Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

November 23, 2015

The Congregation of Holy Cross Celebrates Two Anniversaries in 2015

As the days and weeks of 2015 near the end, you might consider joining with the city of South Bend, Indiana, the nearby home of Ave Maria Press, on the celebration of the city's 150 year anniversary. Similarly, 2015 is the 150 year anniversary of Ave Maria Press as well. As you may know, the Press is a ministry of the Congregation of Holy Cross and is located on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

A study using the resources cited below is significant in that it highlights the year to year development of the Congregation of Holy Cross in the United States, and particularly in South Bend. The Congregation is unique in that it was founded as a family with three parts: priests, brothers, and sisters. There remains a large presence of Holy Cross all three--priests, brothers, and sisters--in and around South Bend, and especially at three colleges: the University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross College, and Saint Mary's College.

Peruse the resources below for yourself. Then take some time to share them with your students!

Ave Maria Press 150th Anniversary

Documentary: Sacred Mission-Civic Duty: The Holy Cross Family



November 16, 2015

Guided Meditation: Jesus Calms the Storm

As the weather turns from mild to severe, use this guided meditation to help your students reflect more deeply on Mark 4:35-31. After the students are quiet and settled, begin by saying “You are on the rough seas. Your boat is tossing and turning in the stormy waters. Think of the storms in your own life. Then . . .


Quiet yourself in this space.

Enjoy the silence.

Let go of the distractions.


Breathe in.


Breathe out.

Breathe in.


Breathe out.


Be still.


Let all your worries fly away.


Breathe in.


Breathe out.


Breathe in.


Breathe out.


Imagine . . .


What a great time you have had.

You and your friends have been following Jesus for days now.

You are dead tired, but still content as you find a place to rest in the boat.

Look around at the friends you have made.

Look at Jesus who is sitting at the stern.

How you admire him!

Feel the slow moving lull of the boat.

Relax as the waves gently lull the boat back and forth.

Back and forth.



Some of your friend fall asleep.

Jesus falls asleep, too.

The boat keeps moving across the lake.

You think about the day.

Your mind is just wandering.


The wind starts blowing.

You can tell it is becoming harder to row now.

The current is choppy.

The sky is now black.

Take your turn with the oars.

Work hard.

Feel the storm approaching.


The waves begin to take the boat.

The water is coming in over the sides.

Everyone is working.

Someone yells out, “Wake up Jesus.

We need his help.


Move towards Jesus.

Wake him up.


Jesus sits up and looks around.

He yells out, “Quiet” to the wind.

The wind stops.

Just like that, the water calms down and the wind disappears.

Jesus looks like he wants to go back to sleep.

What just happened?


Jesus looks at all of you and says,

“Why are you so terrified?

Why are you lacking in faith?”

A great awe overcomes you.

You wonder,

“Who is the man whom even the sea obeys?”

Sit with this wonderment.


Crawl back over to where Jesus is resting.

Approach him cautiously.

Ask him your question,

“Who are you that the sea obeys you?”

Listen to his answer.


Tell him about something in your life that is raging,

a storm in your world,

a situation that could use Jesus’ touch.

Be with him.


It is time to reenter this space.

Say good-bye for now.

Ask Jesus to lead your way to the rest of the day.

Say thank you.

Come back gently.

Open your eyes.


Sit up.


This Guided Meditation was originally published in Encountering Jesus: 20 Guided Meditations on His Care and Compassion by Patty McCulloch.


November 9, 2015

Faith Questions and the Letters of St. Paul


After St. Paul traveled the Roman empire as a missionary, converting many Gentiles to Christianity and establishing local churches, he would later be confronted by these new Christians with questions of faith and practice. Since he could not return to these areas right away, Paul would respond by letter.

Of the twenty-one letters or epistles in the New Testament, fourteen of the letters are either authored by or attributed to St. Paul. The letters addressed many of the issues of the early Church—for example, the second coming of Christ (Parousia), divisions in the Church, attitudes for worship—and others.

Have your students read and reflect on the following questions. When Scripture citations are listed, have them look them up and read them. Have them write their answers to the questions. Also, call on students to share their answers as part of a class discussion.


