NOTE: This was originally published 9/13/2011.
Now that I'll be teaching CCD, I'm going to need a test-run for all my lesson plans. Oh, blogosphere, prepare to don fur and become my guinea pigs!
My first lesson is to be on the Trinity. What is the Trinity? Does the Trinity have roots in Scripture? How come Jews only believe in ONE God, but we believe in three that add up to ONE God? I mean, 1+1+1=3, right? So what's that all about, anyway?
Ah... I love it! Delving right into the nitty-gritty!
Anyway, in starting with the Trinity, I realized I'd actually have to back it up and start with the importance of our Jewish roots. Since one of the main arguments against the dogma of the Trinity is that there is only "One" God and there can't be "3 Persons" we need to trace the language back all the way to the Old Testament, which was passed along (and subsequently written) in Hebrew.
So when we dig our ways back to the OT, we realize that there are two words to describe "oneness" in the Hebrew Bible. The first is "echad" which echoes a pluralistic singular. For example, when Moses comes down to explain the Commandments to the Jews, the people pledge loyalty to God's Word "in one (echad) voice." Obviously one person doesn't stand up and say "Yeah, Moses! We'll totally abide by the Commandments!" All the Jews, collectively, gave their consent to the Word of God. Thus, though singular, the word "echad" alludes to a plurality that creates the singular.
This word, "echad," is different from the Hebrew word "yachid." Yachid also references "oneness" but pretty much translates to "only." It refers to a literal, numeric singularity. For example, "yachid" is used in the story of Abraham and Isaac. When God asks that Abraham take his one and only (yachid) son by Sarah, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice, God was specific. Isaac was the only son Abraham had by Sarah, so there can be no confusion regarding the value of "one."
See the difference? Nowhere in the Bible does the Hebrew betray this plurality of God. Each time God is spoken of, the word "echad" is used. Why? Jews accepted God the Father as well as His Spirit who descended to create the world. Finally, they awaited the Son of God who would come to redeem them as the promised Messiah. So though they didn't believe in a doctrine of a triune God, all the pieces of the puzzle were present. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, came and put those pieces together for us.
And put those pieces together He did!
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus instructs us with the words "In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Naming each part of the Trinity under the singular of "name" and imparting the equality of their Divine Natures establishes this dogma for us. Epistles from Sts. Peter and Paul expound and support this.
So the Trinity does exist in the Old (and New!) Testament(s), but in order to understand that, we must first understand our Jewish heritage.
This also explains why our new translations (starting the first Sunday of Advent) refers to God with plural verbs. :)
Regarding tangible expressions of the Trinity, I'll be falling back on St. Patrick's "3 leaf clover" analogy as well as a personal "perfume" analogy gifted to me this summer. I was contemplating melting 3 different colored candles together into one giant candle, then asking the children to attempt separating the wax, but I realized that'd end up taking way too long and would probably get really messy really fast. Ah well...
I'll also be keeping John Godfrey Saxe's poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant" up my sleeve for when we get into the ability of 2 men to see the same God and come away with 2 VERY different visions of Him. I might even have them draw / color in their own elephants...
Not too often you hear the words "Lent" and "tripod" put together, but it was a concept I introduced a few weeks back to my CCD students.
So often you hear "What are you giving up for Lent?" I wanted them to understand that this wasn't a futile repeat of New Year's resolutions. Lent is a time for sacrifice.
One of my favorite quotes about sacrifice is this:
Love transforms suffering into sacrifice.
According to this, two things must be present for a sacrifice: Love and Suffering.
So for Lent, while they were all trying to figure out what they'd "give up," I asked them to also figure out a specific person or intention they'd be offering that sacrifice for. Giving up candy bars during Lent is great, but if you're just substituting the candy bars with milkshakes, nothing is accomplished.
Instead, if you give up candy bars, use the $.60 you save every day and donate it to the homeless man you pass on the street each day. Put it into a piggy bank and at the end of Lent, use it to buy your little sister that iPad app she's been dying to try. Better yet, secretly use it to buy a slew of your favorite prayer cards / medals and leave them in the back of your parish church for parishioners to share!
Little things add up, and as long as they're adding up to love, they're perfect sacrifices for Lent.
With that in mind, my students started coming up with some great ideas:
These are my favorites. It took a lot of leading, but when they finally arrived at their Lenten gifts (as I've been calling them), I think they really understood the purpose behind the practice.
Once they got this foundation set, I tied it together through Jesus.
We give up things, or sacrifice, for our community out of love. However, we don't do that for ourselves. We do it through Jesus. We unite our sufferings with Jesus' Passion. We don't sacrifice during Lent just because that's what you do during Lent. We do it so Jesus doesn't have to suffer alone. We share the burden with Him.
I likened it to riding a roller coaster for the first time. They all seemed to understand that. None of them wanted to ride a coaster by themselves the first time they went. They were scared! Instead, they asked a friend to come along so they could share the burden of fear.
During Lent, we consent to share the burden of suffering with Jesus. We consent to take part in the Passion, because as the Church, we are members of His Body, and we want to follow where He, the Head, leads us. During Lent, He is leading us to Salvation through the Cross.
