Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

July 16, 2018

Preparing to Teach a Course in Faith and Science

Religion is not opposed to science!

This message is being strongly addressed in several sources designed to help Catholic high school teachers of theology and science—as well as any and all connected subjects—strongly emphasize this points.

Word on Fire, with Bishop Robert Barron, has prepared several resources, including free display posters of Catholic scientists.

The subject of the Catholic Answers National Conference, September 27-30, 2018, is Faith and Science. Registration is now open.

Finally, Ave Maria Press, with author Stacy Trasancos, is preparing a Student Edition of her popular Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science. This edition will have a curriculum guide for use for a full and partial semester in Catholic high schools. Look for is release in 2019.

July 6, 2018

An Extra Catholic Quiz

Here's a Catholic quiz courtesy of the National Catholic Register. With 32 total questions, you might wish to divide the questions into groups of four or eight and use them to as seat work, extra credit, or as a class icebreaker. The answers to the questions and the complete quiz and credit can be found at this link.

  1. What Pope declared himself a prisoner of the Vatican?
  2. What two symbolic pieces of heraldic regalia are found in all basilicas?
  3. Who was the first non-martyr to be named a saint (pace Mary, St. John the Evangelist and of course, St. Joseph)?
  4. In Italy, which saint is so famous she is simply known as “THE Saint”?
  5. What were (are) the four “minor orders”?
  6. What was the name of the cave David took shelter in?
  7. During the singing of the Exultet at the Easter Vigil, what insect is extolled?
  8. During his papal installation, Pope Benedict wore what garment in an Eastern Catholic tradition?
  9. What two 20th-century British authors, both of whom were converts to Catholicism, soured on the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council?
  10. A crosier with two horizontal bars on it is called what kind of cross?
  11. Leon Bloy wrote a famous work on which Marian apparition?
  12. What cardinal died suddenly and immediately before the conclave of 1958?
  13. An atheist does not believe in God. An agnostic is unsure. But what is the technical term for someone who actively hates God?
  14. Which 20th-century saint wrote an autobiography entitled Journal of a Soul?
  15. What Doctor of the Church is literally named “Golden-Word”?
  16. What Renaissance artist practiced the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola?
  17. What epic English poet not only served in World War I, but went on to decorate many churches with his engravings and paintings?
  18. In a church what are bobaches used for?
  19. Who is the patron saint of editors?
  20. In the West, what are the tradition names given to the Magi (the “three kings”)?
  21. A priest with “O.A.R.” for a suffix belongs to which religious order?
  22. The “Miraculous Medal” was manifested to which saint?
  23. During the Sacrament of Baptism, the priest asks the godparent or the catechumen “What do you ask of The Church of God?” What is the answer?
  24. Who is “The Second Apostle to Germany” (the first being St. Boniface)?
  25. There are two arch-abbeys in the United States: what are their names and where are they located?
  26. Although he is always depicted in art as being shot through with many arrows, St. Sebastian did not die from arrow wounds: how was he finally martyred?
  27. What famous Lebanese-American actor had a public and strong devotion to St. Jude?
  28. Most tourists think that the Cathedral of Venice has always been the famed St. Mark’s Basilica—but from 1450 to 1805 the Cathedral of Venice was which other church?
  29. What are four different names for the Sunday following Easter?
  30. What Catholic writer and painter also invented—according to his own history—color and underwater photography (though he died broken and penniless in Venice)?
  31. What famous philosopher wrote books taking titles from the New Testament such as The Sickness Unto Death and Fear and Trembling?
  32. On the Feast of Saint Agnes, lambs are blest then shorn to fashion what ecclesiastical garment?

June 25, 2018

Mini-Units on Contemporary Issues

Ave Maria Press offers free  5-day mini-units that fit within several different theology courses schedules. They are also perfect for a short catechetical lesson in a parish youth ministry setting.

Four of the mini-units are particularly applicable and related to contemporary issue occurring how.

1. Migration and the Church shows ways for Catholics to help with immigration reform. It also points out to the many ways immigrants help in their new communities. It accompanies a video on the migration issue, Dying to Live, which is also available from Ave Maria Press.

2. Adoption: A Choice Worth Making provides a synopsis of the adoption process, including perspectives from adoptive children and parents.

