Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

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.

Amen.

April 22, 2016

New Testament Connection: Passover and Eucharist

The Jewish Pasch (Passover) is celebrated this year from April 22-30. You may wish to share this information on the Passover as it compares with the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. The material is taken from The Old Testament: Our Call to Faith and Justice (Ave Maria Press, 2013).

At the center of the Gospel is Christ’s Paschal Mystery. The word paschal is taken from the Jewish word for Passover, pasch. The Exodus, the occasion in which God spared the firstborn children of Israel and allowed Moses to lead his people from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, is remembered at Passover. Jesus in the New Testament redefined this experience.

The Gospels suggest that Jesus was celebrating a Passover meal in the upper room with his disciples at the Last Supper (Mt 26:18, Mk 14:22–23, Lk 22:7–13, 1 Cor 11:24–25). At the time that Jesus celebrated this feast, the Passover meal probably included unleavened bread, wine, some herbs, and an unblemished lamb. Their ceremony would have consisted of a blessing (berakah) of both the cup and the bread. These elements are described in the New Testament. Yet, there is no sign of the lamb. In its place, Jesus is the Lamb of God, the unblemished paschal lamb (Ex 12:4–5) who is led to slaughter (Is 53:7). Jesus gave the Passover a new meaning. The Eucharist “fulfills the Jewish Passover” through the Paschal Mystery (CCC, 1340). Christ’s Suffering, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension are a passing over from slavery to sin to ultimate freedom in the Resurrection of humanity.

Passover Meal

Eucharist

Bread and wine (Ex 12:15, Nm 9:11–12)

Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples (Mt Lk 22:19–20)

Unblemished Lamb (Ex 12:4–5)

Jesus is the Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God (Jn 19:36, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Pt 1:19)

None of the lamb’s bones should be broken (Nm 9:12)

The soldiers did not break Jesus’ bones on the Cross (Jn 19:33, 36)

Berekah (“blessing”)

Jesus took the bread and said a blessing (Mt 26:26, Mk 14:22, Lk 22:19–20)

Celebrates the Hebrews passing from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land (Ex 12)

Celebrates the passing from slavery to sin to freedom in the Resurrection, from death to new life (1 Cor 5:7–8)

Moses poured blood on the people at the establishment of the Covenant (Ex 24:8, Zec 9:11)

Jesus poured out his blood at the establishment of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31, Lk 22:20)

Guest Speaker

  • If possible, arrange for a Jewish person in your neighboring community to speak with the students about the traditions, practice, and meanings of Passover.

Resources

  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 608, 1334, 1340, 1362–1367, 1382

April 18, 2016

Considering Serious Sin

Review with your students the definition and conditions of mortal sin, perhaps in anticipation for celebrating the Sacrament of Penance.

Definition

A mortal sin is a serious violation of God’s law of love that results in the loss of God’s life (sanctifying grace) in the soul of the sinner.

Conditions of Mortal Sin

  1. The moral object must be of grave or serious matter. Grave matter is specified in the Ten Commandments (e.g., do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, etc.)
  2. The person must have full knowledge of the gravity of the sinful action.
  3. The person must completely consent to the action. It must be a personal choice.

An additional and maybe obvious condition for mortal sins is that the action must be completed.

Activity

Print out a sheet with the following twenty items. Have the students mark an “S” by each action they believe involves serious or grave matter and may lead to the occasion of mortal sin.

  • Dating someone behind the back of a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Killing an enemy soldier in war
  • Teasing a classmate
  • Lying to a parent about your whereabouts
  • Having an abortion
  • Assisting the suicide of a terminally ill patient
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Getting drunk
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Having premarital sex with a person you love
  • Having sex as a one-time hook-up
  • Masturbating
  • Telling a friend’s secret
  • Spreading rumors about a classmate
  • Cheating on a test
  • Cheating on the SAT
  • Shoplifting a candy bar
  • Shoplifting a jacket
  • Sneaking into a movie theatre without paying
  • Tagging or graffiti-ing private property

Discussion

Conduct a follow-up classroom discussion using the following prompts.

  • Which action do you feel is most grave or serious? Why?
  • For any action you marked as serious, explain how each of the three conditions for a mortal sin must be involved to make it a mortal sin.
  • Choose one action you did not mark. Tell why you do not consider it to be serious.
  • Share a definition of sin in your own words.