  • How do you imagine Christ’s second coming, the Parousia? Describe what you think would happen if Christ returned to the world today?
  • St. Paul says that Christians are not to live in darkness, but as “children of the light and children of the day” (1 Thess 5:5). How would you explain the meaning of these words to a new Christian today?
  • Apparently some Christians awaiting the Parousia had stopped working and were depending on others for food. How would you respond to people doing this? How does your response differ from the one offered in 2 Thessalonians 3:16-15?
  • Paul was critical of the Galatians for listening to bad advice and following the burdensome rules of the Jewish-Christian missionaries. Name someone you have accepted constructive criticism from? What was the advice he or she offered? What do you do to act on the advice?
  • In dealing with the Corinthians, Paul faced the problems of division in the Church. What are some factions in the Church today? What do you know about the issues, beliefs, or people they support?
  • In 1 Corinthians 1:27-34, Paul writes of the need for proper preparation before celebrating Eucharist. What attitude do you seek when you attend Mass? How do you prepare yourself to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist?
  • Paul writes that our faith is worthless unless we believe that Christ is raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:14). Do you agree? Why is the resurrection the central belief of the Christian faith?
  • Being free from the law does not allow Christians to do whatever they want. St. Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin yet live in it?” (Rom 6:2). If you knew for sure you were going to heaven after you died, how would this change the way you lived?
  • St. Paul wrote: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). When was a time you have found this to be true in your life?


November 2, 2015

All Souls’ Day and Why Catholics Pray for the Dead: A November Exercise

At the conclusion of most of our school-wide communal prayers at Bishop McNamara High School (Forestville, Maryland), we readily request “Saint André Bessette, pray for us! Blessed Basil Moreau, pray for us!” These two holy men of God (the first a humble Holy Cross Brother and the second the devout founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross) are powerful intercessors to whom the members of our high school community have a deep devotion, as we likewise do to Saint Joseph and Our Lady of Sorrows, in keeping with the charism of Holy Cross. Is your Catholic school named for any particular saint(s), or does it otherwise have a devotion to particular saints and/or blesseds? If so, do your students ever ask why you communally and collectively invoke their intercession to God in heaven? Similarly, does your Catholic educational institution pray for those loved ones within your extended school community who have passed away?

November 1 and November 2 are two very special days in the liturgical life of the Church. On the one hand, we prayerfully ask the saints to intercede to God for us in a special way on All Saints’ Day (November 1), while on the other hand, we commemorate and pray for the souls of all of our faithful departed on All Souls’ Day (November 2). An interesting dynamic is that the latter of these two days likewise involves asking the saints in heaven to intercede to God for the dead whose souls might be in Purgatory. Beyond merely these two days, we can thus pray constantly throughout the year, although especially during the month of November.

The theology teacher has the ability to rely on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day as key opportunities to explain to students why (and how) the Catholic Church advocates for both asking for the intercession of the saints and praying for the dead (whose souls could be in Purgatory). There are numerous commonly-occurring misconceptions regarding the Church’s teachings on these profound theological topics, and they deserve thorough clarification. Of particular note, both practices are based on the duality of the Deposit of Faith – Sacred Scripture (stemming from passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament) and Sacred Tradition (having been Church practice for nearly two-thousand years [and even earlier if we consider the broader expanse of salvation history]). Since previous posts have focused on All Saints’ Day, below are some resources on All Souls’ Day in more particular terms, which the theology teacher can use for deepening his or her content knowledge, as well as to foster classroom discussions regarding the Church’s practice of praying for the dead. There are many resources available, but here are some prominent ones that can help guide your discussions especially throughout the month of November:

“All Saints and All Souls” by Fr. William Saunders (Courtesy of the Catholic Education Resource Center)

“All Souls’ Day” (Courtesy of the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)

“What Catholics Believe: 10 Truths about Purgatory” by Valerie Schmalz, writing for Catholic San Francisco (the publication of the Archdiocese of San Francisco)

The Section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Regarding Purgatory (Paragraphs #1030-#1032)

October 25, 2015

Ten Assignments for All Saints' Week

Whereas All Saints Day, celebrated on November 1, is a feast established by the Church to honor all the saints in heaven who do not have a special day on one of the other 364 days of the year, this is also a good season to emphasize Church teachings on canonized sainthood as well.

