Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

April 14, 2014

Prayer Reflection: The Seven Last Words of Christ

Seven Gospel passages of Jesus' words on the Cross are known as the "seven last words of Christ." You may wish to use these passages for prayer and reflection during Holy Week. Have the students write both the passage and a response to the question that follows in their journals.

1. "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34).

  • Who do I find it impossible to forgive? How can I overcome this feeling?

2. "In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43).

  • Who is someone who is lonely and hurting that I can comfort this week? How can I do it?

3. "Woman, this is your son.... This is your mother" (Jn 19:26-27).

  • What is something kind I can do for my mother this week? What are ways that I make my family members proud of me?

4. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46)

  • What is the greatest obstacle to my faith? Write a prayer that asks God for help with this challenge.

5. "I am thirsty" (Jn 28).

  • What is something right that I thirst for? How can I avoid thirsting for what is wrong?

6. "It is fulfilled" (Jn 19:30).

  • What are major commitments I have made for my life? How can I better follow through on those commitments?

7. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46).

  • What is the hardest thing in my life to let go of? What are other things that keep me from following the Lord?

April 7, 2014

Recalling the Events of Jesus' Passion

Assign the students to small groups of three or four students each. Create a worksheet or display where all can see the Passion events listed below (including the Scripture references). Tell the students to go around the group and tell what they remember about each event. They should add any missing details to each person's story. A new person should begin sharing for each event.

After about 15 or 20 minutes of discussion, tell the groups to choose one or two of the events for further study. Tell them to look up the Gospel passages listed for their event(s). Tell them to note any details that were missing from their remembrances.

Passion Events

Jesus eats the Last Supper with his friends.

  • Mt 26:17-35

  • Mk 14:12-31

  • Lk 22:7-23

  • Jn 13:1-11

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.

  • Mt 26:36-46

  • Mk 14:43-52

  • Lk 22:39-46

Jesus is betrayed by Jesus and arrested.

  • Mt 26:47-56

  • Mk 14:53-65

  • Lk 22:63-71

  • Jn 18:19-24

Jesus is judged by the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin.

  • Mt 26:57-68

  • Mk 14:53-65

  • Lk 22:63-71

  • Jn 18:19-24

Jesus is denied by Peter.

  • Mt 26:69-75

  • Mk 14:66-72

  • Lk 22:54-62

  • Jn 18:15-16; 25-27

Jesus is judged by Pilate and condemned to die.

  • Mt 27:11-31

  • Mk 15:1-20

  • Lk 23:26-43

  • Jn 19:16-30

Jesus dies and is buried.

  • Mt 27:45-66

  • Mk 15:33-47

  • Lk 23:44-56

  • Jn 19:31-32

To conclude the activity, have the students work individually and select two of the scenes from Jesus' passion. Say: "Imagine you are there—it is happening now and you are one of the people in the scene. Write a paragraph or two telling what you would say to Jesus in that scene."

This activity has been adapted from Time Out: Resources for Teen Retreats (Ave Maria Press, 1999) by Kieran Sawyer, SSND.*

March 31, 2014

Why Do I Have to Confess My Sins to a Priest?

During Lent, you may have heard a variation of the question from teens on why they must confess their sins in the Sacrament of Penance. Author and teacher Michael Pennock fielded this question often from his own students at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, OH. His answer is contained in the book Questions from Seventh Period: Doc Pennock Answers Teen's Questions on Life, Love, and the Catholic Faith. Here is his answer:

Have you ever wondered how a worm gets inside of an apple? From the outside? Not really. Botanists tell us that the worm comes from the inside. It does so when an insect lays its egg in the apple blossom. Weeks later, the worm hatches in the heart of the apple, then eats its way out. Sin is like the worm. It begins in the heart and works its way out of a person’s thoughts, words, and actions.

How do we Christians deal with sin that eats away at us, disfiguring the person Christ meant us to be? He’s given us a great way to undo the damage of sin in our lives—the sacrament of Reconciliation. When we go to confession we are saying to ourselves and to our fellow Christians: “I want to be good—right now! I want to be a good apple and bear good fruit for Christ. I want to get rid of sin that is disfiguring me.”

The sacrament of Penance, also known as the sacrament of Reconciliation, is Jesus’ gift to his Church to assure us of his forgiveness of our sins and to lighten our hearts.

Unless we confess our sins, they will continue to eat away at us. Sacramental confession is medicine to the soul. It attacks the evil in our hearts and allows the Divine Physician to heal our spiritual ills.

How often should you go to confession? Church law (known as canon law) requires Catholics to confess once a year, if they are consciously aware of committing a mortal sin. TheCatechism of the Catholic Church states:

Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church (CCC, 1497).

The Catechism also teaches that if we are conscious of mortal sin, we must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion (CCC, 1385). These teachings support the regulation that Catholics must receive the Eucharist at least once a year, during the Easter season. This is a bare minimum for being a practicing Catholic. To receive the Eucharist worthily, we should be in a friendship relationship with Jesus, free of mortal sin.

Strictly speaking, if we have not committed mortal sin, we don't have to go to confession. But the Church recommends regular celebration of this sacrament—for example, during Advent and Lent, on a school retreat, during times of renewal, even every month or so. It is a great means to grow in holiness by practicing the virtue of humility, a first step to repentance and a way to fight pride, the root of all sin.

