Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

« Older PostsNewer Posts »

February 3, 2017

Reflections on Christian Patriotism

Ask students to say aloud words or phrases that come immediately to them when you say the word “patriotism.” List the words on the board.

Distribute a handout with the following quotations and questions.  Read the first quotation and have the students write their reflections on the questions that follow. Repeat the format for sections 2 and 3.

Finally, ask the students to answer in writing the two “Final Items.” To conclude, ask the students to share their reflections either in small groups or with the whole class.



“The virtue of patriotism means that as citizens we respect and honor our country, but our very love and loyalty make us examine carefully and regularly its role in world affairs asking that it live up to is full potential as an agent of peace with justice for all people” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace, 1983, #327).

  • What does it mean to “respect and honor our country”? to show “love and loyalty”?
  • How do you do these things concretely?
  • What specifically do you think we should be asking our country to do in order to “live up to its full potential as an agent of peace with justice for all people”?
  • Is this constructive criticism a patriotic or unpatriotic act and why?



 “To teach the ways of peace is not to weaken the nation’s will but to be concerned

for the nation’s soul” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace, 1983, #304).

  • What do you think the bishops mean? Why are they concerned for our nation’s soul?
  • Is it unpatriotic to have such concerns? Why or why not?




Martin Luther King, Jr., was concerned about our nation’s soul at a similar time in our nation’s history (1956-1968). He helped to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose motto was “We have come to redeem the soul of America.” In 1967, he broke his silence about the Vietnam war and boldly proclaimed: “Never again will I be silent on an issue that is destroying the soul of our nation and destroying thousands and thousands of little children in Vietnam. . . . The time has come for a real prophecy, and I’m willing to go that road”(quoted in Road to Redemption).

  • Do you think the soul of our nation is in jeopardy today? Why or why not?


Final Items

  • What do you think you are being called to by these statements and questions?
  • After thinking about all of this, briefly define your own understanding of Christian patriotism:


January 25, 2017

Catholic Schools Week 2017


The annual Catholic Schools Week, sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association, begins on Monday January 29 and runs until Saturday, Feburary 4. This year's theme is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Listed below are some resources that can help facilitate your planning:

Explanatoin of the Theme

Daily Themes

1000 Ideas for Catholic Schools Week from Pinterest

Catholic Schools Week Logos




January 16, 2017

Sharing News about a Religious Vocation

The discernment of a religious vocation for a young man or young woman is accompanied by prayer, questioning, and finally a decision. At some point the person tells his or her family of the choice to further prepare for the priesthood or religious life. In most cases, the person’s close family members have a sense of what he or she is leaning towards. Sometimes the decision catches some family members by surprise.

Arrange for the students to form in groups of six and develop a role play where the person with the vocation has just come home with the news that they have been accepted into the seminary or into a preparation program for a religious community. Here are some suggested characters, though some can be changed.

  • The person with the vocation
  • Mom
  • Dad
  • The person’s 20 year old sister
  • The person’s 15 year old brother
  • Grandma (or Grandpa)
  • Non-Catholic Aunt or Uncle

After the groups have practiced their role plays, have them present them to the entire class.

As follow-up, have the students write a response to this question: “How would your family respond if you told them you were planning a religious vocation?”

January 6, 2017

Dialoguing Principles

Small group and full classroom discussions encourage sharing among your students. Though each lesson and activity uses slightly different dialogue techniques, some general methodological principles apply to all of them. The following principles, adapted from the work of Sr. Kieran Saywer, SSND.


Give everyone a chance to record his or her response in some way before asking any individual to respond orally. The pre-response might be written, drawn, shown with hand signals, or indicated by body positions. Make the pre-response easy by asking a very specific question with a concrete answer, by providing a sentence-starter to be completed, by giving a spread of answers to choose from. This technique gets everyone involved in answering the question, makes it clear that there is a spread of opinion on the answer rather than the one “right” response, and creates the need for an individual to examine a position contrary to other ideas being presented.

Dialogue Starter

 Make it easy to get the dialogue started by designated the first speaker, often in a humorous way; for example, the person with the curliest hair, the person with the next birthday, the person wearing the brightest clothing. Each person (in a small group) will then take a turn sharing. The starter designation usually creates a burst of laughter, thus further relaxing the group.