Canonization is the process wherebythe Church officially declares that certain holy persons are saints. The process includes a detailed examination of the person's life, teachings, and works. The Church also investigates whether miracles took place through this person's intercession.

After successful scrutiny, the process proceeds to beatification, which allows the faithful to call the person "Blessed."

Finally, after the validation of further miracles, the cause of the holy person proceeds to canonization, the official enrollment on the list (canon) of saints. Today, the pope oversees the process of canonization.

All Saints Day Assignments

  1. Write three paragraphs on your patron saint.
  2. Write three paragraphs about a saint born near your family's origins.
  3. Write three paragraphs about a saint with a feast day on your day of birth.
  4. Research the story of relics stored in your parish or in a church near you.
  5. Besides beatification and canonization, what are the other steps to sainthood? Include an explanation of the other titles besides saint and blessed.
  6. Research the life of St. Ulrich of Augsburg and tell why he is important.
  7. Research the story of St. Christopher in conjunction with the reform of the Roman Church calendar in 1969.
  8. Read the story of St. Stephen in Acts 6-7. Write three paragraphs explaining his significance in a discussion about saints.
  9. Write three paragraphs about a deceased family member who you hope has taken his or her place among the saints. Include the person's date and place of birth and death and significant accomplishments.
  10. Look up the Scripture readings for All Saints' Day. Write a three-paragraph homily that ties the readings and the theme of the feast together.

October 19, 2015

Canonization of Sts. Louis and Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin

On Sunday, October 18, Pope Francis canonized Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, the parents of St. Thèrése of Lisieux. Here is information about St. Louis Martin and St. Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin, reprinted from Ten Christians by Bonface Hanley, OFM:

Born in 1823 into a family of soldiers, Louis Martin spent his early years at various French military posts. He absorbed the sense of order and discipline army life engenders. His temperament, deeply influenced by the peculiar French connection between the mystical and the military, tended toward things of the spirit.

At 22, young Martin sought to enter religious life at the monastery of the Augustinian Canons of the Great St. Bernard Hospice in the Alps. The blend of courage and charity the monks and their famous dogs manifested in rescuing Alpine snows appealed powerfully to Louis Martin. Alas, the Abbot insisted the young candidate learn Latin. Louis, whose bravery would have carried him to the heights of the Alps in search of a lost pilgrim, got lost among the peaks and valleys of Latin syntax. His most determined efforts failed. He became ill and dispirited, and abandoned his hopes for the monastic life.

Eventually Monsieur Martin settled down in Alencon, a small city in France, and pursued his watchmaking trade. He loved Alencon. It was quiet place and he was a quiet man. A lovely trout stream nearby offered Louis the opportunity to pursue his favorite recreation.

Most famous of Alencon’s 13,000 inhabitants were its lace makers. French people greatly admired the skill and talent required to produce exquisite lace known throughout the nation as “Point d’ Alencon.”

Zelie Guerin was one of Alencon’s more talented lace makers. Born into a military family in 1831, Zelie described her childhood and youth as “dismal.” Her mother and father showed her little affection. As a young lady she sought unsuccessfully to enter the convent. Zelie turned then to lace making. Richly talented, creative, eager, and endowed with common sense, she started her own business and became quite successful. Notable as these achievements were, Zelie was yet to reveal the depth of strength, faith, and courage which she possessed.

Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin eventually met in Alencon and on July 13, 1858, Louis, 34, and Zelie, 26, married and began their remarkable voyage through life. Within the next fifteen years, Zelie bore nine children—seven girls and two boys. “We lived only for them,” Zelie wrote; “they were all our happiness.”

The Martins’ delight in their children turned to shock and sorrow as tragedy relentlessly and mercilessly stalked their little ones. Within three years, Zelie’s two baby boys, a five-year-old girl, and a six-and-a-half-week-old infant girl all died.

