Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

September 28, 2015

Celebrating God's Creation

In thankfulness for Pope Francis' journey to the United States and his reminders of the need to love, appreciate, and care for God's creation (especially in his recent encyclical Laudato Si) share these poems by Anne Sexton and e e cummings with your students. Background information on the authors, the reading, and follow up assignments are taken from The Catholic Spirit: An Anthology for Discovering Faith Through Literature, Art, Film, and Music.

Welcome Morning

Anne Sexton

Author Background

Anne Sexton (1928–1974) continually struggled with depression. Several times she attempted suicide and underwent many treatments to help improve her mental illness. Writing poetry helped her deal with her emotions in a creative way. Her poems reflect the joys, sorrows, and struggles of her personal life. Anne Sexton was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. Near the end of her life, she was drawn to Catholicism, and her religious interest is seen in many of these later poems, especially those found in the collection The Awful Rowing Toward God.

Before the Reading

“Welcome Morning” is one of the most joyous poems in American literature. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Sexton experienced God’s presence in the simplest pleasures, as is represented in the verses that follow.

Welcome Morning

There is joy

in all:

in the hair I brush each morning,

in the Cannon towel, newly washed,

that I rub my body with each morning,

in the chapel of eggs I cook

each morning,

in the outcry from the kettle

that heats my coffee

each morning,

in the spoon and the chair

that cry “hello there, Anne”

each morning,

in the godhead of the table

that I set my silver, plate, cup upon

each morning.


All this is God,

right here in my pea-green house

each morning

and I mean,

though often forget,

to give thanks,

to faint down by the kitchen table

in a prayer of rejoicing

as the holy birds at the kitchen window

peck into their marriage of seeds.


So while I think of it,

Let me paint a thank-you on my palm

For this God, this laughter of the morning,

Lest it go unspoken.


The joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,

Dies young.


i thank you God for most this amazing

e e cummings


Author Background

e e cummings (1894–1962) is known for his unique use (and non-use) of capitalization in grammar. He was born in Massachusetts to a middle class family who had great appreciation for the arts. His father was a Unitarian minister. Cummings was educated at Harvard and then served as an ambulance volunteer in France during World War I. Cummings was an enormously popular as both a poet and a painter during his lifetime.

Before the Reading

Familiarity often prevents us from seeing. Try to remember your excitement about first seeing the ocean, or flying in a plane, or tasting an ice cream cone. Compare those experiences to your experiences of the same events today. Why has the sense of wonder and joy gone? By using grammar and the lack of capitalization in his own idiosyncratic way, e e cummings takes the worn phrase, “thank you, God,” and makes us see that act of gratitude in a new and explosive way.


i thank you God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Reading for Comprehension

  1. How is God known to Anne as she grooms herself upon awakening? As she eats her breakfast?
  2. What does Anne feel called to do when she realizes that God is present everywhere?
  3. What does the poet feel called to do with the experiences that she has had?
  4. What are the only words that are capitalized in e e cummings’ poem?

Reading for Understanding

  1. How does the choice of capitalization provide a clue for getting at the main idea of Cummings’ poem?
  2. Philosophers and theologians tell us that God reveals himself through our senses. Give four examples of how this is expressed in the poems by Sexton and Cummings?
  3. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear” (Lk 8:8). What lines in Cummings’ poem refer to this biblical text?
  4. Is it possible for one to look without seeing or to hear without listening? How are racial, religious, and gender prejudices examples of this?
  5. Ecstatic joy is a common phenomenon among saints. What is it about their “seeing” that causes this joy?


  • In many ways, Anne Sexton’s poem is a modern version of the Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s song of praise found in the Gospel of Luke (1:46–55). Read the Magnificat and Sexton’s poem, and then compose your own “song of praise,” listing several things for which you are grateful to God.

September 21, 2015

Ideas for Curricular Supplements on the World Meeting of Families

At this point, hopefully both you, your students, and others throughout your community are excited about the Holy Father’s imminent visit to the United States. This is a historic occasion for a variety of reasons: this will be Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States; this will be the first time that any pope has addressed the U.S. Congress; and Pope Francis’s visit will be closely affiliated with the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Regarding the latter point specifically, the World Meeting of Families will occur from Tuesday, September 22 to Friday, September 25, while the Holy Father’s presence in Philadelphia will be Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27.

