Monday, April 16, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter


Year B
Fourth Sunday of Easter


Images

 

Sheep following a shepherd

Shepherd risking his life


Points to note


As mentioned in the leaflet for Easter 3, this is part of a four-week journey that John is leading us.  You may wish to read that leaflet to set this Sunday in context.

This is one of the most endearing images of Christ: Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  In many ways, there are two images of the Good Shepherd.  First, as a leader after whom his disciples will follow.  And his disciples include us.  His disciples will follow him because we know him.

You may also want to reflect on the accessory of a bishop.  The staff that a bishop carries is called a crozier.  It represents the staff of a shepherd.  The crook at the end of the staff enables the shepherd to hook the necks of straying lambs.

The other image is that of a shepherd risking his life for his sheep, fighting off wolves and the like.  Jesus, however, not just risked his life for us, he laid down his life for us.  For younger children, you may not wish to emphasise this image.




Liturgy


Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia, alleluia!
I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my own sheep and my own know me.
Alleluia!

Gospel

The Lord be with you.
All:   And with your spirit.

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St John
All:   Glory to you O Lord
(Jn 10:11-18)
Jesus said:
“I am the Good Shepherd:
the Good Shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and run away as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the Good Shepherd;
I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep that I have that are not of this fold,
and these I have to lead as well.
They too will listen to my voice,
and there will be only one flock and one shepherd.
The Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me;
I lay it down of my own free will,
and as it is in my power to lay it down,
so it is in my power to take it up again;
and this is the command I have been given by my Father.”

This is the Gospel of the Lord


Discussion


Anyone has a dog?  Does your dog come when you call?  Explain that sheep flocks in the Middle East tend to be small and the many flocks need to search for scarce grazing land.  Grazing grounds generally overlap and flocks tend to mix freely.  Interestingly, though, when the shepherds leave at dusk, each has no problem in identifying his sheep and leading them home.  The sheep all knew their master and each will respond only when its master calls and not another, very much like how dogs recognise their masters.

Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd and that his sheep, i.e., we, know him and will follow him when he calls.  How do you think he will call us?  By our names.  Discuss those who God called by their names:  Abraham, Samuel, etc.  Discuss how Mary Magdalene did not recognise Jesus at the tomb until he called her by her name.  A good example of the sheep who knew the shepherd.  How would Jesus call you? This is a good opportunity for everybody in the group to share his or her name.  Make sure that each gives his name out loud to the group and not just to the facilitator. 

Have you seen how cows are branded?  With a red hot metal rod, which then imprints the owner’s name or sign on the side of the cow.  Cows are branded so that everyone knows to whom those cows belong.  Explain that cows are very big so they don't feel it much.

If we are Jesus’ sheep, do we also need to be branded like the cows?  Yes!! Like the cows, we are branded with Jesus’ name on us.  We are all called Christians.

Is there any way other people can know that we belong to Jesus?  Discuss that following is not just to physically to follow a person somewhere like the sheep following the shepherd.  A follower also follows what his or her master does.  When other people see that we are doing the same thing as our master, they know that we are followers of our master.  Discuss the things we should be doing so that people will know.

Link this up with last week’s reading:  Anyone who says ‘I know him (God)’, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar.  (1 Jn 2:4).

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Third Sunday of Easter


Year B
Third Sunday of Easter

Theme


Loving in obedience


Points to note

The second reading in all the Sundays of Easter in Year B is from the first letter of St John.  John is the only one of the Twelve who was not martyred and lived to a ripe old age of over ninety.  At the end of his life, John was exiled to an island where it was said he had all the time to reflect on and to understand the manifestation of God as love.  Little wonder that the tone of his letter is very much on the themes of love and God.

To John, Jesus left us with only one commandment, the commandment to love (Jn 15:12).  This is discussed much more in depth in Easter 6, where in both the second and the Gospel readings, St John culminates his teaching on these twin themes.  As such, the next few Sundays are part of a short journey to that understanding in Easter 6.

In each Sunday, John wants us to understand that we cannot love without God and, if we have God, we cannot do anything but love.  We start off with the idea, therefore, of obedience in this reading, followed by the ownership of God over us and God’s expectation from us of this ownership in the next few Sundays.

