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When I teach the gospels to my seventh graders, we often make lists of the things that make each gospel distinct. For example, Matthew uses the literary form of midrash to show numerous connections between Jesus and the Old Testament promises God had made to the Israelites. Mark is the shortest gospel, and also all the cool Messianic secret references like “Son of Man”. John isn’t synoptic, and brings a very poetic point of view to the story of salvation. For Luke, we always include the line Gospel: The Musical.

In the first two chapters of Luke, any time someone is super happy, they sing or speak a “canticle”. Mary, Zechariah and Simeon all sing the praises of a God who keeps his promises, and these songs become a huge part of the prayer of the church in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Mary’s canticle occurs at the Visitation, when she goes to stay with her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. When the two women meet, Elizabeth immediately sees what is going on, and John the Baptist leaps in her womb. Her joyful greeting causes Mary to respond in joyous praise, just like a heroine would do in a musical, and this is the second time Mary speaks in the Bible. Mary’s song of praise is called the Magnificat, because it starts with the words “My soul magnifies the Lord.” The Magnificat is one of my favorite scriptures in the whole world, and you can find the entire text in Luke 1:46-55.

Here are some ideas for a week based on Mary’s “magnificat”:

Read the Visitation story in the Bible. Students could read the scripture and study it using the Lectio Divina scripture study method. I have a pre-made version in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, but you could easily do as a whole class bible study or prayer journal activity.

Learn the song “Holy is His Name”. This is one of my favorite songs, written by John Michael Talbot. You can watch it on Youtube here.

Use imagainative prayer to put yourself “inside” the Visitation. You can read more about praying this way in last week’s post on Fiat. But some questions for imaginative prayer for this scene include: Who are you in the scene? Mary? Elizabeth? Someone just watching the meeting? How do you feel as you hear Mary’s song of praise? What does Mary and Elizabeth’s friendship remind you of?

Learn about the Liturgy of the Hours. The Magnificat is part of the Evening prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours (which is also called the Divine Office). You could look up the evening prayers for that day (I use the Laudate App) and pray those as an end of the day prayer in your classroom, or send the prayers home for students to pray with their families.

Help local women in crisis pregnancy situations. Mary’s first instinct after learning of her own pregnancy was to go help someone else. This could be a great opportunity for students to reach out in service to your local community. Our diocese has a program called Prepares to help expecting mothers, and there are various ways students can get involved to help. One is to do a drive for supplies to donate to a specifc mother. Another would be to make cards and letters encouraging pregnant women and let them know that your class is rooting for them and praying for them.

Even more Mary and May ideas coming soon!

Mother of Life

Happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

A few years ago, I came across an image that I fell in love with. It depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe, not as she usually is shown, but in profile in front of an open window. A starry night sky sparkles over a dark desert. Mary is kneeling, with roses at her feet, and she is obviously pregnant. A soft glow emanates from her stomach.

I’ve thought of this painting a lot recently, and decided that this was the year I needed to purchase a copy for my classroom prayer table before Advent. Through some deep internet searching, I finally found the one place you can purchase the painting: from the artist herself, in North Dakota.

This is Nellie Edward’s bio on her website “Nellie started doing fine art  in 2007 – acting on a sudden inspiration to create a ‘portrait’ of  then “Blessed” Kateri Tekakwitha.  To the artist’s surprise, this was quickly approved by the National Tekakwitha Conference and 5 years later, became the canonization issue cover of Columbia Magazine, as well as the cover of a biographical book. (OSV Publishing)  In the middle of doing the portrait, Nellie received a call from a priest, inviting her to give a ProLife talk at an annual Indian Congress…Now she understood it had a ProLife mission.  She is very thankful for the artwork, which has shown itself to be at least part of the answer to her prayer.”

Buying the painting was a challenge to my millennial instinct to do everything online. I had to call Nellie to place the order, and because everyone screens my New Jersey phone number, she had to call me back, which she did at 5:15 the next morning. What happened next was one of the coolest Holy Spirit moments of my year.

We talked about her art, and I told her how much this painting moved me and how I wanted to buy a print for my classroom. She asked where I taught and I told her the name of our school, Saint Joseph Marquette. For the blog followers who don’t know me in real life: I teach in a little city in an intensely rural farm area that I had never even heard of before AmeriCorps placed me here.