Pass Option

Tell the students that the sharing must always be done freely. If at any time, a student is asked a question he or she doesn’t know how to answer, nor does not want to answer in public, the student simply says “pass.” If students choose to respond, however, their answers should be as honest as possible. The pass option is, perhaps, the single most powerful technique in creating an atmosphere where open dialogue can happen. Given the choice of either answering honestly or passing, young people almost always want to answer. But the pass is always there as a safe and easy way out when thing get uncomfortable. It is imperative that the pass option be respected by the teacher and by all the students.

Gradual Deepening

Move the dialogue gradually from light, easy topics to more serious ones. The easier sharing teaches the technique and warms the students, thus facilitating deeper sharing.


Help your group see the important role of the listener in the dialogue process. A person is encouraged to share by sensing that someone is really listening. Everyone in the class or small group shares in the listening role. It is important for all the students to pay direct attention to the speaker, to respond facially to what is said, and to ask follow-up questions. The teacher should be especially present to each speaker; at the same time the teacher will need to be careful not to become the focus toward which all questions, answers, and comments are directed.


December 28, 2016

Catholic New Years' Resolutions

As a welcome back to class exercise after Christmas vacation, ask the students to create a list of ten Catholic New Years’ Resolutions. Also have them write brief responses to the following:

  • Which resolution do you think will be most important for you to keep? Explain why.
  • Which resolution do you think will be most difficult to keep? Explain why.


Sample Resolutions

  1. Attend Eucharistic Adoration at least once per month.
  2. Keep the car radio off until I pray for fifteen minutes.
  3. Hang out with a classmate I have never socialized with before.
  4. Go to daily Mass at least once per week.
  5. Get more involved at my parish.
  6. Join in a service project with teens from a non-Catholic congregation.
  7. Read a biography of a saint.
  8. Go on a retreat without it being required.
  9. Read a biography of a saint.
  10. Hang out with a family member on a regular basis.

December 22, 2016

Have a Wonderful Christmas!

December 13, 2016

A Discussion on the Sacrament of Penance

Here’s a short discussion activity you can lead prior to a fuller lesson on the Sacrament of Penance and, perhaps, participation by your students in the sacrament itself.


  1. Hang four wall posters with the following words at equal intervals along the wall (or place in equal intervals in an open space on the floor): 1) strongly agree; 2) agree; 3) disagree; 4) strongly disagree.
  2. Say:

I am going to read several statements. For each one, register your opinion by standing near the sign that corresponds with how you feel. For example, if you strongly agree with the statement, “I have to go to Confession before receiving Communion” you should stand as close as possible to the “I Strongly Agree” sign. If you are not sure about your opinion, you might stand somewhere in between “I Agree” and “I Disagree.” No matter where you choose to stand, however, be prepared to explain your position. We will spend time discussing each of the statements before moving on.

  1. Read the following statements one at a time. After the students have positioned themselves according to their response, randomly call on one person and question his or her response. You may pick more than one person to discuss each statement. Repeat the process for the other statements.


  • Confession is scary.
  • I never know what to say when I go to Confession.
  • It’s just as good to confess my sins to God without going through a priest.
  • I prefer to confess “face to face.”
  • I can recite an Act of Contrition from memory.
  • Catholics are required to confess serious sins at least once a year.
  • I’m worried that the priest will think less of me if I tell my worst sins.
  • I believe that Jesus acts through the priest in the Sacrament of Penance.

Add your own statements if you wish.

  1. Continue with a fuller presentation on the Sacrament of Penance, including addressing explanations and answers to the open-ended questions from the discussion. If possible, invite a priest to participate in all or part of this lesson.



