Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

September 26, 2016

Two Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux to Abbe Belliere

The feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux is October 1. The following is an excerpt from The Catholic Spirit: An Anthology for Discovering Faith Through Literature, Art, Film, and Music of two letters wrote to a missionary priest near the end of her life. Student questions and assignments accompany this reading.

Author Background

Thérèse of Lisieux (Thérèse Martin) was born to a middle class French family in 1873. At age sixteen she received special permission to enter the Carmelites, a religious order of nuns devoted to prayer who lead an austere life of fasting and silence. Thérèse lived only ten years in the Convent of Lisieux. She died of tuberculosis in 1897 when she was only twenty-four. After her death, a series of personal writings intended for her religious superiors was published under the title The Story of a Soul. Thérèse’s autobiography took the world by storm and in a few short years had sold millions or copies. She was canonized in 1925, only twenty-eight years after her death. Pope John Paul II named her a Doctor of the Church in 1997.


Before the Reading

Pope Pius XI called Thérèse “the greatest saint of modern times.” What is it that made the life and teaching of this young, obscure nun so attractive to Catholics and non-Catholics alike? It may be that Thérèse speaks to the modern person because of her anonymity and humbleness. She is a representative of those millions of people who toil and live in obscurity as factory workers, day laborers, office workers, and homemakers. In her, the common person can find a model for great sanctity. Thérèse also suffered throughout her life with bouts of depression and darkness. She had to witness the mental breakdown of her beloved father and try to come to grips with the evil and pain that exists in the world. In meeting these challenges to faith and life, St. Thérèse serves as a model and guide to the modern world.

As a Carmelite sister, Thérèse lived in a cloister and had virtually no face-to-face contact with anyone other than the sisters living in her convent. However, she was permitted to correspond with people outside the convent and her letters to her relatives and friends sparkle with wit and charm. Toward the end of her life, a young priest, Abbe Maurice Belliere, wrote to the Carmel of Lisieux asking if a sister could devote her prayers for the success of his activities as a missionary priest. Thérèse was chosen to assist him and she wrote to him a series of letters that spell out her spiritual teaching, her “little way,” in which she offers the most ordinary actions and events or her day to God.

Like most of us, Abbe Belliere lacked confidence in his abilities to serve God; he dwelt on and suffered guilt over his sins, and feared the judgment of the Lord. In her letters, Thérèse points out that she does not fear the judgment of God precisely because he is just. She knows that he is her Father and, therefore, will forgive her faults and failing because of his intense love for her.

St. Thérèse never met Abbe Belliere, but her love for him that is reflected in these letters, written as she was dying of tuberculosis, is a sign of the love that God has for each of us, especially when we are weak, afraid, and lonely.


The Letters

J. M. J. T

Carmel, Lisieux,

21 June 1897

My dear little Brother,

With you I have thanked Our Lord for the great grace he deigned to give you on the day of Pentecost; it was also on that great feast (ten years ago) that I obtained—not from my Director but from my Father—permission to become an apostle in Carmel. That is one more link between our souls.

                O Brother, please, never think you “weary me or distract me,” by talking much of yourself. Would it be possible for a sister not to take interest in all that concerns her brother? As to distracting me, you have nothing to fear; on the contrary, your letters unite me still closer to the good God, bringing the marvels of His mercy and love very near for my contemplation. Sometimes Jesus delights “to reveal His secrets to the little ones”: as an example, when I had read your first letter of 15 October 1895, I thought the same thing as your Director. You cannot be half a saint, you must be a whole saint or no saint at all. I felt that you must have a soul of great energy, and I was happy to become your sister. Don’t think you can frighten me with talk of “your best years wasted.” I simply thank Jesus for looking on you with a look of love, as once he looked on the young man in the Gospel. More fortunate than he, you loyally answered the Master’s call, you left all to follow him, and that at the best age of life, eighteen.

                Ah! my Brother, like me you can hymn the mercies of the Lord! They shine in you in all their splendor. . . . You love St. Augustine, St. Magdalen, those souls to whom “many sins have been forgiven because they loved much”; I love them too, love their repentance and above all . . . their daring in love! When I see Magdalen come forward in face of the crowd of guests, and water with her tears the feet of her adored Master as she touches him for the first time, I feel that her heart realized the fathomless depths of love and mercy in Jesus’ Heart, realized, despite her sins, that that Heart was ready not only to pardon her but actually to lavish on her the treasures of His divine intimacy and raise her to the highest summits of contemplation.

                Ah! my dear little Brother, since it has been given me too to realize the love of Jesus’ Heart, I own that it has driven from my own heart all fear! The remembrance of my faults humiliates me, leads me never to rely at all on my strength, which is only weakness; but the remembrance speaks to me still more of mercy and love. When one casts one’s faults into the consuming flame of Love, how could they fail to be consumed past return?

                I know there are saints who spent their lives in the practice of astonishing mortifications to expiate their sins, but what of it?—”In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” Jesus has told us so, which is why I follow the path He marks out for me. I try not to think about myself in anything whatsoever; and what Jesus in his goodness effects in my soul, I give over to him; for I chose an austere life, not to expiate my own sins but the sins of others.

