An Inside Look at Teaching the Doctrines & Mysteries of Our Faith through the Book Echoing the Mystery. Part One of Two. With Sr. Louis Marie

The article below is an excerpt taken from Mind and Heart, a weekly podcast series hosted by Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen, OP. The producer of the series was GoLEDigital, a digital community created by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

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Sr. Louise Marie was one of the first ones to dive in with the large compilation of work we created called Echoing the Mystery. I think it is important to meet Sister and have her tell a little bit about herself, her background, and her vocation story.

Sr. Louis Marie:

I entered the community in 2007. I was studying biology with a minor in theology at the University of Notre Dame when I met the sisters. I knew right away that this was my vocation, and I joyfully left it all behind to enter. After I was in the community, I finished my degree in secondary biology and chemistry to teach science in Catholic schools, and I’ve been teaching since then. I taught in Chicago for one year, and then I went to Lansing for another year. I taught chemistry in both places, with a little bit of physics in one. Then I earned my masters in philosophy at the Catholic University of America and taught chemistry for another year in Lansing. At that time, I was asked to be the postulate mistress, which I love, but I had a lot to learn since I’d always taught an entirely different content area.

Sr. John Dominic:

When we talk about mind and heart, we talk about philosophy, which is really the study of knowledge, reason and understanding. When you combine that understanding with biology and chemistry, we’re looking at sciences. That’s the real beauty and joy of being a Dominican: when we understand the truth, we see that faith and reason don’t contradict one another. 

Have you seen that clearly in any way in your studies? It must be a joy teaching students, especially teaching chemistry. How would you bring that together with them?

Sr. Louis Marie:

For me, it’s amazing when I hear about scientists who have been studying and asking more questions so much that they would never doubt that there’s a God or deny that there’s a God. It seems to me to be an extraordinary leap of some sort of strange faith to say that there is no God when you actually get into the intricacies of biology or chemistry. They are so ordered. This speaks of the fact that God exists. Thomas Aquinas points this out in his proofs for God’s existence.

Sr. John Dominic:

You’ve had that part where you have another reason in mind, and now that you’ve spent this time with the young women, they feel this is God calling them to religious life. As we know, a vocation is a mystery in and of itself. All of us, when we get together, come from so many different backgrounds. I think that some of them may have been catechized to a certain point. But I’d like to hear about your experience in using this resource, Echoing the Mystery. How has it helped shape you as you’re teaching? 

Sr. Louis Marie:

It was so helpful to have this book when I started teaching the catechism and the faith because I was coming from a background of teaching chemistry, where you teach content in a different way. You don’t treat it pragmatically. There’s no entrance into something more transcendent. There’s no relationship involved in the transmission of a body of knowledge such as chemistry. It’s totally different.

Echoing the Mystery helped to form me as a catechist. It helped me to realize that to be a catechist is to be a witness to the faith, to have meditated upon and come to know God Himself – to come to know the way in which He loves me through these doctrines before I even go into the classroom. Having that background, the Holy Spirit is already able to move more freely in me because I see myself as a witness and more as His own instrument in these sisters’ lives.

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Sr. John Dominic:

You talked about how there is a particular order in teaching, especially in teaching chemistry and the sciences. In Echoing the Mystery, we discuss the seven keys to unlocking the doctrine. There’s a certain order to how you’re approaching each of the doctrines, but you’re coming at it from different perspectives. Has that organization brought a freedom to your own personal study and in how you’re teaching it to the sisters?

Sr. Louis Marie:

I always have an image up throughout each lesson. I don’t use a PowerPoint presentation because I want them to have a relationship with me. I’m overjoyed, and I want them to know that I love what I’m teaching. It’s not so much about the content because the content is like a scaffold for an entrance into a relationship with God.

Sr. John Dominic:

Let me interrupt you for just a second because what you said is so essential when we talk about being a catechist. A central part of this discussion about Echoing the Mystery is the fact that the catechists are transmitting this faith. You’re echoing it down. It is so different than a PowerPoint presentation. You may have to use a slide to show the artwork, but it’s important that they focus on the person teaching because we’re ultimately bringing them in contact with the person of Jesus Christ. How you’re approaching it is so key. The Holy Spirit can work through someone reading and studying this book as you’re teaching that.

Go ahead, Sister Marie. You can tell me about how you taught your class and how you went back with them.

Sr. Louis Marie:

Sometimes we’ll talk about the image up at the beginning, but sometimes I’ll just put it up and then start with a couple of Scripture passages. From those Scripture passages, I’ll move to the Divine Perspective. Through all of the different movements into the different parts, the Holy Spirit takes over. It’s as if suddenly the fruit of my own meditation on the different essentials, the Divine Perspective, the Scriptures, the Catechism, the paragraphs that are listed here, comes forth in the moment. I do not have exactly what I am going to say written down ahead of time. Maybe I have a word or two that struck me, but I’m out there in front of them. There’s a Sacrament of that present moment that explodes just by beginning in a prayerful way with the image and the Divine Perspective. The Divine Perspective is the unifying factor of all of these different doctrines. When you begin with that, you remember that these doctrines are not content to be mastered but rather an entrance into our relationship with God The Father through The Son and The Holy Spirit. 

