Rite of Christian Initiation, Adapted for Children, 1

The official title is a mouthful, but the pervasive spirit is that of the Baptismal rite: “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.” Note: joy, not judgement.

I’ve recently renewed my respect for this process of welcoming unbaptized or uncatechized children into full initiation in the Catholic Christian community. While the resources I first published in 1995 have gone out of print, Pflaum has now published the children’s journals (My Path to Easter) in English and Spanish. (pflaum.com 800-543-4383)

When Vatican II restored the catechumenate for adults, with its ancient roots, it became a world-wide source of renewal for parishes. It was adapted for children ages 7-17 in the last 45 years, and still remains vibrant. This week and next, we’ll consider some of its outstanding features.

One of the things I like best is its roots in ordinary experience. So people begin by remembering how they met their best friend, spouse or partner. How did they learn about this person’s favorite foods, movies, stories, quirks, family members and ethnicity? Probably not through the academic process of studying books and subsequent testing. Instead, the goal is that children fall in love with Jesus and continue a life-long friendship with him.

As I remind catechists who recognize the unpredictable, messy nature of such a project, “we do our best, but ultimately, it’s God’s work, Jesus who draws them.”

Some of the key building blocks are:

Personal conversion

The Rite has a profound respect for a child’s spirituality. It acknowledges that children have thought long and hard about some of the questions that concern the finest thinkers: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Furthermore, the child has a deep hunger for God, an insatiable thirst for love that can be filled only by a God who is love. Whereas adults may think and speak more abstractly, children are grounded in the here and now, the concrete: their five senses are alert antennae.

But it’s hard to fit the development of a crucial relationship onto a time table. Catechists besieged by some parents who “just want ‘em to git their sacraments” find it hard to respond, “it takes as long as it takes.” It’s not a quick fix; it’s the slow, inefficient work of grace, gradual and proportionate to age.  


Because institutions can exert only 10% of the family’s influence, the family is encouraged to participate. Some parents learn as much if not more than the children, and should be included as much as possible. If parents decline, the parish can appoint a sponsor or sponsoring family.

Liturgical Catechesis

This term simply means the power of symbol and story to speak loud and clear. Advertisers long ago learned the value of a jingle or a logo. Over the centuries the community of faith has also developed a ritual language that conveys more than words. Paul Philibert calls this “landscaping the religious imagination.” “The child’s nostalgia for being lovingly touched by the cosmic mother lives on in us. The church meets that nostalgia with washing, anointing, embracing, laying on hands, and gestures of reverence.”

To be continued next week…

Feast of St. Hildegard—Sept. 17

Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179)

Germany’s greatest mystic, scientist, and doctor, Hildegard was influential in theology, nature, medicine, cosmology, the human condition and the world-at-large. She also assumed ground-breaking roles for a woman of her time: artist, author, composer, mystic, pharmacist, poet, preacher, theologian, scientist, doctor, and political critic. Named a saint and doctor of the church in 2012, she believed passionately in God’s presence and activity in creation, as well as being a life force within. One of her guiding concepts was “viriditas,” the greening power of God, a word which combines the Latin for “green” and “truth,” with connotations of vigor and freshness. While we can observe it in gardens and forests, Hildegard believed we could also cultivate it in our souls.[i]

During her seventies, Hildegard completed two medical texts, which catalogued over 280 plants, cross-referenced with their healing uses. She saw humans as “living sparks” of God’s love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun. A poet and composer, Hildegard collected 77 of her lyric poems, each with a musical setting she composed in Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum. Her numerous other writings include lives of saints; two treatises on medicine and natural history, reflecting a quality of scientific observation rare at that period; and extensive correspondence, in which are to be found further prophecies and allegorical treatises. She also for amusement contrived her own language.