                I have just read over my brief note and I wonder if you will understand me, for I have put it very badly. Do not think I am blaming you for repenting of your sins and wanting to expiate them. Oh, no! far from it; but you know, now that there are two of us the work will go faster (and I, with my way, will get more done than you), so I hope that one day Jesus will set you on the same way as me.

                Forgive me, Brother, I don’t know what is the matter with me today, I hadn’t really meant to say all this. I have no more room to answer your letter. I shall do so another time. Thank you for the dates of your life. I have already celebrated your twenty-third birthday. I am praying for your dear parents whom God has taken from this world, and I am not forgetting the mother you love. Your unworthy little Sister,


Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face rel. carm. ind.


 J. M. J. T.

18 July 1897

My poor dear little Brother,

                Your grief touches me deeply; but you see how good Jesus is. He permits me still to be able to write and try to console you, probably not for the last time. That loving Savior understands your grief and your prayers: that is why He leaves me still on earth. Do not think I mind. Oh, no! my dear little Brother, very much the reverse, for in this conduct of Jesus I see how much He loves you!

                I have never asked God to let me die young, it would have seemed to me cowardice; but from my childhood He has deigned to give me the intimate conviction that my course here below would be brief. So that the one cause of all my joy is the thought of doing the Lord’s will.

                O Brother! how I wish I could pour the balm of consolation into your soul! I can only borrow Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. He will not object, because I am his little bride and therefore all his goods are mine. I say to you then, as he to his friends, “I go to my Father . . . but because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go. You now have sorrow, but I will see you again and you shall rejoice; and your joy no man will take from you.”

                Yes, of this I am sure, after my entry into life, my dear little Brother’s sorrow will be turned into a serene joy that no creature can wrest from him. I feel that we must go to Heaven by the same road-suffering joined with love. When I am come into harbor, I shall instruct you, dear little Brother of my soul, how you must navigate on the tempestuous sea of the world: with the love and utter trustfulness of a child who knows that his father loves him too much to forsake him in the hour of peril.

                Ah! how I wish I could make you realize the tenderness of Jesus’ heart, what It expects of you. As I read your letter of the fourteenth, my heart thrilled tenderly. More than ever I realized the degree to which your love is sister to mine, since it is called to go up to God by the elevator of love, not to climb the rough stairway of fear. I am not surprised that the practice of ‘‘familiarity” with Jesus seems to you not at all easy to manage; you cannot come to it in a day, but I am certain that I shall aid you better to walk that delightful way when I am free of my mortal envelope, and soon you will be saying with St. Augustine “Love is the weight that draws me.”

                But why do I speak to you of the life of trust and love? I explain myself so badly that I must wait till Heaven to talk with you of that blissful life. What I wanted to do today was console you. Ah! how happy I should be if you could take my death as Mother Agnes of Jesus is taking it. . . . She speaks of my death as of a feast, and this is a great consolation to me.

                Please, dear little Brother, try like her to realize that you will not be losing me but finding me, and that I shall never more leave you. . . .

                In view of my approaching death, a sister has photographed me for our Mother’s feast. When the novices saw me they cried that I had put on my grand look; it seems that I am ordinarily more smiling; but take my word for it, Brother, that if my photograph does not smile at you, my soul will never cease to smile on you when it is close by you.

                Goodbye, dear little Brother, be assured that for eternity I shall be your true little sister.


Thérèse of the Child Jesus r.c.i.


Reading for Comprehension

1.    How does Thérèse respond to Abbe Belliere’s fears of tiring her with talk about himself?

2.    What does Thérèse say to Belliere about her premonition about the length of her life?

3.    Abbe Belliere was sorrowful about her approaching death. What did Thérèse say she would do for him after she died?

4.    What did Thérèse most admire about St. Mary Magdalene?


Reading for Understanding

1.    Why do so many of us have a fear of silence? Why must we always be talking or watching television or listening to music? What would happen if we spent a full hour in total silence? Why do spiritual masters tell us that times of silence are essential to any profound life of prayer?

2.    Abbe Belliere believed that St. Thérèse would guide and protect him personally after her death. Select a saint that appeals to you. and over a period of several weeks, ask that saint to help you in whatever endeavor that you select. Journal daily on this experience.



1.    St. Thérèse’s form of life as a vowed cloistered nun is not one to which all are called. There are many ways of serving God, and hers is one of them. However, does her form of life, her silence and fasting, have anything to say to those of us who live in the world? Was her vocation just for herself, or does it say something to members of the Church in the modern world?

2.    Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish theologian and philosopher who is considered one of the founders of the school of philosophy called Existentialism, once said that if he were a physician and  asked for one type of medicine to cure the ills of humankind, he would prescribe silence. What do you think he meant by that statement?

3.    Read and report on St. Thérèse’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul.



September 19, 2016

Thinking about the Beatitudes

For any lesson you are doing on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11), you may wish to combine this discussion activity that helps students think about how the Beatitudes apply to their own lives.


Print these five phrases using thick marker on separate sheets of scrap paper: 1) Strongly Agree; 2) Agree; 3) Somewhat Agree; 4) Disagree; 5) Strong Disagree. Tape these scrap papers at regular intervals along one long wall in your classroom or on the floor in a large center space.