December 5, 2016

Two Great Teachers of the Faith: St. Nicholas of Myra (December 6) and St. Ambrose (December 7)

As Christmas approaches, remember to tell your students not only that Santa Claus is “real,” but that the saintly figure behind the legend is even more of an inspiration than the jolly perennial visitor of mythical renown! On December 6, the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Nicholas of Myra (ca. AD 270 – 343), and on December 7, the Memorial of St. Ambrose (ca. 340 – 397). These two holy men actually have a fair amount in common:

  • They were both bishops and profoundly intellectual leaders within the Church;
  • They were both staunch opponents of the Arian heresy;
  • They were both greatly devoted to selflessly serving the poor and oppressed;
  • They both lived during the same epoch in Church history;
  • They were both responsible for noteworthy conversions (with Nicholas inspiring others to turn away from the Arian heresy, and with Ambrose playing a key role in the conversion of St. Augustine of Hippo);
  • They both led many hearts to the Good News of Jesus Christ through their teachings and example, practicing what they preached (cf. Matthew 23:3b).

The occasion of these two back-to-back memorials on the liturgical calendar is a crucial opportunity to learn more about the lives of these two saintly men, both for your own inspiration as a teacher and in order to lead your students to a greater awareness of these saints’ multiple contributions to the Church and to the kingdom of God by extension. Below are some resources to use in your classroom (and be sure to tell your students about how St. Nicholas [in]famously “took matters into his own hands” at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325)!


Saint Nicholas (December 6) Resources:

St. Ambrose (December 7) Resources:

St. Nicholas of Myra, pray for us!

Saint Ambrose, pray for us!

November 29, 2016

Sharing Christmas Memories


You may wish to adapt this short activity to fill-in some extra minutes of class during the final weeks before the Christmas break.

Initially, have the students meet in pairs. Distribute a sheet of drawing paper to each pair. Make sure they also have colored markers or colored pencils.

Tell the students to share a “favorite Christmas memory” one at a time. After the first person has shared, allow the second person time to summarize the person’s story with an image, word, or design on the piece drawing paper.

Repeat the same process beginning with the second person sharing his or her favorite Christmas memory.

Periodically, use some class time in the days before Christmas to call on students to hold up the drawings and share either their own Christmas memory or the memory of their partners with the entire class.

November 15, 2016

Christ Portrayed

Ask the students to do an Internet search to find links for the following paintings. Each selection presents a different dimension of Christ. As they view the paintings, ask them to answer:

  • What is the message of the artist?
  • Why do you think different artists see the same subject so differently?
  • Which of these paintings speaks most forcefully to you? Why is this so?

Icon of the Holy Savior— Artist Unknown

This thirteenth-century mosaic found in the great Byzantine Church, Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul (Constantinople) is based on a sixth-century icon from the Greek monastery of Mount Athos. The mosaic shows Jesus with his hand raised in benediction as he holds the Bible. This is no purely human Jesus. He is robed in Royal Purple and is surrounded by a halo that signifies his eternal nature. This icon is often called a visual representation of the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon, which said that Christ was true God and true man.

The Creation of Adam—Michelangelo Buonaroti (1475–1584)

This depiction of the creation of Adam is the centerpiece of the large fresco found on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In this painting, Michelangelo depicts the eternal nature of God, who creates man out of nothing by a gesture of his hand. God is seen as surrounded by angels. To stress his eternal nature, God is represented as a mature man with the muscular body of a youth.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints—Raffaello (Raphael) Sanzio (1463–1520)

In this painting, the Infant Jesus and the Madonna are seen enthroned in Heaven as Jesus is worshipped by several saints, including the infant John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Catherine, and Cecilia. The fact that these saints lived in different centuries stresses the fact that, for  God, there is no past or future. His time is not chronological (measurable and sequential time) but kairological (time that is not bound by sequence or measurement but rather by emotional significance). He lives in an eternal “now,” where all are alive for him.

And Veronica is still among us with her veil of compassion . . . (Et Véronique au tendre lin, passe encore sur le chemin . . .)—Georges Rouault (1871–1958)

Rouault was a devout Catholic and his artistic works stress the human sufferings of the Divine Christ .The artist was trained in producing stained glass. This medium is prominent in his paintings and etchings. Horrified by the devastation of World War I, Rouault constructed a series of fifty etchings from 1917–1927 that he titled The Miserere (“Have Pity on Me”). These etchings focus on the life of Christ and the horrors of contemporary war and exploitation of the poor. The particular etching cited here brings to life the legend of Veronica’s veil. According to this legend, a young woman named Veronica wiped the bloody face of Jesus with her veil as he made his way on the road to crucifixion. In gratitude for her compassion, Christ left the imprint of his sorrowful face on her veil.

