Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

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March 27, 2017

A Reflection on the Threefold Purpose of Catholic Education

In 1972, the United States Bishops released a popular and often-cited pastoral letter on catechesis: To Teach as Jesus Did. One of the main purposes of the letter was to give form to the vision of Catholic education, reeling in many ways at the time in the post Second Vatican Council years. The letter addresses aspects of Catholic education like education for adults, Catholic colleges, religious education in a parish, and youth ministry. One of the sections pointed a vivid and honest assessment of Catholic schools in the United States, already suffering from loss of enrollment and a changing model from which religious sisters, brothers, and priests were primary teachers.

Take some time to read the final paragraph (118) of the section on Catholic education. Share it with your students. Ask them to note the threefold purpose of Christian education as articulated in this paragraph: “to teach doctrine, to build community, and to serve.” Have the students write three or four full paragraphs that:

  1. Define each of the purposes
  2. Share how well their school enacts these purposes
  3. Offers suggestions for how their school may improve in acting on these purposes.

Paragraph 118, To Teach as Jesus Did:

We are well aware of the problems which now face the Catholic school system in the United States. WE also wish our position to be clear. For our part, as bishops, we reaffirm our conviction that Catholic schools which realize realize the threefold purpose of Christian education—to teach doctrine, to build community, and to serve—are the most effective means availed to the Church for the education of children and young people who thus may “grow into adulthood according to the mature measure of Christ” (cf. 2 Eph 4:13). WE call upon all members of the Catholic community to do everything in their power to maintain and strengthen Catholic schools which embrace the threefold purpose of Catholic education.


March 20, 2017

Entertaining Angels: A Film on the Life of Dorothy Day

Entertaining Angels, a 1996 film on the life of Dorothy Day, is available online free of charge. The film runs 1:51:31. The film traces Dorothy’s spiritual and religious development as she leaves her career in journalism to live a bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village while advocating for women’s rights and the rights of the poor. The film covers her conversion to Catholicism and her ensuing lifelong dedication to helping the poor.

The following study questions (from Foundations of Catholic Social Teaching, Ave Maria Press, 2015) are a helpful film guide. Distribute the questions prior to watching the film so that the students can be aware of what they will be responsible for answering. Each item can be answered in one or two detailed paragraphs.

Study Questions

1. The movie opens with a quotation from Dorothy Day: “I wanted the abundant life….  I did not have the slightest idea how to find it.” At first, how does Dorothy try to find the abundant life? Is she successful? In the end, do you think she found the “abundant life”? Why or why not?

2. Much of Dorothy’s view toward justice revolves around the notion of seeing Christ in his people: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). How is this Scripture verse exemplified in her words and actions? Share at least two examples.

3. Pick three quotations from the movie (from any of the characters) and explain how they illustrate the meaning of justice.

March 13, 2017

Catholic Colleges in March Madness 2017!

It’s time for our regular feature on Catholic colleges that qualify for the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. (The women’s bracket will be released later this evening and the Catholic colleges in the women’s tournament will be posted tomorrow in the comment’s section below). Here are this year’s men’s qualifiers, ranked by overall seeding in the tournament.

  1. Villanova University (1 East)
  2. Gonzaga University (1 West)
  3. University of Notre Dame (5 West)
  4. Creighton University ( 6 Midwest)
  5. Saint Mary’s College ( 7 West)
  6. University of Dayton (7 South)
  7. Seton Hall University (9 South)
  8. Marquette University (10 East)
  9. Xavier University (11 West)
  10. Providence College (11 East)
  11. Iona College (14 Midwest)

The Catholic colleges represent 16 percent of the original field of 68 teams. Villanova University is the defending National Champion.

Here is some other information related to the Catholic colleges in the tournament, Catholic college history, in the tournament, basketball players from Catholic colleges, and more. Adapt this information to questions, activities, icebreakers to accompany this week’s lessons. Enjoy!

