Jodie Cosgrove leads youth in the sign of the cross at the end of their Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program at St. Pius X Church in Solon Springs on the First Sunday of Advent. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“What is Advent?” Jodie Cosgrove asked her Catechesis of the Good Shepherd students once they’d settled in a circle in the atrium in the lower level of St. Pius X Church in Solon Springs. The elementary-age children of the clustered parishes of Solon Springs and Minong gather Sunday mornings after Mass, recreation time and snacks.

Reminding them to raise their hands and wait to be called on, Cosgrove let the children share. One said it’s like the winter season for the church. Another noticed the cloth on their prayer table needed to be changed from green to purple.

“Watching and waiting,” said a third, with someone adding, “being happy when Jesus is born!”

One of the older children reflected, “It’s how we prepare our hearts” and included also waiting for parents to prepare presents. Cosgrove then commented how our parents are like God giving us gifts, but that he gave us the greatest gift in his son.

She then led the group in removing the items from the prayer table, one by one, with each child participating in some way and giving each child an item to carry in procession. Discussing what that meant, the children talked about how it’s like what Father does at Mass, that “special kind of marching,” like a “holy, prayerful walk.”

Once they were ready, Cosgrove led the procession around the room, singing a song. Once they made their way back to the circle area, each child placed his or her entrusted item on the prayer table, starting with the purple table cloth and talking about each item and its symbolism and significance.

After lighting one purple candle and another song, a Scripture verse was read, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

Teaching about prophecy, Cosgrove described a prophet as someone who “listens to God with all their heart and shares the message heard with the people.” She engaged the children, asking about the message and what it must have been like to hear a prophecy.

At that point, the children, of different ages, who all clearly knew their program’s routines, split off into individual or small group “work.”

At the Montessori-based faith formation program, the children grow in their relationship with God by engaging particularly with Scripture and the liturgy. This is based on the understanding that a child is already in relationship with God and the adult’s role is, as stated on the Diocese of Superior’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd webpage, “to provide a place for the child and God to come together and grow.”

All materials – most provided for by volunteers – provide ways of meditating on concepts of faith visually and materially.

The Diocese of Superior’s Associate Director for Youth Discipleship Jen Metzger shared, “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a beautiful opportunity for both those who participate as well as the adults who walk with them in their faith journey. It an opportunity for us all to remember that our relationship with Jesus is there in our heart waiting for us to sit, explore and welcome him into the center of our lives.”

Metzger said many communities in the diocese “have welcomed this opportunity into their parishes and found it very fruitful for participants, leaders and families as a whole.”

In the tri-parish cluster bulletin, a story was shared about one of the CGS students through work the group was doing while pondering the infancy narratives in Scripture: “Often these passages are thought of as ‘cute, sweet stories.’ However, they contain deep theological truth which can only be heard a bit at a time. By revisiting these Scriptures often in the atrium, the children begin to tune their ears to the fullness of what God desires us to know about Himself and His presence through the Incarnation ….

“This week one of the children worked with the material of the Visitation. As we pondered the Bible verse, ‘the baby leapt for joy,’ the child commented, ‘that it what Jesus and Mary bring.’”