Point out the agree-disagree continuum. Tell the students you will ask a question or read a statement related to the Beatitudes. Choose a group of four or five students to move silently and stand near the spot on the continuum that most closely approximates how they feel. Pause between each statement and ask the students to explain their positions. Use the following statements and add some of your own.


  • I will choose a career that serves people in need over a career that makes more money.
  • Most poor people could help themselves if they chose to.
  • I could forgive someone who injured or killed one of my family members.
  • Good can come from suffering.
  • I would rather be known more assertive than meek.
  • Anger is a feeling that should be avoided at all costs.
  • My attitudes and actions are affected by news stories about wars and starving children.
  • When my friends hurt, I hurt.
  • Everyone is out for themselves.
  • I expect to be rewarded for worshipping God.
  • The world will never be absent of war.
  • I consider myself a peacemaker.
  • I would die for my Christian beliefs.
  • I would comfortably say a blessing before eating a meal in a public restaurant.
  • I will stick up for an unpopular classmate who is being treated unjustly.

After everyone in the initial group has had a chance to speak, call on another group to repeat the exercise. Or, use only one group of students to navigate the continuum but extend the conversation by calling on the other students to comment from their seats on the various items and how they might choose.


September 7, 2016

St. Robert Bellarmine and Celebrating Catechists

Sunday, September 18 is the annual celebration of Catechetical Sunday. The theme this year is Prayer: The Faith Prayed. Catechetical Sunday celebrates the baptismal call of all Catholics to pass on the faith while especially recognizing parish catechists, youth ministers, Catholic and public school teachers, and school administrators.

Successful catechists and teachers spend a great deal of their time away from the classroom planning for what will take place inside the classroom. Reading, praying, collecting resources, and lesson planning form the life of a catechist and teacher.

Interestingly, this year Catechetical Sunday takes place one day after the Feast Day of St. Robert Bellarmine, a Doctor of the Church, Jesuit, and theologian who defended the Church against heretics in the sixteenth century. While a great theologian and instructor on matters of faith, St. Bellarmine preached most fervently on the necessity of charity and service or the poor. In fact, he approached this message in terms a teacher and student might understand: charity is the subject for life and on which a person will be graded. He wrote:

"The school of Christ is the school of charity. In the last day, when the general examination takes place, there will be no question at all on the text of Aristotle, the aphorisms of Hippocrates, or the Paragraphs of Justinian. Charity will be the whole syllabus."

He added:

“If you are wise, then, know that you have been created for the glory of God and your own eternal salvation.  This is your goal; this is the center of your life; this is the treasure of your heart.”

As you celebrate your role as a catechist and teacher this year, keep in mind the subject of life's final exam, both for yourself and your students.

In the spirit of St. Robert Bellarmine's message for you and other teachers on your staff, Called to Teach: Daily Inspiration for Catholic Educators makes a perfect companion. The book, written by Catholic high school teacher Justin McClain, offers 366 short reflections for every day of the year. These brief readings can help you always keep in your mind your God-given role as catechist/teacher, celebrate it, and pointed to God's final gift of eternity.


August 26, 2016

Canonization of Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is to be canonized a saint in the Catholic Church on Monday, September 4, 2016, in Rome. The program for the canonization and several pieces of information on Mother Teresa are available at the official site of the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta Biography

A compelling example of a person who recognized the basic dignity and goodness of each person was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Such was her profound respect for others that in her lifetime people of many faiths recognized her as a living saint.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bonjaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in Albania. As a child she felt a desire to work for God. Her spiritual director assured her that she would know God was calling her if she felt joy with the idea of serving him in others. Agnes felt this joy and responded to the call by joining the Sisters of Our Lady of Loretto, a missionary order active in India. Agnes’ training in religious life took place in Ireland where she took the name of Sister Teresa in memory of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. When sent to India, Sr. Teresa began her work by caring for the sick and starving and helpless mothers in a hospital run by her order. The endless misery she met in her first assignment greatly touched her.

Before long, Sr. Teresa was sent to Calcutta to become a teacher. She became an effective and popular teacher and was eventually named principal of a high school for middle-class girls. However, close to this school was one of the great slums of Calcutta. Sr. Teresa could not turn her eyes from the misery she found there. She continued to visit and minister to the poor in the slums and the hospitals, enlisting the help of her students in this precious work.

Eventually, Sr. Teresa responded to a vocation within a vocation. God called her to minister to the poorest of the poor. She left her order, received some medical training, and began to work directly with the poor. Her good example drew others, including some of her former students, to help her in her work. By 1950 she had received permission to found a new religious order, the Missionaries of Charity. Besides taking the traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Missionaries take a fourth vow, service to the poorest of the poor. This marks their way to live and spread Christ’s gospel—working for the salvation and sanctification of the poor.

Mother Teresa’s unselfish work for the forgotten ones in society won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. At the time of her death in 1997, the Gallup Poll reported that she was the most admired woman in the world. Her order had grown to serve the poor and suffering in many cities throughout the world: ministering to unwanted, abandoned babies; supporting unwed mothers; caring for dying AIDS patients; feeding the hungry; loving the unlovable.