Sr. John Dominic:

I think that one thing that’s emphasized is that this mystery can be made known because we’re talking about God’s Revelation. He has revealed this to us. As Dominicans, we contemplate and we share with others the fruits of our contemplation. But it’s so important that you’re doing that with our own sisters. We witness to one another at home as we’re talking. Could you keep walking us through some of these in the time that we have left? Then I’ll share some of their experiences. I’ll try not to interrupt.

Sr. Louis Marie:

After the Divine Perspective, there is a section on the Virtues. Most of the time, this comes forth naturally from our unpacking of the Doctrine as we move through the essentials, so I don’t necessarily focus on that. Moving through the essentials is one of my favorite parts because the particular Scripture passages that are linked to each essential are a profound gift of working with Echoing the Mystery. When we begin, we begin with God’s Word. I’ve got my Bible. I turn to the passage. I proclaim the Word. It’s extraordinary because it speaks for itself, and it begins the doctrine completely in the power of the Holy Spirit. It meets the sisters exactly where they are, and it’s the fact that God’s word is effective and speaks to us now. Using this book has increased my own belief in the power of God’s word.

Sr. John Dominic:

What you’re saying – that we all want to try to understand as a catechist because as a catechist, we have to decrease and He increases – is so beautiful. We’re the ones out there. We’re proclaiming. We’re teaching. We’re bringing them to it. I see this is what’s happening. I’m so excited knowing that our sisters are able to start experiencing that. 

One thing that they talk about is how you’ve really engaged them in the topics. One said, “Before I entered, I’d only opened the Catechism once because sometimes when you see the Catechism it’s a little daunting.” 

When you’re unpacking the Catechism, as Echoing the Mystery does, you provide a roadmap on how to get through scripture and see it related to that particular doctrine. Is that what you experienced as you were talking about the essentials?

Sr. Louis Marie:

The Catechism paragraphs are the other part attached to the essentials. As you move through the book, we would assign certain paragraphs of the Catechism to them. You find that this book makes of that book an organic whole. You’re always referencing certain paragraphs. You start to see that every doctrine is linked to every other because it’s all God’s revelation, and it’s all coming forth from Him. We’re all meant to return to Him at the end of our lives, so it’s all one. Seeing that organic unity is very exciting. It also makes you think about everything you’ve learned before. 

Prayer is at the end of the Catechism, but it’s also throughout this whole journey of becoming a daughter or a son of God. Throughout it all, you know that He is giving you all this Grace to really be transformed into Christ. It’s one theme that He wants you to be in relationship with Him. He wants you to be transformed into Christ.

Sr. John Dominic:

In friendship or communion, when you have that relationship with somebody, they reveal themselves. They tell you something, and this is why catechism and understanding the beauty of the doctrines is so important because God is telling us about Himself. Similarly, understanding the marvels of all that God has done for us and spending time reflecting on that brings together that bond. For us as sisters, it’s a spousal relationship. We’re brides of Christ. As you bring the sisters into this, it has to excite them, realizing that they’re going to be living that intimacy. It’s a friendship, yes. But it’s also a spousal relationship for us as consecrated religious people. 

How has Echoing the Mystery helped with common errors?

Sr. Louis Marie:

It’s very helpful. It’s so good to have distinctions whenever you try to understand something. You realize that there might be extremes, and it really helps you zero in on what the truth is. Sometimes you don’t even realize that you really do hold those common errors. Upon reflection, you either acknowledge that you’ve consciously held that error, or subconsciously you were living as if that error were true. To have it pointed out really opens up the truth and allows you to conform your life to it.

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Sr. John Dominic:

And that is a true Dominican thing. As Echoing the Mystery moves into the part about the liturgy, the prayers, hymns, and artwork tie it together. It’s probably the first time on a day-to-day basis you begin to see that connection, especially with the young sisters.

Sr. Louis Marie:

For the sisters, they are just entering into a profoundly liturgical life, and just beginning to have the opportunity to see into the liturgies. They realize, “Wow. All of these doctrines that we’re talking about are coming up in the prayers that we have every day. If I listen, and I’m profoundly attentive to the liturgy, this is going to teach me who Jesus Christ is, what God wants to do in me, and how He wants to transform me.” Seeing that connection is wonderful and pertinent, particularly for our religious life.

Sr. John Dominic:

All of us are called with our vocation. In particular as Dominicans, we have this recollected life of silence. I think when we hear this, we are enabled to learn how to hear and listen because we want to hear God’s voice. We want to be the sheep following the Good Shepherd as He leads us. Our world is so distracted, and there’s so much that comes in. To hear and to see how the doctrines are connected to the liturgy is another way to, in worship, give God his due. We’re really living out that virtue of religion. Prayer is, first and foremost, an act of religion in which we live out the virtue of religion. It is where we give back to God His due and profess a little praise and worship towards him. Thank you for sharing this time with us and with our listeners, and we look forward to having you back to continue this discussion.

About:

Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen is a Foundress and General Editor of Lumen Ecclesiae Press for the Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Her podcast Mind and Heart can be downloaded every Monday at 3:00 p.m. EST from iTunes. A visual presentation of the podcast can also be seen on YouTube at GoLEDigital.

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