Teaching Tip

The Gift of Prayer

Prayer is the life of the soul!  How are we drawing adults, parents, kids and youth into a life of prayer?  The Catechism is rich in what it says about prayer.

In paragraph 2560 it says:

“The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there Christ comes to meet every human being.  It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink.  Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us.  Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours.  God thirsts that we may thirst for him.”

Prayer and Catechesis

In many ministry settings prayer is seen too often as something to get out of the way (an attitude of “I know I should pray so let’s say a quick prayer and get on with the lesson of the day) instead of something that draws people into the mystery of Christ and a greater intimacy with Him.  It is essential in our catechetical settings to create an attitude of prayer that opens hearts.  Helping create an environment that draws souls into that relationship with Jesus is key if we are to lead adults and children into being truly disciples of Christ.

Not only is it important to lead people into prayer, but it will only occur if we ourselves are people of prayer; people who take time to foster a spiritual life and time for mental prayer.  Yes, it is great to pray at all times and make your whole day a prayer, but this is not sufficient.  We must be people who take time away from the busyness of jobs, social media that we are exposed to 24-7 and all our family responsibilities and be silent before God.  Taking time to pray and making prayer it a priority is necessary for our relationship with Christ as well as our success in ministry.  Catechists are then able to better engage and lead others into prayer if they themselves are people of prayer.

Practical Recommendations

I recently read a great article by Marianne Cuthbertson and Dr. Caroline Farey that gives wonderful recommendations for leading others into prayer in our catechetical settings.  Their numerous recommendations are exactly what we need to consider to allow our catechetical session to be times of grace and session soaked in prayer.

How do you help engage others in prayer in your catechetical sessions?  Let us be drawn into and help draw others into the “wonder of prayer”.

Divine Mercy Sunday is just around the corner.  What a great way to teach kids about God’s Mercy.  An attribute of God is Mercy.  God thirsts for us tirelessly because He loves and cares for us so much.  His Mercy is great and boundless.  St. Faustina has been such a gift to the Church through her bringing us Jesus’ message of Mercy.  Here are some great resources for kids about the Divine Mercy Chaplet and various crafts from Catholic Icing , Divine Mercy Kids  , and Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

Last week I hosted a number of DRE’s at my parish to discuss how to use technology and media within ones religious education program.  Many of the participants wanted to know where to find resources to use in the classroom and how I go about choosing certain media clips that I found on the internet.  We had some good conversation about using technology in the classroom as a tool.  I stressed that it is only a tool and that the catechist is the linchpin and the heart of transmitting the Gospel.  The textbook, the video, music, art, etc each are tools and instruments but it is the catechist who pulls it all together and helps their students be engaged and drawn to a relationship with God.  Nothing is more important than the catechist — even in the third millennium.

Also, I provided the DRE’s with some resources I’ve used in the classroom: Website Resources for DRE Mtg Feb. 2012.  Some of them are video links and others are good places to go for information on catechesis.  Overall it was a really good meeting and many of the DRE’s were grateful for the discussion on the topic.

Does anyone have some good video clips you use for younger children?  How about other resources that you’ve found helpful?  Please share!

In ministry we are always trying to find ways to show others how to respond to serving others.  Here is a great video clip to help illustrate serving Jesus in others.  I’m going to be using this soon to a group of 1st -6th graders and their parents.

A recent NCCL newsletter referred to a finance article from “The Telegraph” that talked about the great advice we can learn from Bob the Builder.  I really liked it because I think we live in a society that believes that our choices are endless and that we can do anything we set our mind to.  I realize that we don’t want to limit ourselves and how we should live to our full potential, but God has given each of us certain talents and gifts and we should head advice similar to Bob who asks “Can we fix it”?  Our question should be, has God given me the ability to do it (whatever it may be).  Also we could ask, is God calling me to do it?  The article said:

“Most of us believe in positive self-talk. “I can achieve anything,” we mouth to the mirror in the morning. “Nobody can stop me,” we tell ourselves before walking into a big meeting. We believe we’ll do better if we banish doubts about our ability or our strategy and instead muster an inner voice that affirms our awesomeness.

But not Bob. Instead of puffing up himself and his team, he first wonders whether they can actually achieve their goal. In asking his signature question – Can we fix it? – he introduces some doubt.

…In other words, questions open and declarations close. We need both, of course. But that initial tincture of honest doubt turns out to be more powerful than a bracing shot of certainty.”

