Ensuring ‘A Place for All’ in God’s house

July 16, 2013

Is there a television commercial that has caught your attention lately? Possibly one that you spoke about or heard others talking about afterwards? 

Companies pay marketing firms incredible amounts of money to design advertisements that will secure the placement of their products in the minds, and homes, of consumers. If you remember such a commercial, and more importantly, know or have the product it was selling, then the company's goal was met. Such product development and marketing may appear subtle and effortless when actually it entailed a dedicated amount of reflection and preparation on the part of many people to accomplish such success. 

For those who teach the faith and share their faith with others, the same dedicated efforts bear similar success. In the home or the parish, on a walk or a retreat, creative communication is a key to effectively reaching others. 

Think about the best storyteller you've ever known. What was it about them that made them so good at getting and keeping your attention? Being able to catch one's attention often involves using topics that are relevant and easily understood. Much like great advertising and storytelling, evangelization and catechesis also have to be affective to be effective. 

For the last two years, individuals in this Archdiocese have been fortunate to participate in a course titled, A Place for All. Participants in this formation gain numerous strategies and best practices to successfully teach individuals with emotional, behavioral and learning differences in our parish programs and schools. These strategies and practices benefit every learner. 

A Place for All consists of seven monthly sessions which are titled: Using a Positive, Developmental Approach to Behavior Management; Foundations; Classroom Communication; Effective Lesson Plan Design; Getting and Keeping Attention; Lesson Plan Design for Inclusion; and Fostering Self-Discipline in a Community Context. The facilitator of A Place for All, John Barone, offers the following two reflections on a Master catechist who consistently models exceptional teaching skills: 

"My first experience of this amazing educator was at a Confirmation Mass at St. Martha Catholic Church in Kingwood. There were 250 Confirmation candidates. I don't exaggerate one bit when I say that the 250th individual received the same amount of time, care and energy when they were confirmed as the first received. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo's energy never faltered, and the care with which he administered the sacrament did not wane in spite of the long period of time and the many recipients. If you've ever had the privilege of hearing one of Cardinal DiNardo's homilies, you've seen much of the methodology in A Place for All demonstrated. 

"For example, a good teacher designs the lesson to have ‘experiential components,' topics to which students can universally relate that are used as connectors for new input. In every homily, his Eminence includes experiential connectors. At the Mass for the University of St. Thomas Essay Contest, for example, he spoke to young children about a difficult scriptural concept in Mark's Gospel. How delightful to see Cardinal begin the homily with a humorous grin followed by, ‘Today, boys and girls, I want to talk to you about a sandwich.' 

"The students were delighted, and every one of them was able then to relate that experiential connector to the lesson which followed. They were hooked! Positive affect, purposeful movement, captivating content… you name it, Cardinal DiNardo models it."

In our community of Church, the faithful and all their diversity are a sign of God's artistry. It is God's creativity that allows every member to be uniquely made in his image.

Elements of surprise abound in human nature, providing Christian communities with ongoing opportunities for growth. Not merely for the community to increase numerically, but rather so that it can grow in fuller appreciation of the images and ways of God. 

We are born to be in community, and as people of God, it is our responsibility to ensure that there is always A Place for All in God's house. Critical to any faith community's transformation is the presence of strangers, or the "other," to lead individuals to become friends and grow in Christian love. 

Persons with disabilities are evangelizers by their very nature, for they encourage faith communities to find alternative ways to express the Gospel that may never have been developed, had a particular individual not been in their midst. 

This year for the first time, A Place for All will be offered in two parishes; St. Theresa Catholic Church in Houston will host Wednesday sessions and Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Church in Katy will host Saturday sessions. Both locations will begin the seven-month course work in September. All are welcome to participate! For more information call 713-741-8730 and ask for the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis or visit www.archgh.org/OEC/Disability-Community-Events/.