It was like a little light bulb clicked over their heads. I started seeing them slowly understanding the concept of sharing in the Lenten journey. Each Mass isn't a recreation of the Passion so much as a time-machine that brings us back to the Foot of the Cross, time and time again. Lent helps us refocus on this by bringing the reality of Christ's Sacrifice into our daily lives (in a much more manageable way).
Just as Christ suffered for love of us, we, too, must suffer for love of others, uniting those sacrifices to the Sacrifice of Christ.
This is the Lenten Tripod analogy I used with my students, and I have to say, I'm really pleased with how well they took that lesson to hear.
Next week we'll check in to see how they're doing with their gifts. :)
I teach an 8th grade Confirmation class. This class is comprised of students who typically don't attend Mass, go to public school, and have about as much interest in Catholicism as they do in Algebra.
However, I do everything I can to impart the Faith in an engaging, relatable manner.
Prayer is one of those areas that never quite "took" for them. It pains me that their communication with God is so infrequent that even a simple Our Father is said with no inflection. Student-led prayers are lackluster and careless. It kills me. They are curious about tradition and history, but that is something they see as separate from a personal relationship with Christ. It's as if they want to learn "facts" but don't understand that those facts exist only because of the living Presence of God still active within their lives. Those facts are the small bits of "family history" we share as children of God.
So imagine my surprise tonight when they all prayed. Really, truly prayed. With their hearts... not just with robotic recitation.
You see, at the beginning of class (as I do every week), I asked for their intentions. They ranged for "help on a spelling test" to "my neighbor's cat is missing." Great! We added them to our intentions list.
However, I then offered this intention:
I told them about a little boy named Ben. For those of you unaware, Ben Sauer is a beautiful 4 year old boy with a twin brother named Jack and a little sister named Megan. Up until about a month ago, Ben was a seemingly healthy little boy who enjoyed playing with his siblings and was looking forward to preschool.
A few weeks ago, he was diagnosed with an incredibly rare and terribly aggressive form of cancer. My heart is breaking even as I write this. His parents were told that there is no form of treatment available, and their beautiful, happy, gentle son only has a few weeks to live.
How do you process such a thing? A vibrant little boy - your heart and soul - will likely be taken away to Heaven after only 4 brief years in your arms.
Oh dear Lord... mercy. Please. Mercy!
As I relayed this intention to my students, they all sat - silent. There was no side-chatter, no doodling, no requests for the bathroom. There was only silence and an aching plea for this intention to reach the Ears of God.
And so, with this intention fresh on their hearts, my class made the Sign of the Cross. They said a Memorare with so much tenderness... so much pleading... that I actually stumbled over the words as I fought to contain my own emotions. They followed their Memorares with the Prayer to Saint Michael. This we offered through the intercession of Blessed Chiara Badano at the suggestion of a friend from Theotokos.
As we closed with another Sign of the Cross, I looked out at my class and I thanked them. I knew hearing Ben's story made them feel terribly sad, but in joining their prayers for a miracle, his comfort, and the comfort of his family, I think they understood, for the first time, prayer can be a powerful weapon. Sometimes, it is our only weapon, but that does not lessen its strength.
We prayed again for this intention at the close of class. Instead of chattering busily out the door after the bell, my class silently walked into the hall. I really think they were still contemplating this very special intention. I asked them to hold it in their hearts throughout Lent.
Actually, I'd like to ask that all of you do so. Please keep his family entrenched in prayers. Also, be sure to reach out to those you love. None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow. That is why we must always love in the moment. Always.
On Tuesday night, I explained the roots of St. Valentine's Day to my class. I told them about Father Valentine and the love for (and dedication to!) God that he was ultimately put to death for. I explained how from his jail cell, awaiting death, this holy and courageous priest would write letters to his parishioners telling them to hold fast to their love of Christ through their love of one another.
Many of them were surprised to know the national day for flowers and candy actually springs out of the martyrdom of a holy and courageous priest. When I pointed out the liturgical color for a martyr's feast is red, it took them all a quick moment to connect why everything associated with Valentine's Day follows suit. Tradition is a terribly hard thing to bury indefinitely. *Grin*
Anyway, at the end of class, I read an excerpt from The Hours of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For those of you unaware, this incredibly beautiful prayer book was dictated to Luisa Piccarreta by Our Lord, Himself. Together, the two of them journeyed back to His Passion and experienced it for the purpose of sharing the depth of His love story to us.
I could speak of this prayer book forever, but I chose a small snippet for my class expressly for St. Valentine's Day. It is taken from the 10am-11am hour of His Passion, just as He takes up His Cross. It reads:
I [Luisa] see that your enemies shove You down the steps, while the mob awaits You with fury and eagerness. They have You find the Cross already prepared, which You seek with great longing. You look at it with Love; and You go straight towards it to embrace it. First, You kiss it; and, as a shiver of joy surges through your most Holy Humanity, You look at it with utmost satisfaction and measure its length and width. You now establish the portion in it for all creatures. You endow them with sufficient cross in order to bind them to the Divinity with a nuptial bond and render them heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.