Mother Teresa’s motivation was simple. She taught by example that when we help and love a poor person we are helping and loving Jesus. God is not absent from our lives. He lives in our neighbor, most especially in those we tend to neglect and dislike.

The bottom line for Mother Teresa was that she had the utmost respect for the basic dignity of each person. In her many speeches around the world, she encouraged her listeners to do something beautiful for God. Every person, no matter how small, is a person of great dignity. Every person is Jesus-in-disguise.


Two quotes from Mother Teresa of Calcutta for busy teens to think about:

  • "Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin."
  • “There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives—the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family.  Find them.  Love them.”


Mother Teresa’s National Prayer Breakfast Speech

One of the most remarkable speeches ever addressed to officials of the United States government was delivered by Mother Teresa at the National Prayer Breakfast, February 3, 1994, sponsored by the United States Senate and House of Representatives.  In this historic address, Mother Teresa spoke out for the dignity of all human life, but especially of the innocent lives of unborn babies.

Prayer Reflection

Pray these words of Mother Teresa:

Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you.

Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say, “Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.”

Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to
disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or
impatience. . . .



Research several additional quotations of Mother Teresa. Write in your journal the three most compelling lines that affected you the most.  Compare your selections with those of a classmate.


August 19, 2016

What is the difference between Eastern Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox Churches?

This is a question that is often confusing to Catholics who have grown up in the Roman Catholic Church. You may wish to share with them this response:

After the Eastern Schism in 1054, eastern churches no longer in union with Rome came to be known as Eastern Orthodox or simply “Orthodox Churches.” Eastern Churches that remained in union with Rome are called Eastern Catholic Churches, or often the “Eastern Church.” An easy way to remember is this: “If the name of the Eastern Church as “Orthodox” in its title, it is not in union with Rome.

Eastern Churches accept the pope as the leader of the Church. Eastern Churches are fully Catholic. While all the Eastern Churches accept the authority of the pope, they also have a great deal of autonomy in Church life. They are governed by a separate code, called the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. This code helps to preserve some traditions that differ from the Roman Catholic Church, including the ordination of married men to the priesthood. Eastern Churches worship with their own style liturgy.  The Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian, East Syrian (or Chaldean), West Syrian, and Maronite liturgical rites and certain other liturgical rites of local churches and religious orders have been recognized as authentic liturgical expressions within the Catholic Church. The three largest Eastern Churches are the Byzantine Ukranian Greek Catholic Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and the Maronite Catholic Church.

Finally, what are "10 Frustrations Every Eastern Rite Catholic Understands"? This informative and fun article helps to answer that question!



August 10, 2016

Catholic Olympians 2016

Several current Olympians on the 2016 United States of America team have publicly witnessed to their Catholic faith while in Rio de Janeiro. Three of the most prominent are gymnast Simon Boles, swimmer Katie Ledecky, and fencer Katharine Holmes. There are many recent news reports detailing aspects of their life as practicing Catholics. One story with several links is posted here.

At the conclusion of his August 3 public audience, Pope Francis shared these words to Olympians: “In a world thirsting for peace, tolerance, and reconciliation, I hope that the spirit of the Olympic Games inspires all – participants and spectators – to ‘fight the good fight’ and finish the race together (cf. 2 Tim 4,7-8), desiring to obtain as a prize, not a medal, but something much more precious:  the construction of a civilization in which solidarity reigns and is based upon the recognition that we are all members of the same human family, regardless of the differences of culture, skin color, or religion,” the Pope said.


August 5, 2016

Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza Shares His Catholic Faith

In July 2016, former major league catcher Mike Piazza, was inducted to the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. In his induction speech, Piazza thanked many people who inspired him along the way, including both his father and his mother. He particularly thanked his mother for sharing with him her devout Catholic faith. He said in part:

“(My mother) gave me the gift of my Catholic faith, the greatest gift a mother could give a child, which has had a profound impact on my career and has given me patience, compassion and hope. Pope Benedict the XVI said, ‘One who has hope, lives differently.’ Mom, you raised five boys, and you were always there for me"

In an interview on EWTN with Raymond Arroyo following the Cooperstown ceremony, Piazza told more about his journey to the major leagues and the importance of his Catholic faith. This sixteen-minute video is inspirational and approriate viewing for high school students.

July 29, 2016

Helping Teens Recognize and Reduce Stress

Stress is defined as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.” While not all stress is bad, poorly managed stress negatively affects the immune system, making a person more susceptible to other diseases.

