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Adult Education and Small Faith Community Sharing

 
The following sessions can be used for a wide range of adult education programs. Many parishes have ongoing small groups that meet regularly to pray together, read Scripture, share faith and discuss what is happening in their lives and in the world around them. These groups may meet weekly, bi-monthly or according to some other regular pattern. The material that follows may be used by such groups at their regular gatherings or as part of a special series of meetings. The material can also be used in parishes that wish to create new groups that will meet for a shorter duration, e.g., as Lenten gatherings or during the summertime.

The six sample sessions correspond to the sample lesson plans for elementary age students and the sample lesson plans for youth. One option is to make the sessions intergenerational where families and individuals of all ages gather for prayer and then break out into age appropriate groups. Or, these sessions can be done independently.

Below you will find a standard structure for the sessions followed by material for five specific themes. Those who use this material should feel free to adapt it to fit the specific situation of each individual group. A time frame of about 90 minutes is proposed, but the format is sufficiently flexible to allow less or more time.

General Session Format

Session A: The Call to Participate in Public Life

Session B: Forming Consciences

Session C: Avoiding Evil and Doing Good

Session D: Life and Dignity of the Human Person

Session E: Solidarity

Session F: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable


Session Format

Gathering


The leader should see that details of hospitality are taken care of so that everyone feels welcome, knows one another and is comfortable being together. In ongoing groups this pattern will already be well established. New groups will need to be more deliberate in establishing this climate right from the beginning. An icebreaker in which all are invited to share why they are interested in being part of the group can help everyone become acquainted quickly.

Opening Prayer


Depending on the leader's preference, a spontaneous prayer may be used to open the session, or a prepared text might be used. If the group is comfortable singing together, an appropriate song should be chosen. The following prayer can serve to begin each session:

Let us pray: (pause long enough to allow everyone to enter into a quiet state of awareness.)


Loving God, we thank you for this opportunity to gather together in the name of your Son Jesus Christ. Help us to put aside whatever might keep us from being fully present in this moment. Help us to be mindful that you are with us as the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the One who draws us together in love and peace. Open our hearts and our minds as we share our faith and seek your guidance. Give us courage to probe deeply how you call us to live as your disciples in a complex and confusing world. Show us how tofaithfully participate in public lifein a nation that proclaims "In God we trust." We ask this, through Christ our Lord. (Amen)

 

Scripture Reading & Faith Sharing (30 minutes)


The leader should introduce the focus of the gathering, explaining that the passage chosen from Scripture is meant to complement the theme of the session. The leader or another designated person then proclaims the reading.

A reading from…

After the reading is finished, a brief period of silence follows. Then the leader says,

What word or phrase from the reading strikes you, or is echoing in your heart at this time? Just repeat the word or phrase aloud.

When all have had a chance to respond, the leader invites everyone to listen one more time to the text. It is good to have a different person proclaim the reading this second time.

A reading from…

The leader then invites all to share what they are hearing in the text. If necessary to facilitate sharing, one of the suggested discussion questions that accompany each Scriptural passage may be used.

Faithful Citizenship Reading & Discussion (45 minutes)

The leader makes a transition from the faith sharing to the next segment of the meeting by reminding the group of the theme chosen for the session and invites all to listen to the reading selected in conjunction with that theme. One of the participants in the group should have been given the passage to prepare ahead of time, and the leader invites that person to read the passage.

A reading from…

After the reading, the leader invites reactions from the group and facilitates the ensuing discussion. If necessary to facilitate the discussion, one of the suggested questions that accompany the reading may be used. Without dominating, the leader should encourage participants to make connections between the Scripture reading/faith sharing and the discussion of faithful participation in public life.

Closing Prayer

The leader closes the session by inviting all to prayer. An ideal way to do this is to ask participants to name aloud the needs that were stirred in their hearts by the sharing. After each petition is spoken, an agreed-upon common response (e.g., "Lord, hear our prayer") is said. The petitions may be concluded with all holding hands and reciting together the Our Father. If the group is comfortable singing, a suitable song may be chosen. Refreshments and social time should follow.

Session A

 

Theme: The Call to Participate in Public Life

Scripture Reading & Discussion Questions

A Reading from Mark 12:28-34:

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?"

Jesus replied, "The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'

The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.'

And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

And when Jesus saw that (he) answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Discussion Questions:
1) Jesus says that both loving God and loving neighbor bring a person closer to the kingdom of God. Sometimes we have a tendency to compartmentalize our faith life from our activity in the world. How is faith related to action in the world? How is love for God related to love for neighbor? How does a deep faith life help us to love others? How does being compassionate toward others affect us spiritually?
2)
The reading instructs that you should love your neighbor as yourself. What would it look like to really love another person as you love yourself?Is your current perspective of service or charity one in which you see the poor and vulnerable just as you see yourself?
3) How do the two commandments relate to the idea of participating in public life?
4) How can the two commandments be seen as a foundation for all the other commandments? If our society were to embrace "love for neighbor" as a central idea governing our laws and policies, how might society be different?
5) What changes can you make in your own life to love God and neighbor better?