I reflected thusly to my children:
Jesus did not run from His Cross. He did not turn away from the torturous and humiliating death He was about to endure. Instead, He JOYFULLY accepted His Cross. He kissed the very instrument of His death because He understood how necessary it was for the salvation of His beloved family. WE are His family. He kissed that Cross for Love of us. He shouldered that Cross for US, and He left to us the inheritance found within its splinters so that one day we might be reunited with God in Heaven.
This is our constant Valentine. Each and every time we see it, we must stop to reflect upon the Divine Love that was infused within its very existence.
"Behold, I make all things new."
Oh Lord, behold, indeed! You took the world's symbol of humiliation, agony and defeat only to turn it into the triumphant throne of mercy, salvation and victory. This is, indeed, our truest love letter from You, signed in Your Most Precious Blood and delivered with Your final, loving sigh.
This is my reflection for Saint Valentine's Day.
May the Lord bless each and every one of you with peace, love and mercy.
I have this question I ask my CCD students every year as we begin to study the Stations of the Cross / Sorrowful Mysteries:
How many wounds did Jesus have while hanging on the Cross?
Without fail I always get the same few answers.
"Four" (Two Hands / Feet)
"Five" (Hands, Feet + Side)
"Like ten or twenty" (Hands, Feet, Side + pricks from the crown of thorns)
After they exhaust the answers above, I pull out this crucifix:
Without fail, the class recoils. Faces scrunch up in horror, disbelief and disgust. Almost immediately their hands begin to shoot into the air, all signaling the same exact question:
"Miss G, why is He all covered in Blood?!"
I then remind my students that Jesus' Passion did not begin and end on the Cross. Jesus endured so much more than being nailed to a cross for our Salvation. He was beaten, scourged, kicked, punched, spat upon, bullied and whipped well before He even saw the Cross.
You see, the crucifixes we display in churches and homes are not typically graphic. As a result, we tend to "pretty up" the garish Sacrifice God made for us. We lose sight of the reality of what His Sacrifice really meant.
I didn't show my children this crucifix to get a reaction from them - I showed it to them as a stark visual reminder of the suffering that went into Christ's physical sacrifice. Too frequently we speak about His Death with a twinge of sadness and then move on to say "But hey, that's over now because He rose and now none of that horrible stuff matters! Jesus suffered so you don't have to!"
No. This crucifix reminds us that Christ's Sacrifice was VERY real, VERY graphic, VERY inhuman, and VERY necessary.
Our sin is what disfigured Our Lord in this manner. Our sin is what caused the strips of flesh to be scourged from His bones. Our sin is what pressed the Crown of Thorns onto His Precious Head. Our sin is what kicked, whipped and spat upon Him as He made His Way along the Via Dolorosa.
This crucifix brought all of that front and center for my class, and suddenly the Stations of the Cross became a lot more meaningful for them as a result.
They understood why He fell so many times. They understood why Simon was needed to help Him carry His Cross along. They understood, then, why Our Lady's heart must have broken a thousand times over seeing Her Son disfigured in such a cruel manner... and why St. Veronica was doing such a service to Him by cleaning His Face with her veil.
Seeing this crucifix colored their meditation more than any amount of explanation I could've done.
For those of you who do not know this crucifix's origins, a seer by the name of Barnabas Nowye of Nigeria was commissioned by Christ to create a crucifix that would remind this generation of the reality of His Sacrifice. The Lord lamented to Barnabas that we as a people have forgotten just how much He spent Himself in gaining for us the gift of Salvation. We no longer reflect with true solemnity because we cannot envision all that His Love called forth for us.
So He showed Himself to Barnabas and Barnabas recreated as best he could what he saw. Jesus then asked him to write the words "I am the agonizing Jesus Christ who loves you" on the cross, itself. Indeed, He is the agonizing messiah. Christ came for one reason and for one reason only - to suffer, die and rise for our Salvation. Each step He took was a movement towards that terrifying, torturous Sacrifice. In order for us to fully appreciate His Gift, we need to fully understand what went into securing it.
Since I've still got plenty of beads and yarn to work with, I tried to figure out a fun Lenten craft that would use them up!
I lucked upon some cheap foam sheets at Walmart and put the two together. Fun was the result!
Since Ash Wednesday falls on the day before Valentine's Day this year, I decided to combine my Lent and Valentine's Day crafts. To prep my students for the upcoming craft, I spent Tuesday night's lesson explaining to them the purpose of Lent and why we prepare through prayer and sacrifice. We spent a good portion of the class going through the Triduum and why that is considering the most sacred time of year for Catholics. Since Jesus was willing to sacrifice so much for us, it's only fitting that we return His love by showing our love for Him by loving others.
So this coming week, we're going to be doing Valentine's to Jesus, but instead of simple "I love you Jesus" messages, we're going to be offering LENTEN Valentines. I'm having the kids mark down things they'd like to both give up as a sacrifice and do for others as a sign of love. They'll put their ideas onto the foam sheets and frame them out with decorations and symbols of their faith.
To further prepare, I mocked up these samples:
The first one is a combination of Love Letter and Sacrifice Beading. I took 40 purple beads to signify the 40 days of Lent and strung them along four strings of yarn. For each time the child resists temptation, a bead can be moved down the line. This is a good way to help children see the progress they're making and give them a sense of accomplishment. The beads along the bottom are red, white and blue. They weren't chosen because I was feeling patriotic. Instead, I chose them to provide special meaning for "gifts of love" done by the child.
