My latest light bulb over the head was that I should arrange to do chalk drawings with the kids. We could talk about iconography, and put chalk drawings on the pavement around the church, to be enjoyed by people attending Mass. I wasn't born yesterday, so I knew the first step would be to get permission from everyone who could possibly be in a position to grant it.
Henry Kissinger famously remarked that the reason academic politics are so vicious is because the stakes are so low. Well, the stakes don't get much lower than parish religious education, at least in terms of status or money. My request for permission immediately revealed an ongoing turf war between the director of PREP and the Principal of the parish school.
My co-teacher suggested I bypass everyone and go directly to the pastor and get his permission. Our pastor is a very sweet man; I'll call him Father Magnanimous. In our discussion, it became crystal clear that he doesn't have the foggiest notion what's going on in the PREP program, or what's in the curriculum. For instance, he said that "of course" the kids would all know Psalm 23 ("The Lord is my shepherd ..."). I would bet legal tender these kids wouldn't know Psalm 23 if it walked up and bit them in the ear.
But the part of our discussion that I remember best went like this:
Fr. Magnanimous: "Your role as catechist is to serve as a model of charity [i.e., perfect love]."
My thought balloon: "wow, I'm even less qualified for this job than I thought."
What I said: "I'd better bring more than that, or the kids will start a riot."
In the end, Fr. Magnanimous gave his permission, but said he'd have to check with the business director.
Next, I got an e-mail from the director of PREP (let's call her "Ms. Charge"), explaining that she had consulted with the parish business director and the parish director (let's call her "Attila the Nun"), and they were concerned that people might walk on the chalk drawings and track chalk into the church, the kids might make noise, etc. Their counteroffer was that we could draw on a remote portion of the parking lot, and that Ms. Charge could bring her personal collection of religious objects to show to the class.
We said OK to the terms of the counteroffer on the theory that we might as well take what we can get. Ms. Charge came to our class this morning and showed the kids her collection; miniatures of items used for saying Mass, a priest's traveling kit, icons, rosaries, etc. This went extremely well. The kids were interested, and glad of the chance to get up out of their seats and look at and handle the various objects.
I'm hoping to draw symbolic animals for the chalk drawings, so I introduced the symbols of the dove and the lamb. I showed a couple of videos containing doves behaving unpredictably;
Next, we talked about the lamb. I told them about the use of lambs for a sacrifice; this got a little graphic.
Kid (sardonically): "that's pleasant!"
"It's not pretty", I said. That's why their curriculum never mentions it. But if you don't know that lambs got sacrificed, you don't know why Jesus was called the Lamb of God. It wasn't because of his sweet fluffiness, that's for sure.
I wanted to tell the kids about the Sacrifice of the Mass, part of the dark, mystical, difficult tradition of the Catholic Church, or what I consider the good stuff.
Me: "does the Church still perform sacrifices today?"
Me: "Actually, the Church performs sacrifices every day, many times a day."
Kid (raising hand): " ... but where do they get all the lambs?"
I told them that the Mass is both a sacrifice and a banquet; an important if mind-boggling point.
We still had a few minutes left, so I had time for this:
Me: "So I talked to Fr. Magnanimous earlier this week. He says my job is to serve as a model of charity. Charity is the highest form of love, higher than romantic love. It's the kind of love that God has; it's the kind of love that God is. Do you think it would be easy for me to be a model of charity?"
Kids and co-teacher, as one: "No!"
Me: "I think it's practically impossible."
And with that, the class ended. Next week, chalk drawings, I hope!