There was a strange pause on the other end of the line, then the astonishing reply, “I went to Saint Joseph’s years ago! That was my parish and school when I lived in Washington!” We talked for a while after that, but I just couldn’t get over it. The mysterious painter of a painting that had stayed in my mind for years is a part of the legacy of my school. This conversation came at a time when I have been questioning whether what I do as a religion teacher really matters in the long run faith-wise. I feel like God gave me a clear answer through this conversation and a few other experiences I’ve had in the last few weeks.

The frame for the print is arriving today, just in time to be the focal point of our prayer table. If you love this image as much as I do, you should check out Nellie’s work at

I know this isn’t the best photo, but I wanted to make sure that people who love the print have to get it directly from Nellie instead of copying and pasting this image.

Respect Life Month

A few years ago I was able to attend the yearly conference of the National Catholic Educators Association with a coworker.  After a very eventful series of flights, we arrived in New Orleans exhausted, hot, and without my coworker’s luggage.  We had missed the first day of the conference, which was disappointing, but we hit the keynote session ready to go.  My coworker was excited; she had heard the speaker before.  I was still just tired.

And then a small women in simple clothes and a crucifix stepped up to the podium.  She greeted us in a soft southern drawl and asked us to join her in prayer.  By the end of the prayer, I knew I was listening to someone special.  The story she told that morning was not just the story that changed her life and perspective, but it also changed mine.

You may have heard of Sister Helen Prejean and her work to end the use of the death penalty in the United States, but up to that morning, I hadn’t.  I am ashamed to say, that like many others, I had only ever associated the right to life with the rights of the unborn to be born.  The idea of a convicted criminal’s right to life had never occurred to me, and quite frankly, made me very uncomfortable.  As Sister Helen’s story unfol226600_10100555141049769_7035325_nded, I started to realize I needed to learn more.  So I borrowed 20 dollars from my coworker, bought both of Sister Helen’s books, met her and started to learn whatever I could.

At that time, when I started researching on Catholic websites, there were few resources available, which I found both odd and frustrating. One website that I contacted said that they didn’t have any resources because capital punishment wasn’t a respect life issue.  To say that steamed me a bit is an understatement.  Thankfully, when I did the same search today before writing this post, this was no longer the case.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website in particular had a lot of resources available for reading and also for teaching about the death penalty.

I’ve learned a lot about the death penalty in the last few years.  Before Sister Helen’s activism, there were only a few small paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church  which summed up say basically that the Catholic Church is not categorically against the death penalty but that it should only be used when there is no other way to protect society from that person.  It does go on to say that in modern society, these cases are extremely rare, if maybe even non-existent. (#2267) When Sister Helen started working to end the death penalty in the U.S., she met with Saint John Paul II and asked him to do more.  Later, in his encyclical The Gospel of Life Saint John Paul asked Catholics to be “unconditionally pro-life”.

From a non-Catholic perspective, there are still some good arguments for ending the use of the death penalty.  First of all, it is expensive! In the state of Washington, where I live, a Seattle University study revealed that death penalty cases cost the state an average of 1 million dollars more than cases where the death penalty is not an option. Other studies show that the death penalty is used more for black defendants who kill white victims than for any other group.  Also, over 90% of people on death row across the United States were too poor to afford their own attorney. (more information available at and

During Respect Life Month, my eighth grade students do research on the use of the death penalty in the United States, using the USCCB website as their starting point.  We also read a series of pro  and anti death penalty articles and interviews.  We learn Sister Helen’s story of being pen pals with a man on death row and how that changed her opinion on the death penalty and also caused the issue to become a pressing life issue for Catholics.  At the end of the unit, students write a persuasive essay encouraging Catholics to become educated about the death penalty and the Church’s perspective.

Even if this feels like something too controversial to talk about with your class, I think it is a really worthwhile thing to do.  I have been consistently impressed with my students’ ability to listen and learn from one another, even when they don’t agree with each other. Either way, I hope this post has inspired someone to become more educated on the issue, even if the death penalty doesn’t make it in to your lesson plans this year.