It is important to recall that the World Meeting of Families is not merely an event to capture the attention of parents with families –after all, it is likewise a chance for even the youth to be drawn to reflect on the importance of the family within society. As such, here are some ways that Catholic school teachers can incorporate the setting of the World Meeting of Families into curricular lessons:

  • Guide your students in a reading of the first two chapters of both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Then, have your students reflect on the unique respective roles that Mary and Joseph filled as Jesus’ parents within the framework of the Holy Family. Ask your students worthwhile questions such as the following: How did Mary and Joseph hold indispensable roles when it came to both protecting and following the Child Jesus? What challenges would the Holy Family have faced, including during Jesus’ infancy, his childhood, and his adolescence prior to the beginning of his public ministry? In what ways did Mary and Joseph remain faithful to their divine Son as he advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52)?
  • Look through the short videos offered by the World Meeting of Families that cover various Catholic initiatives, in order to familiarize yourself with both the topics covered and how students can learn more about matters of faith and the family long after the World Meeting of Families has concluded.
  • Have your students read about, and perhaps write their own short biographical sketches of, some of the Saints for the Family included on the World Meeting of Families’ website.
  • Have your students look through the profiles of the World Meeting of Families speakers for sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as Thursday and Friday. Ask your students which particular session(s) they would attend if they could. You might also ask them what hypothetical session(s) they would develop, organize, and lead if given the opportunity.
  • Share and recite the “World Meeting of Families Prayer” with your students during class. The prayer is available for free as a PDF (and can even be viewed in multiple languages in order to add an international scope to your lesson plans).
  • Encourage your students to follow the proceedings on the upcoming 2015 Synod on the Family that will take place at the Vatican from October 4, 2015 through October 25, 2015.

Perhaps most importantly, encourage your students to pray for holy marriages, for the spiritual wellbeing of husbands, wives, and their children, and for them to look with hope to the model of the Holy Family as their Christian inspiration.

Most Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!

September 11, 2015

Encouraging an Actively Pro-Life Generation of High School Students

This year marks twenty years since the release of St. Pope John Paul II’s watershed encyclical Evangelium Vitae: On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life. The recent undercover videos exposing heinous acts against human life by Planned Parenthood have resulted in many Catholic bishops writing pieces both condemning these acts and calling for greater societal reflection on pro-life matters as a whole, as we see in the statements of such prelates as Cardinal Seán O’Malley  (Archbishop of Boston and Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities) and Archbishop Charles Chaput (Archbishop of Philadelphia). In a similar purview, we are called to meditate on the significance of all human life from the perspective of addressing numerous social polemics, as we have seen reinforced by bishops such as Archbishop Blaise Cupich (Archbishop of Chicago).


As the Catholic Church continues to proclaim the sanctity of every human life (as it has done for nearly two-thousand years), from the point of conception through the eventual occasion of natural death, there are numerous opportunities for Catholic educational institutions to play a key role in reinforcing a “Culture of Life” throughout both the United States and the world. As a prominent example among many, the annual March for Life takes place each January 22 (or the Monday thereafter) in Washington, DC, in order to raise awareness of the dignity and sanctity of all human life. This is, of course, in the wake of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973. A reliable presence at the March for Life is the multitude of Catholic schools (both K-12 and higher educational institutions) that stand up for the recognition of the shared humanity of all unborn life.


High school students in particular are in a position to take their support of pro-life principles seriously, given their preparation to enter into the international dialogue on this critical issue following their graduation, advancement to university studies, and subsequent participation in broader society. Below are various ways that teachers in Catholic high schools, particularly (but not exclusively) theology teachers, can encourage their students to become engaged in the pro-life movement, along with methods of leading students to better learn and understand the vital theological basis by which we celebrate human life in all its multi-faceted stages.


  1. Have students read through Evangelium Vitae, at least in excerpted form. Lead them through a discussion of the monumental points of the text, and offer certain questions that give them the opportunity to reflect profoundly on why all human life, especially including babies as the most innocent, is so special and sacred.
  1. Along with Evangelium Vitae, have students read through other papal encyclicals that underscore the value of human life and God’s plan for human sexuality. A few examples (of numerous) include Blessed Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae: On the Regulation of Birth and Pope [Emeritus] Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate: On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth (especially paragraphs #28 and #75). In more recent times, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home has invited us to consider how humanity is the pinnacle of all of God’s creation (such as through drawing us to realize that protecting all human life specifically is a necessary element of respecting God’s creation broadly [as we read in paragraph #120 in particular]).
  1. Organize a pro-life prayer service, perhaps led by students from your school’s pro-life club. Offer reflective intentions that call on humanity to show ultimate respect for all human life, including the unborn, the elderly, the seriously infirm and terminally ill, and even the inmate facing capital punishment, as well as others.
  1. Have students see if your school will allow them to complete their periodic service hours by volunteering at a local crisis pregnancy center or other pro-life organization.
  1. Have students write to their local political officials in order to encourage them to enact pro-life legislation and other civil measures for the broader good of society.
  1. Encourage your students to learn more about how they can delve deeper into knowledge of, and commitment to, pro-life issues, such as by visiting the website for the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, or various local [arch]diocesan committees, such as the Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Life Issues.
  1. Inform students about the availability of different free resources offered by the Catholic Church, as well as other Christian groups, such as Project Rachel Ministry, that help bring women and men to spiritual healing in the aftermath of having undergone an abortion. On this latter point, make sure to emphasize to students that, in the midst of such a violation of the dignity of human life, God offers mercy to those who are truly repentant, as Pope Francis reminded us when talking about this sensitive topic within the context of his recent Letter of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (December 8, 2015 through November 20, 2016).
  1. Pray for all of your students to appreciate the gift all human life, which God has given to us so abundantly (cf. John 10:10). Likewise, pray for them to make wise and prudent decisions, in order to foster a more charitable and peaceful world for the Lord’s greater glory.