Red is to remind us of the pain that sometimes comes along with sacrifice. Jesus gave us the gift of Eternal Life, but it came at the cost of His Blood. Thus, when we sacrifice things during Lent, we should aim to sacrifice things that might be a little difficult (like video games, candy, fast food or shoe shopping!).
White is to remind us of the purity of God's gift. The Father did not force the Son to sacrifice Himself for us. Jesus was not guilty of anything. Instead, Jesus's motive for coming to earth to die was pure. His Sacrifice was driven purely by love. Our sacrifices duing Lent should also be driven by love.
Blue is to remind us of the Blessed Mother. She, too, consented to take part in these Sorrowful Mysteries because she knew it was necessary for God's children to return to Heaven. When I explained this to the kids last week, I likened Our Lady to a firefighter's mother.
If a firefighter knows a baby is at the top of a burning building, what does he do? He runs up to the top of the building to save that baby! It's his job! It's what he chose to do with his life because he cares about others and wants to spend his life helping them!
Would his mother object to him trying to save the baby? Would she have jumped in front of him and sacrifice the life of the baby? No. Why? Because she understands he has to save the baby. She knows the baby would die without her hero son, and so she suffers the fear and pain of losing her son because being a fireman is who he is.
Just like that fireman was born to save lives, Jesus was born to save humanity. Thus, Our Lady consented to the fear and pain that went along with seeing Her Beloved Son die so that we could all gain eternal life. In my Lenten meditations, I always tend to stick with my sacrifices better when comparing them to hers. If she could do that, I can give up fries and junk food, ya know?
So I put the blue ones in there in case the kids want to do something similar.
Put a magnet on the back and you can hang it up on your fridge so you can keep track in an easy-to-reach spot!
The next one is a horizontal frame that includes three "give up X" and three "do X for others" items. I alternated them and to denote which was which, I placed either a heart (for loving others) or a cross (for sacrifice) above or below the corresponding picture.
I'm a terrible artist, so forgive me. I used Sharpie markers for this one. I chose three typical sacrifices to showcase as ideas: Fast food, chocolate and mean / angry language. For the "love others" items, I chose organization, prayer and monetary donations. Obviously these pictures can vary based on the child's choices. I liked putting the "Lead me to Your Cross, dear Jesus!" at the bottom, though. It just seemed to fit. Sacrifice undoubtedly leads us to Christ, and loving others through things like prayer and help are about as Christ-like as you can get!
I chose to make slits in the frame to give the smaller foam piece a place to anchor into. No glue necessary! Just make the slits with a knife or pair of scissors.
Finally, I made the more "traditional" Valentine card. It's very simple and made mostly with the little foam stickers I found in my travels. I did end up hot gluing the red piece onto the white background for this one.
Fish on Fridays, remembering to make my bed in the morning, and making a concentrated effort to pray with faith - no empty words here!!!
So those are just a few of the fun little projects you can do with your kids / classes. It will give the children a chance to really think about and express their love for Jesus while preparing for the Lenten / Easter season.
I'm currently teaching my kids about the Liturgical Calendar. I wanted to do something more hands on for them to help them better understand how colors and season work together to tell the story of Jesus' Life.
Since I have a plethora of colored beads on-hand (these are given as rewards that kids can exchange for treats), I figured a beaded liturgical calendar was in order!
I pulled some yarn and cut them into strips about 12 inches long. I then had the kids sort the colored beads into their proper seasons and string them, in order, onto the yarn. Once completed, they tied their ends together to create an easy to follow (and portable!) liturgical calendar!
These are what the looked like:
The best part about these (aside from how cheap and easy they are to make), is they can be customized to suit the level of your children!
Older kids can do a calendar that features Holy Days of Obligation (the above is only Sundays plus the Triduum). Or maybe they want to do the ENTIRE calendar and see if they can't coordinate the feasts of martyrs, the Blessed Mother and other saints while still paying attention to season.
I was so pleased with how these turned out that I plan to do one with Vincent! He'll enjoy stringing the beads, and even though he doesn't have much concept of Church colors, we can match them each week when we go to Mass so he can begin to "follow along" in his own way.
So there's my liturgical craft for the night. You folks enjoy!
Just a quick note, but tonight was my first CCD class of the year.
Over half of the students didn't know that Jesus was God. Not one knew how to make the Sign of the Cross properly, and everyone gave me blank stares when I asked who Moses was.
At least they knew Mary's the Mother of Jesus! :)
I love a challenge, but starts like this really make me wonder what is being taught in the lower levels (or at home!).
Ah well. Last year's class was similar, but by the end, they were mini Catholic gurus. Ha. Here's to a new year of education, blessings and fun!
I’m getting back to my educational roots on this post, and it’s refreshing as I feel the last few have been haphazard “catch-ups” or “Mom” entries that most people probably find pointless.
Tomorrow night is my first CCD lesson of the season. I’m so excited to meet my kids and get back into the swing of teaching the Faith. One of the things I’ll be tackling tomorrow night is the Sign of the Cross.