When discussing the concept of love, it is easy to lose focus and end up with very broad ideas instead.  It is critical to anchor the discussions on very concrete examples of action and the daily life events that children understand.  If possible, end up with commitments from the children on how they should make real in their lives what they have heard in the readings.

 

Liturgy


There is no the Gospel Acclamation as the Gospel is not read.  For the same reason, there is no opening dialogue.


Reading

Explain to the children that John was probably the youngest of the Twelve Apostles, the only one not to be martyred and that he lived to a ripe old age.  In the Gospel he wrote, he always referred to himself as the beloved disciple.  So, this must really very much be someone who have felt the loving power of Jesus and knows he is loved by God.  The story goes that when he was teaching his own disciples at the end of his life, he was asked by one of them why he always talked to them about love and nothing else.  John stared out into the distance for a while and replied, “Because there is nothing else … but love … love … and love.”

A Reading from the first letter of St John
(1Jn 2: 1-5)
I am writing this, my children, to stop you sinning;
but if anyone should sin, we have an advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ, who is just;
he is the sacrifice who takes our sins away,
not only ours, but the whole world’s.
we can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments.
Anyone who says “I know him”, and does not keep his commandments,
Is a liar, refusing to admit the truth.
But when anyone does obey what he has said,
God’s love comes in perfection in him.

This is the Word of the Lord

Discussion

Is there anyone among us who is perfect?  Discuss the idea of perfection and only God is perfect.  Is there any among us who sometimes wished that we have done something that we omitted to do or wished that we did not do something that we did?  You may wish to allow to children to talk about mistakes they made.  Gently weed out those mistakes that are merely incorrect (eg., giving an incorrect answer in a test) from those that are wrong (wrong from a moral angle).  Such wrongs are sins.

Point out that often when we do a wrong, someone else has warned us against it.  When we end up fighting with our brother or sister, Mom would surely have warned us against it.  So, when we do a wrong, it is often an act of disobedience against someone.  That is why when we fight with our brother, it is not just our brother who is upset with us, but Mom too. 

Expand it to the idea of sin.  God is very much a parent in our whole Christian family, very much like Mom in our little family at home.  When we sin, even if it is against someone else, it is a disobedience against God.  Both God and that someone else are upset with us and we have to apologise to both God and that someone else.  Therefore if we say we want to be obedient to God, we cannot sin against anyone else too, not just God. 

Illustrate these points using events from children daily lives.  I always find fighting with our brother a good example but there many countless more.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter


Year A
Second Sunday of Easter


Theme

The Easter Story


Points to note

This Sunday’s story continues on from that of Palm Sunday.  As such, it is recommended that you refer to the leaflet for Palm Sunday.  Where the Passion story ends with Jesus being placed in the tomb, the Easter story picks up from early morning two days later.  What happens in the intervening period remains in the realms of the mysteries of faith.

The setting of the story changes.  The Passion story was one of a long continuous heavy drama.  The Easter story is one many short episodes pieced together.  The Passion story was threaded into one flowing narrative.  The Easter story seems more chaotic, with few connections between the episodes.  Perhaps, the Passion story is more reflective of God’s organised plan, while the Easter story is our story, of the disorganised mortals who were our ancestors in faith.

The mood of the story also changes.  The Passion story propels itself forward with by the force of its gripping drama.  If told well, the children should be tensed but riveted at the end of it.  The Easter story moves quicksilver-like from one episode to another.  On the one hand, the shortness of the episodes is more in line with the children’s attention span.  With one story after the other, the constant shifting in the story line may prove detrimental.  The storyteller must be prepared to lengthen the more exciting episodes or drop the less exciting ones.

The end to the story is also crucial.  The Passion story ended on a sombre note, perhaps even a defeatist note.  Even for those of us who know of the resurrection round the corner, we can’t but help feel downcast when we hear of Jesus entombed.  The Easter story, however, must end very positively.  The first bishops of our Church stand poised on the tidal wave of evangelising fervour that will one day engulf much of the world.  The end of the Easter story must paint a picture of the apostles bravely facing the unknown future, a hostile world, but also a great adventure about to begin.


Liturgy

As with Palm Sunday, the liturgy should be kept simple.