Despite her vows of enclosure—which, in theory, restricted her to the cloister—she managed to remain very much in touch with the outside world. After approval of her book Scivias by Pope Eugenius in 1147, she began to receive visits from and correspond with hundreds of people throughout Europe, including Henry II of England, Louis VII of France, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the empress of Byzantium

Hildegard  thought connection with nature brings people a “primordial joy.” More than eight hundred years after her death, her message rings so true that she could well be considered patroness of environmental awareness. Although she would’ve been appalled by the destruction to the planet, she would’ve cheered robustly for efforts to save it.

Excerpt from More Hidden Women of the Gospels by Kathy Coffey, Orbis, OrbisBooks.com, 800-258-5838.

[i] https://www.healthyhildegard.com/hildegards-viriditas

Gun Violence from Another Side

The terrible poignancy of seemingly random events: parents call out “Have a good day!” as their children tumble into schools around the country, Mark Barden reflects that his son Daniel would’ve been starting his sophomore year in high school had he not been killed at age 7, attending Sandy Hook, and Sue Klebold records a Ted talk about her son Dylan, one of the Columbine killers.

We’ll focus on the latter today, and for those growing weary of the topic, next week will consider the energetic St. Hildegard of Bingen. But it’s well worth 15 minutes to see and hear Mrs. Klebold:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXlnrFpCu0c. She leads with a heart-breaking admission: “My son Dylan, with his friend Eric killed 12 students and a teacher, wounded 20 others on April 20, 1999.” Her audience is receptive and sympathetic, probably marveling at what it must cost this woman to stand before them. 

She must speak with hope that her painful, candid revelations will help other parents to recognize the signs she missed before the tragedy.  The question “How could I not know?” has haunted her as she’s combed through memories and later information. She gradually made the horrible discovery that Dylan was in agony, cutting himself and wanting to die, during a two-year downward spiral that could have offered plenty of time to get him help.

But her son was a perfectionist, unwilling to ask for aid. He was filled with rage at school bullying that debased him, and he interpreted reality through a filter of pain. He wasn’t alone: 75-90% of suicides have diagnosable mental health conditions, many never treated, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-34.

Mrs. Klebold is remarkably restrained and credible as she says, “It was appallingly easy for a 17-year old boy to buy guns.” She has paid the price for the tragedy with her own cancer and mental health issues, and speaks with the integrity of one who has suffered profoundly. Shortly after the Columbine slaughter,  some of us glibly judged the parents: “Where were they?” It’s humbling to know now how rashly we once rushed to judgment.

Homilists encouraging us to broaden our compassion often use the example of the homeless person on the street. But it’s an unusual and commendable stretch to forgive and include the mother of a murderer/suicide.

Gun Safety 2

Parkland leader Emma Gonzales once asked a poignant question: do you care more about guns or us? She pointed to a disturbing fact: The rate of gun homicides among children ages 5-14 in the U.S. is 18 times higher than the rate in other high-income nations.

As if to silently answer her question, parents who’ve dropped children at school in the morning sometimes linger a few moments longer, gazing through the fence for the last look of the day at a precious son or daughter. In order to protect those children, we need to translate that fierce affection into practical steps towards safety from the weapons that have plagued our nation. Continuing last week’s theme, some of these efforts are:

Growing Suicide Awareness

New understandings of suicide–which accounts for 2/3 of all gun deaths– can help anyone intervene. The decision to take one’s own life is impulsive, usually made within 5 to 10 minutes. Research showing the brain isn’t fully developed until age 21 would suggest that teens are especially impulsive. Whether or not an attempt succeeds depends on the choice of means, with firearms most likely to kill, and drugs least likely. When a gun is in the home, suicide is 3 to 5 times more likely to occur. Veterans are twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves, and 2/3 of vets who died used a gun. So while mass shootings grab headlines, the silent, less discussed killer is the easily available firearm for the impulsive act.

No one wants an innocent to die. Gun owners naturally wanting to safeguard family members can place simple barriers around firearms. Easy and effective precautions: locking the case and placing the key where children and teens can’t find it or storing ammunition separately from weapons.