 

April 11, 2016

Kraków in the Capital: A US Experience of World Youth Day 2016

Several Washington DC groups, including the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore and neighboring dioceses, are sponsoring a way for young adults (ages 18-39) to experience the 31st World Youth Day from Kraków, Poland, while remaining right here in the United States.

On July 30th the sponsoring communities will host Kraków in the Capital, an experience of World Youth Day. The one-day event will feature Polish food and music, bilingual catechesis and talks with bishops and national speakers, a visit to the National Holy Door of Mercy to receive a plenary indulgence, adoration and confession, stations of the cross, a vocation and long term service fair, a vigil Mass with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, veneration of the relics of St. John Paul II and Bl. Giorgio Frassati, a late night concert, and much more.

Overnight camping for this event will also be available.

Registration has begun. Please pass on event details and registration information to some of your students, former students, and any other young adults who might be interested in this event.

 

April 4, 2016

Our Desire for God

God has created humans to constantly be the lookout for what is lasting and real. The search ultimately leads to God. Have your students read and study the following quotations. Then have them write brief and reflective responses to the questions that follow.

Quotations

As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and see the face of God?

Psalm 42:1–3

 

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.

Catechism of the Catholic Church #27

 

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

C. S. Lewis

 

For everything that is not God is unable to fulfill my desires. It is you alone I seek, that I may have you. O Lord, open my heart. Jesus Christ, my Savior, the express image and character of your essence is that image and likeness I desire.

Blaise Pascal

 

The simple desire for God is already the beginning of faith. All of us have doubts. They are nothing to worry about. Our deepest desire is to listen to Christ, who whispers in our hearts.

Brother Roger of Taizé

 

Questions

  • Do any of your desires (e.g., relationships, reputation, security, comfort, material things, other) compete with your desire for God? Which ones?
  • Have any of the desires you illustrated—or any others (e.g., sexual desire, selfishness, over-indulgence, status, money, etc.)—been overwhelming for you?
  • What are you afraid of? What, if anything, does your fear tell you about your relationship with God?
  • Right now—at this moment in your life—what is the state of your desire for God? Do you desire God? Do you desire to desire God?

 

March 21, 2016

Easter Story Retelling

The Resurrection is the central mystery of the Christian faith. As St. Paul wrote, if we do not believe in the Resurrection wholeheartedly, then “empty is our preaching; empty, too our faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Your students have heard the details of some of the key incidents that are included in the Easter Gospel stories. Have them work in small groups and try to recreate the details of the key incidents of these accounts.

Hand out a printed resource with the eight headings and Gospel references listed below. Have the students form groups of eight in order to tell the entire story in as much detail as possible. Each person should be responsible for one of the headings. He or she should tell begin telling the story (again, in as much detail as possible). The other students in the group can add details as necessary. Continue in the same format for the eight headings.

Allow about fifteen or twenty minutes of sharing for the eight headings. Then have the group choose two of the headings for further study. Have them look up and read the Gospel passage referenced for those stories. Have them note any of the details they missed in their own sharing.

Easter Headlines

  1. An Amazing Discovery on Sunrise (Mark 16:1-14)
  2. An Earthquake, An Angel, and a Guard’s Tale (Matthew 18:1-15)
  3. Peter, John, and the Holy Shroud (John 20:1-10
  4. The Mysterious Gardener (John 20:11-16)
  5. The Third Traveler on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:113-35)
  6. Can a Ghost Eat (Luke 24:36-49)
  7. Thomas the Doubter (John 20:19-29)
  8. Fish Fry on the Shore (John 21:1-14)


This activity is adapted from Time Out: Resources for Teen Retreats (Ave Maria Press, 1998) by Sr. Kieran Sawyer, SSND.

 

 

March 15, 2016

Tenth Annual Catholic Colleges in March Madness

Here we are again with our tenth annual look at Catholic colleges who have qualified for the NCAA Men’s and Women’s basketball tournaments, also known as “March Madness.”

The exercise is an interesting one because many of your students are familiar with filling out brackets for an NCAA pool and you can use the current nature and popularity of the event to teach something about the traditions of the Catholic colleges participating, their founding religious community, a namesake saint, and much more.