Story

As with Palm Sunday, I will not set the exact wording of the story but will outline the various episodes and indicate the parts that must be told in regular print.  Optional parts are in italics. 

The Easter story is basically contained in the last chapter in each Gospel (the last two in Jn).  You should read them for yourself if you are not too familiar.  Note however that the sequence of stories in each of the Gospels is a little different and you may have to work out the sequence into a unified story.  I have also included a few apocryphal stories about the apostles I have found interesting.  The only problem is when children ask where you got the apocryphal stories.  Well, you find your own answers to that one.

Easter morning: the empty tomb
Early Sunday morning when it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.  This is not Mary the mother of Jesus. She found the stone at the door to the tomb rolled away, and looking inside, she saw that it was empty.  She ran off to tell the apostles.

Peter and John went to the tomb.  John ran ahead of Peter and got there first but he let Peter enter before him.  They saw the tomb empty and remembered that Jesus had told them that he would rise again.

Mary Magdalene and Jesus
Mary stood outside, weeping.  When she looked in, she saw two angels who asked why she was crying.  She replied that someone had taken her Lord away and she doesn’t know where they have put him.

When she went outside, she met Jesus but did not recognise him.  Thinking that he was the gardener, she asked where he had put Jesus.  Jesus called her by her name and she recognised Jesus.  Quote Jesus:  My sheep know me.  Jesus will always call us by our name, as God did with Abraham, Samuel and the others.  But Jesus told her not to cling to him but to tell the others the good news.  Discuss that if anyone had good news, wouldn’t they want to tell the other people?

Mary ran off to tell the apostles the good news, but nobody believed her!!  Well, would you?  If someone were to tell you that the chap who died last week was seen around, would you believe him?

Easter afternoon: the road to Emmaus
Two disciples went off on a journey to a nearby town, Emmaus.  Jesus came up to them but they didn’t recognise him.  Link this with Mary in the earlier story.  Jesus asked what they were discussing and they told him about the crucifixion and the reports that he had been seen but they were unsure about the reports.  Jesus explained to them the passages in the Bible about himself.  When they arrived at Emmaus, the two disciples invited Jesus to stay with them for supper.  When he broke the bread, they recognised him.  Link this with the words during the institutional narrative at mass, “Do this in memory of me”.  But he disappeared from their sight.

Easter evening: Jesus and Thomas
That evening, the apostles were all gathered in a locked room because they were afraid. Jesus walked through the door and had supper with them.  His first words to them were “Peace be with you”, the same words we use at mass.

Thomas was not there that evening.  When they told him about it, he refused to believe “Unless I put my finger into the holes in his hands and my hand into the hole in his side, I refuse to believe”.  The next Sunday, they were gathered likewise and Jesus walked through the door again.  Thomas fell at the feet of Jesus and proclaimed him “My Lord and my God”.  He was the first person to have called Jesus God.

Stories of the Apostles
Jesus stayed with the apostles for forty days before ascending to heaven.  Ten days later, he sent the Holy Spirit on them on Pentecost day.  Greatly strengthened, the apostles went out to the world and told them about Jesus. 

The following stories are not biblical:
The apostles drew lots to see where they would go.  Peter went to Rome and became the first bishop of Rome.  Once, when he was running away to escape from soldiers, he saw Jesus walking the other direction.  When he asked Jesus where he was going, Jesus replied that he was going to Rome to be crucified again.  Peter was so ashamed of himself that he ran ahead of Jesus and was arrested.  He told the soldiers that he should be crucified upside-down as he was not worthy to be crucified like Jesus.

Thomas was chosen to go to India.  He didn’t want to because it was so far away.  Jesus visited him in a dream, but still he told Jesus, “Anywhere Lord but India”.  The next morning, Jesus was at the harbour and asked the captain of a ship if he needed a slave, pointing out to him Thomas.  The captain called Thomas over and asked him if Jesus was his master.  When Thomas said yes, the captain said he had bought him and Thomas was going to India.  Thomas went and made many Christians there.

Of all the apostles, only John lived to an old age but in exile in the island of Patmos.  Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece. James was martyred in Spain and Matthew in Ethiopia.  Philip was crucified in Turkey.  Bartholomew was whipped to death in Armenia.  Simon and Jude were killed for the faith in Persia.

