Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

One of my favorite units in our study of the New Testament is the unit on parables. Our textbook provides some good ways of looking at and categorizing parables, but my favorite part is when we take the time to look at some famous parables and begin to unpack what they can mean in our day to day lives. For both of these lessons, I will provide the worksheet or graphic organizer we use in class, but you could certainly use this as a prayer journaling activity or homework assignment. I find we really get a lot out of the class discussion piece of working through the parables together.

The two main parables that we focus on are “The Sower” and “The Lost Son”, although for next year I am looking to create some resources for “The Talents” and “The Good Samaritan”.

Here is the graphic organizer for “The Sower”. I really want students to take the time to think about each type of soil and where they are in their faith life at this moment. I fill out the organizer along with them and try to be really open with them about the type of soil I am in my own life. I tend to struggle with anxiety and worry, so I often find myself fitting into the category of the thorny soil, where the cares of the world overtake the seed of faith. I am lucky to teach in an agricultural area, so students really understand the idea that you can work the soil to produce better crops and soil. No soil situation is permanent! Maintaining a relationship with God requires constant work, not unlike farming.

For “The Lost Son” we read the story through several times, looking at the characteristics of both sons and the father. Then students think of a time when the acted like each of those characters and write about it on the organizer. I normally talk out examples from my own life to help students start thinking about each scenario. The next step is to have students write an essay describing which character in the parable they are most like and why. I also use this as an opportunity for them to learn how to use the Bible to prove their points within an essay and to properly cite Bible verses.

What other parables would you like to see resources for? Let me know in the comments or on the facebook page!

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When reading through my Magnificat magazine this month, something caught my eye. The Stations of the Cross have always been one of my favorite Lenten practices, and I love the way that our school displays them in the hallways so students can pray them any time. So I was really excited to discover the Via Lucis, or Way of Light, described in the magazine. The Via Lucis are 14 Resurrection stories that follow the gospel accounts of the Risen Christ.

So this last week, my class has been learning each of the 14 Stations of Light.

Via Lucis

1. Jesus Rises from the Dead  (Matthew 28: 1-10)   

2. The finding of the empty tomb (Luke 24: 1-12)              

3. Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus (John 20: 11-18)                 

4. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13- 24)        

5. Jesus is known in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:25- 35)                 

6. Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem  (Luke 24: 36- 49)

7. Jesus gives the disciples his peace and the power to forgive sins
(John 20: 19-24)

8. Jesus strengthens the faith of Thomas (John 20: 24- 29)         

9. Jesus appears by the Sea of Tiberias  (John 21: 1-14)  

10. Jesus forgives Peter and commands him to feed his sheep
(John 21: 15- 19)        

11. Jesus commissions the disciples upon the mountain 
(Mark 16: 14-18  )       

12. The Ascension of Jesus  (Acts 1:6-12)               

13. Mary and the disciples wait in prayer (Acts 1: 13-14)           

14. The Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11)

Each student worked with a partner to read the story in the Bible and retell it in their own words. They also wrote a short three sentence prayer to connect the station to their own lives. Then they created stained glass windows to match the events of the station, using paper. This took a little longer than I had hoped to put all the way together, but this week we will be replacing the Stations of the Cross with the Stations of Light.

One of the ways that I am trying to help my class celebrate Easter this year is by teaching them some of the classic Easter hymns and songs, and also introducing them to some more contemporary music as well. I hope some of these songs can help you in your celebration of Easter.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you use my link to purchase one of the songs, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