It is my experience that we have to help the children, youth and young adults we catechize to see that the modern day approach to doing “anything” we set our minds to do is not completely healthy.  I think it can contribute to anxiety and discouragement because people are asking the wrong questions about all the things they could be doing in their lives.  I think all the choices we have for our lives and our kids lives creates anxiety because we feel like we have to keep up and make sure we or our kids don’t miss out on what’s available.

We have great opportunities in catechesis to assist students and parents in discerning what God is calling one to do.  What is God’s will regarding how I should respond?  The right questions will help us and our students discern properly according to God’s purposes and plans instead of the world’s or our own.

The Telegraph article concludes by saying: “So the next time you’re feeding your inner self a heady brew of confident declarations and bold affirmations, toss in a handful of interrogatives with a few sprinkles of humility and doubt.  Can you do that? Yes, you … well, you’ll have to ask that yourself.”

I’d love to hear your feedback!!!!

Advent is upon us.  One of the images I love to reflect upon is how this is a season where it gets dark earlier and the sun rises later.  This season of expectation helps us remember how the world was in darkness and the light of the world, Jesus Christ, came to fill the world with the light and truth of God’s revelation of Himself.    Here are some ways to give students a glimpse of this:

1. Turn out the lights for a few moments and light the candle(s) of the Advent Wreath and share how the days have gotten shorter and how there is less less light outside and more darkness.  Help them see that the closer we get to Christmas the more light there is in the Advent Wreath.  The light from the advent wreath remind us of the light of Christ.  Light in the darkness of the night gives us direction.  Share with your students how their kindness, their generosity and their time spent in prayer this Advent are helping us be light and bring hope to a world that is often lost in darkness and a world longing for what we as followers of Christ can share with them.

2. Another way to help make this concrete for students is to share with them how most people put lights up at the beginning of Advent – outside & inside their houses.  Christmas lights are a constant reminder this time of year of the light of Christ.  Challenge your students to offer a small prayer when they see these various kinds of light…Jesus, thank you for being the light of the world; Jesus, bless Grandma with your light and hope in her time of sickness; Jesus, help those who don’t know you find you; or Jesus, be my light in all the decisions I make today.

3. Here are a few great Scripture verses on light: John 1:4-9; John 8:12; Jn. 1:6; Mt. 5:14-16 & 1 John 1:5-7 that you could use during opening and closing prayer.

Photo from Flickr.com

Building unity and a greater sense of community in the classroom makes a significant impact on learning.  Here is the following suggestion I gave to our parish catechists this week:

Take 10-15 minutes of class time to do a community building activity every now and then.  The more your class feels united and glad to be together, the more open they will be to all you do to lead them closer to Jesus.  Here are 2 websites I found that have some icebreaker ideas: http://wilderdom.com/games/Icebreakers.html or http://www.icebreakers.ws/

Setting up an environment where students will be open to receiving the Gospel Message is key to each time you gather with them.  Seek to create and foster conditions that will assist your students to be open, docile and more ready to receive the message that you will be proclaiming during a given lesson.

3 Ways to do this:

1) Set up a sacred space

2) Re-arrange the desks and chairs in your meeting space in such a way that it feels less like a typical classroom and more like a place where they can be aware that you have been expecting them and that God is going to be a part of what they are going to learn today.

3) Witness to students your joy and enthusiasm of being with them from the moment they walk into your meeting space to the time they leave.

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.  This feast day was originally called the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.  I love the title of Our Lady of Victory.  St. Therese constantly mentioned this title of Our Lady in Story of a Soul.  Pope Clement XI changed the feast day to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, because it was in fact the power of praying the Rosary that the Christians won the battle over the mighty Turkish Army.

Our Lady has continually shared with the faithful to pray the Rosary for penance and conversion.  In addition Pope’s and holy men and women have not only encouraged devotion to Mary through the Rosary but also testified to its power.

Empowering Students

As Catechists we cannot underestimate the value to praying the Rosary and passing this devotion onto the next generation.  Here are some ways to help students foster devotion to the Holy Rosary:

1) Open your class by praying a decade of the Rosary.  Or pray it at the end of class by offering up the petitions of the students as well as offering up that particular days lesson asking Mary to draw us closer to Jesus helping each of the students live out their faith.