3. Religious Liberty and Catholicism in the United States  shares the proper relationship Catholics should have with civil authorities. It also traces the historical development of the Church's relationship with the government in the United States.

 4. Monseñor: The Last Journey of Óscar Romero Study Guide (English and Spanish) reviews the last days and martyrdom of Blessed Óscar Romero whose canonization is anticipated for October 2018. This mini-unit is accompanied by the award-winning documentary of the same name.

Check out the Ave Maria Press mini-unit section for these and other free 5-day mini units!




June 12, 2018

Avoid Gossip

"Gossip is not a work of the Holy Spirit, it is not a work of the unity of the church. Gossip destroys the work of God. Please stop gossiping," Pope Francis said recently in a talk on the Sacrament of Confirmation.The pope emphasized that the gift of peace a person receives at Confirmation can be lost if the person starts saying mean things to others once he or she leaves Church.

Remind teens that the commandment "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" means more than lying. It also means that we are not to talk about people behind their backs or to spread untrue rumors about them. To gossip means to reveal private or sensational facts about others. What you say may be entirely true, but it's really none of your business and it's not the business of those who you are telling. In many, many times it's better to not say anything.This dramatic short film titled Word of Mouth about two high-school girls on different ends of the social spectrum illustrates the point well. More practical advice about how to stop gossip can be gleaned from It's Time to Silence Gossip, an article by a teenage boy.

Writing Prompt

  • Tell about a time you have been hurt or hurt another by gossip. Explain the lesson you learned from this occasion.


May 22, 2018

Post-Pentecost Discussion

Ask your students: What factors help them to feel at home in a parish community? Put the students into small groups in order to help them identify more specifically what helps them feel at home or would help them feel at home in a parish. Write these prompts on the board for them to think about. (Not every group needs to address every question.)

  • How would you prefer to be invited into the parish?
  • How would like to be greeted when you arrive at church?
  • Whom would you like to see at church each week?
  • How would you like to participate?
  • Describe the ideal atmosphere of the building you worship in?
  • What type of music do you prefer at Mass?
  • What type of homily would you like?
  • What kind of activity or gathering after Mass would you like to attend?
  • What else do you suggest for making your parish more welcoming?

After students have spent time in small groups, ask them to identify welcoming attributes for a parish, and see how much the groups have in common. Challenge the students to bring some of these ideas to a staff member at their parish and to report back in writing on what happened in response.


May 11, 2018

A Lesson on Purgatory

Share a lesson the Church’s teaching on Purgatory. The following information is from Jesus Christ: Source of Our Salvation (2nd Edition). A short lesson follows the background information.

Background Information

Purgatory is name the Church gives to the final purification of those who die in God’s grace and friendship, but who need purification or cleansing to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven. From her beginnings, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in solidarity with those who have died, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist. Other acts, such as helping the poor and works of penance, can be offered up for someone who is in Purgatory as well.

Catholic belief in the existence of Purgatory is based on biblical passages such as 2 Maccabees 12:39–46, which encourages those who are living to pray for the dead so that they may be released from their sins. In addition, Church Tradition has interpreted certain passages (see 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pt 1:7) as referring to a place of a “cleansing fire” after death.

The doctrine of Purgatory and the process of purification make sense. To embrace an all-loving God, you must be free of any imperfection in your own capacity to love. Only a person who, before death, has been cleansed of sin or any punishment due for sins is pure enough to embrace an all-loving God completely and is thus ready for heaven. Sometimes, this cleansing can only be completed after death. It is both a joyful and a painful process. Those in Purgatory are happy that heaven awaits them, but the process of purgation might entail burning with sorrow and shame over sin and of great difficulty in giving up selfish attachments. However, when their purgation is complete, their suffering will end as they enter the bliss of heaven.



Provide some art material (paper and drawing supplies). Have the students draw an image from your description that follows:

Imagine a ship or boat sailing in choppy waters. Jesus is at the helm, setting its course. Above the boat, cloudlike figures representing the faithful who have died and are present with God in heaven fill the boat’s sails with zephyrs of their prayers. The deck of the boat is crowded with sturdy folk working the oars. These are the living members of the Church whose shared efforts and prayer power the craft. Below deck are sleeping figures, representing the souls of those who have died (and who are in Purgatory) and are being supported and transported by the efforts and prayers of those on deck and those above the clouds. This image reminds us that all of us in the Church—living and dead—are in the same boat.