To begin, pass out a printable bracket sheet (one for the men’s tournament and one for the women’s tournament) and ask the students to circle each of the Catholic college. Then have them “rank” the Catholic colleges according to the number they were seeded in the tournament (there will be some ties).

You might also pass out a blank map of the United States and have the students locate the Catholic colleges by location. Finally, have the student’s research and name the sponsoring Catholic religious congregation for each college.

Here are the keys to the exercises listed above.

Catholic Colleges in the Men’s Tournament

South

Villanova

West

Holy Cross

Saint Joseph’s

East

Providence

Notre Dame

Xavier

Midwest

Iona

Seton Hall

Gonzaga

Dayton

 

Rankings of Catholic Colleges in the Men’s Tournament (seeding in parenthesis)

  1. Seton Hall (8 Bridgeport)

Xavier (2 East)

  1. Notre Dame (6 East)

Seton Hall (6 Midwest)

  1. Dayton 7 (Midwest)
  2. Saint Joseph’s (8 West)
  3. Providence (9 East)
  4. Gonzaga (11 Midwest)
  5. Iona (13 Midwest)
  6. Holy Cross  (16 West)

 

 

Locations of Catholic Colleges in the Men’s Tournament

Pennsylvania

Villanova

Saint Joseph’s

 

Massachusetts

Holy Cross

Rhode Island

Providence

 

Indiana

Notre Dame

 

Ohio

Xavier

Dayton

 

New York

Iona

 

New Jersey

Seton Hall

 

Washington

Gonzaga

 

Sponsoring Religious Congregations of Catholic Colleges in the Men’s Tournament

 

Order of Saint Augustine (Augustinians)

Villanova

 

Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

Saint Joseph’s

Holy Cross

Xavier

Gonzaga

 

Dominicans

Providence

 

Congregation of Holy Cross

Notre Dame

 

Marianists

Dayton

 

Congregation of Christian Brothers

Iona

 

Diocesan Sponsored

Seton Hall

 

Catholic Colleges in the Women’s Tournament

Bridgeport

 Seton Hall

Duquesne

 

Dallas

St. John’s

DePaul

St. Bonaventure

 

Sioux Falls

None

 

Lexington

Notre Dame

San Francisco

Iona

 

Rankings of Catholic Colleges in the Women’s Tournament (seeding in parenthesis)

  1. Notre Dame (1 Lexington)
  2. Seton Hall (8 Bridgeport)
  3. Duquesne (9 Bridgeport)

St. John’s (8 Dallas)

  1. St. Bonaventure (10 Dallas)
  2. San Francisco (13 Lexington)
  3. Iona (15 Lexington)

 

Locations of Catholic Colleges in the Women’s Tournament

New Jersey

Seton Hall

 

Pennsylvania

Duquesne

 

Illinois

DePaul

 

New York

St. Bonaventure

Iona

 

Indiana

Notre Dame

 

California

San Francisco

 

Sponsoring Religious Congregations of Catholic Colleges in the Women’s Tournament

 

Diocesan Sponsored

Seton Hall

 

Congregation of the Holy Spirit

Duquesne

 

Vincentians

DePaul

 

Franciscans

St. Bonaventure

 

Congregation of Holy Cross

Notre Dame

 

Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

San Francisco

 

Congregation of Christian Brothers

Iona

March 7, 2016

The Poor Box: Prayer for the Poor

Here are directions for a class prayer service for the poor. You will need a shoebox and slips of paper with the following Scripture reference, one per slip. Make enough slips so that each student has his or her own. It’s okay to repeat the Scripture references. Students should also have copies of their own bibles and a pencil. If possible, meet in a chapel for prayer. If not possible, dim the lights in your classroom to create a more suitable atmosphere for prayer.

Scripture Passages

  • Proverbs 13:7
  • Proverbs 14:21
  • Proverbs 19:1
  • Proverbs 22:2
  • Proverbs 28:27
  • Sirach 7:32
  • Sirach 13:21
  • Sirach 29:8
  • Sirach 31:8
  • Amos 2:7
  • 1 Samuel 2:7
  • Matthew 5:3
  • Matthew 19:21
  • Luke 12:15

 

Directions

Label the shoe box with the words “For the Poor” and place it in the center of the prayer space.