Why go to confession? Here are some excellent reasons:

  • To experience Christ's love firsthand. Jesus forgave sin. He continues to do so today through his Church and his representatives—bishops and priests—to whom he gave power to forgive in his name: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23). It is very human to want some assurance of love and forgiveness when we have sinned, and yet repented. Jesus left us this great sign of love to lift our burdens and comfort us.

  • To tell the truth about ourselves. We all sin. We carry guilt. The New Testament instructs: “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 Jn 1:8-9).

When we confess our sins aloud to Christ's representative, the priest, we overcome self-deception. We’ve named our sins, a sure sign of contrition and true repentance. Modern psychology tells us that confession is “good for the soul.” It lifts burdens, relieves guilt, forgives sin, and starts you on a new path on the spiritual journey. The priest, who acts in the person of Christ, says “I absolve you.” We need to hear this to be assured of God’s forgiveness and love for us.

Don’t be afraid to be honest in confession. Sure, you might be embarrassed at some of your sins. But father has heard them all. And he, too, is a sinner. If you are unduly anxious, find a sensitive priest and tell him you are nervous. Ask him to help you make a good confession. He'll take it from there. And he will rejoice that you came to him. Remember always that the sacrament of Reconciliation is a sacrament of love.

  • To reconcile with others. Sin is never an isolated affair. It alienates a person from God, self, and others. We are a family. We are the body of Christ. When one members sins, other members of the body suffer. Confession acknowledges that we need to reconcile ourselves not only to God but to our Christian brothers and sisters as well, those we have harmed by being less than what we should be. The sacrament of Reconciliation heals my sinfulness, repairs my relationship with the Christian community, and challenges me to transform the sinful world in which I live.

  • To grow in holiness. The sacrament of Reconciliation intensifies our love of Jesus. It gives us a more sensitive conscience, so we can look at reality with the eyes of Christ. Going to confession can counteract spiritual laziness and combat bad habits and attitudes. It can draw us closer to God and our brothers and sisters. It can teach us to detest venial sin, strengthen us to resist all mortal sin, and love virtue.

If you have been away from confession for a while, check the times the sacrament is scheduled for your parish. You'll really be glad you did.

March 21, 2014

Prayer Experience: Royal Treatment

The first reading of the Fourth Sunday of Lent shares the anointing of King David, Israel's greatest king, by the prophet Samuel see 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a. In that spirit, share the following prayer experience with your students to remind them of their own royal qualities.


  • Secure a large plywood cross suitable for tacking. Place it in your prayer space.
  • Place a candle near the cross.
  • Prepare a recording of instrumental, reflective music.
  • Print each student's name and your name too on a 3" x 5" card.
  • On stick-on notes, write the name of one quality associated with royalty, for example: courageous, loyal, bold, friendly, honest, prayerful, wise, sincere, loving, reliable, intelligent, musical, poetic, strong, quiet, kind, trusting, sensitive, faithful, helpful, fearless, hopeful, thoughtful, shrewd, truthful, honorable, respectful, optimistic, joyful, forgiving. You can repeat some of the words on different stick-on notes. Make available more notes than there are students. Post the stick-on notes on the wall in or around the prayer space.


  • Assemble the class in the prayer space. Pass out the name cards randomly, making sure a person doesn't get his or her own name. Tell them to fold the card once and not to let anyone know what name they receive. Then, say:

David must have found it nice to be a king. You have heard the phrase "royal treatment" before. To get royal treatment is a luxury. And yet, each of you possess many of the qualities of a truly special or royal person. Some of these qualities are posted around the room. In your hand, you have a card with a person's name on it. This person is your prayer partner for this experience. What I would like for you to do is to find a quality on a stick-on note that best describes your prayer partner. When you find a quality, take it, sit down, and stick it under the person's name on your card.

  • Join in the exercise yourself. When everyone is seated, light the candle and continue. Say:

I will begin by announcing my prayer partner's name and the quality I feel expresses something of who he (she) is. After I share, I will tack the person's name to the cross, a symbol of a Christian's royalty as won through the Blood of Jesus. Then someone else can share.

  • Play some background music. Announce your prayer partner's name and quality using this format:

My prayer partner is Mary Jo, whose royal attribute is patience.

Tack the person's name to the plywood cross.

  • After everyone has shared and tacked a name card to the cross, ask the students to extend their right hands to the cross. Conclude by offering this prayer from the Rite of Baptism:

At Baptism, God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ freed us from sin, gave us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed us into the Christian family. With the chrism oil of Salvation, we were anointed priest, prophet, and king. May we continue to live always as a member of Christ's Body, sharing everlasting life. Amen.

March 18, 2014

March Madness: Catholic Colleges in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

It's time to share in the excitement of college basketball by filling out brackets, watching marathon coverage of games, and rooting for your favorite teams. Enjoy the experience with your students and use the opportunity to promote Catholic identity and pride by rooting for the Catholic colleges participating in the madness of March, the core 64 team field leading to champions in men's and women's basketball in early April.

Here are the rankings of Catholic colleges in this year's tournament based on their tournament seedings:

Men's Tournament

1 Villanova

2 Creighton

3 Saint Louis

4 Gonzaga

5 Dayton/Providence

7 St. Joseph's

8 Gonzaga

9 Manhattan

Women's Tournament

1 Notre Dame

2 Gonzaga/Dayton

4 DePaul

5 St. John's

6 St. Joseph's

7 Fordham

8 Marist

Enjoy sharing some background information on one or more of these Catholic colleges as a way to encourage your students to consider these continuing their Catholic education by attending a Catholic college. Here are some links to information your students may enjoy:

A Recent History of Catholic Colleges and NCAA Basketball

Information on the "new" Big East, a conference with seven traditional Catholic college basketball powers

A list of all NCAA Men's NCAA Basketball Champions Note: There have been 8 Catholic colleges that have won the NCAA Championship. Villanova (1985) is the last champion.