In several states, a partnership between gun shops and public health officials has developed. The store displays information about safe gun storage and suicide prevention hot lines—helpful information for everyone, without a political tinge. Brochures are available on the counter: while it’s hard to track the effect, participants are hopeful and the incentive is spreading. Given the surge in gun sales and suicides since the pandemic, this collaboration seems crucial.

Rapid Intervention

“Stop the Bleed” provides life-saving equipment originally used by military medics that doctors hope will become as widespread as defibrillators for schools, malls, law enforcement agencies, and community public safety. Often, the victim of a shot bleeds to death in the first five minutes, before emergency personnel arrive. But by-standers can grab the kit’s tourniquets, dressings and gauze to save a life immediately.

Sandy Hook Promise

Founded and led by those who lost loved ones (20 children, 6 educators) at Sandy Hook school on 12/14/12, this heroic group hopes that no one else should suffer what they have. So far, they’ve trained over 12 million students to build empathy and inclusivity through their no-cost program to schools. While a policy arm works on federal and state legislation, this initiative seeks to offset “too much focus on the gun, not the human.”

The profile of serial killers shows most were badly bullied before they attacked. So, “Start with Hello,” at levels K-6 and 6-12 helps students minimize social isolation. “Know the Signs” establishes student-led organizations for information, recognition of warning signs, and support to discuss areas of concern. “Say Something,” grades 6-12 provides an anonymous arena for students to voice their safety issues.

Their website (https://www.sandyhookpromise.org) in addition to heart-breaking photos of the children who died, presents fascinating videos. In one, children draw the monsters-under-the-bed that frighten them, while their parents talk about creative strategies to defeat those monsters. But when asked how to protect their children from school violence, the same parents fall oddly silent. It’s a topic no one wants to consider, but how can we live with ourselves if we don’t?

Better to adopt the confidence of this quote from the website: “Many students fear that it’s only a matter of when, not if, a shooting will erupt on their school campus. Subconsciously accepting shootings as regular occurrences has become the ‘new normal’ at schools and public spaces across the country. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By focusing on early identification, action and intervention it is possible to prevent tragedies.” 


For a more detailed account of the latest studies see https://rockinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Public-Mass-Shootings-Brief.pdf. This clear, coherent report was produced by the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium. This group of professionals “is dedicated to the reduction of gun violence involving firearms through interdisciplinary research and analysis.” They offer “evidence-based, data-driven policy recommendations to disrupt the cycle of firearm-involved mass shootings, homicides, suicides, and accidents.” Their charts show clear profiles of perpetrators, locations of shootings and types of weapons. They conclude: “Knee-jerk reactions rooted in emotion will not solve the problem. The evidence produced to date shows that the problem requires solutions that are versatile and grounded in evidence to be effective.”

Amen. The work on this issue by many different groups brings hope and confidence to a once-dark scene.

Back to School and Gun Safety 1

Every year, it’s inexplicably moving: the annual parade of kids back to school. Not the hype to sell notebooks and pencils, but the pedestrians, bikes, buses and cars arriving: a wide range of ages, ethnicities, sizes and backgrounds, all converging on schools. This year, it’s especially meaningful, since for many it’s the first full-time, in-person return since the lockdown began, approximately a year and a half ago.

It’s also a poignant time, because delivering children and teens to school doesn’t seem much safer than it did on April 21, 1999, the day of the Columbine shooting. In what kind of country are kids afraid to go to school? “You go to a movie theater in Aurora and all of a sudden your life is taken,” Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis said. “You’re at a shopping mall in Portland, Oregon, and your life is taken. It has to stop, these senseless deaths.”

Nearly 40,000 Americans die from gunshot wounds each year. Two million acts of violence occur in schools per year. The rate of suicide is skyrocketing.  “’Since…1968, there have been more civilians killed by guns in the United States than soldiers have been killed on the battlefield in all the wars in American history,’ said David Hemenway, Director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center, adding that this is a uniquely American problem among high-income countries.