Palm Sunday


Year B
Palm Sunday


Theme

Jesus’ story


Points to note

Our faith is a faith of stories.  Before books were written, the faith was handed down in the form of stories by word of mouth from one generation to the next.  This was what was known as the oral tradition.  Biblical archaeologists tell us that the stories of Moses were written some six centuries after his death.  This was the written tradition, from which our Bible today came to be.  But until the stories were written down, they told and retold from parent to child, from teacher to pupil.  Story telling is also very much a part of our Asian heritage.  This is one thing we have in common with the Jews.

The oral tradition continues on today despite the growing dominance of the written word.  It is alive at each Jewish Passover meal, where it is required tradition for the youngest child in the family to ask why the meal is celebrated, the cue for the story of the first Passover to be told, complete with the ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea. 

It also continues on today in the Easter Vigil, where the seven readings that encapsulate the salvation history of our people, are told over the Easter fire.  In many ways, it reminds me of the story telling that takes place over a camp-site fire.  The Liturgy of the Word at the Easter Vigil is therefore the story telling session of the liturgical year.

But mostly, it finds greatest expression when a parent tells a child the Gospel story.  The faith is handed down another generation, and the tradition that has been handed down like a chain for 150 generations before us, has then found another link in the chain.


Liturgy

Twice a year, at Palm Sunday and at Good Friday, the Passion story is told.  As it is a long account, this is one gospel reading where the option of sitting for the Gospel is available.

The children’s liturgy for this Sunday is rather bare, as bare as the altar would be after the Holy Thursday Eucharist.  It has been stripped of all liturgical ornaments to make room for the Passion story.  It is hoped that if the story stands alone and is told well, for one Sunday in the year, it will take centre stage in the liturgy.

Gospel Acclamation

Praise to you, O Christ, king of eternal glory:
Christ was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross.
But God raised him high
And gave him the name which is above all names.
Praise to you, O Christ, king of eternal glory:

Gospel
I have not attempted to set the wording of the story to be told, but have left it up to you to tell it in your own way.  I have outlined the various aspects of the story and indicated the parts that must be told in regular print.  Optional parts are in italics.  You are encouraged to read the passion story yourself in Mk 14:1-15:47.

It can be a long story.  I have on occasions taken forty-five minutes to tell it.  To settle the children down, there may need to be some dialogue or interaction in the beginning.  Once they settle down, however, the drama of the story seems to propel itself forward.  There is something in the story that will keep children riveted.

As a story telling tool, the voice is crucial.  Try and use as wide a range as possible as you may need to play many characters.  Eye contact with the children at all times is also essential.  This means you must be able to tell the story from memory.  Perhaps a little rehearsal may be necessary.  For dramatic impact, use pauses at the dramatic points of the story.

Entry into Jerusalem
Jesus though King did not enter Jerusalem in glory but on a donkey.  Emphasise the difference in the concept of Christian leadership.  The people welcomed him with palms, which were normally used to welcome royalty in those days.

Last Supper
To keep the story moving, it is best not to touch on the doctrinal aspects of the Eucharist, which is best left to a session specifically devoted to it.  When Jesus predicted that one of them at the table would betray him, Peter declared he would stay with Jesus even if the others were to leave him.  Mention Judas leaving early to betray Jesus.

The Garden of Gethsemane and the Arrest
Emphasise the loneliness of Jesus when his disciples fell asleep praying.  Judas arrived and kissed Jesus on the cheek.  Contrast the arms of the soldiers with the non-violence of the disciples.  Jesus healed the ear of the servant that was cut off by one of the disciples.  Stress that the disciples including Peter ran away, leaving Jesus alone.

The Trial
Explain what a trial is and note that while most trials take place in the daytime, this one took place at night.  The Jews used lying witnesses to try and pass the death sentence on him but failed.  They finally convicted him on his claim to be God’s Son, which ironically was the truth.  Peter betrayed Jesus three times in the courtyard before the cock crowed.

