Religion teacher wants students to open Bible, be surprised

Nissa LaPoint

Some youth in Felicia Charles’ Sunday school class find learning the faith boring. Others tell her they’ve never opened a Bible, she said.

“Some of them are just resistant to Catholic education in general. You’re dealing with that, too,” 24-year-old Charles said of the challenges she faces with her seventh- and eighth-grade catechism class at St. Ignatius Loyola Church.

It’s not that they can’t learn, said Charles, but that youth need help connecting faith and the Bible with their daily lives.

The African-American Youth Bible, New American Bible, Revised Edition.

The African-American Youth Bible, New American Bible, Revised Edition.

She plans to introduce to her class the new African American Catholic Youth Bible, a translation of the New American Bible Revised Edition that includes commentaries, art and study aids to help educate and evangelize youth about Scripture.

Special sections make Mary, Biblical figures and events relatable through art and maps. Throughout the Old and New Testaments are sections that share stories of African Americans who are important figures in the Catholic Church, tips on applying passages to daily life, suggested prayers and the basics of the Catholic faith.

The hope is to make Scripture more accessible to Black Catholic youth, said Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Some youth are disenfranchised with the Church,” Leisring said. “It’s an attempt to offer pictures, introductions and commentaries which will enable our young people and all people to find personal connections to the stories and events of the Bible.”

Leisring worked with the National Black Catholic Congress and St. Mary’s Press to develop explanations, prayers and background to help bring the Bible to life. She worked on commentaries for the book of Philippians and John.

“Those are my two favorite books in the Bible,” she said because of the books’ teachings about placing God first and asking him for strength.

She wanted to share her own faith with youth to encourage them on their own journey.

“We say that our youth are leaders of tomorrow, but I think our youth are leaders of today,” she said. “If youth are going to really get back into the Church, it’s not something they need to wait for. They need to do it now. If you say youth is in the present, then they can work alongside us and walk our faith journeys together.”

Charles said she found the popular Catholic Youth Bible also published by St. Mary’s Press— which the African American Youth Bible is modeled after, helpful in her own spiritual journey as a youth.

She uses the Bible and teaching aids to help explain tenets of the faith to her students like the Trinity and events like the Passover—just as she once learned.

Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver.

Mary Leisring, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Some of the students have a hard time grasping these,” she said. “Those are hard concepts to explain to them.”

Charles hopes the youth Bible will be something her students—with a variety of ethnic backgrounds—can relate to.

Sometimes the Bible will offer surprises, she said she tells them, with its fascinating and relevant stories: “It’s OK to listen (to Scripture readings) on Sunday but you should read it yourself. There are so many interesting stories in the Bible you’d be surprised what you find.”

 

The African American Catholic Youth Bible
Publisher: Saint Mary’s Press
www.smp.org or 1-800-533-8095

COMING UP: Meeting Christ in the Mass and sacraments

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As Catholics, we recognize Jesus’ Eucharistic presence to be the source and summit of our faith. Nonetheless, we can take His presence at Mass and in the tabernacle for granted. We pray through our liturgical rituals, but our words and gestures can lack meaning when we simply go through the motions. When we use the beautiful ritual of the Mass and sacraments to guide our prayer, however, they can lead us into a deeper encounter with Christ.

Two recent books can help us to understand the Mass and sacraments better and to approach them with fresh eyes: Christopher Carstens’ A Devotional Journey into the Mass: How the Mass Can Become a Time of Grace, Nourishment, and Devotion (Sophia, 2017) and Msgr. Nicola Bux’s No Trifling Matter: Taking the Sacraments Seriously Again (Angelico, 2018).

Carstens takes us on a “devotional journey into the Mass” to approach it in “a more profoundly spiritual way” (29).   He writes with a broad sacramental vision which embraces not only the Mass but also the symbols surrounding it. A great example of this comes from the first chapter, “how to enter a church building,” which reflects upon how to approach the physical building of the church itself. “So the door to the parish church, which stands before us now — is no ordinary entrance. It appears different because it is different: it is a mark of God’s house and a sign protecting those within, as at that first Passover. It is an entrance into the Great King’s city and His Temple . . . where we touch God, as in Jerusalem” (13-14). Carstens uses a “sacramental principle” to help us recognize “how God communicates with us through sensible signs” (9).

This devotional journey takes the reader through the stages of the Mass to perceive the deeper reality that we access through faith. In order to reap the fruit that God wants to give us at Mass, Carstens teaches us that “proper disposition . . . is paramount” (88). Through all of the outward actions, signs, and rituals, God aims at “something deeper:  . . . the heart of man. . . . the undivided love of man” (60; 61). For this reason, in the need for intimacy with God, “silence is an essential ingredient for both individual and corporate prayer” (35). The participation and prayers we offer at Mass should foster our relationship with God. The “conversation should take the form of prayer — a prayer of surrender” (92). Taking a devotional journey through the Mass, with Carstens’ help, should prepare us to enter into this conversation of surrender more fully each week.

Msgr. Bux, an Italian priest and professor, takes us deeper into the sometimes-forgotten history, theology, and liturgy surrounding the Mass and the sacraments. He walks us through each of the sacraments, building upon the teachings of the saints (especially St. Ambrose and Padre Pio), but also the difficulty of experiencing the spiritual reality of the sacraments in the modern world. He also leads us deeper into the Mass, “the greatest and most complete act of adoration,” noting the “interdependence between the Eucharist and the other sacraments: . . . they flow forth from the Eucharist and flow together into it as to their source” (86). The centrality of the Eucharist comes from the fact that through it we enter the heart of God.

The other sacraments reinforce this contact, as “we touch Christ” through them. This entry into the divine life begins at baptism and deepens in confirmation. Bux supports restored order confirmation, speaking of the need for strengthening and equipping for battle at an earlier age, rather than giving into the flight that usually occurs after it is received in the teenage years. When it comes to confession, Bux speaks of how “Christ pardons everyone who recognizes himself to be a sinner,” though the sacrament aims at “sincere, overwhelming interior repentance that brings the soul to be reconciled with the Creator” (103; 104). He also speaks beautifully of how through the sacrament of marriage, “spouses participate in the power of [Christ’s] love” in their love for each other. “Their love, responsible fecundity, and humility, their attitude of mutual service and their mutual fidelity, are signs of Christ’s love, present in them and in the Church” (166).

Both authors teach how to appreciate and enter into the Mass and sacraments more fruitfully, so that, in Bux’s words, we can experience “a prolongation of the liturgical life of the Church” in our own lives (196).