September 8, 2015

Annulments of Catholic Marriages

In two motu proprios, that is formal documents, signed by Pope Francis on Tuesday, September 08, 2015, the pope has expedited the process for Catholics to get annulments from their marriages in the Church.

You may wish to take some time to review with the students what it means for a Catholic marriage to be annulled.  The following information comes from Marriage and Holy Orders: Your Call to Love and Serve (Ave Maria Press, 2007:

A Catholic whose marriage has ended in divorce or a Catholic who wishes to marry a divorced non-Catholic can only do so if the prior marriage is declared null. A valid marriage requires the proper intention at the time the matrimonial consent is given. The couple must promise and intend to make their marriage both life-long and open to life. If either of these two meanings of marriage is excluded by either the man or woman on their wedding day, then no marriage has ever taken place.

A couple of points must be made here. First, this is a Church-process and has nothing to do with the legal status of a prior marriage or the legitimacy and custody of a couple’s children. Also, a ruling on the validity of the marriage only concerns the intention of one or both spouses on their wedding day. It is not concerned with the type of behavior that takes place later in the marriage.            

For example, someone who marries but has no intention of being permanently faithful to his or her spouse violates the principles of fidelity and indissolubility. Evidence of this lack of intention will usually arise shortly after the wedding when the person is unfaithful to his or her partner. Or, a person of childbearing age could marry but not intend to have children. This too would render a marriage invalid.

A decree of nullity—commonly known as an annulment—is a finding by the Church that at the time vows were exchanged, at least some element of a valid marriage was lacking. Some common grounds for nullity besides the ones previously mentioned are:

  • Insufficient use of reason. One or both parties did not know what was happening during the wedding because of insanity, mental illness, or a lack of consciousness.
  • Error about the quality of the person.  One or both parties intended to marry someone who either possessed or did not possess a certain quality, for example: marital status, religious conviction, freedom from disease, or arrest record.
  • Future Conditions.  One or both parties attached conditions on the decision to marry. For example, “I will marry you if you complete your education.”
  • Force.   One or both parties married because of an external physical or moral force that they could not resist.
  • Misunderstanding of marital sacramental dignity.  One or both parties believed that marriage is not a religious or sacred relationship but only a civil contract or arrangement.

Also, it’s important to remember that the annulment process is not concerned with the behavior after the wedding day. If a valid marriage was made on the day of the wedding, then that marriage is an indissoluble bond, regardless of what happened later in the marriage. A husband may cheat on his wife, but if that was not his intention on the day of the wedding that issue will not factor into a decree of nullity. Or, a woman may later decide not to have children. But if this was not her intention at the time she made her marriage vows than this too is not considered grounds for annulment.

Anyone who is divorced or considering marriage to someone who is divorced must obtain a decree of nullity in order to be married in the Church. The process begins by submitting the facts of the marriage, with supporting witness statements to the diocesan marriage tribunal. In most dioceses the facts of the marriage are collected through an interview by an advocate who will ask the details of the marriage. This information is held in confidence. The report is turned in to the marriage tribunal. The former spouse will be contacted and a list of witnesses who can testify about the marriage will be asked to provide information. After the evaluation of the facts, a judgment on the validity of the marriage is made. A second court, usually from a neighboring diocese, must verify the judgment. Whatever decision is reached, it may be appealed to the Holy See’s court for matrimonial cases.

There are also different rulings for marriages and divorces that may involve one or both spouses who are not Christian or Catholic. Marriages between two unbaptized persons in which one of the spouses refuses to live with the other spouse who has decided later to convert to Christianity can be dissolved when the baptized person enters into a marriage with another baptized person. This is called the “Pauline Privilege” because it was originally allowed by St. Paul according to 1 Corinthians 7:12–16. The “Petrine Privilege,” named for St. Peter is sometimes used to dissolve a marriage. It occurs when one spouse is a baptized Christian and the other is unbaptized and the unbaptized person refuses to live with his or her spouse after the spouse has converted to the Catholic Church.

An annulment is not a divorce. It is the Church’s declaration that a sacramental marriage never existed in the first place. When a marriage is annulled, the man and woman may enter a marriage with another person as long as the grounds for nullity from the first marriage no longer exist.


To explain Pope Francis’ rulings on annulments to your students, refer them to the article “Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process: 9 Things to Know and Share.”


September 2, 2015

Canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra

Blessed Junipero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan missinoary, who evangelized Indians and established twenty-one missions in California, will be canoinzed by Pope Francis on his trip to the United States later this month. He will be the first person canonized on U.S. soil.

Note the excellent resources provided by Bishop-elect Robert Barron on the Word on Fire site related to the life of Serra and some of the expected controversies spurred by his canonization.

More information on the Bl. Junipero Serra can be found at the USCCB site.