Our Director specifically requested that we teach our children the Sign of the Cross because our visiting priest (Fr. Eucharist!) had mentioned it seemed to him that no one did it properly. Embarrassed, she made sure at our catechetical meeting that the teachers made this prayer a priority (along with genuflection) so that the next time Fr. Eucharist visited, we wouldn’t be embarrassed by our improper prayer movements at Mass.
I happily agreed to this since the Sign of the Cross and genuflection are two of the biggest things I harped on last year. I noticed right off the bat that my students were doing it improperly, plus it tied nicely into my lesson on the Trinity being One God in Three Divine Persons. So, here’s my little lesson on the Sign of the Cross for anyone who would like to know why we use this motion to open and close our prayers.
The Sign of the Cross
Using our thumb together with our fore and middle fingers, we touch our forehead while saying “In the Name of the Father.” Then, we use those same fingers to touch our abdomen while saying “and of the Son.” Finally, we touch both shoulders while saying, “and of the Holy Spirit.” Some traditions have you kiss those three fingers while saying “Amen.” Otherwise, you can fold your hands while saying “Amen.”
Now, why do we say / do these things?
Well, we open and close all of our prayers with the Sign of the Cross because we understand that God’s Sacrifice is the one and only offering we can make that bridges the divide caused by sin. In offering the infinitely meritorious Sacrifice of Christ’s Passion, we acknowledge that without God’s Love and Mercy, we are nothing. Thus, we begin and end our prayers with this acknowledgement in supplication and thanks for such love.
Plus, in marking ourselves with the Throne of His Sacrifice (the Cross) we are reminding ourselves (and others) to always unite our joys, sufferings and thanksgiving to Christ.
I have this, and I love it.
Finally, these words - when prayed with the fluid motion of the cross – remind us that God is triune – Three distinct Persons in One God.
This is a concept I’ve described to my class repeatedly as it’s so difficult to grasp… even amongst theologians. Our humanity cannot understand the depth of Their Unity, but we try! During the Crucifixion, we weren’t just crucifying Christ. Father and Holy Spirit were present as well, which is why I love the Trinitarian Crucifix. It reminds us that though distinct, each Person was fully present and actively participating in the Crucifixion of the Son. Our most simplistic prayer is so rich in context!!! It is the backbone of our Catholicism and the truest, strongest root of our Faith.
I could happily write on this prayer for days on end.
Anyway, moving on to the separate motions of forehead, abdomen and shoulders, we have reasons for placing each Person of the Trinity in these various spots. Everything we do and say as Catholics carries incredible meaning… never forget that!
For example, the three fingers we touch to ourselves are indicative of the Trinity. The remaining two (ring and pinkie) remind us of Christ’s two-fold nature – human and Divine.
We touch our heads for the Father because He is the Source of all Wisdom. We touch our abdomen for the Son to remind us that He, springing forth from the Father of Wisdom, became Incarnate in the womb of the Virgin. Finally, we touch both shoulders for the Holy Spirit to remind ourselves that He, having been sent by the Son, surrounds and protects the Church. Finally, we kiss the three fingers that marked us in the Cross as a sign of love and reverence. We also acknowledge it as a sort of “mini-kiss” of thanksgiving to the Trinity (at least that’s what I view it as).
So the next time you make the Sign of the Cross, meditate a bit on the deeper and beautiful manifestations of our Faith that are proclaimed through our simplest form of prayer.
A few months ago, as my class and I were discussing the 10 plagues God sent to force the pharaoh to give the Israelites their freedom, the topic of the Angel of Death came up. This same discussion ended up finding its way into my inbox this morning from a friend of mine who is trying to decide if Catholicism is right for him.
The tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborns, was a punishment doled out specifically by the Angel of Death. My class had a really hard time wrapping their heads around the image of the angel pictured in the book. He was wielding a sickle (much like the one pictured), and left a trail of death and lamentation in his wake. Not one of the kids could believe that God would intentionally "murder" children like that.
I had to reel them back in for a bit. I explained that God never "murders" anyone. The picture they saw wasn't a recreation of that night... it was an artist's choice of symbols and images to tell a story. In the book, we saw a mighty angel holding a sickle. Around him were crying mothers and lifeless children. The artist chose these things for a reason.
First, the Angel of Death didn't bring God's punishment to the firstborns... punishment was meant for those left behind who would feel the pain on an emotional level (considering that months of physical punishment did nothing to deter them).
This angel carried a sickle to symbolize the "harvesting" of souls. The sickle is an agricultural tool that is specifically used to remove the most desirable parts of grain. In ancient Egypt, that's exactly what the firstborns would have been considered. The souls that this angel harvested (firstborns) were the most desirable and respected family members in Egyptian times. The fact that God demanded that the souls makes the punishment that much more severe.
Finally, the crumpled, broken parents who clutched the lifeless bodies of their children were meant to evoke strong emotions - the artist wanted to REALLY hit home how devastating this plague was in its emotional severity, so he used young children to symbolize all firstborns.