It is urgent that the U.S. follow the lead of Canada, Australia, Japan, the UK, France and every other civilized nation, to abolish or severely restrict firearms. Other countries’ death rates by guns are miniscule compared to ours. U.S. residents aren’t inherently more violent; they simply have an unrestricted access to deadly weapons that astonishes residents of other countries. The tired platitudes that typically follow mass shootings must sputter out and be replaced by concrete legislation, grass roots efforts, and grounds for hope. This week and next, we’ll look at some evidence for those.  

Grass Roots Groups

Moms Demand Action

When you fear your family might not be safe, doing nothing is not an option. “Women don’t do hopeless” is the mantra of Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, with its related group Students Demand Action. Website: https://momsdemandaction.org/

Pointing out that the gun violence crisis has gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re asking the Senate to take bipartisan action on background checks. They’ve also targeted “ghost guns” which “may be the scariest and fastest growing gun safety threat in the country, allowing anyone to make an untraceable weapon in less than an hour.” They’ve asked the public to voice their opposition to this proliferation via docket #ATF 2021R-05  through www.regulations.gov

SAFE—Scrubs Addressing the Firearms Epidemic

On Sept. 16, 2019, healthcare providers across the country called for action to end the public health crisis of rampant firearms. Taking time from busy schedules, they proclaimed, “this is our lane.” They were responding to a 2018 NRA tweet, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” As one response from forensic pathologist Judy Melinek said colorfully: “Do you have any idea how many bullets I pull out of corpses weekly? This isn’t just my lane. It’s my f****** highway.”

Founded at the Stanford Medical School in 2018, SAFE has since spread to 50 medical schools. Their lobbying in DC led to the first research funding in 20 years, $25 million to CDC and NIH researchers providing scientific data on gun violence.

Even a glance at their website, (https://www.standsafe.org/) is hope-filled: healthcare providers and medical students of all ages and ethnicities wear white coats or blue scrubs with the prominent SAFE logo. SAFE has named the gun situation in the US “a medical threat of epidemic proportions.” On a personal note, a pediatrician and parent adds: “If one of my own children gets shot, I will have to live with the fact that I could have done more about the gun violence problem in this country, but didn’t.” 

To be continued next week…

Recording of RCIA Adapted for Children – August 4, 2 021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb1_IURrIh0

Feast of St. Clare—Aug. 11

Doing this week‘s newspaper word search with my grandson, all the hidden words contained the root “joy.” That word could name the theme for the life of St. Clare, St. Francis’ lesser known female counterpart (though much more, in her own independent right) and dear friend.

Clare enjoyed the “guarantee of living without guarantees.” That might make us feel insecure and wobbly. We rely heavily on insurance policies; she relied totally on God. Clare saw humans as mirrors reflecting the divine. In the beauty of the Beloved, she found more than enough wealth to offset her life style of poverty.

As Richard Rohr points out in Eager to Love, Clare and her sisters had a topsy-turvy insistence on living without privilege. Totally dependent on God, spending 40 years in one small house and garden, she discovered abundant joy. It seems important to note that in dark times, we can still nurture joy—it’s not a dirty word showing we simply don’t understand our era.

One of the most famous, but misguided, images of Clare was her holding the monstrance high, so that Saracens invading Assisi shrank back in fear and left her monastery alone. It’s true that soldiers did enter her home, San Damiano, but they were European mercenaries hired by Frederick II. The monstrance didn’t exist then—in 1240.

What Clare actually DID, confronting the genuine threat of invasion far outside the city walls where she and her sisters lived unprotected, was take “her usual posture for prayer,” lying prostrate.  It seems the exact opposite to a macho demonstration of power or strength, and yet it was effective. The invaders retreated, causing no harm.

Clare’s process of letting go ego and learning to mirror God led her to write: “Place your heart in the figure of the divine… and allow your entire being to be transformed into the image of the Godhead itself, so that you may feel what friends feel…” Given that intimacy, it’s unsurprising that Clare not only lived but even died joyfully, encouraging her soul to go forth with “good escort.”