A profile of the 1963 Loyola Chicago Ramblers, one of the first integrated NCAA champions

A profile of Bill Russell and the University of San Francisco Dons, the only two-time Catholic NCAA champions

Printable Men's Tournament Bracket

Printable Women's Tournament Bracket

March 6, 2014

Scripture Reading: Jesus Is Tempted

There were no eyewitness to Jesus' temptation in the desert. The Gospel of Mark simply records that Satan tempted Jesus. Luke and Matthew report on the nature of Jesus' three tests, though they disagree on the order. Jesus may have told his disciples of these temptations. Or, the Gospel authors may have summarized in this story the kinds of temptations Jesus experienced throughout his whole life.

Read the account of Jesus' temptations from Luke 4:1—13 while noting the following information for each temptation.

First Temptation: Turn stone to bread

Jesus' Response: "One does not live by bread alone" (Lk 4:4).

Meaning: Jesus refuses to work a miracle to satisfy his own human needs. He trusts that his Father will provide for him. Moreover, he does not envision his ministry as an economic Savor to a suffering people. His personal example would show that through suffering he would serve as Living Bread for the world.

Second Temptation: Do homage to Satan

Jesus' Response: "You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve" (Lk 4:8)

Meaning: Jesus refuses to seek worldly power, especially by sharing power with Satan. His exclusive commitment is to his heavenly Father. Throughout his ministry, Christ resists the repeated appeal of the crowds to be a military, political leader. IN contrast he choose to be a king for others, through suffering and humble service, not by mimicking the tyranny of worldly rulers.

Third Temptation: Prove your are the Son of God

Jesus' Response: "You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test" (Lk 4:12).

Meaning: Jesus refuses to test God, the loving Father, whom he knows intimately. Jesus will not perform a sensational deed to get people to believe in him. Rather, he realizes God's will is the way of service and suffering and wants his followers to respond to him in true freedom and in faith.

(Adapted from Encountering Jesus in the New Testament by Michael Pennock.)

February 24, 2014

40 Things to Give Up for Lent

Your students likely know that Lent is a time of fasting and doing penance, but do they know why? The forty days of fasting and penance are in imitation of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert prior to the beginning of his ministry (see Luke 4:1-13)

Abstaining from food has always been a part of Lent. In some eras, the requirements for fasting were very difficult. In the seventh century, St. Gregory the Great wrote: “We abstain from flesh meat and from all things that come from flesh, such as milk cheese, eggs—and butter of course.”

During those times, as Ash Wednesday approached, families used up any of those food products that could not be eaten during Lent. From this practice have come such holidays as Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday) and Carnival (“removal of meat”). Celebrations mark these days and continue to be part of the pre-Lenten week.

Today, there are not as many required penances during Lent. In the United States, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting (from age 18 to 59) and abstinence (for anyone over 14). Fasting means that only one main meal and two smaller meals may be eaten. Abstinence means that no meat or meat products may be eaten on these days or on any Friday of Lent.

Teens are generally open to “giving something up” for Lent, even non-Catholic teens. The forty days of penance is a good chance to clear their lives of sinfulness and bad habits and to get a new start in goodness and truth in Christ. As a class assignment, share the following list of forty things a teen (or adult) can give up for Lent. (Some of these items can be given up permanently.) Have them do the following:

• Suggest other items.

• Make a pledge to give up one or more of the items on the list.

• Keep a journal of their penitential experience.

• Promise to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance before Easter.

The List 40 Things to Give Up for Lent

  1. Listening to gossip
  2. Swearing
  3. Getting high
  4. Texting and driving
  5. Snapchat
  6. Instagram
  7. Plagiarizing a report
  8. Cheating on a test
  9. Pornography
  10. Missing Mass
  11. Missing family functions
  12. Driving
  13. Headphones
  14. Cliquish behavior
  15. Not exercising
  16. Provocative dancing
  17. Masturbation
  18. Alcohol
  19. Wasting money
  20. Television
  21. Music with sexual or violent lyrics
  22. Arguing
  23. Disobeying parents
  24. Belittling another
  25. Ignoring a classmate
  26. Lack of effort on academics
  27. Skipping a day of prayer
  28. Selfies
  29. Buying new clothes
  30. Soda
  31. Being in a hurry
  32. Procrastination
  33. Fried foods
  34. Forgetting to call Grandma
  35. Ungratefulness
  36. Hopelessness
  37. Too much sleep
  38. Too little sleep
  39. Meanness
  40. Chocolate

February 17, 2014

Learning about "Object" Meditation

To learn a simple form of "object meditation" provide each student with an acorn. Lead a simple meditation on the acorn using the following script.

A good way to begin to learn about meditation is to practice a very simple form of meditation using a common object from nature. I've chosen an acorn, but you can also meditate on grass, leaves, flowers, stones, small shells, twigs, seed pods, pine cones, or small vegetables. Another preliminary step is to find a place with a minimum of distractions. Your desk will have to do. Nevertheless, take everything else off the table. Assume a comfortable position. Inhale and exhale slowly, being aware of the air coming in and going out. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Be at peace, quiet, and still.