Name the religious order that founded each of the eleven schools in the tournament. (One school was not founded by a religious order. Which one? Who sponsors that college?)

Villanova (Augustinian)

Gonzaga (Jesuit)

Notre Dame (Holy Cross)

Creighton (Jesuit)

Saint Mary’s (Christian Brothers)

Dayton (Marianist)

Seton Hall (Archdiocese of Newark)

Marquette (Jesuit)

Xavier (Jesuit)

Providence (Dominican)

Iona (Christian Brothers)


Which Catholic colleges have won NCAA basketball championships?

San Francisco (2)

Villanova (2)


Holy Cross

La Salle

Loyola Chicago



Which Catholic college has the most appearances in the NCAA tournament?

Notre Dame and Villanova are tied with 36.

Which Catholic college has the most consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament?

Gonzaga has 19 consecutive tournament appearances.

Which Catholic college has the most former players currently playing in the NBA?

Villanova (5: Dante Cunningham, Randy Foye, Darrun Hilliard, Kyle Lowry, Daniel Ochefu)

Match the players on the Top 100 list of all time basketball players with the Catholic college they attended.

Bill Russell (San Francisco)

Elgin Baylor (Seattle)

George Mikan (DePaul)

Bob Cousy (Holy Cross)

Paul Arizin (La Salle)

Dwyane Wade (Marquette)

Patrick Ewing (Georgetown)

John Stockton (Gonzaga)

Steve Nash (Santa Clara)

Allen Iverson (Georgetown)

Dave DeBusschere (Detroit)

Bob Lanier (St. Bonaventure)

Alonzo Mourning (Georgetown)

Lenny Wilkens (Providence)

Adrian Dantley (Notre Dame)


Read and share an article about retired NBA player Kobe Bryant and how his Catholic faith pulled him through some darkest times in his life.

How did the song The Bells of Saint Mary’s become associated with St. Mary’s College? What does the association have to do with Bing Crosby? Read about it here.



March 1, 2017

Prayer Activity: Beauty in Diversity

Share a prayerful discussion that focuses on an appreciation for people of all races, creeds, colors, and beliefs. You need a Bible and a multi-colored soft koosh ball for the activity. Follow the directions below.

  1. Gather the students in a large circle (on the floor or in chairs). Remind the students to maintain a quiet atmosphere of prayer. Read with clarity and care the parable of the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:30-37.
  2. After the reading say:

It would be drab to live in a world where people all looked and sounded alike. It would be drab to live in a world where people were all of the same nationality and culture. We need a variety of colors to brighten the world and our view of the world. A brightly-colored spring day certainly images more life than the plain gray of winter. (Hold up the multi-colored koosh ball.) Just as it is enjoyable to embrace a koosh ball because of its color and texture, so too we need to embrace a variety of colors and kinds of people that God has made.

We are made in God’s image. We do not make God in our image. God created us to be unique among all others God offers wondrous variety.

When the koosh ball is tossed to you, hold it and offer a prayer out loud. You may:

  • offer a prayer of thanks for a person you know who has taught you about loving all people
  • offer a prayer asking God’s help in being more merciful of others
  • offer a prayer for a personal need or the need of someone you know to be more tolerant of all people.
  1. After each prayer, the group should respond, “Loving God, hear us.” Offer your own personal prayer. Then gently toss the ball to the person across from you. Continue in the same format until the end of the prayer time.




February 21, 2017

Calling All High School Theology Teachers!

Looking forward to meeting with high school theology teachers this week at the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress!

Stop by our booth and hear about and view our latest materials!

If you would like to schedule a one-to-one meeting with Michael Amodei, Executive Editor of Adolescent Catechesis, please send an email to mamodei@nd.edu to reserve a time Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

See you in Anaheim!

Take a look at our LA Congress specials!