Jesus before Pilate
The Jews do not have the authority to put anyone to death, so they sent Jesus to one who could:  the governor, Pontius Pilate.  Pilate questioned Jesus and found that he was not guilty.  He tried to release Jesus by offering to release a prisoner at the Passover.  The crowd chose Barabbas instead at the instigation of the priests and demanded that Jesus be crucified.  Note that this was the same crowd who welcomed Jesus with palms the week before.   Pilate’s wife had a bad dream all day about Jesus and urged him to have nothing to do 
with Jesus.  Pilate sent Jesus to Herod (not the same Herod who was around at the time of Jesus’ birth), the king in Galilee because Jesus was a Galilean.  Herod had hoped to see a miracle of Jesus but Jesus kept silence.  So Herod sent Jesus back.  Pilate tried to get the crowd to agree to release Jesus but failed.  So he took some water and washed his hands of the affair.

The Way to the Cross
Pilate ordered Jesus to be whipped forty times.  The soldiers made fun of him.  Then they made him carry his cross.  This is actually the cross beam and not the whole cross.  When Jesus arrived at the place of crucifixion, which is the upright pole in the ground, they will hoist him up and the cross beam as well.  He fell three times and they made a man, Simon of Cyrene, help him carry the cross.

The Crucifixion
They arrived at the place of crucifixion called Golgotha that means the place of the skull.  When they finished crucifying him, they cast lots for his clothing.  Above him was a sign that said ‘This is the King of the Jews’. The people standing by jeered at Jesus and asked him to save himself.  They crucified him between two thieves.  When one of them made fun of him, the other rebuked the first and asked for Jesus’ pardon.

Jesus died
Before he died, Jesus prayed to the Father that he forgive those who crucified him.  Finally Jesus dies and when he did, there was darkness in the sky and the earth quaked.  A friend of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea took the body down and placed it in the tomb.  They did not bury him yet because everyone wanted to hurry home for the Passover.  The tomb was a cave with a boulder rolled over its front as a door.  They set soldiers to guard it.

Closing prayer

During Holy Week, the last week of Lent, there is no closing prayer as all masses during the week are considered part of one mass.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Third Sunday in Lent


Year B


Concepts

The Ten Commandments


Points to note

An interesting salient feature of the Ten Commandments, which every Christian learns from childhood, is the many injunctions against doing things.  There were speculations, probably unsubstantiated, that the original commandments were positive in nature and not negative.  Whatever the scholastic proof, it is recommended that the commandments be presented as a positive action, and not a negative prohibition.

In going through the commandments, it is important to emphasise the fact that the factor underlying the commandments is love.  Commentators have often noted that commandments 1-3 refer to love for God while commandments 4-10 refer to love for neighbours.


Liturgy

The Alleluia is not sung during the season of Lent.  This week, there is no Praise and Glory to God, the Gospel Acclamation used during Lent, as the Gospel is not read.  For the same reason, there is no opening dialogue.

A Reading from the Book of Exodus
(Ex 20: 1-17)
God spoke all these words.  He said, “I am the Lord, your God who brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

1.     You shall have no gods except me.  You shall not make yourselves an idol of God.
2.     You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
3.     Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  For six days you shall your work, but the seventh day is a holy day for the Lord your God.
4.     Honour your father and your mother
5.     You shall not kill.
6.     You shall not commit adultery.
7.     You shall not steal.
8.     You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
9.     You shall not desire your neighbour’s house. 
10.   You shall not desire your neighbour’s wife, or his servant, man or woman, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is his.

This is the Word of the Lord


Discussion

What is a covenant?  An agreement.  We often refer to a covenant as an agreement between God and his people.  God first made an agreement with Noah: remember the story of the rainbow?  Then, there was later an agreement between God and Abraham:  remember the story from last Sunday?  Then, other people wanted to know how to worship God.  God then handed down the Ten Commandments through Moses as an example on how to live their lives and become people of God.

You may want to go through the Ten Commandments one by one.  Encourage the children to give an example for each of the commandments as to how they could keep them.

Discuss why we should keep the commandments.  Is it because we want to avoid being punished?  Is it because we want to be obedient to God?  It is because it is a good thing to do?  Is it because we love God?  Is it because we love our friends and family?  In many ways, this is not a question that has a right or wrong answer.  Be sensitive to what the children are saying.

Without being dogmatic, refer to Lk10:25-28, where Jesus was asked as to which was the greatest of the commandments and he replied that it was to love God and neighbour.