The Black Christ—Ronald Harrison

Harrison, a South African citizen, painted this image of Christ in 1962 during the worst days of violence of the apartheid regime in South Africa, which segregated blacks from the rest of the population. Harrison portrays Christ in the image of Albert Luthuli, a South African leader of black Africans, being crucified by the white political leaders of South Africa, John Vorster, and Hendrik Verwoerd. The painting once was displayed in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In this painting, Harrison emphasizes the human nature of Christ and His solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized.







  1. The Shroud of Turin is an ancient piece of cloth that many people believe is the burial shroud of Jesus that has imprinted on it the face and body of the crucified Christ People who believe that the shroud is authentic also believe that the face imprinted on the shroud accounts for the similarity of the images of Christ’s face found on ancient icons. Look at the image of the face on the Shroud of Turin, paying special attention to certain features, like nose, forehead, hair color and length, shape of the face, eyes, etc. Compare it with five Byzantine icons of Christ. How are they similar?
  2. Compare the different way that Michelangelo represents God the Creator in his painting of “The Creation of Adam,” and how James Weldon Johnson represents God the Creator in his poem, “The Creation.”
  3. What are the similarities and differences in the depiction of the Infant Jesus in Raphael’s painting, The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and Southwell’s poem, “The Burning Babe”?
  4. Christ is true God and true man with both divine and human natures. Compare The Icon of the Holy Savior with Rouault’s image And Veronica is still among us with her veil of compassion. . . . How does each painting reflect and focus on the human and divine nature of Christ?
  5. View Fra Angelico’s great paintings The Annunciation and Christ Crowned with Thorns. Then read the following poem, “Questions for Fra Angelico,” which tells how one sensitive viewer reacted to these masterpieces.. The author of the poem, Annabelle Mosely, is a an American poet who composed this work after a visit to the Museum of St. Mark in Florence. Fra Angelico was known and revered as one of the great artists of the Renaissance as much for his sanctity as for his brilliance. In the convent of San Marco in Florence, he decorated each monk’s cell with frescos that portrayed the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. The Annunciation, perhaps the most famous painting of this episode in the life of the Virgin, is on display at this convent.


This  activity is taken from the book The Catholic Spirit: An Anthology for Discovering Faith through Literature, Art, Film and Music.(Ave Maria Press, 2010). 

November 8, 2016

Summer 2017 Science and Religion Seminar

The Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame invites high school teachers to a summer seminar that integrates the disciplines of science and religion in ways that nourish the imagination.

The Science & Religion Seminars equip teachers with approaches that expand the dialogue between the disciplines and challenges the notion that science and religion are in conflict.

Program Highlights:

  • Inspiring talks from leading scientists and theologians
  • Development of lesson plans and teaching materials with curriculum experts
  • Collaboration with seminar faculty on how to develop an elective course in Science & Religion for high school student

Please see the flyer attached here for more information on how to participate.

Student Activity

St. Thomas Aquinas summed up five so-called proofs for the existenceof God. They all come down to affirming that we can discover God by looking at movement, becoming, contingency, order and beauty in the world(see CCC, 32). For example, Aquinas points out that everything we know of an existence was caused by something or someone else. There has to be a source which was the first cause--an uncaused cause which logically always existed. The first cause the philosophers call God. Other arguments, including the ones presented by Bishop Robert Barron in the video clip below are similar.

Have your students view the video and write a brief summary. As appropriate, you may wish to examine some of the points and counterpoints presented in the comments section below the video.

Bishop Robert Barron on Scientism and God's Existence



November 2, 2016

USCCB Classroom Resources for Election 2016

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

The USCCB has provided a wealth of information to discern election choices as part of this teaching document.

The Gospel Serves the Common Good, Not Political Agendas

A statement from USCCB president Archbishop Stanley Kurtz.

Four Lesson Plans for Junior and Senior Catholic High School Students

Choose a lesson on one of the sub topics surrounding participating in the electoral process to share with your students.

