Sunday, 21 November 2010 16:14

Teachers, catechists told to help children express spirituality

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Veteran teacher and national Our Sunday Visitor consultant Jo Ann Paradise leads a session called “Forming a Spiritual Child” in a Secular World on the second afternoon of the Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference. In one of the DAEC’s most highly attended sessions, Jo Ann Paradise’s Monday afternoon talk was entitled “Forming a Spiritual Child in a Secular World.”

“My guess is that you came here because the word ‘spiritual’ was used in the session title,” said Paradise, who is a national consultant for Our Sunday Visitor curricular division, and is also an adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University, LaRoche College and Carlow College in Pittsburgh. “People use the word spiritual in a great number of ways. When we are talking spirituality today, we are talking about how important it is to have Catholic Christian spirituality. Church spirituality is the unquenchable longing of the human spirit for transcendence. It can also be called ‘the holy longing.’

“The minute you start to express spirituality, you are giving it a religious meaning,” Paradise said. “Your spiritual life can’t be separated from the rest of your life. Spirituality is about how you attend to reality. One of the fundamentals of spirituality is to trust in the Father’s love. In every person’s journey, you have to ask ‘Do I believe that I am beloved by God?’ Remember, you stand at the foot of the cross every day. God has given everything to you in Christ.”

“Catechists and teachers need to look out at the children they are teaching and understand: “This is a fundamental of our faith — we believe all those faces are crying out for God,” said Paradise, who is a former Catholic elementary and high school teacher who holds her doctorate in spiritual direction. “Remember that a spark of faith becomes a flame when it gets kindling.”

In speaking about teaching children and helping them to know Christ, Paradise said, “You have a major responsibility in the school to form disciples. Being a math or science teacher, etc. is secondary.” She added that children have an incredible sense of wonder and awe and are naturally grateful for what is given to them — something that teachers can learn from their students. “If you don’t have a sense of wonder and awe, then how can you be grateful?” she asked.

Paradise also spoke to the teachers about three prayer forms that she feels work well with children: silent prayer, guided imagery and adoration. “Images are essential for anyone’s spirituality because images transform us,” she said. “We have to reflect, but our culture says, ‘Don’t do it. You don’t have time to think.’ Reflection is required for growth. You have 24 hours a day. You really have all the time you need for whatever you need to reflect on.”

Every day, teachers should ask themselves how they helped students come to know God, Paradise said and then concluded her session with this directive, “Make sure every child at the end of every (school) year can look up at you and say, ‘I met him.’”