Education and Home

Joining the Child Jesus’ journey to manhood

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven - The Philippine Star

(Part II - The infancy and childhoodof Jesus as revealed to mystics)

In 1964, while finishing my course at the Centro Montessori Internazionale at Perugia with Sig.na Antonietta Paolini, Sofia Cavaletti, a niece of Pope Pius XII, came to give a special lecture to our small class of teacher trainees – four Italians, a Mexican and a Japanese – on “The Child in the Church.” When I called on her personally at her old palatial residence, As I rang the doorbell, I was pleasantly surprised to see myself standing on the circular papal logo of Santo Papa Pio Pacelli XII marked on the old marble floor.

The Center for Catechesis in Rome

As a young lady, Sig.na Cavaletti had gotten acquainted with Dr. Maria Montessori. She collaborated with Professor Gianna Gobbi, who developed the Montessori religion curriculum with Dr. Montessori herself. Learning the Hebrew language, she frequented the Holy Land to gather materials for the Montessori House of Spiritual Training in her residence at 34 Via Orsini in Rome. Consequently, she wrote a series of textbooks “Io Sono II Buon Pastore” (I Am the Good Shepherd) with the imprimatur: “+ Hector Cunial, Archiep. Soteropolitan vicegerens e Vicariatus Urbis, die 11-9-70” and the nihil obstat: “Rome die 3-10-1971 Carolus Boyer S.J.”

Ten years earlier in 1954, Professor Gobbi co-founded the Center of Catechesis in Rome for parents and their children with Sofia Cavaletti. One floor of the Via Orsini palazzo was divided into four sections: the atrium, the altar with miniature holy vestments and Mass vessels, the baptistery and the study of the sacraments, and the history of the Kingdom of God.

The “atrium,” the specially prepared environment for the child’s spiritual formation, is reminiscent of the atrium in the early Christian basilica where the first Christians received their formation in the faith. Four sets of booklets with Montessori-style calligraphy contain Biblical excerpts of Our Lord’s Infancy and Childhood (white booklets), Our Lords Parables (blue booklets), Our Lord’s Miracles (green booklets), and Our Lord’s Passion and Crucifixion (red booklets).

To accompany the child’s journey into the life of Jesus Christ, a Montessori liturgical wooden puzzle, celebrating the 52 or 53 Sundays of the year (leap year reduces the number), has a metal circular strip divided into three, purple and white for Advent and Christmas, and green for Pentecost. Provisions of the 55 wooden bricks, represent the Sundays of the year.

The Good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep

Sofia Cavaletti is right. Just as she has witnessed the preschool and primary school child’s tremendous capacity to fall in love and be in love with God, we have witnessed the same phenomenon at our school in the past five decades. The enormous reasoning power of the six to 12 years old children is linked to their strong moral judgment.

The principal figure of The Good Shepherd has been chosen by Dr. Maria Montessori when she saw the young child’s abhorrence for the bleeding figure of the Crucifixion in every Catholic Church. I am sure many young parents are struck by the preschool child’s tears and anxiety during the Holy Week when the Crucifixion is re-enacted on television. I recall my own daughter’s puzzlement when she was in first grade, “Why do they whip Jesus? Why was He crucified on the cross?

Thus, Dr. Montessori replaced the crucified Lord with the image of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd statuette shows Our Lord either in a soft flowing robe or wearing short woolen tunic carrying a shepherd’s staff with a lamb on His chest. It is an affectionate symbol to a child. The cross Montessori adopted shows a fully clothed Risen Lord stretched on the horizontal beam of the cross, with the alpha and omega signs at each end.

The 3 stories of the Good Shepherd

Life should be a daily prayer. Both parents have all occasions to address God with the child concerning the big and small events in our daily life. The child loves drama. A spiritual story using religious articles makes children deeply involved in reflection.

