confession. I strongly encouraged them to attend with their families. (And I extend that encouragement to you parents!)

Mrs. Hubert asked me to send out an email, which I will do, to make sure everyone knows the schedule for the next several weeks.

March 5 – Ash Wednesday.  There will be a Mass and ashes service in the church at 7 pm. We encourage everyone to attend with their family.

March 12 – No class due to the public school system spring break. Enjoy!

March 19 – Lenten Penance Service in the church at 6:30 pm, for all CCD students and their families.

March 26 – Back in the classroom for a regular CCD class.

We hope to see everyone at the Ash Wednesday Mass next week and then back for CCD following the spring break.

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Sorry for the delay in posting this update. The past couple of days were just a little busy.

In any case, on Wednesday evening, we tackled the last six of the Ten Commandments. This was a rather unstructured, free-flowing discussion. Perhaps it was a little too unstructured, as keeping the class focused on a group discussion was a little challenge. The temptations of cutting up and chatting with one’s neighbors was more than some of our little band could withstand. Even so, it was fairly lively and most of the group was involved.

We started with a review of the first four commandments we covered last week, then moved on to the next set. Here are the key points we discussed.

“You shall not kill” – Surprisingly, there weren’t as many questions about this as I had anticipated. Some students were concerned about killing animals, like for food. Some others were concerned that God had killed in the Bible (the plagues on Egypt in Exodus and the Great Flood in Genesis.) We talked a little about self-defense and then moved on.

“You shall not commit adultery” – We defined “adultery” simply as breaking your marriage vows or “cheating” on your husband or wife. (There was no need to go into greater detail with this age group.) We jumped out of order and also included #9 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” in he discussion. We pointed out that both commandments underscore the importance God puts on the sanctity of marriage. While the adultery commandment is aimed at the married couple, the covet prohibition is targeted towards the third person in an adulterous triangle.

“You shall not steal” – This must have been self explanatory, as we had no questions or “…but what if?” scenarios.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” – The class understood the obvious point of the commandment. We elaborated a little and tried to relate it to their age group by including gossip in he conversation. They seemed to make the connection and understood how simple playground gossip can be harmful and run afoul of this commandment.

“You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor” – In earlier discussions, we defined “covet” (which was a concept that no one initially understood) as wanting something so much that you are willing to do something wrong to get it. We gave a few examples and the idea seemed to click.

In response to a question from one of the students, we had a discussion about why the Jewish people did not follow Jesus and become Christians. We provided some historical perspective and explained how in the years immediately following Christ’s resurrection, here was much discussion in the Jewish and Christian community about the nature of Christ. Not everyone believed him to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Those who did followed the apostles and other early Christian leaders. Those who did not remained Jews.

As always, we concluded the class by polling each student and asking them to name one thing they learned that evening. Everyone who responded (and that was all of them), was rewarded with a homemade cookie.

This week, I may start with an exercise. We’ll break the class into small groups and ask them to imagine they are assigned to write a set of commandments for today’s fifth graders. It might be interesting to see what they come up with. They will probably take around half the class period. During the second half, we will cover the upcoming season of Lent.

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Good class last night. We were very happy to see that ten of our 13 students braved the lousy weather to attend. Thank you, parents!

Our main focus was the Ten Commandments. We had lots of discussion and lots of questions. Those are the best classes.

We started with a story, telling the class the background that lead to God delivering the Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

We had volunteers read the passage from Exodus 20 that is the first mention of the Commandments. (The students were somewhat “atwitter” last night, and references to an “ass” (ie: jackass) and “alien” caused more than a little giggling.)

We distributed list of the traditional “Ten Commandments” that demonstrated how some different religions count them. For example, Catholics count the God-related commandments as the first three, while many Protestant churches count them as four. On the other end, Catholics divide the last two “you shall not covet…” Commandments into two separate statements, while most Protestant sects combine them into one. We pointed out this only a concern if they are talking to a Protestant friend about the 4th Commandment, for instance. A Protestant would be talking about the Commandment to respect the Sabbath, while the Catholic would be honoring his father and mother.