When all are assembled, say:

Secular society focuses on the “beautiful people” and selling an idyllic lifestyle where women are elegant and sensual and men are ruggedly handsome. Billions of dollars are spent each year to promote this persona which includes the sale or products.

Meanwhile, a poor box in a neighborhood parish takes in only a couple of hundred dollars or less on average. (Continue telling about a parish poor box: how the money is used and at least one personal story of a poor person or family who was aided by the parish.)

We all know people who are poor in one way or another: financially, emotionally, spiritually. Some of these people may be your peers.

I am going to pass out to you a prayer slip with a Scripture passage on it. Look up the passage in your bible and see how the words speak about people who are poor. When you get your slip, read the passage quietly and reflect on its meaning. Write the name of a person you would like to pray for on the back of the slip. Pray for someone who, unlike those targeted by the advertising industry and popular media, might never attract any attention.

Pass out a prayer slip to each student. Allow about five minutes for reflection. Then call for everyone’s attention in a common area. Call on a good reader to read aloud Luke 21:1-4 (The Poor Widow’s Contribution).

Next say:

I’m going to pass the poor box (shoe box) around the room. When it reaches you share a short prayer for the person whom you named on your slip. You can pray for the person by name (“For James and his troubles at home, we pray…”) or without naming him or her (“For my friend who is not getting along with her parents, we pray…”). Your response will be “Lord, hear us.” Or, when it is your turn, you can share an insight you gained from your Scripture passage.

Choose one person to begin the prayer by passing him or her the poor box.

After everyone has shared, collect the poor box and offer a final, closing prayer for all the poor of the world or play a song with lyrics that speak of paying special attention to the needs of the poor.

March 1, 2016

New Book for Catholic High School Theology Teachers

Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist chronicles the story of a freshman theology teacher at a Catholic high school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Brimming with good humor and constant hope, the book demonstrates the practical side of evangelization, with all its ups and downs, joys and frustrations.

Katie Prejean candidly shares stories of failure alongside stories of triumph and examines the lessons these have taught her about her place in the world as disciple of Jesus.  Her unexpected, yet welcome transition from teacher of doctrine to proclaimer of love, reassures Catholics from every walk of life that they too can spread the Gospel of Jesus. She gracefully invites us to examine the unremarkable details of each ordinary day and find doors to open so that God's amazing grace can rush in.

 

On the call to teach theology:

“Those of us who have accepted the invitation and have chosen the Truth have an obligation to share what we know to be beautiful, fulfilling, and good. But herein lies a lofty challenge: extending an invitation to the Truth rather than forcing a point.  We may have sold our possessions and walked away from the world to follow Christ, at least in some way, but the majority of people to whom we are called to share the Truth have not even come close to doing that. We may believe in the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith, but those to whom we are called to speak may think we’re crazy for consuming what still looks like bread and wine and calling it Christ. We may have five very detailed proofs for God’s existence and believe he is real, but the fourteen-year-old student who tells you he thinks God isn’t real doesn’t care about Aquinas’ arguments in the least. The goal is not to prove our point. The goal is to extend an invitation to believe. This is a critical first step in evangelization: to open our arms and invite others to approach the Truth we so dearly love, welcoming them and giving them a real chance to choose” (page 15)

 

February 19, 2016

Word of Mouth: An Outside da Box video

Outside da Box has produced a video that deals with issues of bullying, meanness, kindness, and proper Christian living as commonly presented around a Catholic high school. The promotional material introduces the context of the five minute video: "Two girls are living on opposite ends of the social spectrum. One seems to have it all and one is reminded every day that she doesn’t. Then something happens that closes the gap between them."

Play Word of Mouth for your students.

You may wish to use these followup assignments after the students view the video:

  • What is the message of the video?
  • How do you identify with a central character in the story?
  • What are strategies for refraining from gossip and bullying?
  • Think about a person at your school who might need someone to reach out with him or her in friendship and support? Think about three ways you might do that. Implement your plan.
  • Share a Gospel passage that addresses a proper course for behavior.
  • Write a prayer for your peers in need.