The first step in a simple meditation is to observe carefully the object you have chosen. In this stage you are like a scientist who wants to know everything there is to know about the object. Hold the acorn in your hand. Notice its colors, its form, its shape. Put it to your lips. Smell it. Feel its texture next to your cheek. Place it by your ear. Touch your tongue to it. Try to capture the feeling a child would have for the first time. Learn all you can about it. (Spend about three to five minutes on this step of the meditation.)

The second step of a simple meditation is to reflect. Ask yourself the question, "What does this mean?" Make full use of your imagination in this phase of the meditation. Close your eyes. Ask the acorn what it is saying to you. You might think of the tall oak tree that dropped it to the ground. Or perhaps you will picture its being taken away by a squirreled away to provide a nutritious meal for some small animal during the winter. Or you could see the little oak taking root and gradually growing into a tall sturdy tree. Perhaps you can feel the power and mystery hidden in the small acorn you are holding. It is a little time bomb of potential life which, if properly planted and nourished, will unleash tremendous power. Perhaps you will imagine the thousands of acorns that could come from this one little acorn, the other trees they might create, the shade these trees will give, the safety their branches will provide for the birds, and so on. What it is that is so special about this wonderful object that God made? (Spend another three to five minutes on this step.)

Meditation is a way to listen to God, a third step. So far you haven't even consciously thought of God. Now, in this step you turn to see what God might be telling you about this wonderful, small creation. Think back to what you observed and what the acorn might be saying to you. Select a couple of your observations and see if there is a message there for your own life. Perhaps you were struct by the insight that an acorn is a powerful little bundle of life that can bring forth great growth. You, too, are like that. God has given you gifts that, if nurtured, can bring forth life in other people. Ask the Lord to show you where your gifts are and how you can nourish them. Perhaps you have planted them in bad soil, for example, you are developing a bad habit like cheating that needs to be corrected for you to grow straight and true. If this insight comes to you, you might make a mental note of it and thank God for sharing it with you. (Spend another few minutes listening to what God might be saying to you through the object of your meditation.)

It is usually a good iea to make some kind of resolution as you conclude the meditation. You might recite a prayer thanking God for any insights you were given. Maybe you can thank God for helping you to realize what great potential you have to do God's work in the world. Or you might praise God for the beautiful created things that have been made for your enjoyment, like the stately trees which many take for granted. Or if you found that your meditation revealed a bad habit like cheating, you might promise the Lord that on your next test you will be honest no matter what the cost. By resolving to do something with your meditation, you will be better able to relate it to your everyday life. (Allow two or three minutes for the conclusion of this stage of the meditation.)

February 10, 2014

National Marriage Week February 7 – 14, 2014

Teaching about Marriage can be a challenge sometimes because you want to give the students an understanding of the Sacrament while not offending those whose loved ones are divorced, live together, or are remarried outside of the Church. How can you teach the students why it is important to prepare for strong marriages without seeming to condemn students’ families?

There are multiple ways of being sensitive and using “objective” data about marriage is one of them. “Secular” scholars conduct multiple studies on marriage in the USA, and much of what they find supports Church teaching about the importance of marriage and the potential dangers of cohabitation. Some studies also mention the economic impact of various relationships on adults and children.

Secular Studies on Marriage

The National Marriage Project regularly publishes The State of Our Unions, Marriage in America (SOU) studies. The final section of the 2012 document, “Social Indicators of Marital Health & Well-being, Trends of the Past Five Decades,” provides statistics about marriage, divorce, unmarried cohabitation, the role of the child, fragile families and information about teen attitudes about marriage and family.

Although the National Marriage Week Website can point you to some in-depth research, it also has some shorter resources that can help discussions such as the two page summary of Why Marriage Matters, Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, Third Edition, and “The Ten Myths of Divorce.”

Ideas for Using the Resources

• You may want to use the information in the State of Our Unions to compare their own hopes to the 88 percent of American teens who wanted to marry someday. (SOU, p. 107)

• Ask if their experience corresponds with the data that married adults are happier than single, widowed, or divorced adults. (Over 60 percent of married people said that they were “very happy” in their marriages.) (SOU, pp. 62, 68)

• See if they agree with the statistics that say that children and their issues are receiving less attention than they did in the past. (SOU, pp. 84 – 88)

• Look at the handout, “The Top Ten Myths About Divorce” with your students and ask them to compare some of the information against their own life experience.

• Ask students, Why would a couple live together rather than marry? Do you think that living together benefits both men and women equally? Do children benefit equally when their parents’ live together and when they marry? (SOU, pp. 76 – 78)

• Ask them to think about why married people are wealthier than their single counterparts? (SOU, pp. 79-83)

As a summary, you may then want to strategize with them about the best steps to take going forward to increase their chances of having a successful marriage.

January 30, 2014

On the 200th Annivesary of the Birth of Our Founder

Thursday February 6, 2014, is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C.

Fr. Sorin is best known for founding the University of Notre Dame in 1842. But from where we sit, we remember Fr. Sorin as the founder of Ave Maria Press.

In 1865, against the advice of just about everyone, Fr. Sorin began the a magazine he titled Ave Maria. Father Sorin’s goal was to produce a magazine honoring Mary, focusing on Catholic families, and showcasing the best American Catholic writing. Despite discouragement from naysayers who didn't believe it could be done, Sorin launched his magazine. In a daring move for his era, he soon turned the reins over to a woman, Sister Angela Gilespie, a nurse veteran of the Civil War. The Ave Maria grew quickly, and by the turn of the twentieth century, it was the most popular English-language Catholic magazine in the world. The magazine was published on Sundays until 1970.