February 17, 2017

Guided Meditation: Temptation in the Desert

Lead this guided meditation with your students at the beginning of Lent. It is based on the temptation of Jesus in the desert from Matthew 4:1-11 from Time with Jesus by Thomas F. Catucci. Quiet the students. Choose some instrumental background music as needed. Begin the reading. Pause briefly at every ellipse. Pause a bit longer at each line break. Pause a bit longer than that at each paragraph break.


And we pray:

Loving God …

We come to you with open heart as we meditate.

We want to be confident of your love, but sometimes our doubt undermines our total trust.

We pray today that you will deepen our faith so that we may rely on you more completely.

We pray that your kingdom will unfold in our lives.

That your kingdom may become real

And that we too may be real.


With your eyes still closed.

Take a slow journey.

Travel to a place where you can be all alone.

Where no one else would venture to intrude.

A place where there are no distractions…nothing fancy…a place where you can think…and be still…

With your eyes closed…see the emptiness around you…like a void.

Feel the loneliness.

Know how vulnerable you are…how unprotected…you are alone with nothing else around you

And now with your eyes closed…look inside yourself and search for some kind of trust.

In your solitude…can you find any kind of trust within you?

Is there someone you trust in?

What kind of trust is it?

Who or what have you placed your trust in?

What will protect you?


Be aware suddenly that there is someone else nearby and that are not alone.

You look around…but you see no one…you are sure that someone is near…someone that you can’t see…yet you feel safe.

So just rest and relax a moment and trust your feelings.


Feel the presence of the other person.

Feel their goodness and gentleness.

Feel the presence of this person’s incredible understanding and forgiveness.

Feel the gentle softness of this love.

This feeling is like drawing near to God.

Know that God is with you…that Jesus is with you…even though you don’t see him.

Know that God is with you in a special way right now.

And rest in this loving presence of God.

Rest and be at peace.



And still…even though you can’t see the Lord…know that he is near.

Very near.

Bur in a strange way you are still alone.


Quietly reflect by yourself what your real needs are.

Think about what you really desire for yourself…not for anyone else….but something that you really crave and have decided that you want more than anything else.


In this quiet and lonely place…with your imagination…build a scene…like a movie…build a scene that represents how or when you are tempted to satisfy your own inner cravings and desires.

Know that the needs of others will become unimportant…because your desires are stronger than theirs.

Know that deep down…you want to have those cravings satisfied.

Imagine what you must do for yourself to satisfy those longings…to get whatever you are aching for…knowing that no one will ever know what you are fully feeling.

Perhaps it is as if you are controlled by your craving.

But what you ache for.


And now you can feel the Lord…Jesus puts his gentle hand on your shoulder.

The Lord whispers into your ear.

And he tells you that he understands…he knows…because he is just as human as you.


And be at peace.

Is there anything you want to say to Jesus?

Anything you would like to?


And now Jesus tells you that he can offer you something better…he can offer you something more important.

Be still and watch the picture that Jesus draws in your imagination…of something better that he can give…something better than what you crave.

If you can depend upon the Lord…if you can trust…

Jesus hands you a gift of hope…hope that will keep you strong.

And healthy.

Hope…it is now yours…part of you…forever.

Is there anything you want to say to Jesus/

Anything you want to do?


And suddenly you are alone again…in that place of plainness.

And with your eyes closed…look inside yourself and find a time when you were unsure.

A time when you were fearful that things wouldn’t work out.

That something wouldn’t be right.

And with your eyes closed…paint that scene like in a movie…so that you stand in that situation again.

Frozen in time so you can see it again…and feel it again.

A time when you wanted to be sure that God would make everything perfect, but you had doubts.

You weren’t sure.

The doubts were too strong…you were tempted to give up…to despair.

Feel how strong those fears and doubts can be…pressuring you.


But they won’t crush you.

Because again you can feel the hand of Jesus on your shoulder.

A quiet and gently whisper in your ear.

And he asks you to trust…because if you let him…he can do wondrous things.

