Enjoying the word of God with young people
We have a tendency in catechesis to choose texts which fit with our themes or special moments, we try to get the Scripture texts to say something specific, expecting a positive reaction. In these cases we are merely using the word of God as a tool, we sometimes even draw from it a lesson in morality with truths to believe.
The Texte national pour l’orientation de la catéchèse en France [National Guide to Catechesis in France] reminds us that the role of the catechist is to let the word of God do its work in other people. We are therefore responsible for whatever might happen between the word of God and people. We are responsible for putting people to work, building a path, providing a setting within which they can read and pray this word, but we do not control their progress on their inner journey, nor do we control the work of the Spirit within them, or how this word resonates within their personal contexts. It is therefore not a question of studying biblical texts but of creating conditions in which young people may experience the word of God in their lives. We are at the service of whatever might take place between the word of God and these persons.
A Scripture text becomes the Word when it finds a person in their times of need, when they face difficulties, questions and problems in finding their life’s direction. We believe in a God who wants to enter into conversation and a relationship with each one of us: he reveals himself as he is with us, for us, he shows his face and waits for us to respond of our own free will.
So what can help a young person open their ears to God, who speaks personally to them, through Scripture, in their here and now ?
We think it is important to help young people get to know the Scriptures better, to give them the book itself and not just some photocopied pages. We show them how to find their way around the Bible and find a particular text to read, and thus to discover the great library that is the Bible.
The Word of God is the source for all times of catechesis, so we learn to pray and listen to the Word :
• We learn to rest, relax, find a good position.
• We learn to enter into ourselves, listen to ourselves, listen to outside noises.
• We learn to breathe.
• We learn to keep silence.
• This is to be done slowly and at each person’s pace: for some, it will take only two minutes, for others five.
• We light a candle, we guide the young people with a word and a ritual to enter into the moment: a sign of the cross, a hymn, a dialogue as in the spiritual exercises :
◊ We come before you, O Lord ….
◊ Open my heart to Your Word ….
• We lead the young people in a text chosen from Scripture to suit their age. To this end we find a way into the text that sparks their interest in the story: reading it solemnly, retelling it as a story, playing out the story... (there are many guides and courses available to help with this).
• - After the text has been proclaimed, we can imagine the scene, the main characters, the setting, we can imagine ourselves there in the place of the characters, describe how they are feeling, what they might be thinking...
Again, depending on their age, we can take the young people through this in spoken or written form. They sit anywhere in the room, we avoid praying seated in rows; those who have difficulty with this are led to another room where they can pray in a group with the help of a leader .
• We then ask them to relate the story just recounted to their personal lives, by asking open questions to help trace a path in each of them towards a possible meeting with God, towards allowing themselves to be called and questioned, to become a sounding board through their life experiences, in what they say and do in the world: a revelation, a question and perhaps a refusal; we must leave them the time to explore the biblical text and find their own way round it.
• We then have a time for sharing, when anyone who would like to can talk about :
◊ What is good in this text and that they wish to keep,
◊ What they have difficulty with, what they do not accept,
◊ What they find surprising, unexpected….
I always tell young people that their response is just for today, nothing is ever definite or finite. As Christians, as sons, as disciples, we never reach a finished state. We are constantly growing in this relationship and dialogue throughout our lives. We tell them not to hesitate to copy each other. As part of a group, we can lean on each other, allow ourselves to be moved or surprised by what others see that we have never noticed ourselves, allow ourselves to be fed and to reap what is good.
Living in this way creates a communion, where we give of ourselves and receive. To train young people to enter into the Scriptures, we use methods taught by the Tradition and which we try out on our young people. They enter ever more deeply into the silence inhabited by prayer:
• Contemplative dialogue.
• Praying with a work of art, listening to what it has to tell us and getting past the initial “I like it” “I don’t like it”
• Here too we are guiding them in contemplation without explaining the work of art.
In this way, the Word of God is at the centre as a source and not a tool with which to illustrate a time of discussion. Today it is truly a Word in action, a fruitful Word that fulfils its promise; as leaders, we must be guided by the fact that God wants to live in and talk to each person as a friend, that he seeks them out and makes the first move to talk to them and ask them to respond freely. He tells us what he wants for us, what he is for us. Our job is to create the right conditions for the Spirit to work in us, by providing a demanding but organised setting, restarting the discussion with a well-timed question, explanation or brief contribution, but mainly by enabling the young people to develop their inner ability to listen, and with them remaining open to listening to the face of God as He reveals Himself to us.