Firstborn didn't just mean babies. It didn't just mean toddlers. Firstborn meant everyone from child straight on through adult. It meant everything from calf to chicken to donkey. God harvested the most revered of Egyptian lives for Himself as proof that He was God over all - even the best protected. He controlled Life and Death (not just over base nature and animals, but over humanity as well - something Pharaoh never accepted as true until this final plague).
However, my class was still having a really tough time reconciling God taking these innocent lives with their image of a pure, holy, and loving Being. This is very understandable considering we, as humans, many times see death as a horrible, evil thing (especially when it is the death of an innocent... someone who did nothing to cause or solicit an untimely end).
One student asked me, "Do you think they [the firstborns] were scared?"
I paused for a second, because I realized then that my poor class had in their minds this image of a massive weapon-wielding warrior with wings blazing a trail through Egypt slaughtering unsuspecting children. Their collective looks of horror and disbelief challenged me to break down the Angel of Death for them a bit... into one who looked a little more like this:
The Angel of Death wasn't running around slashing throats. In fact, I doubt the people who were chosen to die that night even felt pain. Though I never thought about it before, when she asked me that, I immediately pictured one of those children, soundly sleeping, engulfed in a brilliant light. The Angel of Death was present, and he showed this tiny soul something of Heaven. He gently said, "Come, little one. God is calling you home." He reached out his angelic hand and without thought or hesitation, the soul - immeasurably joyous and willing - leapt from its body and consented to be carried along to meet the Source of such radiating, all-encompassing Love.
Instead of punishment or pain, these souls were met with joy and love... comfort and beauty. The Angel of Death is not this menacing monstrosity that humans should fear. Instead, he is the herald of our Heavenly welcome - the one tasked with the joy of bringing us home after our earthly sojourn.
So this question came up both in my CCD class and in an open forum for adults last week.
I wasn't surprised to see it in my CCD class. They're sixth grades. However, I was surprised that it cropped up in the forum from a well-versed Catholic adult!
So I figured I'd share my answer here since it's a more prevalent question than I'd realized.
We technically have the Romans to thank for the title of "Good Friday."
See, back when the St. Paul started preaching the "good news" of Jesus Christ, there was another word you might be familiar with in constant use... "gospel."
Before us Christians usurped it as our own, the word "gospel" had a very specific connotation. Since Rome enjoyed conquering every community known to man, they were frequently in far-off places fighting a variety of different people. As a result, they needed fast couriers to let the various generals (and Caesar) know if they were winning or needed backup.
When these couriers skitted back to the capital with news of a victory, they called it the "euangelion" (which is actually the Greek word for evangelization or "bringing good news"). The good news was victory for the people. Oddly enough, it also referenced the official laws and privileges that these new Roman citizens could be assured of if they played nice and followed Roman authority. That, in turn, was the actual "gospel."
So apply this knowledge to what our Christian gospel actually is. St. Paul describes it best as the death and resurrection of Jesus. From the Throne of the Cross, Christ defeated the enemy and assured salvation for those who would accept His Authority. It makes perfect sense, then, why we would consider that first Good Friday to be "Good." It was the true trumpet of humanity's "gospel." That act secured for us victory in addition to the privileges that come with being a child of God.
As the years went on, this word was picked up and converted into "Godspel." It was a Germanic combination of "God / good" and "story / message." That's why most of us today understand the word to mean "Good News." Originally, however, it meant an entire group of people were welcomed into the fold with privileges and rewards so long as they agreed to abide by the authority of the one who conquered their territory.
In other words, Jesus came to earth, conquered it through His Passion, Death and Resurrection, and gained for us the inheritance of eternal life so long as we submit to His Will (which is nothing more than loving one another as He, Himself, has loved).
Consider my heart both horrified and shattered.
We were talking about Good Friday during CCD class and one of my students raised her hand and asked if it was true that "all Jews went to hell because of what 'they' did to Jesus."
That question seriously made me feel like I was just mugged in the middle of Madison Square Garden on a Sunday afternoon.
After shaking what must've been the most stupified look ever from my face, I replied, "That's not true at all. No one can be sure of which souls are worthy of Heaven and which are punished in hell but God. Where did you hear that?"
She replied her father had told her. Another kid called out that he'd heard the same thing from his dad.
I was so beyond floored I simply don't have the words to express how distraught I was that there were parents teaching their impressionable children this horrifying prejudice!!!
So I attempted to redirect them and make it painstakingly clear that NO ONE can claim they know anyone (let alone an entire group of people) will end up in hell. NO ONE.
I gave them the example of Osama bin Laden. Of course every kid balked at first and basically said, "Surely you're out of your mind, Mrs. G. Obviously that SOB is using molten lava as mouthwash right now." However, I asked them to remember that even bin Laden was a child of God. God created him, too, with a soul and a heart just like the rest of us. I pressed them to answer if God loved bin Laden any less than the rest of us. Though they fought against admitting it, they finally relented and agreed that, yes, God "probably" loved bin Laden as much as He loved the rest of us. So with that in mind, would it be possible that God granted bin Laden a tiny moment of grace before his death in which bin Laden understood the pain he caused and sought forgiveness?
Again, this is all to prove a point to them. In their young minds, bin Laden is the most evil man ever - even worse than Hussein. So to be able to admit that even bin Laden might've somehow found his way into Purgatory forced them to admit that there's no way anyone could throw an entire group of people into the fire.