August 31, 2015

Praying for the Care of Creation

Pope Francis has invited all of us to join in the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on Tuesday, Septmber 1. The day offers individuals and communities "a precious opportunity to renew our personal participation in this vocation as custodians of creation." Catholic Relief Service and Ave Maria Press invite you to pray this Prayer to Care for Our Common Home from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

CRS is using this opportunity to launch the first of what will be their new seven part CST 101 video series. This video, “CST 101 Care for God’s Creation” is just the beginning of the expanding catechetical resources CRS is creating for the future! A video for each principle of Catholic Social Teaching will be complete by the Spring of 2016. Also look for these resources to be included in the electronic version of Foundations for Catholic Social Teaching: Living as a Disciple of Christ (Ave Maria Press, 2015).

August 26, 2015

Your Call to Holiness

Christians are called to be saints. A simple definition of a saint is one who has a mind through which Christ things, a voice through which Christ speaks, a heart through which Christ loves, and a hand through which Christ helps.

Each of the Seven Sacraments teaches a person certain values that he or she can share with others. Consider the powerful witness a person can give by living the sacraments.

Ask your students to write short reflective responses to each of the questions connected with the Seven Sacraments.

Baptism initiates you into the Christian family.

  • What does it mean for you to be a brother or sister of Christ?


Confirmation strengthens the gifts of the Holy Spirit, enabling you to live the Christian life.

  • Name your greatest God-given talent. How are using it for others?


Eucharist gives you the living Lord under the forms of consecrated bread and wine.

  • What effect has celebrating the Eucharist and receiving Holy Communion had on your life. Be specific.


Penance extends Christ’s forgiving touch into today’s world.

  • How do you work to mend fences with your enemies? Think about a time when you were most impacted by being forgiven or by forgiving another?


Anointing of the Sick provides spiritual strength and healing for the suffering and sick.

  • What type of suffering is ongoing with a family member or friend? What can you do to help lessen the anxiety of the situation?


Holy Orders ordains special ministers to serve as mediators between God and us.

  • Do you pray for bishops, priests, deacons and others in religious life? How can you consider one of these vocations for yourself?


Matrimony binds a couple in Christ to live as a community of life and love.

  • Which friendship skills are important in a marriage? How can you improve on those skills now?

August 17, 2015

Opening Week Lesson

Welcome back to school!

This lesson—created by Sr. Kieran Sawyer, SSND—or an adaptation of it serves well for a first week introduction to your class. Follow the directions below.

  1. Tell the students you are going to introduce them to four sophomores (or freshman, juniors, seniors). Place on a continuum on the board the names:


Describe each character in terms of his or her attitude toward religion.

Caspar: Totally negative attitude toward religious things.

Hates religion class.

Never goes to church.

Fights with parents about religion.


Hilary: Sees religion as unimportant, a bore.

So-what attitude toward religion classes.

Misses Mass if she can get away with it without a family squabble.

Seldom prays.


Zady:Does what is expected of him religiously.

Attends Mass regularly because his parents do.

Wants to get good grades in theology class so he studies hard.

Believes what he has been taught about religion and morality.


Brutus:Has made his own decision to practice the Catholic faith.

Attends Mass because he wants to do that for God.

Prays often, in his own way, and in his own words.

Wants to be a better Christian than he is, wants to learn more about God and his religion.

Note: Change these descriptors as necessary to fit the description of your students. You may wish to add a specifically non-Catholic character.


  1. Discuss:
  • How do you explain why each of the four persons is where he or she is on the line?
  • What were the influences in their lives that have led them to these positions?
  • How should a religion teacher approach each of these kinds of people?
  • Some families have all four kinds of people in the same family. How can you explain that?
  • What would an adult Caspar be like? Hilary? Zady? Brutus?
  • What would it be like to have parents who were Caspars? Or parents like one of the others?


  1. Pass out small slips of paper. Ask each student to write on the paper the name of the person on the continuum who most closely resembles his or her own position. Collect the slips. Before tallying, have the students guess where they think the majority of the class will be. Tally the slips and discuss the results.


  1. Call on students one at a time to be interviewed in front of the class using some of the following questions. Make sure to allow students to pass on any question they don’t want to answer.  First, ask the student to explain what position he or she is on the continuum and why. Other questions can include:
  • How dos your position now compare to your position last year? Two years ago?
  • Would you say you are moving up or down the scale? Why?
  • What was the greatest influence on your present position?
  • Where do you think you’ll be ten years from now?
  • Are you satisfied with your present position?
  • Would you be friends with a Caspar?
  • Which kind of these people would you prefer to marry?
  • Do you think you would be someplace else on the scale if you were going to a public school?


  1. Written assignment: Write a brief essay explaining how these things have affected your position on the continuum: family, friends, parish, grade school, religious training, etc.





August 4, 2015

The Assumption of Mary to Heaven: Meaning and Prayer

August 15, a Holy Day of Obligation, celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Heaven. This is a dogma of the Church, declared on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII, though it had been believed and celebrated in the Church throughout history that Mary was taken directly to heaven after her time on earth had ended. The Church has never formally stated whether this occurred after Mary had died or whether she was taken to heaven while alive.