  1. Christ is Risen by Matt Maher. I love so much about this song, but especially the opening chords and the way the song builds into the bridge, when we sing “Oh, Church! Come stand in the light! Our God is not dead, he’s alive, he’s alive!”
  2. Everything Comes Alive by We Are Messengers. This song makes me want to dance every time I hear it. It’s fun and easy to sing along with as well. I love the repetition of the lyrics “I’ll be with you in heavenly places”.
  3. Alive by Natalie Grant. This song covers the entire story of Jesus in one beautiful constructed poem. I find this songs works really well with the 4 movements of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. I could also see using the lyrics in a lesson about the parts of the Easter vigil liturgy because it starts with creation and goes through salvation history to the resurrection.
  4. Forever by Kari Jobe. This is another good one for hearing the whole story of the Triduum. While not super easy to sing along with, the refrain is simple and powerfully sung.
  5. The Strife is O’er by Palestrina. This is a traditional Easter hymn and this recording features organ and choir. It’s a nice shift from the previous contemporary pieces and has that hymn rhythm and feel.
  6. Jesus Christ is Risen Today is another traditional Easter hymn, written in the 14th Century. I love this song, although it is often slightly out of my singing range. In Catholic celebrations of Easter, this song is almost always featured.
  7. The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Although this appears to be a Christmas song making its appearance on an Easter list, the Hallelujah Chorus is actually the resurrection song of the Messiah. This is a fun one to talk to students about when they ask about why it’s played at Christmas.
  8. Glorious Day by Casting Crowns. This is another contemporary song that tells the story from the beginning of the passion to Jesus’s “Glorious Day” of resurrection. Students often know this one from the radio, and I often play it during Lent too.
  9. Because He Lives by Matt Maher. I feel like Matt Maher is great at creating choruses and bridges that I belt along with in my car. “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow! Because he lives, every fear is gone!” Amen.
  10. Easter at Ephesus is an entire Easter album by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. I love all of the their seasonal albums, which have a mix of hymns and chants all simply sung by the Sisters. I use each of their albums often and love exposing my students to this simple and beautiful form of prayer.

Do you have any favorite Easter songs to sing or pray with? Please let me know. I look forward to expanding my repertoire and my playlists.

All the links in this post are affiliate links, so if you click on any of the links and purchase songs or albums, I receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting my ministry as a Catholic teacher.

Happy Easter Monday!
Last year around this time, I emailed our pastors. I love Lent and Holy Week, and I think that as a teacher I really do help my students to live these out. We pray the Stations of the Cross and go to Adoration weekly. We read the passion account from John. We learn some beautiful chants. We pray, fast and give to charity. But then when Easter comes, it goes away just as fast.

I want to make this year different. I want to be just as intentional with my celebration of Easter as I am with my observance of Lent. I want each of the 40 days of the Easter season to feel joyful and triumphant. Death, where is your sting? Where is your victory? Jesus is alive!

I’m not entirely sure how to do this, but I am sure that I want to start. Here are my initial plans and ideas, but I would love insight from readers as well. First of all, on Tuesday morning after Easter (we get Easter Monday off) I am going to gather some students to help me decorate the school with Easter banners and decor. When students walk in the door, I want them to immediately feel that something is different. I also want to adapt one of my favorite class activities- an outdoor Bible scavenger hunt into an Easter version, using only the New Testament and of course, plastic Easter eggs.

Some other ideas I am toying with include: Divine Mercy Sunday party, renewing our Baptismal promises in class, activities with the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and making our own “Resurrection Stations” to retell the stories of the resurrected Christ in a similar fashion to the Stations of the Cross. We will also start studying Acts of the Apostles in my 7th grade class. For prayer each day we will sing one of the great Easter hymns.

Stay tuned for some additional reflection about how our class tries to transform our school this Easter. I am excited to see how God blesses us in this endeavor.

“After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried.”
Luke 23:53

Sometimes after a long battle with illness, there is some small relief in knowing that your loved one is not longer in pain. When I think of this last sorrow of Mary, I wonder if she felt some relief knowing that her son’s agony was finally over. I wonder if she was able to fully trust his promise that he would return to the Father and if she really believed that he was at peace. For me, it’s hard to trust when I feel like I have to buried a treasured hope or dream. It feels final to admit that something isn’t going to happen, or at least not yet.

Not yet. That is the promise that is present in the tomb on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. There will be triumph and joy and reunion, but not yet. There will be a complete reworking of the way things are, but not yet.