But wow. I was totally not prepared to have that one tossed my way last night. I'm seriously not even sure what I should do with the parents of these kids. Do I give them a call and say, "So hey... Dick and Jane brought up something interesting in class this week that I'd like to discuss with you" in the hopes that they realize what they say DOES have an effect?
Ugh - I don't know. I'm still truthfully a bit loopy from that. Thinking about it makes my heart hurt. It really does.
Dear Lord, these folks need to remember that Jesus, Himself, was a Jew! Those calling for His Death weren't just Jews - there were gentiles present as well! Christ died not just to save the Jews - He died to save ALL of us!
Le sigh - may God forgive us our foolishness.
This image is incredible!
I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I know I promised to answer Laura's question yesterday, but as soon as I buckled down to write, I got a call from Vincent's daycare. Poor little guy has a tummy bug, so I needed to pick him up and take him home.
Today, however, Daddy's with him. That means Mommy can answer Laura in peace!
Anyway, in order to understand the answer, I must first explain what the Triduum is. For Catholics, the Triduum is the holiest time in our Liturgical Calendar. It is the most important part of Salvation History as Christ, in those three days, fulfilled the promise of God when He said He would send a Savior who would reconcile humanity to Himself.
The Triduum, thus, becomes Holy Thursday Mass (when we remember the Last Supper), Holy Saturday (when we remember Christ's descent into Hell), through the Easter Vigil and Easter celebrations (when we remember His Glorious Resurrection and triumph over Death).
Anyway, since this is the most sacred part of the year for the Church - the finite point in linear history that somehow encapsulates the timeless Sacrifice of Christ - our Liturgy reflects our solemn, adoring and anguished spirit. We see ourselves, the Church, as dying WITH Christ.
This is also why throughout Lent, things are slowly removed from our Masses. Statues are draped (or even removed), fewer candles are lit, our beautiful "Alleluia" is laid to rest, and floral arrangements are typically absent.
As I explained to my children, something very special happens after Holy Thursday Mass. The priest removes Christ from the tabernacle and processes with Him to a place of repose. This signifies that Christ has begun His Sacrifice (which truly did begin with the moment of Consecration at the Last Supper - more on that in a bit).
The Mass on Holy Thursday does not "end." There is no "Go forth" or "Thanks be to God." There is only the procession of Christ to His place of repose and the silent, prayerful adoration of the faithful that stay watch with Him as He endures His Passion (akin to the Apostles as Christ led them to the Garden of Gethsemane to keep watch as He began His Agony in the Garden).
In fact, to further this point, after the Procession, the Church is stripped bare. Linens are removed from the pulpit, altar, tabernacle, etc. Furniture (like chairs, microphones, lecterns, etc) are taken into the sacristy. Candles aren't just snuffed out - they are removed entirely. Carpets are rolled away. Remaining statues may be taken down. Every movable object is taken away from our sanctuary and all lights (be they candles, spot-lights or chandeliers) are deadened. Our Church, symbolic of the spirit of all the faithful who create Her, dies with Her Master. He who is the Light of the World is consenting to become obscured and entombed.
As His faithful Spouse, we acknowledge our desolation... our mourning... our grief.
On Good Friday, there is "no Mass." Again, this is because technically, the Mass from Holy Thursday has not ended - nor will it until the close of the Vigil on Holy Saturday. Instead, we continue the Mass through Stations of the Cross, Adoration, communal and private meditation, recitation of the Rosary (specifically the Sorrowful Mysteries), Tenebrae etc.
This is to signify that we, the Church, the faithful Bride of Christ, follow Him on His Path towards Salvation. We consent to die with Him in order to take part in His Resurrection.
This moves us to Holy Saturday. On Holy Saturday, we remember in a special way Christ's descent into Hell, Limbo and Purgatory. We remember His Triumphant opening of the Gates of Heaven that were closed against us as a result of Original Sin. There is actually no "liturgy" for Holy Saturday until the vigil. This is a continuation of Christ's Sacrifice which began during Holy Thursday.
Finally, we arrive at our Easter Vigil. This special vigil is held after sundown. This is significant because this darkness is indicative of the spiritual darkness we are experiencing as we await the Light of the World. Again, this vigil does not start with the typical "opening Mass prayers" we're used to. Instead, the priest blesses a special fire which is typically made of Holy Oils from the previous year, salt, and twigs. This special fire is the first light we see and is symbolic of the Resurrection. This light is what's used to light our brand new Paschal Candle (the Christ Candle), and after the Candle is lit, the light begins to spread throughout the Church, from member to member, as a flame is passed between individual candles all are given at the opening of Mass.
As a sacristan who has been at the front of the Church awaiting the Exsultet (when we flip on all the lights, light all the candles, and bust out all the finery we've got to offer), seeing this light slowly spread throughout the entire Church... it's incredible.
Anyway, this is the point in the Liturgical Calendar in which we celebrate and acknowledge Christ's Triumph over Death. The Sacrifice has been complete and Salvation has been granted to us. Through His Offering, we have become reconciled and all the promises of God the Father to His Creation regarding the Messiah have been fulfilled. We rejoice in being reborn through His Death and Resurrection.