Share Pope Pius XII’s statement on declaring the dogma, entitled Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Bountiful God).

Meaning of the Assumption

The Assumption of Mary to Heaven is the sign of all that has been accomplished through the work of Christ. In her we witness the resurrection of the body and the new creation which has been promised. Mary’s Assumption is the guarantee of the final resurrection of all the faithful.

The Church is the community of the “now” and the “not yet.” Mary makes visible the “now.” In Mary, we see that the final triumph of God over evil is already accomplished, even though time has not run its full course. In her Assumption, Mary is oriented to the fullness of the kingdom and every part of her has been united with God in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Church, too, will one day be oriented to the fullness of the kingdom and every part of the Church will be united with God. Any who look on Mary cannot help but see the glory of God which she reflects so perfectly. So too, at the end of time, every aspect of the Church will be united with God so that all who look on the Church will see the kingdom of God in its fullness.

Prayer on the Assumption of Our Lady in Honor of Pope Pius XII

O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God and Mother of all! We believe with all the fervor of our faith in your triumphal Assumption, both in body and soul, into Heaven, where you are acclaimed as Queen by all the choirs of angels and all the legions of saints; and we united with them to praise and bless the Lord who has exalted you above all other pure creatures, and to offer you the tribute of our devotion and our love.

We know that your gaze, which on earth watched over the humble and suffering humanity of Jesus, is filled in Heaven with the vision of that humanity glorified, and with the vision of Uncreated Wisdom; and that the joy of your soul in the direct contemplation of the adored Trinity, causes your heart to throb with overwhelming tenderness.

And we, poor sinners, whose body weighs down the flight of the soul, beg you to purify our hearts, so that, while we remain here below, we may learn to see God, and God alone, in the beauties of his creatures.

We trust that your merciful eyes may glance down upon our miseries and sorrows, upon our struggles and our weaknesses; that your countenance may smile upon our joys and our victories; that you may hear the voice of Jesus saying to you of each one of us, as he once said to you of his beloved disciple: “Behold your son.” (from Blessed Art Thou by Richard J. Beyer, Ave Maria Press, 1996)

July 28, 2015

The Subject of Pornography

Pornography—the written or visual depiction of sexual acts or nudity with the purpose of stimulating and gratifying lustful desires—is a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States. It is a serious problem among teenagers.

Two videos—one from the perspective of teenage males and the other from the perspective of teenage females—have recently teen produced by the Catholic film company Outside da Box. Check them out and share them with your students. Remind your students of how pornography hurts all those who are involved with it.

The textbook Foundations of Catholic Social Teaching: Living as a Disciple of Christ summarizes pornography’s negative effects:

  • It harms the viewer by training the person to use others for selfish gratification. Consequently, it can cause great division and hurt in marriages and even future marriages.
  • It hurts the persons being portrayed—even if willingly—in that they renounce their true personhood to be treated as objects.

Pornography “does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public) since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world” (CCC, 2354).


July 20, 2015

A Lesson on Work

As your students ponder vocation choices, this lesson helps them realize that work is part of any life vocation.


In this lesson the students will:

  • understand that work is part of any life vocation;
  • all work comes from God and can give praise to God;
  • know that work is not only a right but also an obligation.


  1. Pray the words from Sirach 51:30: “Work at your tasks in due season, and in in his own time God will give you your reward.”
  2. Make this point: “Work comes from God. The greatest work—the work of Redemption—is done by Jesus. All work, when done in connection with the work of the Lord, can give praise to God.
  3. Write the following passages on the board. Have the students write a brief summary of each passage in a journal, telling what each has to do with work.

Psalm 127 (God needs to be a partner in the work we do.)

Matthew 4:18-22 (Jesus calls co-workers.)

Matthew 4:23-24 (Jesus works at teaching, preaching, and healing.)

John 21:1-14 (The Risen Jesus prepares breakfast.)

Acts 18: 1-11 (St. Paul works as a tentmaker to support his ministry.)

  1. Write three jobs on the board (e.g., road construction worker, insurance salesperson, doctor). Call on students to explain how each is valuable in relation to the work of Redemption. Repeat with three other jobs.
  2. Point out the duty of work, especially related to the results of Original Sin. Refer the students to Genesis 3:17-18 for reference.
  3. Share the following quotation from the USCCB document, Economic Justice for All:


All work has a threefold moral significance. First, it is a principle way that people exercise the distinctive human capacity for self-expression and self-realization. Second, it is the ordinary way for human beings to fulfill their material needs. Finally, work enables people to contribute to the well-being of the larger community. Work is not only for one’s self. It is for one’s family, for the nation, and indeed for the benefit of the entire human family [52].


  • Ask the students to write their responses to each of the following questions: 1) What do you count as the blessing of work? 2) How would you defend the statement: “no work is better than any other”? 3) What are three steps you are taking now in your life to prepare for a lifetime of work?



July 6, 2015

Readings on the Complementary Nature of the Sacraments

There are numerous resources available online, primarily from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and writings of recent popes to help you not only facilitate your classroom discussion regarding the complementary nature of the sacraments, but also to contribute to your own knowledge about the sacramental life. Whether or not you teach a particular course on the Seven Sacraments, these readings can contribute to a foundational source essential for a curriculum with a Christological focus.