A few years ago on a retreat I was invited to meditate on Jesus’s time in the tomb and imagine what that time was like. Today I am going to spend some time meditating on Mary’s time of waiting while Jesus was in the tomb. She had to put all of her faith and trust in the broken body of her son, and let him rest. I too have to let certain hopes and dreams to rest with Jesus and have faith and trust that he will rework them in his time and in his way, and I too will experience that triumph and joy.

Not yet. Soon.

Questions for reflection:
What hopes and dreams might I be called to let rest for a time so I can wait for God’s plan in my life?
Where do I need a sense of joy and triumph in my life?
In what situations is God saying to me “Not yet. Soon.”?

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body.”
John 19: 38

Although not strictly portrayed in scripture, I love the image of the Pieta, which is the background image for all the quotes in this series. As I write this post, I have been watching live coverage of the fire in Notre Dame. By the time this posts, we will know the extent of the damage, but as I write we don’t. The images of the iconic church in flames bring to me this image of Our Lady, Notre Dame, holding the broken body of her son in her arms. She didn’t know in that moment the joy that would be coming soon. Instead, she was left to behold the complete destruction of the greatest love in her life.

As a teacher, there are are moments that feel like an incomprehensible failure. When we see our students engage in destructive and self-destructive behaviors, it’s heartbreaking. When we see teachers, parents, administrators acting in ways that hurt us and hurt our students, we can wonder if there is even the potential of success. Right now in my own life, I feel like teaching and my dedication to my job has broken or damaged some of my most important relationships. I have to trust that the work I am doing to shift priorities will ultimately pay off. Teaching requires a lot of faith in yourself, your students, and you family to understand why all these other people hold such an important place in your heart.

Last year a former student came to see me. Our relationship when she was in my class had been strained at best, and combative at times. When she left my class at the end of 8th grade, I knew for sure I had failed her as a teacher. She struggled through high school and was struggling with life post high school. I was shocked, and to be honest, a little worried when she asked if she could come talk to me. When we sat down she said, “I feel like I am losing my faith, and I know that you always wanted what is best for me. Can you help me figure out what to do next?” This was a student who I thought could never see how much I cared for her and her struggles.

Hang in there teachers! Easter (and the end of the school year!) is coming!

Questions for reflection:
Have I ever seen God turn failures into successes?
Can I trust God to work through even my most difficult seasons of life?
What failures and heartbreaks am I holding onto that I could surrender to God?

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus has taken the wine, he said “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
John 19: 26-30

I’ve always been told that this is the moment Christ gave us Mary to be our mother as the church, and so I always loved these last words of Christ. Last year I wrote about this in my detail, but I saw these words echoed in a beautiful way last winter when my father-in-law was preparing for heaven after a heroic battle with cancer. When he gathered the family to explain that the cancer was back and that this time he was not going to pursue full treatment, his only concern was for his wife. “Take care of mom,” he told us.

In some ways, when parents drop their children off at school in the morning, they are giving us this same sort of message. For the next seven hours, behold your son, behold your daughter. From the very first hours of the school year, we take those students into our classrooms, and into our hearts. We feed them emotionally, spiritually, mentally, creatively, and oftentimes even physically. In a concrete way, we act as Christ for our students.

One of the hardest things in my teaching career, especially in the last few years, is the fact that we are expected as teachers to do all those things, and often given little to no support from the parents who entrust their children to us. While I don’t want to bash parents, it can be hard to care for children when they are told over and over that the consequences of their actions are not their responsibility or that the authority of the teacher doesn’t command respect. Our job doesn’t change though, so we keep trying our best to hold students accountable and continue to act as Christ in the best way we can.

My prayer today is for teachers, parents and students to all work together in the important job of education. I pray for teachers who feel like they are at odds with the families of their students, and for increased understanding and better communication in difficult situations. I pray that you would feel affirmed in your role as a teacher, student, or parent and empowered to take others into your heart with compassion.

Questions for reflection:
What are some ways I have been like the beloved apostle, taking my students into my classroom and my life?
How have I been like Mary, mentored and cared for by someone who loves me?
Is God calling me to take another teacher, coworker, friend into my life in some deeper way?

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