As we walked through and discussed the first four Commandments, we talked about some of these points.

With the first Commandment, we spent some time talking about false gods. In the time of Moses, the issue was not to worship the sun, the Earth, a statue, etc. We asked the students to think about some of the false gods people may encounter today. They came up with ideas like money, drugs, alcohol, fame, celebrities, and so on.  We connected the Commandment to relevant issues today.

The second Commandment, to not take the Lord’s name in vain, was fairly easy for them to grasp. One student did confess she had a lot of trouble with that one. We suggested that it was a challenge she should try to master with prayer.

We talked about the concept of a Sabbath and why most Christians consider Sunday the Sabbath, rather than the “seventh day” (Saturday.) We pointed out that many early Christian leaders wanted to make a distinction between their older Jewish faith and their new Christian religion. Designating Sunday, the day Christ rose from the dead, as the Sabbath was one way to do that. We also discussed that in today’s culture, we have largely gotten away from the concept of resting and avoiding work on the Sabbath, and not necessarily for the better.

As we discussed the fourth (Honor your father and mother.) Commandment, we emphasized several points. The Commandment may seem fairly obvious to fifth graders because they are still very dependent on their parents for the essentials of living. However, even ten and eleven year-olds may need to be reminded from time to time to love, respect and obey their parents. We pointed out that the main thrust of the Commandment was not towards children, but rather towards adults, especially adults whose parents are older and may depend on them. Role reversal. At the time the Commandments were written, it was not unusual for older, dependent tribe members who became a burden to be rejected or abandoned to die. While we typically don’t do that today, the Commandment is especially important when parents or grandparents grow older and need the younger family members’ love and assistance.

Next week, we will finish up with the last six Commandments, and they always generate some interesting discussion. How can you go wrong discussing murder, lying, theft, jealousy, adultery, and gossip?  Should be fun. Parents – come on out and enjoy the class. You are most welcome.

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The focus of our class Wednesday night was prayer. Some of the key points we covered and discussed included:

  • Prayer is a personal conversation with God.
  • It’s nice that the Church and others have already composed numerous prayers, you don’t have to recite a formal prayer to talk to God. Just using your own words and thoughts is just fine.
  • The various types of prayer (petition, praise, intercession, thanksgiving, etc.) We discussed examples of each one.
  • While a conversation is supposed to be two-way, don’t expect God to come to you as a voice from Heaven. He is much more subtle than that. To make that point, we read a somewhat humorous account of someone talking to God about their bad day and asking why God would let everything go so wrong that day. This was very well received. Everyone wanted a copy. We made the copies and distributed them.
  • Regular prayer is a matter of creating a habit. We suggested the students think of sometime during the day when they are doing the same thing every day, like taking a shower, brushing teeth, waiting for a school bus, etc. We challenged them to start saying a short prayer every day during this activity (or non-activity.) We told them that if they did this long enough, eventually it would become a habit and the daily activity would serve as a reminder for a prayer.

We did a short activity. We asked the students to make themselves comfortable in their chairs and to place their hands on the desk in front of them. We had them close their eyes and just be quiet for a few seconds. We then asked them to imagine that God was right there with them and was listening to their thoughts. What would you say to him? We gave about 20-30 more seconds and let them open their eyes and resume the class.

 And, as always, we finished the class by asking each student to name something they learned that night.

Next week, we are going to tackle the Ten Commandments. This is not part of the regular curriculum. It was part of the curriculum for the book we used for the first few years I taught CCD. We changed texts a few years ago. I continue to address this subject, simply because it has produced some of the liveliest and most interesting discussions. Typically, we take two weeks to cover this assignment.

 Parents – If you would like to sit in on the class, you are most welcome. It should be fun.

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