Identify the following stressors typical among student and help your students to recognize these:

  • test-taking
  • paper writing
  • parental expectations about grades and college
  • the lack of money
  • the lack of sleep
  • being ill
  • coping with social pressures from friends
  • the demands of extracurricular activities
  • having a job that takes away from study time
  • being involved in a romantic relationship (or the lack thereof)
  • dealing with demanding teachers
  • carrying unrealistic self-expectations

After helping students recognize stressors, share some strategies for stress reduction:

  • Vigorous exercise. Physical activity correlates well with mental acuity and psychological well being
  • Eat well. When you are run down physically, you’ll lack stamina to cope with stressors.
  • Prioritize. List what is really important. Do those things first. Eliminate as many non-essentials as possible.
  • Imagine the worst-case scenario. What would you do if this really happen? How likely is this to happen? Being prepared for the worst-case scenario will make you ready to handle it, if it ever should occur no matter how unlikely.
  • Listen to music.
  • Take a nap.
  • Distinguish between working hard and being a workaholic. Hard workers are focused and organized. Workaholics are disorganized, escape their problems with work, and don’t know how to relax.
  • Serve others. Jesus taught that if you lose yourself in service, you find yourself. Participate in a project that helps the less fortunate.
  • Accept your humanity. If your stress is self-induced, perhaps you are being unrealistic. Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Get help. Maintain a support group of friends or family and, as needed, school counselors and health professionals. Talking problems out is a stress reducer.
  • Pray.

July 22, 2016

Direct Service for Teens

The USCCB’s Renewing the Vision : A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry document addresses the essential nature of justice and a service component that should accompany any programming for teens, including teens enrolled in a Catholic high school. It offers distinctive feature that give direction to this component. Justice and service is meant to:

  • engage the teens in the scope of Catholic social teaching, beginning with the teachings of Jesus;
  • involve the teens in direct service to those in need;
  • promote Gospel-based lifestyles and choices among teens;
  • help them reflect on direct service experiences and pay special attention to why service is important;
  • teach them to work in cooperation with others—peers, the parish, and the community—in promoting justice and service;
  • nurture in teens a lifelong commitment to justice and service.

As you consider ways to incorporate service into your curriculum and lesson planning, begin with these reflections:

  • Think about the successful opportunities for direct service you have provided for your teens. What are some common elements of these success stories?
  • Describe the attitude of your teens toward direct service.
  • What do you find difficult in teaching your teens about a Christian’s call to service? Name some ways you can incorporate the Church’s social teaching within your lessons.
  • Brainstorm a list of other school, parish, and community agencies with whom your youth group could partner to serve others.


Jesus, wash our souls of all pride and greed as we continue in our desire to serve our brothers and sisters. As the teens begin to formulate a plan for their lives, help them keep in mind the model of service you shared with your disciples. We ask this in your name. Amen.


July 15, 2016

Stand Against Violence: A Prayer

Prayer against Crime and Violence

Lord God, crime is on the increase within our city and our country.

From the depths of our hearts we pray that you will comfort, heal, and bless all victims of crime.

We ask that you protect all people from the evil of crime and violence.

We pray especially for life-changing conversion for all criminals and the violent—

                remove all evil form their hearts,

                fill them with your goodness and love

        that they may cease their evil works

        and that our city and land be free from the

        scourge of crime and violence.

We pray also for the grace to purge ourselves of all violence—

                in our own thoughts and actions,

                in our family life,

                in our friendships,

                in relationships with others

Lord, I personal commit to refrain from violent acts or words

                To settle conflicts.

I further swear to teach others, especially our youth,

                that violence is too quick an answer

                that produces irreparable, life-long

                                and threatening results.



This prayer was composed by the people of St. Dorothy Catholic Church in Chicago, Illinois. St. Dorothy’s mission statement is as follows: “St. Dorothy Catholic Church is committed to ending violence against everyone—by raising awareness and understanding, education and personal development, promotion of diversity and spiritual partnership.”


July 8, 2016

Understanding Facets of “White Privilege”

Conduct a discussion as a way to allow white students in your class to be aware of some preferential treatments they experience because they are white. Likewise, allow students of color to discuss their perspectives of some of these experiences.

Make a worksheet of with the twelve items listed below and pass it out to the students.  These items were adapted from “Celebrating Racial Diversity” by Kathleen McGinnis and published in Activities for Catholic Social Teaching.


  1. I can walk down a residential street in a white neighborhood and no one will automatically think I am a babysitter or a delivery person.
  2. If I can make any grammatical or spelling errors, no one will attribute my mistakes to my race.
  3. I can walk into a store late at night and probably no one will think I am there to rob it.
  4. In the classroom, it is not automatically assumed that I will have to work harder than others to get good grades.
  5. Most everyone who looks at me will assume that I am an American citizen and can speak English.
  6. If I have a responsible job or scholarship, no one thinks I got it because of “quotas.”
  7. Other white people in an elevator won’t tense up and wonder what I might do.
  8. I can pay with a credit card or check and won’t be questioned.
  9. People hear I am going to college and no one is surprised.
  10. If I want to teach my younger brothers and sisters about my culture, there are many museums and cultural events to which I can take them.
  11. I can have or wear nice things or ride in a nice car and no one will automatically think I am being wasteful or say, “Isn’t that typical?”
  12. No one assumes when I give my opinion that I am speaking on behalf of my entire race.


Ask the white students to mark each of the twelve items with a plus sign for items they agree with, a minus sign for those they disagree with, and a question mark for those they are not sure about or don’t understand. Students of color should mark the items they have experienced.

Take each item, one at a time, and ask the students how they marked them. Spend additional time discussing the items that generate the most intense response.

Present this final question: “What other privileges do white Americans enjoy?” Have the students write their responses. Then spend time discussing their responses. Write some of the things they listed on the board.