2) Instead of taking time to do a craft or watching a video that takes up 20 minutes of class time, pray the Rosary.  Helping students learn how to meditate on the beautiful mysteries of the Rosary is an invaluable lesson.

3) Give examples of how students can pray the Rosary throughout their lives (e.g., on their way to and from school, before they begin doing their homework, at the end of the day, while traveling on a trip, etc.).  The Rosary is a source of strength and consolation in times of worry and struggle as well as times of thanksgiving and praise to God for His many blessings.

Contemplating the Face of Christ

I want to close with something Blessed John Paul II said during the recitation of the Angelus in 2002:

The Rosary is a way of contemplating the face of Christ seeing him – we may say – with the eyes of Mary. For this reason, it is a prayer that drawing upon the core of the Gospel is in full accord with the inspiration of the Second Vatican Council and very much in keeping with the direction I gave in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte: the Church has to launch out “into the deep” in the new millennium beginning with the contemplation of the face of Christ.

Therefore, I wish to suggest the recitation of the Rosary to individuals, families and Christian communities. To give force to this invitation, I am preparing a document which will help to rediscover the beauty and depth of this prayer.

I wish once again to entrust the great cause of peace to the praying of the Rosary. We are facing an international situation that is full of tensions, at times threatening to explode. In some parts of the world, where the confrontation is harsher – I think particularly of the suffering land of Christ – we can realize that, even though they are necessary, political efforts are worth little if one remains exacerbated in his mind and no one cares to demonstrate a new disposition of heart in the hope of reviving the struggle and effort of dialogue. 

Who but God alone can infuse such sentiments? It is more necessary than ever that from every part of the earth prayer for peace be made to Him. In this perspective, the Rosary turns out to be the form of prayer most needed. It builds peace because, while it appeals to the grace of God, it sows in the one praying it the seed of good from which we can expect the fruit of justice and solidarity for personal and community life.

I am thinking of nations and also of families. How much peace would flow into family relationships if the family would begin again to pray the Rosary.

How do you promote and foster devotion?

How else would you encourage students to pray the Rosary?  How do you foster devotion to the Holy Rosary?



2 Thoughts About Repetition

1) It’s not a bad word

Many today see memorization and repetition as something “old school” or “out of date”.  However, I’ve never heard parents say they only say no once a day or a teacher share that they only repeat the material they are covering when they review for a test.  Repeating important concepts when teaching can really help the information “sink in”.  Jesus’ own apostles had to have things repeated to them (Jesus spent 40 days with them after His Resurrection – I’m sure there was some repetition going on there).

2) Do it – we never learn our multiplication tables by going over them once a week or once a month.  Don’t forget to repeat, reiterate and communicate multiple times  important aspects of the faith.  Repetition, after all, is mother of all learning.

I was reading a great blog post from rciablog.com speaking about how telling the story of salvation has been a common part of passing on the faith. Children from a young age ought to be taught the story (at their age level). Here are some things to keep in mind when telling the story that I found from the website mentioned above:

* The eternal life of the Blessed Trinity – an eternal exchange of love
* The creation of the angels – some chose to rebel
* The creation of humanity out of love to share in God’s own Trinitarian life
* Our temptation by Satin and our fall from grace through Original Sin
* God’s promise of a redeemer and plan of salvation
* God’s gradual gathering of a people (Israel) through successive covenants
* A brief history of Israel
* The promises and prophecies of the prophets
* Mary’s “yes” to angel Gabriel
* The Incarnation – which should be given great emphasis!
* The life of Jesus Christ
* Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead
* The giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Catholic Church at Pentecost
* The Church as the Family and Kingdom of God – the Body of Christ
* A brief history of the Church – saints are in constant supply
* Today, we are living in the midst of this Story
* The sure promise and hope that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead

Granted this is too much for say a 2nd or 3rd grader, but I believe each grade can be taught aspects of this story. Children love stories as do adults. All the more reason to make sure we are tell this story…it is our story and through Baptism we become a part of the story of salvation history.

Now that is Good News!!!

I can’t help but share this youtube video that someone sent me.  It is only 1:48 long but it is powerful.  May the words others hear (and see) be a catalyst for change.