Faithful Citizenship Reading & Discussion Questions

Readings from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States:

What faith teaches about the dignity of the human person and about the sacredness of every human life helps us see more clearly the same truths that also come to us through the gift of human reason. At the center of these truths is respect for the dignity of every person. This is the core of Catholic moral and social teaching. Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square. We are called to practice Christ's commandment to "love one another" (Jn 13:34). We are also called to promote the well-being of all, to share our blessings with those most in need, to defend marriage, and to protect the lives and dignity of all, especially the weak, the vulnerable, the voiceless (no. 10).

In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation. This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to bear Christian witness in all we do. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, "it is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. . .As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life" (nos. 1913-1915) (no. 13).

Discussion Questions:
1) The bishops note that "participation in the political process" is necessary for all. What are ways that disciples of Christ can participate in the political process? How have you personally participated?
2) The bishops' teach that active involvement in the political process is a "moral obligation"? Why is this the case?
3) The bishops note that we all have a role to play in promoting the common good. In their statement, Everyday Christianity, the bishops noted:

"We are corporate executives and migrant farm workers, senators and welfare recipients, university presidents and day care workers, tradesmen and farmers, office and factory workers, union leaders and small business owners. Our entire community of faith must help Catholics to be instruments of God's grace and creative power in business and politics, factories and offices, in homes and schools and in all the events of daily life. Social justice and the common good are built up or torn down day by day in the countless decisions and choices we make."

In what area is your work, and how can you promote the common good through that work?

4) What obstacles do you personally feel stand in the way of you taking an active role in political life?
5) What connections do you see between the reading from Mark and the bishops' statement?
6) In what ways can you help build a society in which the dignity of all human life is respected?


Session B


Theme: Forming Consciences

Scripture Reading & Discussion Questions

A Reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. . . (Romans 2:13-16)

For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified.

For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law.

They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people's hidden works through Christ Jesus.

Discussion Questions:
1) What does Paul mean when he writes that although the Gentiles may not be familiar with Judaic law, "the demands of the law are written in their hearts"?
2) Name a time in which you had a difficult time deciding what was right in a situation. What helped you make your decision?
3) Why does Paul make a distinction between hearing the law and observing the law? How does this relate to you personally?
4) How does a person form the ability to choose between right and wrong? How does a person become equipped to make a responsible and faithful choice?

Faithful Citizenship Reading & Discussion Questions

Readings from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States:

The Church equips her members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church. Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere "feeling" about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. . .(no. 17).

The formation of conscience includes several elements. First, there is a desire to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also important to examine the facts and background information about various choices. Finally, prayerful reflection is essential to discern the will of God. Catholics must also understand that if they fail to form their consciences they can make erroneous judgments (no. 18)

The Church fosters well-formed consciences not only by teaching moral truth but also by encouraging her members to develop the virtue of prudence. Prudence enables us "to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1806). Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context, and to act decisively. Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in defense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace (no. 19)

Discussion Questions:
1) What do you think of when you hear the word "conscience"? How does this compare to what the bishops describe as the elements of forming one's conscience?
2) How might applying the process described by the bishops help you or others to prayerfully explore a particular issue or teaching?
3) What is the role of prudence in decision making? How does one develop prudence? Describe an example of the virtue of prudence in your own life or decision-making.
4) What implications do the bishops' teachings on conscience and prudence have for you as an advocate and a voter?


Session C


Theme: Avoiding Evil and Doing Good

Scripture Reading & Discussion Questions

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew. . . (Matthew 19:16-21)

Now someone approached him and said, "Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?"

He answered him, "Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."

He asked him, "Which ones?" And Jesus replied, " 'You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother'; and 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

The young man said to him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?"

Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Discussion Questions:
1) How do each of the commandments that Jesus lifted up relate to the life and dignity of the human person? How does the last instruction he gives relate to this theme?
2)
How are the commandments that Jesus mentions related to one another? How are avoiding evil and doing good linked? How are they different?
3)
How might these commandments relate to modern-day issues? What does it mean to "come follow" Christ in public life?


Faithful Citizenship Reading & Discussion Questions

Readings from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States:

Aided by the virtue of prudence in the exercise of well-formed consciences, Catholics are called to make practical judgments regarding good and evil choices in the political arena (no. 21).

 There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called "intrinsically evil" actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, "abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others" (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed (no. 22).

 Similarly, direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified (no. 23).

 Opposition to intrinsically evil acts that undercut the dignity of the human person should also open our eyes to the good we must do, that is, to our positive duty to contribute to the common good and to act in solidarity with those in need. As Pope John Paul II said, "the fact that only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances does not mean that in the moral life prohibitions are more important than the obligation to do good indicated by the positive commandment" (Veritatis Splendor, no. 52). Both opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations (no. 24).

 The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights—to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors—basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work—is universally binding on our consciences and may be legitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best ways to respond to these needs. As Blessed Pope John XXIII taught, "[each of us] has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and, finally, the necessary social services" (Pacem in Terris, no. 11) (no. 25).

