Sunday, February 08, 2009

Family Catechesis: Learning the Nicene Creed with the Kids

We have "family catechesis" on Sundays around our house. So far, the older kids have memorized the Ten Commandments and the responses for the first part of the Mass. When we got to the part where we recite the Nicene Creed, we took a break from the Mass to memorize and learn about the Creed. This means that almost every week we sit down and learn a new line from the Creed, and then we talk about what that line means, using the corresponding part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (We take a break from this for certain holy seasons and special events.) Up until today we have gotten this far:

We believe in one God, 
the Father, the Almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God. . . .

Sometimes we stay on one line, since there's a lot to unpack. The Catechism uses "seen and unseen" to unpack the creation story, man made in the image of God, the fall, original sin, and the angels. We spent quite a few weeks on that.

Now, most people think that this stuff is way beyond what a six- and eight-year old would be able to comprehend, but you know what? We paraphrase and explain on their level and act it out where necessary, and they pick up a surprising amount. It's pretty amazing.

Most of the time, I have to admit, we approach family catechesis with a certain amount of dread, because B is always squirmy, M is usually silly, and J is usually climbing all over one of us or interrupting with her own totally irrelevent speeches. (Actually, lately her speeches tend to be more on-topic -- based on what she has been picking up.) Today should have been a doozy, since we needed to cover everything from "eternally begotten of the Father" through "by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man." That's the long part with "God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made" in it. We had to cover that whole part because we're learning the Nicene Creed (because we recite it during Mass), but the Catechism follows the Apostles' Creed, so there's a bit of a gap.

Surprisingly, it went very well. In fact, we were trying to wrap things up and they kept asking questions and making comments for another 15 minutes -- and relevant ones, too! We really covered the gamut, from "What does begotten mean?" to the nature of the Trinity to the history of the Council of Nicea to the difference between Lutherans, Catholcs, Buddhists, and Jews.

First we started out by explaining that all that strange language was talking about Jesus Christ. We talked about what "eternally begotten" means (Jesus has no beginning, but "eternally" comes from the Father -- which we also explained by saying that he's "always being born"). That led M to ask why Jesus was born at Christmas if he was "always" born. So we explained that Jesus has two natures: he's fully human and fully divine, and so he was "born" as a human, even though he has always existed. Then we talked about how "God from God, light from light" meant, and that led M to offer that she thinks of Jesus "as the moon," because he shines in the darkness. And B built on that by saying the light of the moon comes from the sun, just like Jesus comes from the Father -- two persons (sun and moon) but one nature (the light). And M added that she thought of humans as the stars, because "we have sin AND grace inside us."

So then we did a very short, informal, impromptu skit about the Council of Nicea as a way of explaining where all this strange language comes from. We explained that Nicea is a town, and that in the early Church, lots of people were saying lots of different things about who Jesus was. We kept it pretty broad. I said, "Well, I believe that Jesus is not totally God, because only God can be God. Jesus was just human!" And S said, "No, Jesus was totally God, but not really human -- God just made himself LOOK human." And then I pointed a finger at her and said, "Heretic!" and she did the same to me, and we kept doing that for a while. Then I explained to the kids that people started fighting about who Jesus was, and so the bishops all got together in Nicea to sort it all out. So the kids got to be the bishops, and they imitated a debate -- B made a really good bishop, actually, weighing the pros and cons of each argument, while M and J nodded. Then I explained that the bishops met for a year and decided to write down what the Church believes, and that became the Nicene Creed. The kid-bishops recited some of the parts of the Creed we'd been discussing to illustrate the conclusion of the council.

We'd have been done at that point, but that got M and B talking about how different people believe different things, and they offered some examples they know about. That's where we got into talking about what Jews and Lutherans believe that is different from Catholics. (M has some Lutheran friends, and as we were explaining about the different beliefs at the Council of Nicea, M put in, "And then there were the Lutherans, too!" which made us laugh as we explained that the Lutherans came much later.) And then M said, "I think each group has a different idea of who Jesus is, and each thinks they are right." So THAT launched a discussion about religious pluralism and how we can discern the truth (through prayer, community, and following the teaching of Jesus to see if it delivers what it promises).

I have to admit that we have been bribing the kids with pieces of candy as a reward for memorizing parts of the Creed and for paying attention -- but this particular session went way beyond what we normally get out of our bribes (and occasional threats). As S said afterward, it's nice to have it go really well once every 40 times or so!