Place the small statue of The Good Shepherd in your altar. Read the following passages:

The Good Shepherd calls His sheep by name (John 10:1-5)

“I am the Good Shepherd. The sheep listen to the voice of The Good Shepherd. And He calls them by their names and conducts them outside. And when He leads them out, the sheep follow Him because they recognize His voice. They do not follow a stranger because they do not recognize his voice.”

The hireling is not a shepherd (John 10:11-13)

The Lord spoke about the false protector in a child’s life.

“The Good Shepherd gives life to his sheep. But the hireling, who is a not a shepherd, does not own the sheep, when he sees the wolf, leaves the sheep and runs away, I am the Good Shepherd, My sheep know Me and I know them, as I know the Father and I give My life for My sheep.”

The lost lamb

Jesus gives the “measure” of His great love for His sheep.

“Who among you with one hundred sheep, if he loses one would not leave the other ninety-nine in the field, to look for the lost sheep until he finds it. And when he finds it, he would put it on his shoulders and happily return home. When he arrives home, he would call his friends and neighbors and tell them, ‘Come and be merry with me because I have found my sheep, which was lost.’”

Baptism makes us members of the fold

Our life in the church begins with our Baptism. Then, The Good Shepherd officially makes us a member of the Fold. We are His sheep.

Before the preparation for the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation) and First Communion, we dramatize Baptism. Five children play the role of the priest, the parents carrying a doll in white baptismal dress and the godparents properly wearing the vestments of the priest and smart church clothes respectively. The rest of the class represents the faithful joining the celebration.

The prayer cards of baptism are read from the time the faithful is welcomed at the door of the church. The children learn the symbolisms of the purple stole, which suggests “sorrow and expectations” for the child is not yet pure – he still belongs to the “wolf.”

Then the stole becomes white, the color of feasting, joy and purity. Through the water of Baptism, a “new” lamb is born within the Fold of The Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd represented by the priest washes with special water, which cleans internally.

The priest’s imposition of the hand brings down the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. The study of Baptism is a gradual learning and growing process, which parents must extend over a long period of time. I had the florist make each of my daughters’ baptismal candle into a flower stand, which I would light during their birthdays and remind them that they are God’s special lamb until they were six years old.

The church is the housewhere God gathers His family

Even though we teachers desire to give the most to the child, our labor is limited. Our Christian life is learned mostly from parents. Of 24 hours daily two-thirds are spent at home. For instance, the Mass must not only be known, it must be “lived” with the parents.

The greatest meeting with Christ is in the Mass. For preschoolers, parents must draw attention to the banquet table (altar). The table serves to put together the people around it to eat. The altar is a sacred table with the gold cup (chalice) and gold plate (paten), the corporal linen, the candles, the cross of salvation and the mass book.

Sofia Cavaletti gave me a complete set of “I Am the Good Shepherd” written in Italian, which she allowed me to be translated into English so long as I send her the copies. I did so and our schools have been using the books up to the present.

Other books written by Sofia with Gianna Gobbi for parents and teachers are “Teaching Doctrine and Liturgy,” “The Good Shepherd and the Child,” and “The Child in the Church.” The latter was written together with Patricia Coulter, Gianna Gobbi and Dr. Silvana Q. Montanaro.

The Mass celebrates the Risen Christ

More than 40 years ago, the Vatican tried to redirect the Church to celebrate the presence of the Risen Christ instead of the crucified Lord. Catholic churches in the Philippines responded halfway by transferring the altar table closer to the faithful so that the priest, representing Our Lord, could celebrate the Mass facing the people. Unfortunately, very few churches in the Philippines have changed the central crucifix in their main altar to the Risen Lord.

The older grade school and high school children must realize that for the families of man, the Risen Lord represents hope. We should spiritually evolve towards hope and love since our greatest meeting with Christ, Our Redeemer Who has conquered death, is in the Mass.

The Mass is a prayer. It is the greatest of prayers.

(For feedback email at [email protected])

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