Lesson Plan A: The Call to Participate in Public Life

Lesson Plan B: Forming Consciences

Lesson Plan C: Avoiding Evil and Doing Good

Lesson Plan D: Catholic Social Teaching and the Public Square

October 21, 2016

All Saints’ Day Lesson

Here’s a refresher on the role of saints in the Church, in lieu of the coming of All Saints’ Day on November 1.

Saints are those who cooperate with Christ and allow him to work through him. Saints are not themselves mediators, but they share in the mediation of Jesus. Without Jesus they can do nothing, but because of their relationship with Jesus, they are able to help make God’s presence visible to others. Because death no longer has the power to completely remove someone from the Christian community, saints are able to continue sharing in the mediating work of Jesus after they died. Through the power of prayer they continue to touch other members of the church and thus encourage the work of God.

The Church is the eschatological community—the community of the end times. Even now it has a share in the divine glory. This divine glory is most clearly seen in the actions of the saints while they were on earth and continues through their intercession in heaven. We ask the saints to intercede for us just as we ask for the prayers of those we live with today. We believe that the prayers of the faithful do make a difference and that the faithful are most frequently used by God as channels of divine grace. It is through the saints that God “manifests his holiness and the work of salvation” (CCC, 688).

Our relationship with the saints in heaven is a testimony to our belief in the power of the resurrection and in the powerlessness of death. It is also a testimony to our belief that the Church is the Body of Christ. All of the members of the Church together make up the Body of Christ; therefore, when we are in communion with the other members of the Church, we are in communion with Christ. Our communion with Christ would be incomplete if our communion with the Church did not include both the Church on earth and the Church in heaven. We need both to experience the fullness of Christ’s love.



Think about someone you know who has died. Spend some time praying for this person. Consider one or more of the following ways:

  • Lighting a votive candle for the person.
  • Wiring a journal entry with memories about the person.
  • Remembering the person while at Mass.
  • Doing something the person enjoyed while on earth.
  • Thinking about the person while sitting before the Blessed Sacrament.

While praying for this person, ask him or her to pray for you and your intentions as well.


October 14, 2016

Get In the Game!

With the World Series near, football in full swing, and basketball and hockey seasons just kicking off, sports certainly is in the forefront.

Use the reference of sports to remind your students to “get in the game” of life, to always do their best, and of the lesson that hard work pays off in whatever life course they chose for themselves.

As a warm-up share the Ousidedabox produced short (1:51) video Get in the Game. It reminds us of this important teaching from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that,

“Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator” (CCC, 302). Instead, the universe, including each person, is created by God “in a state of journeying” toward an ultimate perfection that hasn’t yet been reached. The ways that God guides his creation toward perfection is known as divine providence.

        It is comforting to know that God loves and cares for us so much that he has a special plan for our lives and guides us to it. As the book of Proverbs teaches:

Many are the plans in a man’s heart,

                but it is the decision of the Lord that endures. (Prv 19:21)

        The Fathers of the Church, in particular Gregory of Nicaea, spoke of the soul’s journey toward Christ and heavenly perfection as something in which we must consistently engage.

        They referred to this process as epektasis—an unending “straining forward,” as St. Paul calls it in the Letter to the Philippians:

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13)

Epektasis is going forward, exercising spiritual muscles, reaching out to God and others, and straining with hope. Epektasis begins in this life and extends to the next, for eternity. Thus, even eternal life is part of—not the end of—our journey.


Coach Lou Holtz offered a simple reminder to those who want to “get in the game.” He shares an acronym W.I.N.—What’s Important Now. It goes like this:

It’s great to have big dreams. But the way to make your dreams come true is through a series of smaller daily choices. This is where the W.I.N. formula—”What’s Important Now”—can help.

          You sure you want to be an All American? Then ask yourself twenty-five times a day “what’s important now.”

          You wake up in the morning—”what’s important now?” Get out of bed.

          You’re out of bed—”what’s important now?” Eat breakfast. You need your strength.

          What’s important now? Go to class.

          What’s important now? Sit in the front row. Be prepared.