February 12, 2016

Making Disciples/Practicing Evangelization

The following information and assignment has been adapted from Jesus and the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic (Ave Maria Press, 2015).

The Office for Formation of the Laity of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia identified several ideas for evangelization in a short summary, “Everyday Evangelizing for Everyday Catholics.” Here are some of the applications:

Before You Can Evangelize (Pre-evangelization)

  • Pray daily.
  • Carry a cross in your pocket.
  • Read the Bible.
  • Receive the Sacraments.
  • Communicate with those who inspire you.

Evangelizing in All Situations

  • Respond “thank God” when someone shares good news with you.
  • Share a story of how God works in your life.
  • Ask people to pray for your intentions.
  • Make the Sign of the Cross when dining out.
  • Invite someone who is not Catholic to Mass.

 Assign students to develop a further list of ideas for sharing the faith with their peers; either Catholics who need a refresher in their faith or those who have no experience of Catholicism. With these groups specifically in mind, ask them to write up an evangelization plan that focuses on what they can personally do and what their peers can do as well

  • this week
  • this month
  • this year

For each part of the plan, include answers to the four W’s and H question:

  • Who is to be evangelized? (Who is to do the evangelization?)
  • What is the desired result?
  • Where will this take place?
  • When (during the week, month, year) will this happen?
  • Why is this an important task?
  • How will this take place?

For reference, note ideas from the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

 

February 5, 2016

Black History Month: Fr. Augustus Tolton

The child of slaves, Fr. Augustus Tolton (1854-1897) was the first African American priest ordained to serve the Church in the United States. Facing predjudice and discrimination in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois, Fr. Tolton was assigned to the Archdiocese of Chicago. There, Fr. Tolton first led a missionary effort to African American Catholics in the basement of St. Mary's Church. Later, he founded St. Monica's Catholic Church at the corner of 36th and Dearborn on Chicago's South Side. The Church grew to have 600 parishioners.

Fr. Tolton's cause for canonization has been presented by the Archdiocese of Chicago. He has now been honored as a Servant of God.

In the month of February, as the nation celebrations Black History, take some time to share the story of Fr. Augustus Tolton with your students.

Several resources, including a detailed biography and videos on his life and the cause for sainthood, are available at a website devoted to his canonization. The video Father Augustus Tolton: The Cause for Canonization was prepared by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

 

January 29, 2016

An Argument Against Abortion: Using the S.L.E.D. Acronym

The following material is reprinted from Foundations of Catholic Social Teaching: Living as a Disciple of Christ by Sarah Kisling (Ave Maria Press, 2015). Share this material with your students. You may consider role playing debates between pro- and anti-abortion points of view while allowing students to practice using incorporating the evvidence using natrual reasoning that follows in the material below.

Most people would agree that killing an innocent human life is a moral wrong. A more tricky issue involves defining the meaning of human life. The Church teaches, and modern science agrees, that human life begins at the moment of conception. Would you be able to explain why this is true? Use the acronym S.L.E.D.—size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency—to help you make a good argument that an unborn baby (known scientifically as a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, and fetus) and a born baby are both human persons. The acronym can help you explain why.

  • Size. A small child is no less human than an adult. An extremely tall NBA player is no more human than someone of average height. No one would argue that harming a small child is less of a crime than harming a larger one; in fact, most would argue the opposite. That an unborn child is smaller than a born child has no bearing on his or her personhood.
  • Level of development. An unborn child is certainly much less developed than a born baby. However, one’s development does not determine one’s personhood. For example, small children do not have fully developed reproductive systems. And a high school student is intellectually less developed than a college student. Does that make any of them “less” human? Of course not. Therefore, being less developed does not make an unborn baby less of a person.
  • Environment. An unborn child is in a different environment than a born child. Nevertheless, where one is should not be the determining factor in who one is. Did you stop being you when you came to school this morning? What about when you walked from your bedroom to the kitchen? Then how does a journey of a few inches down the birth canal suddenly make an unborn baby human? Obviously, it does not. Therefore, environment has no bearing on an unborn baby’s personhood.
  • Degree of dependency. An unborn baby is undeniably dependent upon his or her mother. And yet, does being dependent upon someone or something make one less human? Even young children are completely dependent upon adults to survive.  What about adults who are dependent upon medication or caregivers to live? No one would argue they are less human. Therefore, merely being dependent upon another does not make the unborn baby less of a person.