Zelie was left numb and with sadness. “I haven’t a penny’s worth of courage,” she lamented. But her faith sustained her through these terrible ordeals. In a letter to her sister-in-law who had lost an infant son, Zelie remembered: “When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through…. People said to me, ‘It would have been better never to have had them.’ I couldn’t stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again up above.”

The Martins’ last child was born January 2, 1873. She was a tender plant and doctors feared for the infant’s life. The family, so used to death, was preparing for another blow. Zelie wrote of her three-month girl: “I have no hope of saving her. The poor little thing suffers horribly…. It breaks your heart to see her.” But the baby girl proved a much tougher plan than anyone realized. She survived the illness. A year later she was a “big baby, browned by the sun.” “The baby,” Zelie noted, “is full of life, giggles a lot and is a sheer joy to everyone.”

Louis and Zelie named her Marie-Francoise-Thèrése Martin. A century later people would know her as St. Thèrése  and call her the “Little Flower.”

Additional Resources

News story on the canoinzation

Biographical Information on St. Louis and St. Zelie

Video of canonization

Video of miracle attributed to St. Louis and St. Zelie



October 12, 2015

How Catholic Schools Can Address the Sinful Nature of Bullying

Over the last few decades, there has fortunately arisen a greater awareness of the scourge of bullying within school settings throughout the United States. To be clear, the awareness is the fortunate aspect, while the prevalence is the obviously deleterious one. In other words, bullying is being exposed for what it is, while the sheer quantity of its occurrence remains stunning.

In a digital age ever more categorized by the trappings of the realm of virtual reality afforded by the Internet and social media, bullying now has an altogether uncharted dimension whereby much of it takes place even outside of a school’s walls. Worthwhile initiatives such as StopBullying.gov and the HRSA’s Bullying Prevention Campaign have brought the dilemma of bullying and its proposed remedial measures to national prominence, leading schools and other administrative societal frameworks to address the issue and seek possible solutions.

Catholic schools, while unfortunately hardly immune from the effects of bullying, are actually in a position to positively contribute to this significant dialogue, yet with an even greater ethos: that of the theological dynamic inherent to the consideration of the sinful nature of bullying, which is opposed by way of a call to virtue as its true alternative. Listed below are four ways that Catholic school teachers, administrators, and other personnel within the school community can encourage their students to not only stop bullying or condoning the behavior of [would-be] bullies, but to likewise deter and dissuade students from otherwise contributing to such inappropriate comportment by encouraging them to seek justifiably righteous demeanors instead. These suggestions are not necessarily programmatic or systematic, but they will reliably help to confront the heart of the matter of bullying: the requirement that we recognize that our neighbor is likewise made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). As such, these recommendations may initially appear to be fodder for cynicism, but an uplifting and optimistic approach imbued with Christian principles is due for consideration, and can yield highly affirmative results in order to facilitate enduring peace in our schools.

  1. Familiarize yourself, and share with your students, scriptural passages related to the Christian way to approach others. Have your students reflect on these, perhaps in written form, such as in a prayer journal or within the context of a more extensive essay. A few (of the many) passages to consider, in canonical order, include the following (courtesy of the New American Bible, Revised Edition):          


  1. Remind your students of how school is meant to be a safe place. This statement may seem trite, but students must recall that being at school implies being in a secure location, both physically and socially. Feeling isolated, whether through intentional exclusion, is not a normal condition, and there are many support networks available for them, including your school’s guidance office, campus ministry, or another outlet that will allow them to express their concern and to build up positive relationships with others.
  1. If you notice that a student is, or has become, particularly withdrawn, emotional, sensitive, or similarly out of his or her typical character, speak to his or her guidance counselor or to a school administrator. Your student might be dealing with a considerably concerning situation, either within or outside of school, that deserves attention.
  1. Pray. Jesus taught us the need to pray consistently, particularly during a trial or set of difficult circumstances: “Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). Bullying has been a disordered specter within humanity for a multitude of generations, yet we must steadily recall that Jesus himself knew revulsion and mistreatment at the hands of his tormentors, and he of course has provided us with the epitome of a Christian response – one laden with prayer (read Matthew 27:46 [and Mark 15:34] in light of the extent of Psalm 22 [often denoted as the “Prayer of an Innocent Person”]). Bullying can ultimately only be counteracted with the love which must typify our Catholic educational institutions. After all, as Jesus reminds us: “‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’” (Luke 6:31). And just how seriously does Jesus take our expectation to treat everyone else in a Christian manner? In comparison to this passage from Luke’s Gospel (6:31), how fitting that the version in Matthew’s Gospel, the great “teaching Gospel,” features the added attestation that the Lord holds this Christian outlook to be so crucial that he further asserts that “‘this is the law and the prophets’” (Matthew 7:12). In other words, against injustice, God commands us to have love for others.