          When you’re in the weight room—”what’s important now?” It’s to get stronger. Not because somebody’s looking. But because you know you’ve got to get stronger.

          When you’re out Saturday night and there’s alcohol, and sex, and drugs—”what’s important now?” If your dream is to be an All American in whatever field you’ve chosen, then “what’s important now” is to avoid those situations.

          You take any dream you want to reach and ask yourself twenty-five times a day “what’s important now?” and you’ll know exactly what you have to do to achieve it. (A Teen’s Game Plan for Life)



  • Write tens answers to the question “What’s important now?” related to your daily life for the coming semester. For example:

“What’s important now?” (To make the basketball team.)

“What’s important now?” (To earn enough money to buy car insurance.)


  • When completed, go back over your list and make notes about kinds of things you will need to do to achieve what you deem to be important.


Call on volunteers to share sample responses from their list.









October 7, 2016

The Miracle of the Sun

October 13th is the anniversary of  the "Miracle of the Sun," the 1917 final of seven appearances of Mary to three children--Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco--at Fatima, Portugal. This year's anniversary is a key point in marking the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima that began in May 1917.

Early in the apparitions the Virgin had promised a miraculous sign during her last appearance on October 13th. After the final message was given, Lucia shouted, "Look at the sun!" The immense crowd of seventy thousand looked up to see the rain clouds rolled back, revealing the sun. But it was now like a disk of white light that all could look at without blinking, and began to sway or "dance" in the sky. It then stopped and began to spin. As it whirled, bright rays of every color shot off form it and washed the earth in a kaleidoscope of color. Then the crowds saw the sun plunge in a zigzag manner toward the earth. People fell to their knees by the hundreds. Just as it seemed about to strike the earth, it stopped and was suddenly returned to its proper place and normal brightness. The people were astonished to see that all clothing, and the ground beneath, previously soaked with rain, was now completely dry. The Virgin's promise and been fulfilled in the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima.

Check out the following links with information to share with your students, particularly during this week of commemoration:

Short Story on the Fatima Apparitions

Essential Information on the Fatima Apparitions

The Fatima 100th Annivesary

Miracle of the Sun

Short Film Clip on the Miracle of the Sun

St. John Paul II: The Third Part of the Fatima Secret


  • Locate and report on current news stories that report on the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima and the approach of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions.
  • Write a detailed report on the messages of Fatima.
  • Write a prayer through the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.


October 3, 2016

Catholic Social Teaching and the Saints

There are many quotations from the saints and blessed on issues that speak to current justice issues. Make a copy of the following quotations for each student. Tell them 1) read the quotation; 2) write what they think it means; and 3) write about what they think it calls them to do.

1. “You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.”  St. Ambrose

2. “You give bread to a hungry person; but it would be better were no one hungry, and you could give it to no one. You clothe the naked person. Would that all were clothed and this necessity did not exist.” St. Augustine

3a. “All around the sick and all around the poor I see a special light which we do not have.” Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

3b. “Charity is not enough: we need social reform.” Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

4. “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.” St. Gregory the Great

5. “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” St. John Chrysostom

6. “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” St. Teresa of Calcutta

7. “Alms are an inheritance and a justice which is due to the poor and which Jesus has levied upon us.” St. Francis of Assisi

September 26, 2016

Two Letters of St. Thérèse of Lisieux to Abbe Belliere

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

Author Background

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


Before the Reading

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

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

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

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


The Letters

J. M. J. T

Carmel, Lisieux,

21 June 1897

My dear little Brother,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 J. M. J. T.

18 July 1897

My poor dear little Brother,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thérèse of the Child Jesus r.c.i.


Reading for Comprehension

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

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

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

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


Reading for Understanding

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

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



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

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

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



September 19, 2016

Thinking about the Beatitudes

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


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


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


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

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


September 7, 2016

St. Robert Bellarmine and Celebrating Catechists

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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


August 26, 2016

Canonization of Mother Teresa

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

Mother Teresa of Calcutta Biography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Mother Teresa’s National Prayer Breakfast Speech

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

Prayer Reflection

Pray these words of Mother Teresa:

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

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

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



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


« Older PostsNewer Posts »

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

Resources Archive