Feast of St. Ignatius—July 31

In a reading today, Jeremiah voiced God’s hopeful longing, “Perhaps they will listen and turn back, each from his evil way.” The seed of one response was born in the castle of Loyola, Spain in 1491. A simple plaque there says, “Aqui nacio.” On a literal level, it means St. Ignatius was born there. Symbolically, it reaches more broadly: the start of a creative, alternate narrative no one dreamt would spread so far, endure so long.

At a time when clergy were the only intermediaries between ordinary people and God, Ignatius differed. Gloriously, he told ordinary shmucks: “God has a dream for you.” Ignatius’ alternative didn’t emphasize external rules. Instead, the interior process of the Spiritual Exercises asked not what? but who? Called into “conscious living relationship with the person of Christ,” Ignatius exchanged his sword for a walking stick. He traded the macho drama of a knight’s life for a mysterious process. He had no idea where it would end, but limped into it trustingly.

With genius and craziness, Ignatius directed his followers into the swirl of cities, where lively plazas offered places to preach and exchange new ideas. His directions for Jesuit life are remarkably flexible: no office in common, no excessive penances; regarding dress, “the manner is ordinary.” He often inserts the realistic qualifier to fit circumstances: “or whatever’s best.” Just as prophets in today’s readings met disdain, so the Jesuits have had perpetual differences with the powers-that-be. Gospel fidelity could conflict with human law; no other religious order has spent as many man-years in jail.

You’re Invited – Join us!  RCIA Adapted for Children

This webinar will begin with a brief background on the RCIA adapted for children. We’ll then turn to ways of implementing it. The presentation will conclude with an introduction to the RCIA Journal, and ideas for prayer with children.
This is what we will cover: What is RCIA? Ways to implement RCIA, adapted for children, in a parish setting. A short overview of the new RCIA Journal. Retreat ideas. Questions. Pflaum sales reps and David Dziena will present RCIA resources available from Pflaum and all of Bayard, Inc.
Wednesday, August 4, 2021 – 1:00 PM (ET) REGISTER NOW   

Kathy Coffey
Kathy Coffey has been intrigued by the process of Christian initiation, especially children’s, for over 25 years. After publishing her books in the Children and Christian Initiation series, she traveled around the country, giving workshops about it in many dioceses. Among her award-winning books are HIDDEN WOMEN OF THE GOSPELS, MORE HIDDEN WOMEN OF THE GOSPELS (Orbis), and WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN (Liturgical Press).

Feast of St. Martha–July 29

Today, she’d be the CEO of Google or Apple. Brilliant, outspoken, direct, she gave Jesus exactly the affirmation he needed to proceed to Jerusalem and his passion. But let her tell the story…

“I was at my worst then: exhausted, vulnerable, grieving for Lazarus, angry at Jesus. I was so outraged, I spewed pure venom when he arrived. Lazarus’s place at our table was empty, the brother I loved had vanished, and Jesus’ delay became the target for my fury.

People with better social skills might have welcomed him with, ‘Thanks for trying,’ or even, ‘Your friend is dead,’ but I dumped the guilt trip: ‘If you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.’

The accusation hurt; I could tell by the sadness in his eyes. Still it didn’t paralyze him; maybe he continued our conversation because he could trust I wouldn’t mask the truth. I would look him straight in the eye and speak without a shred of syrupy politeness.

Still, he hesitated. It was as if he needed something from me, some mysterious affirmation before he plunged ahead. The roles were reversed: just when I needed to lean on him in grief, he asked for my support!

Even if I’d lost Lazarus, I could still encourage Jesus. Maybe he had taught me how to give people exactly what they need. He had wept with Mary; he had discussed the afterlife with me; now it was my turn to answer the question he hated to ask. So few people understood him; all he wanted was one person to show some inkling.

And I did know who he was. In some quiet, sure place within, I was bedrock certain of his identity. So I said it aloud. Not to sound arrogant, but Jesus forged into that foul-smelling tomb as if propelled by my words. I ran after him, just in time to see Lazarus lurch forth. Three days before, weeping, I had covered my brother’s face with the same linen. Now, I unwound the burial cloths as if unwrapping a splendid gift.