Conclude with a final reflection. Ask the students how they felt about this activity. Then have them brainstorm some solutions to these issues and suggest ways to rectify white privilege.

July 1, 2016

Resource Links for Catholic Theology Teachers

Please note and bookmark this excellent source of lessons plans and teacher enrichment articles in the July 2016 issue of Christian Brothers College High School theology teacher Charles Beach's RelEDWeb Newsletter.

For example, note the RelEdWeb Newsletter link to an article "10 Facts about Atheists." This information is a good primer for dissecting recent statistics from a CARA study on atheism summarized in an article by Brandon Vogt.


June 24, 2016

St. Mary Magdalene

Pope Francis has raised the liturgical memorial of St. Mary Magdalene, the woman from the Gospels who, according to the pope, "so loved Christ and was so greatly loved by Christ, to a feast day. The text of Pope Francis' announcement, "Apostle of the Apostles," is available here.

As you find an occasion to share this news with your students, find time to also:

June 17, 2016

A Nice Story about Courtship and Marriage (featuring one of our authors)

Barbara Jane Sloan, currently a doctoral student in theology at Marquette University, and formerly a Catholic high school theology teacher AND former poster in the Engaging Faith blog was featured this week in the New York Times with her new husband Nathaniel Peters. Enjoy reading of their unique and happy courtship. This is also an article suitable for sharing with your students as part of a marriage and vocations course. Congratulations to Jane and Nathaniel!

June 10, 2016

Prayers for the Future

As the school year comes to a close, here are some prayers to share with your students as they embark on the immediate future of summer while considering what life will bring them in the semesters ahead. Each of the prayers is taken from Day by Day The Notre Dame Prayerbook for Students.


For Responsible Decisions

O God,

who has called me to place such complete trust in you

that nothing can tyrannize my life,

deliver me, I pray . . . .

     from becoming a slave to my books

     from daydreaming away my time

     from an over concern about sex

     from an over anxiety about my future

     from an uncritical view of myself

     from an overcritical view of myself

and from all the half-known deities

which try to dictate what I shall be.

Save me, that I may be free

to make responsible decisions

and serve you with wholeness


        --John W. Vannorsdall


For A Light in the Darkness

Father, grant that I may be

a bearer of Christ Jesus, your Son.

Allow me to warm the often cold, impersonal

scene of modern life with your burning love.

Strengthen me, by your Holy Spirit

to carry out my mission of changing the world

or some definite part of it, for the better.

Despite my lamentable failures, bring home to me

that my advantages are your blessings

to be shared with others.

Make me more energetic in setting to rights

what I find wrong with the world

instead of complaining about it or myself.

Nourish in me a practical desire

to build up rather than tear down

to reconcile more than polarize

to go out on a limb rather than crave security.

Never let me forget that it is far better

to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

And to join my light, one day, with yours.


      --Christopher Prayer Book


To Christ Our Only Teacher

Thank you, Jesus, for bringing me this far.

In your light I see the light of my life.

Your teaching is brief and to the point.

You persuade us to trust in our heavenly Father;

you command us to love one another.

What is easier than to believe in God?

What is sweeter than to love him?

Your yoke is pleasant, your burden light,

you, the only and only Teacher!

Your promise everything to those who obey your teaching,

you ask nothing too hard for a believer,

nothing a lover can refuse.

Your promises to your disciples are true,

entirely true, nothing but the truth.

Even more, you promise use yourself,

the perfection of all that can be made perfect.

Than you, Jesus, now and always.


     --Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464)






June 2, 2016

End-of-the-Year Review

The end of the school year is time for review.

While the following “50 Questions” are part of the Send Out Your Spirit high-school Confirmation program, they serve well as a general review for students enrolled in just about any Catholic high school theology course. You may wish to assign some or all of these questions as part of a graded final, extra credit, or as part of a number of quiz games you might wish to play with your students in these last days and weeks of school.



50 Questions

 1.  Define “catechumenate.”

 2.  What are some differences between the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and the Rite of Baptism of Children (RBC)?

 3.  Name the elements of the basic Rite of Baptism.

 4.  How many adults were baptized at your parish at the last Easter vigil?

 5.  How many children were baptized in the last calendar year at your parish?

 6.  What are the central beliefs about God espoused in our Catholic creeds?

 7.  Name at least four attributes of God.

 8.  Name and explain three dogmas about the Holy Trinity.

 9.  Where is the tabernacle placed in your parish? Why is it placed where it is?

10. When is the Feast of the Holy Trinity?

11. How did the early Church answer Arius’s claim that Jesus only took the “appearance” of a man?

12. Define “Incarnation.”

13. What did Jesus tell his disciples would happen to him in Jerusalem?

14. How can you come to know Jesus?

15. How do you think you would respond if someone held a gun to your head and asked, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”

16. Name and explain three kinds of writing in the Bible.

17. What are the three stages of the composition of the Gospel?

18. How did the Second Vatican Council encourage a renewed interest in the Scriptures for Catholics?

19. What is meant by the term “Septuagint”? “Vulgate”?

20. Which of the following translations of the Bible are accepted by Catholics? Protestants? Both?

      King James                                    New Jerusalem                       Revised Standard

      New American                              The Way                                  Good News