These following referenced sources can also be assigned to your students, either in their entirety, or in a validly excerpted fashion, depending on the scope of your course. At least one resource is listed for each sacrament. You are encouraged to seek more worthwhile resources that similarly portray the Seven Sacraments accurately and objectively.

The Sacraments in General

“The Seven Sacraments of the Church” from the CCC (Make sure to use the arrows at the bottom of the webpage to navigate within this section of the CCC in order to discover the coverage of each of the seven sacraments.)

“Sacraments and Sacramentals” by the USCCB

“Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples” by the USCCB

“The Seven Sacraments” by Loyola Press

The Sacrament of Baptism

“Baptism: Incorporated into Christ's Body, Sent on Christ's Mission” by the USCCB

The Sacrament of Confirmation

“Confirmation: Strengthened by the Spirit, Called to Action” by the USCCB

The Mass and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist

“Order of Mass” by the USCCB

“Parts of the Mass” by the USCCB

“The Eucharistic Liturgy: Formed, Transformed, and Sent” by the USCCB

“Mass and Liturgy” by Loyola Press

“Eucharist and Social Mission: Body of Christ, Broken for the World” by the USCCB

Saint Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter Ecclesia Eucharistia: On the Eucharist and Its Relationship to the Church (2003)

Blessed Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei: On the Holy Eucharist (1965)

The Sacrament of Penance / Reconciliation

“Penance and Reconciliation: Reconciled to Right Relationship, Called to Heal and Restore” by the USCCB

Saint Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (1984)

The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

“Anointing of the Sick: Joined to Christ, Witnesses of Hope and Healing” by the USCCB

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

“Marriage: United in Love, Strengthened for Service” by the USCCB

Pastoral Letter “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan” by the USCCB

The Sacrament of Holy Orders 

“Holy Orders: Ordained to Serve, Gather, Transform, and Send” by the USCCB

Saint Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis: On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day (1992)


June 29, 2015

Fortnight for Freedom

Independence Day, July 4, marks the end of the 2015 commemoration and remembrance of religious freedom in the United States along with current threats to religious freedom. Please note a summary of those threats at this link.

Also, as the Fortnight for Religious Freedom, is intended to be shared in your local diocese, please examine your local diocesan website for more information about events being sponsored in the coming week. (Note examples of events sponsored this week by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.)

There are several resources on the USCCB website with information about this occasion. For one, note quotes by Pope Francis on religious freedom.

Make sure also to follow the call to prayer for all issues around religious liberty at this Facebook page.




June 23, 2015

Various Retreat Models for Catholic High Schools

As you probably know from your own personal retreat experiences, there are many different ways to “retreat” with teens who are participating in a Confirmation, youth ministry, or campus ministry retreat. However, depending on the group and circumstances, some models definitely work better than others do. Here are a few options:

Two-Day Overnight Retreat.

This is usually an ideal option for a group. A weekend allows time for the relationships among teens and adults to develop in a variety of experiences, including small-group sharing, recreation, and communal prayer. A weekend retreat may be a teen’s first chance to experience an informal celebration of the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. Many teens who return home from a weekend retreat name the celebrations of the sacraments as the highlights of their time away.

One-Night Retreat.  

Depending on how far you are from the retreat location, a one-night retreat can offer most of the same advantages of a weekend retreat. Yet, you may find that just when the group is coming together, it’s time for them to go home. For younger adolescents, however, one-night retreats are preferable.

One-Day Retreat.

These can be difficult, whether they are held on a missed school day or a Saturday. In either case, it is hard for the teens to put schoolwork or basketball practice out of their minds in such a short time. Rather than spending seven or eight hours together during a day, have the teens meet from about 4 pm to midnight. These “less used” hours make the retreat time more sacred. Just make sure the teens have a free day from school on the day after the retreat so that they can rest and recover.


Shorter retreats of about three to five hours can be successful for breaking out of the regular youth group-like routine. Schedule a mini-retreat during the time your group usually meets, albeit adding two or three hours of extending time. With this extra time, provide variation from what you usually do in a class or meeting. For example, add more time for personal and communal prayer. If you rarely include music in your prayer, do so on this occasion. If possible, incorporate a Mass into this mini-retreat as well.

June 15, 2015

CRS Resources for Pope Francis's Encyclical "Laudato Si"

In anticipation of the June 18 release of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si ("Be Praised" or "Praised Be") which focuses on environmental issues, please note information on several ways Catholic Relief Services is reaching out to address climate change issues around the world.

On CRS Cares for Creation you will find stories, photos, and case studies that highlight the many ways in which the Church is reaching out to help vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. There are also have several prayers, reflections, and activities that help Catholics take action. This material is arranged by grade level with several strands written specifically for high school religion classes and youth ministry groups.



