Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bingo as a Religious Experience

By Rick Howick
Principal of St. Catherine of Alexandria School, Riverside

I moved toward the office door with the cash boxes out. The knock told me my timing was good. Family Bingo was about to begin and the line for cards and daubers was already forming. Within a half hour, the parish hall was full of families sitting down with pre-paid pizza and one dollar hot dogs. Nothing yet had officially begun as I had not said the all important words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” At that point, we had begun – our gathering of smiling children and chatting parents had transformed into a community event for our parish school.

The real strength in being Catholic is clear to Catholic school principals. Our faith is not so much a belief system as it is a life-system. Take Catholic education, one of the most intense of parish ministries. Our parents are thrust into small faith communities called “classroom parents” when their children start kindergarten. They spend the next nine years of their lives working with the other parents in their parent groups running their children to field trips, working soda booths at festival, and daubing bingo cards on family nights. All of it is done in the context of Catholic ministry, and all done for others – their children, and the children of their fellow parents. After nine years of this (assuming just one child – we have parents who have been with us more than two decades), the parents have formed close relationships with people they never would have hoped to know ten years previously, relationships which will last a lifetime.

That is real Catholic ministry, building strong Catholic families. A study by CARA (a Catholic research group from Georgetown University: Catholic Schooling and Disaffiliation from Catholicism, by Paul Perl and Mark M. Gray, 2006) showed that our children are most likely to remain actively Catholic if they form strong and lasting Catholic relationships such as those in Catholic elementary and High Schools, and in parish youth groups. That doesn’t mean going to Mass isn’t important – on the contrary, encountering the body of Christ is the whole point of Catholicism. And that is found not only in the Eucharist, but in the Body of Christ known as the people of God. The stronger we build those relationships, the closer to Christ we grow.

Toward the end of the evening as the six-year-old passed me with a huge slice of chocolate pie, she looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Howick.” And I could only smile back while I thought the word, Bingo!

1 comment:

  1. Rick: I couldn't agree more with you on the ministry of Catholic schools and how integral and essential to the future of the Catholic Church it is. The Catholic school system is not just a "belief system", it is a lifestyle. It is a fellowship of individuals and families that sacrifice time, and after-tax money, for a way of life, a promise that something better is waiting for us, a road that leads us to life with Christ, to hope. Catholic schools go beyond teaching Religion for 45 minutes a day, or until students receive their sacraments. It's lived throughout the day, all day long. We teach through examples, curriculum, discipline, sacrifice, service, respect, to prepare them to live by a higher standard than our society dictates. Some of these qualities transcend across faiths, as evidenced by the fact that we have students from other faiths in our schools. These are the basic standards needed to live a fulfilled life serving Christ and our community. The longer students stay in Catholic schools, the more likely they are to practice their faith in the future, regardless of what faith they practice. Trenna Meins

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