Lent is approaching Fast.  Bishop Keven Vann wrote an article in the North Texas Catholic Newspaper that speaks about the 3 Sundays leading up to Lent.  I found the following couple sentences very interesting:

“[F]or centuries the Sunday Liturgies in this time had the Sundays which were called “Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima” Sundays before Ash Wednesday to help prepare for Lent. My l962 Missal says that, “The three Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday are called SEPTUAGESIMA, SEXAGESIMA and QUINQUAGESIMA, which mean, respectively, the seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth day, that is, before Easter. They are mere names to correspond with the name of Lent (Quadragesima in Latin: ‘fortieth.’)”

I think this clearly shows the importance of preparing in advance for the Season of Lent.  I gave the following ideas: Lenten Classroom Ideas and more2011 gathered from various places to my catechists last week.  All our School of Religion classes this past Wednesday did a Lesson on Lent in order to help students prepare for the upcoming Liturgical Season.  Also, the Sunday Middle School classes will do the same.  I think it’s important to make sure students are thinking about how they are going to grow this Lent before Ash Wednesday is upon them, just as the Church has done for centuries.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful.  I’d love to hear from you and what ideas you are using in your classroom.

For the last number of years I’ve tried to use a variety of video clips to help engage and catechize students.  Taking 30 minutes to an hour of class time to show a video is mostly an unproductive use of time.  However, using a 2 to 7 minute video clip from movies (wingclips.com is a great site), commercials, and youtube can be a great way to make a particular point and expand on it.  Feel free to check out some of the clip I have on my blog page (go to the right side of the page).

How do you use video clips to teach?

The Catechism says:

“Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all. This is why the Fathers of the spiritual life in the Deuteronomic and prophetic traditions insist that prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart: “We must remember God more often than we draw breath.”1 But we cannot pray “at all times” if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. These are the special times of Christian prayer, both in intensity and duration (Para. #2697)”.

Seek to take time as class begins and as you conclude class to draw your students into prayer.  I shared in a previous teaching tip that this could mean going into the church and being quiet and still, sometimes its gathering them around your a prayer space in your classroom and at other times it’s having everyone stand to take time for prayer and each person sharing a petition or two.

It is also very important to use Scripture as you pray since it is God’s very Word to us. For example, recently I was teaching on Baptism to 6th Graders and before class started I asked 3 students to read a specific Scripture verse during our opening prayer.  They read those 3 Scriptures (which spoke of Baptism) and then I prayed a spontaneous prayer building on what they read.

How are you building a habit of prayer into your lessons? How are you helping students know how to pray and listen to God?

Bring in a guest speaker or presenter to your class.  Here are some benefits:

1) A new voice echoing the Faith: Whether they come to give a 10 minute testimony or teach a portion of the class it provides a great avenue to have another faith-filled person reinforce the truths of our Faith.

2) It adds variety:  Students like a change of pace.  Even though you are a great catechist, having someone else present allows your students to experience someone different than usual.

3) Keeps kids engaged: A new voice and unfamiliarity with that person will allow for a renewed focus from your students.  Students are more attentive around an adult that is new to them verses that same two catechists each week.

Providing opportunities for your students to encounter other individuals is a good way to Being a catechist is a challenging and rewarding ministry all at the same time.

Spend the time to make your lesson one where the students are engaged and excited about what they learned.  It’s been said that 70% of a successful class comes from the preparation done before you step into the classroom.

It is a new calendar year but not a new Religious Education year, HOWEVER, during the second half of the year how do you plan to continue to help your students grow in their love and knowledge of Christ and His Church?  Consider writing down a few goals that will help you build on what you’ve already begun.  For some it may be “beginning again” with renewed vigor as you seek to pass on our Catholic Faith!  God’s abundant Blessings!

Teaching Gratitude in Every Class

How do we teach students to be grateful and to have a thankful heart on a regular basis?  One way is by making sure that at the end of each lesson you take a few minutes to “celebrate” through fostering/encouraging an attitude of praise and gratitude for God’s goodness, His truths, and His ways.  Whatever the topic of the day aim to bring an awareness of praise and thanksgiving regarding what you’ve discussed.

Pray Together

Draw your students into prayer.  Too often prayer is a quick Our Father or a way to get students to be quiet.  Seek to take a few minutes to help draw them into the presence of God.  This may be by having a prayer space set up and having them sit on the floor, by having them stand up (as we do at Mass for the general intercessions) or by going into the church before the Blessed Sacrament.  Help equip them to be people of prayer long after class is over.  Prayer is what keeps us connected to Christ and growing in our relationship with Him.