Discussion Questions:
1) What do the bishops mean when they say, "Both opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations" (no. 24)? Why are both (not just one or the other) important for Catholics?
2) What are examples of intrinsic evils and why must they always be opposed? What are examples of supporting the common good?
3) How is the bishops' teaching on avoiding evil and doing good related to the reading from Matthew 19? How does this teaching from the bishops call Catholics to more authentically put their faith into action?
4) How can you personally respond to the call for each of us to oppose evil and support good?

 

Session D


Theme: Life and Dignity of the Human Person

Scripture Reading & Discussion Questions

A reading from Genesis 1:26-31:

Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground."

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

God also said: "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food."

And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed--the sixth day.

Discussion Questions:
1)What does the teaching that we are all created in the image and likeness of God mean to you?
2)What implications does this teaching have for the way we live our lives?
3)What implications does this teaching have for our roles as faithful disciples and community members?

Faithful Citizenship Reading and Discussion Questions

A reading from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States:

Human life is sacred. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Direct attacks on innocent persons are never morally acceptable, at any stage or in any condition. In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion. Other direct threats to the sanctity of human life include euthanasia, human cloning, and the destruction of human embryos for research (no. 44)

 Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the use of the death penalty; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort, always seeking first to resolve disputes by peaceful means. We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God(no. 45).

 Discussion Questions:
1) Name ways that human life is threatened in our society. How can you respond?
2) Describe a situation when you found it difficult to recognize the God-given dignity in another person. How could or did Catholic teaching on human life and dignity shape your response to the person or situation?
3) If the central moral measure of society is whether it protects and respects the life and dignity of the human person, how do you feel our society is doing? Are there certain groups of people who are not treated with the respect they deserve?
4) How does a belief in the dignity of every person shape your participation in political life?


Session E

 

Theme: Solidarity

Scripture Reading & Discussion Questions

A Reading from Luke 10:25-37:

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?"He said in reply, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."He replied to him, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live." But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.' Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?" He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Discussion Questions:
1)In the context of our contemporary situation, how do you think Jesus might re-cast his parable if he were telling it today?
2)Where do you feel the greatest challenge: reaching out to your neighbor who is near at hand or to the ones who are around the globe? Why?


Faithful Citizenship Reading & Discussion Questions

A reading from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States:

We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions and requires us to eradicate racism and address the extreme poverty and disease plaguing so much of the world. Solidarity also includes the Scriptural call to welcome the stranger among us—including immigrants seeking work, a safe home, education for their children, and a decent life for their families. In light of the Gospel's invitation to be peacemakers, our commitment to solidarity with our neighbors—at home and abroad—also demands that we promote peace and pursue justice in a world marred by terrible violence and conflict. Decisions on the use of force should be guided by traditional moral criteria and undertaken only as a last resort. As Pope Paul VI taught: "If you want peace, work for justice"

(World Day of Peace Message, January 1, 1972) (no. 53).

 Discussion Questions:
1) Have there been any particular experiences in your life that have helped you to understand and experience the reality of solidarity with those whom you do not know personally?
2) How can you practice solidarity in your daily life?
3) Once your vision of "sister & brother" has become global in scope, how do you personally avoid feeling overwhelmed by the thought of being in solidarity with so many who are in need of so much?
4) How does the principle of solidarity relate to your role as a faithful disciple and community member?
5) How do you think your parish community might best go about the task of building a sense of solidarity among its members?

 

Session F

 

Theme: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

Scripture Reading & Discussion Questions

A Reading from Matthew 25:31-46:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

Then the righteous 16 will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Discussion Questions:
1) Are there times you can think of when "Jesus" was hungry and you fed him? Or thirsty and you gave him a drink? Can you think of times when you failed to do these things?
2) What is it about the life and ministry of Jesus that suggests his followers in the Church should make a special place for the poor and vulnerable in their agenda for action in the world?
3) What implications do you see in this parable of Jesus for the formulation of social policy in our country? What responsibility do you personally feel for helping to shape the social policies that most impact those mentioned in the parable?

Faithful Citizenship Reading & Discussion Questions:

A reading from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States:

While the common good embraces all, those who are weak, vulnerable, and most in need deserve preferential concern. A basic moral test for our society is how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst. In a society marred by deepening disparities between rich and poor, Scripture gives us the story of the Last Judgment (see Mt 25:31-46) and reminds us that we will be judged by our response to the "least among us." The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere. (no. 2448)Pope Benedict XVI has taught that "love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to [the Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel" (Deus Caritas Est, no. 22). This preferential option for the poor and vulnerable includes all who are marginalized in our nation and beyond—unborn children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, and victims of injustice and oppression (no. 50-51).

 Discussion Questions:
1) If a basic moral test of a society is "how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst," how would you say our own country measures up at the present time?
2) How would you evaluate your parish community's response to "the least among us"?
3) Do you see any symptoms of "deepening disparities between rich and poor" in your community, or an adversarial mentality between the have's and the have-not's?
4) How does the "option for the poor and vulnerable" relate to your role as a faithful disciple and community member?

 


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