Fr. Sorin was tough-minded and was known for a sharp tongue. He had to be in order to achieve the many accomplishments for his life, including serving as Superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross, supervising the Holy Cross missions in the United States, and being the first president of the University of Notre Dame.

A thorough biography of Fr. Sorin details what many consider to be his finest hour.

When a great fire destroyed the six story Main building at Notre Dame in April 1879, all was lost: dorms, classrooms, offices, and a chapel. Fr. Sorin was away when the fire struck, on the east coast about to embark for Europe. He immediately came back to Notre Dame to address the students and faculty. His words have never been forgotten:

I came here as a young man and founded a university which I named after the Mother of God. Now she had to burn it to the ground to show me I dreamed too small a dream. Tomorrow we will build it bigger and, when it is built, we will put a gold dome on top with a golden statue of the Mother of God so that everyone who comes this way will know to whom we owe whatever great future this place has.

Ave Maria Press celebrates the birthday of our founder, Fr. Edward Sorin. We share in the gratefulness to him and especially to Our Mother, Notre Dame du lac, that we have been part of the future he imagined.

January 24, 2014

Catholic Schools Week 2014: Coming to Know God

Just before my college graduation, I prayed: “I want to know you God. I really want to know you.”

Apparently, that prayer was stamped with “high priority” and my answer came about four months to the day of graduation. That’s when I started as a gym coach at St. Monica School in Santa Monica.

I didn’t piece it altogether at first, but I really got to know God from the day I taught my first gym class.

I was struck by the friendship of the eighth grade boys and girls. Oh, they teased each other as normal. But there was a deep bond between them. I could imagine them standing by each other as lifelong friends.

I was surprised by the caring teachers. The sixth grade teacher came outside and played volleyball with her students. The third graders raced to line back up for class when they saw their teacher coming to meet them. I had the feeling it was because they wanted to get back to be with her.

I got a kick out of the “ker plunk” sound the kneelers made hitting the floor at the school Mass. Kids just minutes before sweaty and loud on the playground were now on their knees in seriousness and silence through the Eucharistic prayer.

In November the principal called me inside to substitute in a junior high classroom. The bell rang after the last period math class and I was about to dismiss the students to go home. One of the girls reminded me that the day always ended with a prayer. And then she led the prayer herself.

I don’t remember the day or month that I realized the connection between all of these experiences to my college graduation prayer, but eventually I did. And ever since I’ve felt fortunate that when my own kids or anyone else has asked me when I first really came to know or name God in my life, I can answer “It was on a blacktop in Santa Monica. It was at a Catholic school”

I’ve been reminded of these memories in connection with this year’s celebration of Catholic School’s Week. This year’s theme is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.

An entire school community imbues faith certainly but the primary way faith is shared, practiced, and encouraged is through religious instruction. In a theology class, neither the Catholic educator nor the textbook and other resources he or she uses are intended as conduits of information to be shared in a sterile way with passive students. In fact the best success teachers or textbooks can have in enhancing the faith of students is their direct correlation to sharing the presence of Christ. Regarding the teacher’s crucial role in sharing faith, Pope Benedict XVI said:

The central figure in the work of educating . . . is specifically the form of witness. . . . The witness never refers to himself but to something, or rather, to Someone greater than he, whom he has encountered and whose dependable goodness he has sampled. Thus, every educator and witness finds an unequaled model in Jesus Christ, the Father's great witness, who said nothing about himself but spoke as the Father had taught him [cf. John 8:28].

The connection between religious education and knowledge is of greater importance as moral relativism creeps more and more into our culture and impacts the lives of teens and young adults in dramatic ways. Catholic school teachers, and theology teachers in particular, are called to shape in their students a desire for truth, a way to recognize truth, and a way to articulate truth to their peers. Pope John Paul II addressed this challenge in an ad limina talk to American bishops:

The greatest challenge to Catholic education in the United States today, and the greatest contribution that authentically Catholic education can make to American culture, is to restore to that culture the conviction that human beings can grasp the truth of things, and, in grasping that truth, can know their duties to God, to themselves and their neighbors. . . . The contemporary world urgently needs the service of educational institutions that uphold and teach that truth is "that fundamental value without which freedom, justice, and human dignity are extinguished" (Veritatis Splendor, 4).

The altruistic nature of Catholic schools and their students is always tangible. A Catholic Schools Week is a chance to refocus this mission and deepen it. Service, as Pope Francis emphasized in his closing homily at World Youth day, is “the final word.” There is rarely a day that goes bythat the Pope doesn’t model service. The personal touch of Pope Francis can’t help to inspire teens to carry Christ to others and to expand lessons learned in the classroom to action literally in the streets of their surrounding communities.

Over the years you have noticed that in each chapter of Ave Maria Press textbooks are activities and suggestions for deepening faith, broadening learning, and sharing both lessons with others. These “mind, heart, and hand” panels are rooted in the Congregation of Holy Cross mission to let students “try their learning in the world and so make prayers of their education” (Bl. Basil Moreau).

The Holy Cross common rule also states that “the spirit of faith inspires and animates zeal, that is to say, the sacred fire which the Divine Master came to bring on earth.” Zeal is an apt word. If, after all these years, I could go back and describe what I first witnessed in the students on the playground in Santa Monica and how this experience helped me to see God’s face in the world, I might now answer that I witnessed a zeal for life among the impassioned, enthusiastic, friendly, loving boys and girls of those days. Isn’t God the same way?