21. What were the causes of the schism between the churches of East and West and of the Protestant Reformation?

22. How does the Church answer the criticism that “Catholics pray to saints”?

23. Define “infallibility” related to Church teaching.

24. Who is the bishop of your diocese? What do you know about him?

25. Define and tell the function of each of these Church structures:

      archdiocese                       college of cardinals                parish

      diocese                              deanery                                   parish council

26. How does the morality of human acts depend on the object chosen, the intention, and the circumstances of the action?

27. Write the Beatitudes.

28. Write the Ten Commandments.

29. Write the precepts of the Church.

30. How can the Sacrament of Penance help you to live a moral life?

31. How is the Paschal Mystery like other historical events? How is it different from other historical events?

32. Define “transubstantiation.”

33. According to the Council of Florence, what three things are necessary for a sacrament to be valid?

34. Name the two main parts of the Mass. What takes place in each part?

35. Put these parts of the Mass in sequential order:

      Penitential Rite                             Gospel             Consecration

      First Reading                                 Our Father                  Communion

      Homily                                           Sign of Peace            Holy, Holy, Holy

      Eucharistic Prayer             Offertory                     Concluding Rite

36. Name and explain three basic human rights.

37. What is meant by the phrase “preferential option for the poor”?

38. List the corporal works of mercy.

39. List the spiritual works of mercy.

40. Outline the Church’s basic positions on the justice issues of consumerism, the environment, and war and violence.

41. Write at least four ways Catholics are able to know the Holy Spirit.

42. What is the essential rite of Confirmation?

43. Name four effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

44. List the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

45. How many candidates will be confirmed at the next Confirmation at your parish?

46. How is self-concept related to self-esteem?

47. Who administers the Sacrament of Matrimony?

48. What does the Church teach about sex outside of marriage?

49. What is meant by the term “consecrated life”?

50.How is the ministerial priesthood different from the common priesthood?


If you are interested in an answer sheet for these questions, leave your name and email address in the comment section below this post and we will send them to you.




May 23, 2016

How Do Your Students Learn?

This interesting cartoon provides some food-for-thought on assessing the way students learn. You might ask yourself:

  • What is your first reaction on viewing this cartoon?
  • In what ways do you regularly encounter students who learn in different ways?
  • How can you more fairly assess students based on their different learning styles?
  • What type of resources (e.g., different styles of tests, assignment rubrics, etc.) do you need to more fairly address this issue?

You may also wish to share this cartoon with your colleagues and students themselves in order to gain their insights.


Multiple Intelligences

Additionally, you may wish to review the classical multiple intelligences that describe the ways that people learn. Developed by Howard Gardner, a professor at the Harvard School of Education, the multiple intelligences explain eight particular ways that students learn.

Though people learn using all different styles, each person usually has preferred ways of acquiring and processing information. The best learning takes places when teaching methods offer processes, assignments, and projects for all eight intelligences. This provides opportunities for students to access their preferred intelligence and to proceed from their chosen strengths.

What follows is a brief description of Gardner’s eight multiple intelligences and information about which methods students prefer.

Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence

Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence involves the capacity to use one’s whole body to express ideas and feelings. It specifically involves using one’s hands to create things or to skillfully manipulate objects. A concrete way to think of people learning in this style is that they are active and engaged in a “learning-by-doing” assignment or project. Methods include:

  • developing and performing role plays
  • participating in a theater arts performance
  • creating and/or demonstrating the use of a relevant tool, instrument, or utensil
  • exercising or competing in athletics

Interpersonal/Relational Intelligence

      This intelligence requires the ability to perceive and appreciate the feelings, moods, intentions, and motivations of other people. Those who prefer this type of learning flourish working in groups, teams, or with a partner. Learning methods include:

  • brainstorming ideas
  • playing cooperative games
  • dialoguing with others
  • working on a group project

Intrapersonal/Introspective Intelligence

      The Intrapersonal/Introspective intelligence requires the ability to base one’s actions on self-understanding. Being in touch with one’s dreams, feelings, moods, intentions, motivations, and spirituality is a key aspect of this intelligence. People who learn best in this style usually prefer to work alone on self-directed assignments. Examples of the intrapersonal/introspective intelligence are:

  • writing reports or research papers
  • keeping a journal
  • explaining the personal connection of some given information
  • identifying with characters in a story

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence

The Logical/Mathematical intelligence requires the skill to work well with numbers and to use reason to solve problems. Persons who learn well in this style are adept, for example, at categorizing and exploring relationships within a set of data. They tend to find it difficult to function in an environment that is chaotic or one in which the goals are not clearly defined. Methods that complement this intelligence are:

  • categorizing names, places, and events
  • outlining bodies of material
  • exploring patterns and relationships
  • problem solving

Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence

Distinguishing rhythm, pitch, and melody is a characteristic of this intelligence. People who prefer to learn in this style often express themselves in musical forms. They enjoy being surrounded by sound and rhythm and understand these as learning tools. Some methods that are successful for this style are:

  • making and playing instruments
  • setting stories to music
  • creating or performing in a musical
  • writing new lyrics for familiar tunes