October 5, 2015

Theology Teacher Resource: RelEdNewsletter

Mr. Charles Beech, a theology teacher at Christian Brothers High School in St. Louis, prepares RelEdNewsletter a monthly update of lessons, resources, and activities that are a very helpful supplement to a theology teacher's library. You can view this month's collection and information on how to subscribe to the RelEdNewsletter here.



September 28, 2015

Celebrating God's Creation

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

Welcome Morning

Anne Sexton

Author Background

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

Before the Reading

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

Welcome Morning

There is joy

in all:

in the hair I brush each morning,

in the Cannon towel, newly washed,

that I rub my body with each morning,

in the chapel of eggs I cook

each morning,

in the outcry from the kettle

that heats my coffee

each morning,

in the spoon and the chair

that cry “hello there, Anne”

each morning,

in the godhead of the table

that I set my silver, plate, cup upon

each morning.


All this is God,

right here in my pea-green house

each morning

and I mean,

though often forget,

to give thanks,

to faint down by the kitchen table

in a prayer of rejoicing

as the holy birds at the kitchen window

peck into their marriage of seeds.


So while I think of it,

Let me paint a thank-you on my palm

For this God, this laughter of the morning,

Lest it go unspoken.


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

Dies young.


i thank you God for most this amazing

e e cummings


Author Background

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

Before the Reading

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


i thank you God for most this amazing

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

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

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

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

Reading for Comprehension

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

Reading for Understanding

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


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

September 21, 2015

Ideas for Curricular Supplements on the World Meeting of Families

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

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2015

Encouraging an Actively Pro-Life Generation of High School Students

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


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


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


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

September 8, 2015

Annulments of Catholic Marriages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


September 2, 2015

Canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra

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

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

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

August 31, 2015

Praying for the Care of Creation

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

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

August 26, 2015

Your Call to Holiness

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

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

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

Baptism initiates you into the Christian family.

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

August 17, 2015

Opening Week Lesson

Welcome back to school!

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

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


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

Caspar: Totally negative attitude toward religious things.

Hates religion class.

Never goes to church.

Fights with parents about religion.


Hilary: Sees religion as unimportant, a bore.

So-what attitude toward religion classes.

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

Seldom prays.


Zady:Does what is expected of him religiously.

Attends Mass regularly because his parents do.

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

Believes what he has been taught about religion and morality.


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

Attends Mass because he wants to do that for God.

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

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

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


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


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


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


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





August 4, 2015

The Assumption of Mary to Heaven: Meaning and Prayer

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

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

Meaning of the Assumption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 28, 2015

The Subject of Pornography

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

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

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

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

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


July 20, 2015

A Lesson on Work

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


In this lesson the students will:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



July 6, 2015

Readings on the Complementary Nature of the Sacraments

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

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

The Sacraments in General

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

“Sacraments and Sacramentals” by the USCCB

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

“The Seven Sacraments” by Loyola Press

The Sacrament of Baptism

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

The Sacrament of Confirmation

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

The Mass and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist

“Order of Mass” by the USCCB

“Parts of the Mass” by the USCCB

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

“Mass and Liturgy” by Loyola Press

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

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

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

The Sacrament of Penance / Reconciliation

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

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

The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

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

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

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

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

The Sacrament of Holy Orders 

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

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


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