January 20, 2014

New Cardinals Reflect the Global Church

On January 12, Pope Francis announced that there would be nineteen new cardinals in the Catholic Church. The interesting thing about the selections is that a majority of the new cardinals come from places other than Europe, North America, or the Vatican itself. Here are the names and places of all the new cardinals. Note the variety of locales.

• Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, C. M. F., Archbishop Emeritus, Pamplona, Spain

• Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, S.D.B., Archbishop of Santiago del Cile, Chile

• Lorenzo Baldisseri, Titular Archbishop of Dioclenziana, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops (Vatican)

• Gualtiero Bassetti, Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, Italy

• Loris Francesco Capovilla, Titular Archbihop of Mesembria, former personal secretary of Blessed Pope John XXIII

• Kelvin Edward Felix, Archbishop emeritus of Castries

• Jean-Pierre Kutwa, Archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast

• Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Québec, Canada

• Chibly Langlois, Bishop of Les Cayes, Haiti

• Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Archbishop-Bishop emeritus of Regensburg, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Vatican)

• Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, Great Britain

• Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo, Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

• Pietro Parolin, Titular Archbishop of Acquapendente, Secretary of State

• Mario Auerelio Poli, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina

• Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines

• Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano, Archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua

• Andrew Yeom Soo jung, Archbishop of Seoul, Korea

• Beniamino Stella, Titular Archbishop of Midila, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (Vatican)

• Orani João Tempesta, O.Cist., Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

There are several aspects of these appointments that your students can research if time allows.

Assignment 1

Group the cardinals in various categories. Here are some sample ways:

• Cardinals from the Vatican central bureaucracy – those with “titular archbishop” after their names

• Cardinals from countries with the largest number of Catholics: Brazil and the Philippines

• Only non-Vatican bureaucrat from Europe: Arch. Vincent Nichols

• Sole North American appointment: Arch. Gérald Lacroix

• Cardinals with Distinguished Service who are over 80 years old: Archbishops Loris Capovilla, Archbishop Aguilar, C.M.F.; Archbishop Felix

• Cardinals from Central, South America and the Caribbean: Archbishop Solórzano of Managua, Nicaragua; Archbishop Tempesta, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Archbishop Poli of Buenos Aires, Argentina; Archbishop Andrello of Santiago, Chile; Archbishop Langlois of Les Cayes, Haiti

• Cardinals from Africa and Asia: Archbishop Kutwa of Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Archbishop of Ouédraogo of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Archbishop Quevado, of Cotabato, Philippines, Archbishop Soo jung of Seoul, Korea

Assignment 2

Research several topics related to the title cardinal. For example:

• The history behind the college of cardinals’ size

• The significance of turning 80 years old for cardinals

• The responsibilities of cardinals versus those who are just archbishops

• The reason why Pope Francis may have not appointed any cardinals in the US

• The reason why it is important for there to be more cardinals from the Southern Hemisphere

• The nature of “titular archbishops”

Assignment 3

Research the places where the cardinals come from. (If you want each student to have his or her own cardinal to research, select cardinals out of the college that represent the global nature of the Church.) Include in a report:

• Size of diocese or archdiocese in terms of square miles and population

• Name of the cathedral

• Information about the cardinal-elect such as age, length of time in position, former positions, interests, etc.

• Names of any other bishops, auxiliary or emeritus, also in the archdiocese

• Literacy rate for people in archdiocese (may have to find the info. for a larger area, in some cases the country as a whole)

• Poverty rate for people in archdiocese

• Other religions practiced by a significant number of people in area

After having researched the cardinals’ archdioceses, students can compare the information they found.

• How much do the archdioceses range in size? Population? Number of priests and religious? Numbers of bishops?

• How many cardinals head archdioceses that are in countries that are primarily Catholic? Primarily Christian? Primarily non-Christian? How might these different situations affect the cardinals?

• How many cardinals head archdioceses that are wealthy versus poor, literate versus illiterate, and so on? What are implications for these cardinals?

Suggestion: Group the students by the cardinals’ region so that your students might be able to research and identify issues facing the Church in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Europe, North America, and Oceania.

Assignment 4

Note the religious orders of some of the cardinals. Several of the cardinals belong to religious orders. Ask the students to provide more information on these religious orders.

January 14, 2014

Don't Let Go of Christmas Just Yet!

As you settle back into a new semester, don't let Christmas go without sharing and reflecting on the Christmas message of Pope Francis.

While the Pope’s Christmas message may be too long to address with the students in one class period, here are three ways you might use the prayer in the classroom.

  1. Take parts of the prayer and use them as intentions or prayer with your students.

  2. Invite your students to research some of the people for whom the pope prays so that they can inform their peers about the pope’s concerns.

  3. Select passages to discuss such as this one about peace: “True peace is not a balance of opposing forces. It is not a lovely “façade” which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.”

January 6, 2014

Resolve to Avoid Gossip

During his papacy, Pope Francis has spoke many times on the topic of gossip. Pointedly, Pope Francis said, "Gossip always has a criminal side to it. There is no such thing as innocent gossip."

Address the topic with your students as a new year begins. Define gossip as "revealing private or sensational facts about others." But also add that gossiping also entails listening as well as only telling. Challenge them to resolve that 2014 will be a year that they avoid gossiping in all forms. To encourage this commitment, remind the students of a classic story.