Go on to emphasize that Purgatory is a transitional state of purification in which the imperfect person encounters the perfection of God. Emphasize that all people in Purgatory will eventually be in heaven. Invite the students to share in a class discussion some earthly experiences that might be considered purgatorial. Ask:

  • What are some experiences that, though painful, bring us closer to God or open our eyes to see God’s action in the world?
  • How might the popular slogan “No pain, no gain” be applied to Purgatory?

Suggest that the imperfect person would find a face-to-face encounter with the perfect God necessarily purging and therefore painful. In this purgatorial encounter, we quickly come to the realization that we have not chosen consistently for God and neighbor, a realization that is not only agonizing but purifying as well.

April 27, 2018

Called to Pray in the Month of May

Coming soon from Ave Maria Press is Called to Pray: Daily Prayers for Catholic Schools, a collection of prayers complied by Bishop McNamara High School teacher Justin McClain for teachers or their designated student leaders to read during a class period or over a school intercom system. The prayers are organized by school events, feast days, and solemnities over an academic year calendar.

Here are three sample prayers for Called to Pray for you to share with your students during the month of May.

Prayer for the Solemnity of Pentecost

Father God, today we ask the Holy Spirit to descend upon this Catholic school community, just as he did in the Upper Room at Pentecost, and to remain with us, not only now and throughout the conclusion of this school year, but throughout our lives. Please fill the hearts of the students in this school, so that they can spread Christ’s Good News no matter where they find themselves, whether within this school or beyond. We ask this in the name of the same Christ the Lord. Amen.

Prayer before Prom

Dear Lord, as we approach the end of this academic year, we prepare for the festivities that come with it. May the time spent together at prom be an occasion not just for fun, but also for reflection on all for which we are grateful within our school community. Help our students to make good decisions and to act only according to Christian principles, thus representing our community well. We ask this, as we do all things, in your holy name. Amen.

Prayer for Memorial Day

Heavenly Father, we take the time today to remember those men and women in uniform who have gone before us. We express our deepest gratitude for their bravery and sacrifice. Encourage us to remain thankful, and please inspire the students of this Catholic school community to work for peace around the world, especially in the midst of armed conflicts and other types of discord. We ask this in the name of Christ the Lord. Amen.


Make sure to preorder a copy of Called to Pray: Daily Prayers for Catholic Schools so your copy arrives just in time for the fall term.

April 18, 2018

A Prayer of Gratefulness

This prayer which popped up on social media recently is a wonderful way to associate things many people in the Western world connect with drudgery with a moment of gratefulness through prayer. Share this list and format with your students.

Ask them to write five to ten more examples in the same format.

Gather a list together and pray a prayer of gratefulness from it with the entire class.

April 9, 2018

Pope Francis and the Call to Holiness in Today’s World

Pope Francis released a new apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Esultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) with details on how to follow the Beatitudes by being of service to the marginalized, poor, and migrants. The pope equates defense of people on the fringes of society with defense of the unborn who are threatened with abortion.

The exhortation has many insights for everyone to live a holy life though Pope Francis begins by writing that this is a “modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. “

In Chapter 1, he writes of following the practical examples of holiness left by the saints. He sites, in particular, Bl. Maria Gabriella Sagjeddp who spent fifteen months of her life devoted to praying for Christian unity. He also cited the “genius of women” and the “feminine style of holiness” by mentioning the examples of St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Bridget, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Holiness must be lived “in the present moment,” stated Pope Francis and in community with others, not in isolation. Pope Francis points out that “when Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân was imprisoned, he refused to waste time waiting for the day he would be set free. Instead, he chose ‘to live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love’. He decided: ‘I will seize the occasions that present themselves every day; I will accomplish ordinary actions in an extraordinary way.’”

Chapter 3 of Gaudete et Esultate is perhaps of most relevance to your students, all Catholics, and all people.  Holiness comes only in being rooted in the Lord. Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23). The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card.”  The pope offers practical reflections and applications for how to practice the Beatitudes. The subheading of this part of the chapter is “Going Against the Flow.”

Consider having your students read paragraphs 65-94 and write a summary of Pope Francis’ teachings on each of the Beatitudes.