June 8, 2015

Vocation Awareness

What are some ways you can promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life with your students? Read through the list of ideas below. Choose at least one of the ideas. Add others of your own. Develop a plan to work with others to implement these ideas at your school (or parish).

1. Perpetual Adoration

Arrange for a schedule of continuous prayer for vocations before the Blessed Sacrament at a school chapel. Collect names of students willing to sign up for fifteen minute or half hour blocks of time. Make this a regular event.

2. Publicize Special Vocations

Highlight special events like National Vocation Awareness Week, World Day for Consecrated Life, or World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Also take note of special vents offered particularly in your own diocese. Volunteer to distribute flyers or other promotional materials to your students.

3. Witness Talk

Broach the topic of vocations to the priesthood or consecrated life in class or as part of a campus ministry session or retreat. Speak personally about how you have and are currently discerning your own vocational call. Arrange for a priest, seminarian, and/or a professed religious to speak about their own calling.

4. Seminary or Motherhouse Visit

Call a local seminary or motherhouse of a  nearby religious community and arrange for a field trip or for interested students to visit on their own to hear a presentation by the vocation directors, and perhaps the seminarians and novices themselves.

5. Website Links

Create a set of website links to vocation websites in your own diocese and beyond and place them in a place where students can easily access them. Assign them to write a reflection essay about any vocational stories they read about in one or more of the sites.


June 1, 2015

Rest, Renewal, and Revitalization for the Catholic School Educator

By Justin McClain

During the upcoming break in the academic year, plan to use part of the time to refresh yourself in the life-giving words and teachings of Christ! Pope Francis addressed the need for renewal in a recent talk to priests. Catholic school teachers can find affirmation in his message as well.

The summer break can, and should, serve as an opportune occasion to seek 1) rest, 2) renewal, and 3) revitalization. This is true in terms of your mind, your body, and foremost, your soul. As such, here are a few scriptural passages to meditate on during the summer, in order to remain focused in a positive way on the promises of the new school year as of late August.

1. Rest

Jesus understands the need for rest. In the Gospels, Christ extended the divine “rest” that only he could offer, drawing us to seek him in order to find soulful relief from the weariness of the world. The school year is replete with busy schedules, numerous logistical demands, teenage drama, and numerous other concerns. Summer is the time to slow down, take a break, and rest!

For Reflection

  •  “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:30-31)

2. Renewal

Jesus has a way of renewing everything without changing anything. In other words, he remains the same as he has been since before time began: He is unchanging, just as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are, with the Three Persons of the Trinity united as one God. While you will use the weeks during the summer to renew lesson plans, renew classroom policies, renew familiarity with content by attending professional development programs, and so forth, make sure that all renewal that takes place is in the vein of Christian renewal. Ensure that the preparations you are making done in the Lord’s name, are engagingly new, and inspirationally faithful and unchangingly refreshing. Attempt to imagine how new Christ’s teachings must have sounded to his first disciples when they began to follow him. Plan to present the Gospel to the students with this same newness, particularly in terms of charitably and accurately portraying the Church’s age-old moral teachings (e.g., Catholic social teaching), which are sometimes contrived as old-fashioned, but are actually beautifully and wisely designed by God for the ultimate benefit of humanity.

For Reflection

  • All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this? A new teaching with authority." (Mark 1:27)
  • "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
  • “May we learn what this new teaching is that you speak of?” (Acts 17:19)
  • So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Ephesians 4:23-24)
  • You have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. (Colossians 3: 9-10)
  • For this reason, he is the mediator of a new covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
  • Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
  • The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

3. Revitalization

God is the author of your very life. He has given you free will because he wants your life to magnify him and to bring greater glory to the kingdom of God. Allow the Lord to breathe new life into any ministerial efforts, perhaps particularly in the midst of the end of a school year, when you may feel that you are suffering from burn-out, or that you are a shell of your formerly enlivened self.

For Reflection

  • “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:17)
  • For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. (John 3:36)
  • (Specifically regarding the Eucharist, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies as “the source and summit of the Christian life” [CCC 1324], meditate on Jesus’ remarkable Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:22-59.)
  • Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
  • Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
  • “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
  • “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if dies, will live.” (John 11:25)
  • “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

There are, of course, numerous relevant Old Testament passages that can be reflected upon as well, but the scope of this article was the New Testament, in order to emphasize Jesus’ fulfillment of the messianic prophecies as outlined in the Old Testament that allowed him to give us a newness of spiritual resolve. Hence, these are just a few of the multiple passages from within the New Testament that the Catholic school teacher can use for reflection in preparation for the next academic year and beyond.

This summer, in between the trips to the beach, other family outings, Independence Day barbecues, and other summer adventures, make sure that you (and your family) spend ample time with the Lord, in order to remember to rest, renew, and revitalize yourself by meditating on God’s goodness. In this manner, you can be an even more effective Catholic school educator in the next academic year, which will be here before you know it. In the meantime, happy summer and God bless you and your families with a restful vacation!

Mr. Justin McClain is a Theology teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland.


May 26, 2015

Unit on the Life of Blessed Óscar Romero

Ave Maria Press offers an excellent resource to help your students learn more about the life of Óscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who was beatified on May 23.