The Tongue and How to Use It

A young lady once went to the good man, St. Philip Neri, to confess her sins. He knew one of her faults only too well. She was not a bad-hearted girl, but she often talked of her neighbors and spoke idle tales about them. These tales were told again by others, and much harm was done, and no good.

St. Philip said: "My daughter, you do wrong to speak ill of others, and I order you to perform penance. You must b uy a fowl at the market. Then walk out of the town, and as you go along the road pull the feathers from the bird and scatter them. Do not stop until you have plucked every feather. When you have done this, come back and tell me."

She said to herself that this was a very singular punishment to suffer. But she made no objection. She bought the fowl, walked out, and plucked the feathers as she had been told. Then she went to St. Philip and reported what she had done.

"My daughter," said the saint, "you have carried out the first part of the penance. Now there is a second part. You must now go back the way you came and pick up all the feathers."

"But, Father, this cannot be done. By this time the wind has blow them all ways. I might pick up some, but I could not possibly gather up all."

"Quite true, my daughter. And it is not so with the unwise words that you let fall. Have you not often dropped idle tales from your lips, and have they not gone this way and that, carried from mouth to mouth until they are quite beyond you? Could you possibly follow them and recall them if you wanted to do so?"


  1. What is the main lesson of this story?

Private Journal

  1. When have you been hurt or hurt another person by gossip. Explain.

December 30, 2013

Feast of Mary, Mother of God 2014

Reflect on the word of Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Evangelli Gaudium. Share and pray Pope Francis' words asking for the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God.

Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love. She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises. She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love. Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity. Many Christian parents ask that their children be baptized in a Marian shrine, as a sign of their faith in her motherhood which brings forth new children for God. There, in these many shrines, we can see how Mary brings together her children who with great effort come as pilgrims to see her and to be seen by her. Here they find strength from God to bear the weariness and the suffering in their lives. As she did with Juan Diego, Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: “Let your heart not be troubled… Am I not here, who am your Mother?

Marian Prayer

Mary, Virgin and Mother,

you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,

welcomed the word of life

in the depths of your humble faith:

as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,

help us to say our own “yes”

to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,

to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Filled with Christ’s presence,

you brought joy to John the Baptist,

making him exult in the womb of his mother.

Brimming over with joy,

you sang of the great things done by God.

Standing at the foot of the cross

with unyielding faith,

you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,

and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit

so that the evangelizing Church might be born.

Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,

that we may bring to all the Gospel of life

which triumphs over death.

Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,

that the gift of unfading beauty

may reach every man and woman.

Virgin of listening and contemplation,

Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,

pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,

that she may never be closed in on herself

or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.

Star of the new evangelization,

help us to bear radiant witness to communion,

service, ardent and generous faith,

justice and love of the poor,

that the joy of the Gospel

may reach to the ends of the earth,

illuminating even the fringes of our world.

Mother of the living Gospel,

wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,

pray for us.

Amen. Alleluia!

December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas from Ave Maria Press

Invisible in his own nature God became visible in ours.

Beyond our grasp, he chose to come within our grasp. (St. Leo the Great)

December 16, 2013

In Expectation of the Canonization of Blessed Peter Faber

Some time within the next week, Pope Francis is expected to announce the canonization of one of his favorite Jesuits, Blessed Peter Faber. The process will be the unique "equivalent canonization" in which the pope inserts the name of a person into the universal calendar of saints without verifying a miracle and without a formal canonization ceremony. In anticipation of the event, share some information on the life of Peter Faber. Have your students monitor the news stories from the Vatican on what might take place around this issue.

Brief Biography

Peter Faber grew up in a poor family and was a shepherd in the Alps. He wanted so much to go to school that he would cry himself to sleep. So, finally, his parents sent him to school where he easily learned the basics and progressed forward in the educational system. Peter’s roommate at the University of Paris was Francis Xavier and later, Ignatius Loyola. While Peter tutored Ignatius academically, Ignatius helped Peter decide what God was calling him to. He decided to become a priest.

The pope appointed Peter Faber to the faculty of Rome’s Sapienza University. He was also assigned to participate in a Catholic/Protestant meeting in Worms and Ratisbon. In his spare time, he gave the Spiritual Exercises retreat to many people. King John III then asked him to establish the Society of Jesus in Portugal. On the way to the Council of Trent, he stopped in Rome to visit Ignatius. Faber had been suffering from a fever and died at the age of 40 in the company of St. Ignatius.

More information on the life of Bl. Peter Faber is available here.

Discussion Points

  1. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) sprung from the friendships of three university roommates. How much impact do you think college roommates will have in your life?

  2. On the one hand, Peter Faber was sent by others to accomplish various assignments. On the other hand, everywhere he went he heard confessions, counseled people, and led them in the Spiritual Exercises. How much freedom do you anticipate having as an adult? Would you be available to travel to do good works?

  3. Look at Italy, Spain, and Portugal via Google Maps or some other similar tool. Peter Faber walked all over Italy and all the way to Portugal and back to Rome. What kind of toll do you think this took on his health?

  4. Peter Faber suffered from depression and anxiety and found himself especially susceptible to thoughts that would violate his vows as a Jesuit. He found that the wisdom from the Spiritual Exercises helped him recognize his different states of mind including Satan’s temptations. How do you think that this experience made it harder for him to give retreats to other people or give him insight that would help the retreatants?