March 21, 2018

Looking for the Nones

Bishop Robert Barron delivered the keynote lecture at the Cultures of Formation conference hosted by the McGrath Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame. The lecture is just over one hour in length. It is worth your time to hear Bishop Barron address this important topic.

Bishop Barron, the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, referenced a report by sociologist Christian Smith on the reasons youth and young adults are leaving the Catholic Church. Find the report here.



March 9, 2018

March Madness 2018: A Salute to the Loyola Chicago Ramblers

We depart from our usual salute to all the Catholic colleges qualifying for the NCAA basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, to focus on one particular school and team: the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers who will be making their first appearance in the tournament since 1985. The Ramblers finished the regular season 28-5 and recently got an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning their own conference championship.

Loyola's qualification recalls a significant other Loyola Rambler team in both college basketball and US History. It was the 1963 National Championship team that defeated the Cincinnati Bearcats 50-48 in overtime. Share a brief look at the highlights of the finish of the game.

The game was significant basketball wise as it is Loyola's only national championship and the only national championship for a team from Illinois. Share a pictorial and written history of the team with your students.

It was significant from a US historical perspective because at the height of the Civil Rights movement Loyola started four black players. (Cincinnati started three black players.) The game was known as a game of change, yet the team faced significant prejudice along the way. In 2015 President Barack Obama honored the 1963 Ramblers at the White House.

To conclude, share some information about the current 2017-2018 Loyola Ramblers, their record, and their road to March Madness.


  • Research the basketball history of another Catholic school in this year's tournament.
  • By seeding, rank the Catholic schools participating in this year's tournament.
  • Research the founding religious order of one or more of the Catholic colleges in this year's tournament.
  • Research and write a report on what happened to the players on the 1963 Loyola Ramblers.







February 28, 2018

Lenten Resources from Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services offers a bevy or Lenten resources that are appropriate for sharing with your students. A series of Lenten reflections videos are designed with the message of further guiding Catholics more deeply into their faith.

A Lenten digital retreat includes a series of questions that can help your students more clearly answer the question "Who is my neighbor?" and "How can I serve him or her?".

A section on Catholic saints shares detailed and moving profiles of several saints students might research more about and pray with during Lent.

Bishop Robert Barron leads a video journey of the Stations of the Cross with special focus on remembering those in need of our physical and spiritual help,

A special Holy Week section includes classroom prayer services for the conclusion of Lent.



February 4, 2018

A Collection of Prayers, Exercises, and Others Lessons for Lent

Author and Catholic high school theology teacher Justin McClain has a new book coming out in the fall: Called to Prayer: Daily Prayers for Catholic Schools. It includes over 200 prayers to pray in a classroom. Here is a sample of one of the prayers, appropriate for use during Lent.

Prayer to Remain Steadfast During Lent

Lord, Lent is a challenging time, and we will not pretend that it is not. However, you did not expect anything of us that you were unwilling to subject yourself to. Your own time of trial in the desert set the standard for how to resist temptation and remain steadfast as we form our hearts to God’s will. Help us to grow steadily closer to you as we embrace the virtues of faith, hope, and love during Lent. Encourage us along as we walk with you, reminding us that Lent is far from a time to simply “give something up;” rather, to take on little sacrifices, which compare in no way to the supreme sacrifice that you offered by giving your life on the Cross in atonement for our sins. Strengthen us to persevere in holiness, virtue, and sanctity, seeking to do your will not only during Lent, but likewise throughout the year, as we look forward to celebrating your joyous Resurrection at Easter. We ask this in your redemptive name. Amen.

This site has several has several other prayers, guided meditations, activities, discussions, and others lessons for Lent. You can discover them here.


January 22, 2018

Catholic Schools Week Assignment for High School Students

The annual Catholic Schools Week is scheduled for January 28 to February 3. How will you mark the occasion with your students?

One idea would be for the students to write a short essay entitled “6 Benefits of a Catholic High School Education.” The six benefits can be written in a list form with a one paragraph explanation of each.

After you have collected the essays, compile a list of the top three benefits mentioned by all the students. Collate some of their reasoning into a larger promotion on a poster and an online platform with quotations included from as many students as possible and mentions by name of all the students in your class.

You might note a similar essay composed by a recent graduate of a Catholic high school.