In short, the differences between an unborn infant and born one are not morally relevant; they do not make the unborn less worthy of living than any other human.

Make a plan to share what you learned in the S.L.E.D. acronym the next time you are questioned about the rights of an unborn child or the morality of abortion.

January 22, 2016

Considering Catholics in the News

Last week on the Late Show with Steven Colbert, the host and his guest, actress Patricia Heaton, had a "debate" about their knowledge of Catholicism and their Catholic identity. This is an appropriate video to play in your class. You might then use the clip as an intro to have the students research other contemporary celebrities (actors, athletes, politicians, journalists, etc.) who identify themselves as Catholic.There are several articles with lists of Catholic celebrities, often breaking them down by entertainment, athletics, and politics. Here's a more general list of famous Catholics You might have the students do a brief report or share some information about a famous Catholic in the news. Have them include some quotes from the person that refer to their Catholic faith.

 

 

January 18, 2016

How Do You "Love One Another"?

In the Last Supper discourse recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:12-13).

In dying on the Cross, Jesus gave the greatest gift of love to all people and for all times. How can your students emulate this gift of love in their everyday lives? Ask them to think, first, of stories of people who have exhibited this type of love to them. Have them write a one-page essay that recounts this example. Here is one such example told by a graduating high-school senior:

My Story

We came at each other from opposite directions: I from the door leading to the girls’ locker room, he from the outer foyer leading to the gymnasium parking lot.

He was late again as he had been for so many of my special events growing up. But at least he was here. I thought about the piano recital I played in at the local college when I was eight years old. He was delivering magazines to all the airport newsstands that day. I remembered the state championship gymnastic meet when I won two gold medals. I searched for him from the victory stand. His boss had called him to work that Saturday because the quarterly reports were due.

My thoughts shifted as I neared the podium set up at the center of the basketball court. I wasn’t nervous. I moved comfortably to the microphone. “Thank you for honoring me as valedictorian of this year’s senior class,” I began. Everyone settled back in their seats to hear my speech. That’s when I saw them. Finally.

My father, sitting in the first row of the bleachers, stretched out his legs and propped his shoes up on his heels. I stared out at him hoping to catch his eye but all I could see was the holes in the soles of each shoe.

That’s when I really grasped all that my father had done. And that he had done it all for me.

January 8, 2016

New Year's Personal Inventory

The start of a new year or a new semester is a great time for your students to take inventory on their lives, looking back to the past, critiquing their present, and anticipating their future. You might use the following exercise to supplement a lesson in the early part of the semester.

  1. Share the passage from 1 Corinthians 13:11: "When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became an adult I put aside childish things."
  1. Say: “You, too, have put childish things aside. You are no longer the person you were in grade school or even last semester. In a sense, that person has “died” and a new person has “risen.” With that in mind, write some of your reflections to the following questions.
  1. Assign these questions for writing or discussion:
  • Think back to grade school. Describe the way you used to be, act, think, etc. (For example, an activity you no longer do, a habit you outgrew, something you are no longer afraid of.)
  • Describe the “new you” that has appeared since you started the new year or new semester. How do you think your life in the coming months will be different than it was in the preceding months? (For example, what is something new that you will try out or what is a new attitude you want to take on?)
  • As you look at your life now, what part of you do you need to outgrow (allow to die) so that you can mature even further? (For example, another attitude you need to change, a habit you need to develop, a relationship you need to improve.)

December 30, 2015

Recognizing Jesus

The Christmas season continues, even as you return to school. Have your students meditate on the humanity of Jesus and his mission. Share these words of Pope Benedict XVI. Have them complete the assignment that follows.

The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts—an unprecedented realism. In the Old Testament, the novelty of the Bible did not consist merely in abstract notions but in God’s unpredictable and in some sense unprecedented activity.

 This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep,” a suffering and lost humanity. When Jesus speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: They constitute an explanation of his very being and activity.

                                                                             —Pope Benedict XVI (Deus Caritas Est, 12)

Do the following:

  • Research the meaning of the term anawim. How are the anawim another way to describe the poor in spirit? Who are anawim in your community? How can you serve them? Write a one-page essay that describes them.