Monseñor: The Last Journey of Óscar Romero, covering the time of Romero's installation as Archbishop of San Salvador in February, 1977 to his martyrdom on March 24, 1980, is an 88-minute documentary distributed by Ave Maria Press. The documentary, produced by the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame, will be delivered as a DVD and sell for $27.95.

In addition, Ave Maria Press offers a free 38-page Study Guide to accompany the film. The Study Guide facilitates a one-week mini-unit devoted to the study of Óscar Romero through viewing of the Romero film, student research, and discussion. The five-day plan involves an introduction to the life of Archbishop Romero (Monday), viewing the film and discussing its key topics (Tuesday-Thursday), and a synopsis of the material through the sharing of student reports and projects (Friday).

Oscar Romero Study Guide The Study Guide is delivered in an electronic format, designed in full color, and is suitable for printing. Student handouts with writing space to jot responses to particular questions are included. Several links to other print and film resources offering background and enrichment to the issue are also included.

This one-week mini-unit is a perfect way to incorporate a strand of social justice in virtually any course in your theology curriculum. A Study Guide listing of glossary terms and references to the Ave Maria Press textbook Foundations of Catholic Social Teaching: Living as a Disciple of Christ are provided.


May 19, 2015

Helping Teens Prepare for a Job Interview

As summer approaches, your students will be attempting to secure a job. Certainly, an interview will be part of the hiring process. Review these suggestions to help your students prepare for a job interview.

  1. Be knowledgeable about the company and the industry. Read the company website, reports, news articles, and any other literature about the company. Read about the company’s history, services or products, growth pattern, divisions and subsidiaries, size and competitors.
  2. Practice answering questions about yourself, your accomplishments, and your intended career objectives. Find out from other people what their job interviews were like. Be prepared to talk about your talents, experience, values, and goals. Focus on what you can bring to the job rather than what the job can do for you. Be able to state your weaknesses, too, along with your strengths.
  3. Prepare questions to ask your interviewer based on what you learned about the company.

As to the actual interview itself, keep the following points in mind:

  • Arrive a few minutes early.
  • Do not bring anyone with you.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear conservative clothing and little jewelry.
  • Appear well-groomed with a recent haircut, clipped nails, polished shoes, and pressed clothing.
  • Do not chew gum.
  • Bring a pen and notebook and use them.
  • Be courteous, friendly, and enthusiastic. Keep in mind the interviewer is looking for someone who can fit in well with the rest of the staff.
  • Maintain eye contact with the interviewer. Pay attention to your own body language. Sit naturally. Do not fold your arms.
  • Do not discuss salary unless the interviewer initiates the topic.
  • Put a positive spin on yourself. For example, if you are asked if you have a certain skill that you lack, reply, “No, but I am a quick learner.”
  • Before you leave, make sure to find out the next step. Will the interviewer contact you? When? Should you contact the interviewer? When?
  • Thank the interviewer. The next day, send a written thank-you note. This is a must.


Assign the students to complete a resume, that is, a written overview of their background, experience, and skills. A resume should include:

  1. Your name.
  2. Your mailing address.
  3. Your phone number.
  4. Your email address.
  5. An objective stating the kind of work you want to do.
  6. Your educational background.
  7. Your work experience beginning with the most recent job and/or volunteer experience.
  8. Your honors and activities.

May 11, 2015

Growing to Maturity Activity Ideas

As the school year nears a conclusion, lead your students in a variety of activities and presentations that highlight their maturation and help them to imagine their futures. Here are three ideas:

1. Your Freshman Self (about 20 minutes)

Ask the students to bring photos of themselves from when they were freshmen (or photos from two years prior). Ask them to pass their old photos around the room as you lead a discussion in which they described their “freshmen selves” in the third person. For example, “He had a hard time making friends” or “She thought she knew everything.” Continue building on the discussion to encourage the students to describe how they are different now from when the photo was taken.

2. On the Spot: Imaging Life’s Vocations (about 15 minutes)

Make a set of flash cards with numbers on them to represent five-year age intervals beginning at age 25 and ending at age 80 (e.g., 25, 30, 35, etc.). Briefly present a summary of the term vocation in terms of a call to marriage, family life, consecrated life, or priesthood and career as a job that expresses one’s talents and creativity. Choose a random student to come to the front of the room to be “on the spot.” Ask him or her to pick from the flash cards and to describe the career and vocation he or she imagines when actually that age. Call on other students to repeat the exercise.

3. Large Group Presentation: Maturity (about 20 minutes)

Lead a discussion on the meaning of maturity and what maturity entails. Offer the following descriptions (write them on the board). Then ask the teens to add other descriptions of maturity to the list:

  • A mature person has the ability to give as well as to receive.
  • A mature person is empathetic; can perceive how another person is feeling.
  • A mature person can establish and keep relationships with others.
  • A mature person is comfortable with himself or herself.
  • A mature person is emotionally, spiritually, and physically fit.
  • A mature person is able to meet his or her needs in a healthy way.

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