January 8, 2018

Jim Caviezel's Powerful Message for Young Catholics

Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in The Passion of Christ, told the audience of young Catholics to "shake off their indifference" and "express their faith in public." This presentation--just under sixteen minutes in length--is well worth the time to show in its entirety to your students. Caviezel spoke at the recent SLS18 (Student Leadership Summit 2018) conference sponsored by The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) in Chicago. He was there to promote his new film Paul: Apostle of Christ which is scheduled for release on March 28, 2018.

After the students watch the presentation, ask for their reactions. You may wish that they share their favorite quotations by Caviezel. For example:

  • "Shake off indifference."
  • "Pray. Fast. Meditate on the Holy Scriptures. Take the sacraments seriously."
  • "Embrace your cross."
  • "Race to your goal."
  • "You are not given freedom to do what you like. You are given freedom to do what you ought."


January 2, 2018

Pope Francis and New Year's Resolutions

A few years ago, a list was compiled from Pope Francis’ most popular teachings and quotations to form his most popular New Years’ resolutions.  Here they are:

  1. Don't gossip.
  2. Finish your meals.
  3. Make time for others.
  4. Choose the “more humble” purchase.
  5. Meet the poor 'in the flesh.'
  6. Stop judging others.
  7. Befriend those who disagree.
  8. Make commitments, such as marriage.
  9. Make it a habit to “ask the Lord.”
  10. Be happy.

As you return to school, have your students write one or two sentences either explaining what each of Pope Francis’ resolutions mean or how they might apply these resolutions to their own lives.

Next, have them write their own New Years’ resolutions using Pope Francis’ list as an inspiration.

Finally, have the students read highlights of Pope Francis’ January 1, 2018 homily on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.

December 13, 2017

Comparing Two Portrayals of the Infant Jesus

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520)

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.


The Burning Babe by Robert Southwell (1561-1595)

The Burning Babe reflects on the love of Christ for fallen humanity. Through poetic imagery he combines the story of Christ's birth with accounts of his Passion and Death. His poem gives an unforgettable portrait of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. As I in hoary winter’s night

Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat
Which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye
To view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
Which with His tears were bred:
‘Alas!’ quoth He, ‘but newly born
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts
Or feel my fire but I!
‘My faultless breast the furnace is;
The fuel, wounding thorns;
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke;
The ashes, shames and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on,
And Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
Are men’s defiled souls:
For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath,
To wash them in my blood’
With this He vanish’d out of sight
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind
That it was Christmas Day.



  • Write a one page essay detailing the similarities and differences in the depiction of the infant Jesus in Raphael’s painting and Southwell’s poem?


This activity comes from the book The Catholic Spirit: An Anthology for Discovering Faith through Literature, Art, Film, and Music.


December 6, 2017

Faith, Friendship, and Football

“I knew Grant was a practicing Catholic, and I also saw that he was joyful,” Butker said. “I didn’t understand how someone could live the way the Church wants us to and still be joyful.”

Share this article about the friendship and faith connection between an NFL player, Harrison Butker, and his college teammate, Grant Aasen, who is now studying for the priesthood.

Things to Do

  • Write a story about your own friend who inspired your faith.
  • Research and write a report on the Knights of Columbus.
  • Research Mass opportunities at a college you are considering attending. Write about other faith programs at that college.
  • Write a profile about another Catholic athlete.



November 30, 2017

Waiting: The Beginning of Advent

In Advent we wait in hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Introduction: As the students arrive, ask them to write a two to three paragraph journal entry titled “Waiting is Hard.” Ask them to share a particular occasion they found waiting for Christmas hard when they were a young child. How does this type of waiting compare to the first century Jews and Gentiles of Palestine who longed for a Messiah? How does this type of waiting compare to people today who long for Christ’s return?

Choose a student to read the Gospel from the first Sunday of Advent.

Gospel (Mark 13:33-37)

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"

The Gospel of the Lord.

Response: Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


Play this short music reflection: Advent: Waiting in Silence

Call on students to share their stories of Christmas waiting with a partner. After a short time for discussion, ask a few volunteers to share their stories with the entire class.

November 16, 2017

Report on Evangelization and Catechesis

At the full assembly of United States Catholic bishops this week in Baltimore, a report was presented on behalf of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis detailing issues of relevance for Catholic high schools and theology departments in those schools. The full presentation begins immediately at the start of the video linked here.

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