Naturalist Intelligence

A person who prefers a Naturalist intelligence is at home in the natural environment. He or she appreciates the joys of nature and is comfortable raising and caring for plants and animals. This person also often enjoys camping, hiking, and many other outdoor activities. Methods that are consistent with the Naturalist Intelligence intelligence are:

  • experimenting in a lab setting
  • classifying elements in the natural world
  • "digging” or any simulation of an archaeological experience
  • demonstrating proper procedure and care for gardens or animals

Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence

The Verbal/Linguistic intelligence involves use of the spoken and written word. A person who learns best with this intelligence appreciates being able to see things in print, hear spoken words, and say things aloud. Memorization is also a key learning method. Other methods consistent with this intelligence are:

  • debating
  • reading and summarizing the material
  • memorizing and repeating multiple facts
  • writing essays

Visual/Spatial Intelligence

      This intelligence appeals to people who like to learn by visualizing and dreaming about concepts and ideas. Learners in this style incorporate both sight and mental images. Whereas the written word may frustrate these learners, visuals in the form of charts, pictures, graphs, and maps help them to grasp a topic. Other methods that fit into this intelligence include:

  • drawing, painting, and sculpting
  • creating collages, posters, and murals
  • designing maps and graphs
  • producing videos


May 18, 2016

Kentucky Derby Winner Featured in Ave Maria Press Textbook

It’s not often that a Kentucky Derby champion trainer and his wife make it into an Ave Maria Press high school theology textbook. But that’s the case with Doug O’Neill, trainer of 2016 champion Nyquist (and 2012 Kentucky Derby winner, I’ll Have Another) and his wife Linette Galvan O’Neill.

Doug and Linette both are graduates of St. Monica Catholic High School in Santa Monica, California. Due to a special friendship with their former teacher and coach who is also the author of Marriage and Holy Orders: Your Call to Love and Serve, the interesting story of Doug’s marriage proposal to Linette made it into a chapter on the Sacrament of Matrimony.



More backstory: Shanda Farmer, the daughter of Chicago White Sox announcer Ed Farmer, who communicated Doug’s proposal, was also a friend and classmate of Linette at St. Monica’s.

Doug and Linette have been married for over twenty years. They have two children, Daniel and Kaylin.

Encourage your students to reach the top of their vocations and professions and to strive for a successful family life like Doug and Linette. And root Doug and Nyquist on in this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes!



May 9, 2016

Helping Seniors Say Good-bye to their High School Experience

Does your school have any rituals or practices that help seniors make their first major transition in life? There are always those students who cannot wait to leave high school, but for many seniors, they are about to leave a place they feel like is a home with peers and adult faculty, staff, and coaches who have become familiar and dear to them. This may be just their first separation, though, as some will leave their families for schools or the military and go far away.

There seems to be more literature about how teachers and parents can say good-bye and let go with their graduating seniors than guidance for helping teens themselves leave their friends and families. Teens can use some help with transitioning too. Suggest some of the following opportunities:

  • Invite students see that their lives will no longer be the same although that does not mean that their lives will change for the worse!
  • Give students time for reflection, whether that be through meditation, journaling, or taking walks. Reflection can help students identify areas of challenge and worry. Class discussion then can help seniors surface these concerns in a safe place.
  • Suggest that students take one day at a time rather than taking on the totality of the change in front of them and try to live in the moments in a mindful way.
  • Recommend that seniors find adult mentors with whom they can process the upcoming changes, that is, with people who have “been there.” If you feel comfortable, offer your own time for this kind of conversation.
  • Encourage students to think optimistically about the future. Remind them of the Christian faith in the Resurrection: that life comes out of deaths like leaving one community for a new one. Hope is the appropriate Christian response to the unknown future.

Also, you may want to remind the students about Jesus’ first disciples. They had spent several years with Jesus and had given up their previous lives to follow him. All of a sudden, without much warning, Jesus died at the hand of the state. Their presence in the “upper room” reflects the type of paralysis and anxiety they felt even after encountering the Risen Jesus. They were in this interim state until they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, at which point they were able to share the Good News and baptize just as Jesus had commissioned them to do.

Like those first disciples, tends need time to transition from one way of being in the world to a new one. Seniors should not expect that they can just sail through graduation and on to their new lives without some processing and “in between” time. They should be patient with themselves and expect the help of the Holy Spirit as they move on to the next stages of their lives. Remind your students that God, who loves them beyond their understanding, wants them to succeed. They should count on his help.

(Several of these suggestions are based on the short article, “Life Changes: 5 Tips for Getting through Any Period of Transition,” by Carolyn Gregoire, December 11, 2012, Huff Post Teen.)

April 29, 2016

Annual Fortnight for Religious Freedom Announced

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced the dates for the annual Fornight for Freedom, an occasion to pray, promote, and work for religious liberty. The year, the Fornight for Freedom will be held from June 21--the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More--to July 4, Independence Day. The USCCB has articles, documents, videos, prayers, and suggestions for Catholics to involve themselves in this effort at a special Fortnight for Freedom link on its homepage.


Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

We ask this through Christ our Lord.


« Older Posts

High School eNewsletter
Receive bi-weekly lessons, links, tips and more in our Email Newsletter

Resources Archive