I barely thanked Jesus or noticed him leave. But neighbors said he walked purposefully toward Jerusalem, driven as he had been to Lazarus’s grave. Did my words still echo in his ears? Had I ignited some fire within him? As I had a hundred times before, I asked myself, ‘Now what have I said?’”

Excerpted from Hidden Women of the Gospels by Kathy Coffey, Orbis Books, orbisbooks.com, 800-258-5838

Feast of Mary Magdalene–July 22

Let’s hope that on the Feast of Mary Magdalene July 22, we all do our part to correct the misperception of her as prostitute. That error, a conflation of three Biblical texts, was given authority by Pope Gregory the Great in the seventh century, and not corrected for 1400 years, until revisions to the Roman calendar of 1969.

Luke’s gospel names her as one of several financially independent women who supported Jesus’ ministry. But her role is more important than financier. Dan Brown’s best-selling Da Vinci Code gave her a romantic role, but again, her centrality in the early Christian community was more than simply a private relationship.

All four Gospels agree she was one of the first witnesses to the resurrection. When Jesus calls her name in the garden, it is a pivotal point of human history. Her name is the hinge to a new order. She was the first to realize that God could vanquish even death, and to tell the other disciples. She convinced them and skeptics throughout history that “love is stronger than death.” To silence her voice and discount her primary role does her a great disservice. She calls us instead to the vision of a world free of suffering, exploitation and death. Arguments over authority simply distract from that large hope.

Book Review: The Lost Words and Spell Songs

Enough of last week’s bishops—with their tedious, dualistic, patriarchal exclusion. Let’s turn to something more creative and life-giving: The Lost Words by Robert Macfarland and Jackie Morris.

This collaboration between him–a Cambridge professor/naturalist, and her—a skilled, stunning artist–came about when the Oxford Junior Dictionary, widely used in schools around the world, dropped 40 words concerning nature. These “lost words,” no longer used enough by children to rate their inclusion, included: wren, acorn, bluebell, fern, lark, otter, heather and willow. In classroom after classroom, children were unable to name something simple as a dandelion. As Morris asked, “how could we stand by and let this happen?”

They couldn’t. Macfarlane wrote a clever acrostic “spell poem” for 20 common names of ordinary species, designed to speak or sing and summon them back.  Believing that “as artists our main function should be a responsibility to awe,” they saw their work as a “beautiful protest against the loss of everyday nature from everyday lives.”

Their gorgeous book (over-size, full color, Anansi Press, available from Amazon, book stores or libraries) took on life and energy. Grass-roots campaigns to “re-wild childhood” earned enough money to place copies in every primary school in Scotland, half of England and a quarter of Wales, with similar efforts in the U.S.  Every hospice in the UK has a copy, and an Orthopedic Hospital has four levels decorated with the art and spells. Children practicing motor skills can thus be encouraged to “walk as far as the kingfisher,” or “go find the owl.” Like a selkie, it has also slipped its skin and transformed into Spell Songs.

Listening to that lovely music as I drove my granddaughter to camp through misty hills on a cool, grey morning, I felt I’d gone to Ireland without a plane ticket. The accent, the lyric voices and flutes, fiddles, harps underscored our emotional attachments to certain landscapes.  As a Senegalese musician said, “when it’s gone, you never get it back. Your landscape, your horizon is irreplaceable.”  

Many of us survived lockdown by taking daily walks outdoors. The healing benefits proved the truth of a line in “Lark:” “Right now I need you/for my sadness has come again.” To lose words not only impoverishes our appreciation of the natural world; it dilutes our language.

Any of my writing students at the University of Colorado could attest that the specific word is one of the best tools in the writer’s kit. They knew their lazy use of “nice,” “good” or “interesting” would draw a quick and savage strike of the red pen from their instructor. When the names of precious species, unique creations are replaced by blog, broadband and bullet-point, how have we cheated our children?