And he stands in the mist of your scene…to show you…to give you just a brief glimpse of what could happen…how he would let it develop if he were given the chance.


Then he whispers in your hear how much he loves you and promises that in the end…he can have something wonderful happen.

If you can trust….if you can let him be God…if you have faith.


And then Jesus hands you another gift.

This is a gift of faith to keep you strong.

And to keep you close to God.


Even in times when you have doubts…or are unsure.

Faith to keep you strong….even when things are beyond your control.


Is there anything you would like to say to the Lord?

Anything you would like to do?

Be at peace.


Once more…return to that place of plainness where you are alone…with no distractions.


And with your eyes closed look inside yourself and find a feeling of weakness.

That sense of being inadequate and not capable.

That feeling you would never want anyone else to see.

And if you could mask…or hide it...you would cover it with power.

Just feel the need for power so that no one can ever see the weakness in you.

Feel how secure you would be with that incredible power.

But what kinds of power would you need?

Power over others? Power to do without the support and approval of others?

Power to get others’ attention?

Power to control?

Feel that power and what you could do with it.

Paint a scene like in a movie where you can watch yourself with all that power.

How does it feel?


Once again…you can feel the Lord’s hand on your sho9ulder….that familiar whisper in our ear…the quiet and gentle voice of God that can bring your scene to its later stages.

And the Lord show you how power can ultimately hurt and control others so they are no longer fee and able to love.

And the possible darkness of power.



But Jesus wipes it away and whispers.

Listen to the Lord tell you how the Father glories in your weakness…how admitting your weakness is good and makes you more human.

How you can be more gentle.

How weakness is not threatening to others but invites them to be closer.

And how weakness and love work together to help each other to make our love strong.

To make God strong…and it becomes your strength...love can be your strength.

Loving strength.

And the Lord hands you another gift…a gift of love.

Squeeze that gift of love deeply to yourself so that it becomes part of you.

And you can feel the strength of that divine love from God.

And be at peace.


Know that you are filled with the gifts of God.

His gift of hope…his gift of faith…and his incredible gift of love…and feel the divine strength radiating from within you.

Giving you courage and giving you hope.

Is there anything you would like to say to the Lord?

Anything you would like to do?


Jesus promises you that he will always be with you…he will never leave you…even if you can’t see him…even if you can’t feel him.

Always with you.

And be at peace.



Filled with faith, hope, and love from God…slowly return here…still filled with the gifts from God.

When you are ready you may open your eyes and reflect on all that you saw and felt…all that you have just experienced.

And know the gifts God has given to you.

And be at peace.



February 10, 2017

Seat Warming Activity on Marriage

Last week was National Marriage Week. As a seat warming activity, have your students write answers to the following questions about marriage. The first set of questions is objective questions with the answers to be summarized from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The second set of questions is personal reflections.

Objective Questions

  1. How is God the “author of marriage”? (see CCC 1602-1617)
  2. Why do some people choose virginity for the sake of God’s Kingdom? (see CCC, 1618-1620).
  3. How a Catholic marriage is typically celebrated? (see CCC 1621-1624)
  4. Who can be married in a Catholic wedding? (see CCC 1625-1637)
  5. What are the effects of the Sacrament of Matrimony? (see CCC 1638-1642)
  6. How are children to be viewed in marriage? (see CCC 1652-1654)
  7. What is meant by the “domestic church”? (see CCC 1655-1658)


Reflection Questions

  1. Do you think God destines a husband and wife for each other?
  2. How are you willing to place your bond with Christ before other bonds?
  3. What was your favorite wedding you ever attended? Why so?
  4. What importance should a couple contemplating marriage put on having a compatible religious life?
  5. What does the statement “authentic married love is caught up in the divine” mean to you?
  6. What is one important lesson you have learned from your parents?
  7. Describe one incident of joy, love, or forgiveness present in your family in the past week.



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.


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