December 9, 2013

Matching: Early Advent Saints

These saints have feast days in early December. You may want to give this matching assignment to individual students or to groups of four so students can pool their common knowledge. Complete the matching by working on any empty spots with the whole class or ask students to research the answers on their own. Students could also look into each of the saints, learn more about them and share their findings with their classmates.

Column 1

  1. An appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Mexico to St. Juan Diego

  2. One of the first Jesuits who preached the Gospel to India, Ceylon, Malacca, and Japan in the sixteenth century

  3. Born into poverty in sixteenth century Spain, this Carmelite monk was a reformer with St. Teresa of Avila. While imprisoned by his own order, he wrote beautiful mystical poetry

  4. A fourth century pope who commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin

  5. The son of wealthy Christian parents in fourth century Asia Minor. He was famous for his generosity, became a bishop and fought against Arianism

  6. A priest who lived in the seventh and eighth centuries AD who wrote religious poetry and defended Christianity against heresies

  7. A fourth century governor of Milan, who was popularly appointed bishop because he encouraged Christians and Arians to work together peacefully

  8. A martyr of the third and fourth century, killed because she rejected a man who then accused her of being a Christian

Column 2

a. St. Francis Xavier (3)

b. St. John Damascene (4)

c. St. Nicholas (6)

d. St. Ambrose (7)

e. St. Damasus I (11)

f. Our Lady of Guadalupe (12)

g. St. Lucy (13)

h. St. John of the Cross (14)

December 2, 2013

Advent Ideas

Ave Maria Press editorial assistant Barbara Brutt reminds teachers of some traditional Advent ideas appropriate for classroom additions and students of all ages.

There are a few simple Advent traditions that can aid you as you seek to center yourself in remembrance of Christ’s coming.

1. An Advent Calendar

A quick internet search shows many potential calendars and the ability to find one that will perfectly fit your classroom or family. An Advent Calendar functions as a daily reminder of Christ’s coming and each wisdom shared can be carried with you throughout the day.

2. An Advent Wreath (incorporating the Christ candle and the Mary candle)

The candles of this wreath are traditionally lit on the Sundays of December leading up to Christmas day. This can easily be shared with your family, but for a classroom, the students might be encouraged to really delve into the meaning and history of this tradition.

3. A Christmas Tree

Rather than filling the tree with decorations immediately, consider leaving it empty and focus on the expectation and waiting of Christ’s coming. In the days leading up to Christmas slowly add ornaments to the tree. Meditate on St. Boniface’s words: “The fir tree is the wood of peace, the sign of an endless life with its evergreen branches. It points to heaven. It will never shelter deeds of blood, but rather be filled with loving gifts and rites of kindness.”

Many tools are available for walking into the Christmas season with Christ-focus and serenity. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm new ideas yourself for drawing those around you deeper into relationship with God and the sacredness of the season.

In addition, Ave Maria Press colleague and religious educator Jared Dees offers links to several more Advent activities at The Religion Teacher website.

We wish you and your students the blessings of the season as they celebrate the coming of our Savior in the midst of their busy academic schedules.

November 21, 2013

Prayer for the Vocation to Married Life

Allow at least thirty minutes of class time for the students to pray privately, though you may incorporate part of this prayer into a larger classroom service. Make sure each student has a prayer journal and a Bible. Follow these directions.

Call to Prayer

Pray in the following words or choose similar words of your own. After the prayer, pause in silence. Listen for God to speak to you in your silence.

Heavenly Father, thank you for this time in your presence. I have learned about the unbreakable and sacred bond of marriage. Help me to begin to determine if I am called to married life. If so, help protect me from the temptations against chastity. Teach me to be a loyal friend. Allow me to be relaxed as I form new friendships with people of the opposite sex. Make me strong enough to keep the commitments you have entrusted to me now so that I will be able to keep the life long commitment of marriage if I am called down that path. And continue to offer your Holy Spirit to those married couples who are dear to me: especially my parents, grandparents, and others who have shared the graces of the sacrament of Matrimony with me. Remain with me always. I make this prayer in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Reading

Slowly and carefully read the Scripture passage from 1 John 4:7–12. What is God’s word saying to you about a possible vocation to married life?

A reading from the First Letter of John Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Reflection Questions

Read through the entire list of questions. Then go back and choose one question to spend time with in greater detail. Listen to what God is saying to you. Write down your thoughts in a prayer journal. Choose another question and repeat the process. You can choose to do all or some of the questions. You can also form your own questions about marriage and write your responses to these as well.

* What elements of my friendship skills can I bring to a marriage?

* Can I put my career plans behind my marriage and family life?

* How do I imagine my future spouse?

* What would a typical weekday be like as a married person? weekend?

* How many children would I like to have?

* How would I fit in with my spouse’s family? How would my spouse fit in with my family?

* What kind of parenting style will I have?

* How does married life seem fun and exciting?

* What will my wedding be like?

* If I could tell my future spouse anything right now, what would it be?

Prayer for My Future Spouse

End your time of reflection with a prayer for a potential future spouse. Use this prayer or your own words.

Holy God, watch over my future spouse if it is your will that I be married. Protect my spouse from harm. Keep my spouse chaste and pure as I promise the same. Lead us to each other and instruct us in the ways of friendship. As our love grows, let it be in your name. I commend this prayer through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, and through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer was taken from the textbook Marriage and Holy Orders: Your Call to Love and Serve (Ave Maria Press, 2007).

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