December 21, 2015

Our Prayers for a Blessed Christmas

As we celebrate again
Jesus’ humble birth, we
seek, like him, to humble
ourselves in service of
others, so that not only
they, but we, too, know
the true peace, joy, and
wonder of Christmas.
—Chester Freel, C.S.C.

 

 

Three Kings artwork © Jen Norton, www.JenNortonArtStudio.com.
Text from The Cross, Our Only Hope Revised Edition
(Ave Maria Press, 2016)

December 18, 2015

The House Awakens

On the release of the new Star Wars movie.

 

December 14, 2015

Christmas Week Meditation and Assignments

The following Christmas meditation is adapted was written by Sr. Kieran Sawyer, SSND. Read it to your class in a moment of quiet meditation. See the assignments below as possible follow-up.

 

The Christmas Star: A Meditation

Imagine that is a beautiful Christmas Eve. You decide you need some space and fresh air, so you go for a walk by yourself. Imagine yourself walking along. Snow is falling gently, and the flakes float down lazily, resting on your cheeks and eyelashes. You scuff your feet as you walk cutting a new trail in the snow. It feels good to be alone. The stillness of the night seems to still your mind and your heart. Silent night, holy night, you think, humming he ancient melody softly in your mind. Continue this imaginary evening walk, sensing as deeply as you can the calm and peace of the true Christmas spirit. (Pause)

 

You’ve been so lost in your thought you haven’t paid much attention to where you were going. Suddenly you realize that you’ve left the city behind. You look around, trying to get your bearings. You see that you are out in the countryside, walking through gently rolling hills. It has stopped snowing and the sky is filled with stars. You look up into the sky. The stars are magnificent! One star in particular captures your attention. It’s shaped like something of a cross, and it glows with a long trail of light that seems reach all the way to earth. You think this is crazy; this is not the first century. This is [your state], not Bethlehem. But you follow the star anyway; more out of curiosity than anything else, just to see where it will take you. And sure enough, the star leads you across the field to a little cave in the side of the hill. You’re beginning to feel shy now, wondering what you’ll say to Mary and Joseph if you find them in the cave. But as you near the cave, it appears to be empty and dark. You look again at your star. Yes, it’s still pointing to this cave. You follow the star with your eyes. It moves slowly down the sky and right into the empty cave. The star fills every corner of the cave with light. You enter the cave cautiously. Everything is here the way you remember it from your childhood. Christmas books—the stable, the manger, the straw—but no animals and no Holy Family. The star hovers like a gentle light over the empty manger. You have a sense that something mysterious and holy is taking place. Somehow, God seems to be here in that cave with you. And then you realize that the empty cave is really your heart and that the star is God, waiting to be invited in. Slowly, almost fearfully, you open your arms to the star, knowing that you are opening your life to God. You feel the light lf the star flooding over you. You are in the light, and the light is in you. Your heart is filled with the gentle presence of God. (Pause.)

Spend the next few moments with Jesus, the first Christmas star, the one whose name is Emmanuel, God-with-us. God is with you. Try to let the mystery penetrate your mind. God is with you. God lives in your heart. You are the Christmas star. Know that the light of God’s love is filling your whole being, flooding your mind, your body, and your heart. (Pause.)

Think now of what it means to be a star. You have a job to do. There is a dark world out there that needs the light of god’s love. Imagine yourself leaving the cave behind and walking out into the night, back across the field toward home. Imagine the real world to which you will be returning—your family, your friendship groups, your school or work place. How can you bring the light of God to the people in that world? How can you bring true Christmas peace to your loved ones, your friends, your acquaintances? (Pause.)

As you imagine yourself getting close to home, remember that God is with you. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. Today, God so loves the world that he sends you. Ask Jesus to be with you to help you to be a Christmas star.

Possible Follow-up Activities

  • On paper heart cutouts, print the initials of anyone you have hurt (embarrassed, disappointed, made fun of, etc.). Also print the initials of people who have hurt you. Spend some time in quiet reflection praying for both groups of people.
  • Write handwritten, thoughtful Christmas cards expressing your appreciation for five people you know. With a stamp and an envelope, put the letters in the mail.
  • Sing Christmas carols together as a class.

 

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