As THIS VIGIL MASS commences, we finally are able to hear again the priest's command to "Go Forth" and respond with a jubilant "Thanks be to God!" We acknowledge that the sacred Triduum that marks Christ's Sacrifice has reached its fulfillment, and we take our charge to "Go Forth" with zeal. We are charged to take the message of Salvation to all people who still "live in darkness."
So that, dear Laura, is why the answer to number 11 on the test was "One." There is but one Mass celebrated over 3 days during the Triduum.
As these three days recall the three long days of Christ's consummation by the Fire of His Love, we, too, offer these three days in solidarity with Him.
Test your Lit. Calendar Strength!
A friend of mine asked what I'd be teaching for CCD tonight (because she's been enjoying the crafts we did over the last two periods). I told her I was sorry to burst her bubble, but there wouldn't be a craft tonight so much as a test. Ha ha.
She then asked me what the test was on. I told her the Liturgical Calendar. She responded that it'd be fun if she could take the test, too, just to see where she compared to my 6th graders. She took the test, and subsequently failed miserably. Chagrined, she warned me that the test was too hard for my class, and suggested that I rework it into one of my crossword puzzles to give them a fighting chance.
I explained the test was only difficult because she hadn't taken part in my class. If she had, she'd've known all the answers! She expressed some doubt, but wanted me to compare her grade to the average grade of my kids.
Welp, my class scored an average of 93%.
When I called my buddy to let her know, she almost didn't believe me! Ha ha. But I've got the tests to prove it. I am so proud of them!
Plus, now that I've explained the answers to her, no doubt she'd score at least a 93% next time around, too. Ha ha.
But for anyone else interested in testing their skills, I've included the test for your entertainment (or if you'd like to use it for your own classes, be my guest!).
I was lucky enough to have my CCD class on St. Valentine's Day! How exciting that I was able to share the history of St. Valentine!
I planned a special craft to get them into both the Lenten spirit and help them understand what Valentine's Day is really about.
I was sure to wear red and I asked the class why I was wearing red for St. Valentine's Day. They all answered "Love." Now, we had JUST finished discussing liturgical colors last week, so I asked them to pull out their notes and see if they couldn't figure out why I might choose to wear red on SAINT Valentine's Day.
One of their hands shot up and she answered, "It's the color of blood. Did he give his blood?"
Slowly but surely it began dawning on them. One of my boys proudly said, "He was killed!"
I confirmed his deduction and taught them the word "martyr." I explained that martyrs are a special group of saints who died because they loved Jesus so much. I explained that in St. Valentine's time, it was illegal to be a Christian. In some parts of the world, it's still illegal, even today! The kids were floored. One chimed in "That's stupid! What if you only say good stuff about Jesus?"
From the mouths of babes...
I said that in some parts of the world, it's illegal to even mention Jesus' name because people believe that even the name of Jesus offends their god. The people in charge don't want everyone believing in Jesus when they believe only their god is important.
It was like that back in St. Valentine's period as well, but instead of an invisible god, they believed that the emperor was god (or the son of god depending on which emperor we're discussing). I likened it to everyone in the United States thinking that President Obama was a god. They shook their heads in disbelief that anything so preposterous could ever have been true.
Ah, but so it was! And in some places, so it still is! May we keep these persecuted Christians in our prayers.
With that, I told them the story of St. Valentinus (now known as St. Valentine) and why we send "Valentines" to one another. Not one of them had ever heard the history behind this feast! Can you imagine?
Anyway, as a special craft, I had them create little "Valentines for Jesus." These were half Valentine - half Lenten preparation. On each foam "heart" (they were given 10 each), I requested that they draw a picture / write a prayer or good act they could do to offer to Jesus as a show of love. After all, we are all the "hands of Christ" and what we do unto others, we do unto Christ. My class really did an amazing job exemplifying this through the choice of their offerings:
Originally I had intended them all to glue the hearts into a wreath (as you see in the original picture), but their words / pictures extended too far in some instances, so I came up with the idea of a ladder. I had them poke holes into the tops and bottoms of their hearts and they laced them together that way for a cute chain:
All in all, they turned out really nicely, and I'm really glad the kids had so much fun coming up with ways they could show Jesus they loved Him. Now they've got ideas for Lent which was a great prep for next week's Ash Wednesday lesson! Woo hoo!
Seriously - I love teaching these kids. I'm so blessed!
Tonight was my first night back teaching CCD since the break.
The two questions I pulled from the Question Box tonight were:
If Jesus and John the Baptist were alive today, would they celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah?
(I guess this one was put into the box before the break.)
If "BC" means "Before Christ" and "AD" means "After Death" what comes in between?
Ha ha ha ha - seriously! This is why I adore my Tuesday night lessons. Never a dull moment. Every class is full of innocence, a sincere thirst for learning, and such touching sentiments. I am so grateful for the chance to work with these children. :)
_BTW - special shout out to my wonderful mother who celebrates her birthday today. YAY!
_One of my students was to do a reading for a prayer service and referred to it proudly as his "speech." Ha ha.
Four gave their oral presentations on their "patron saints" and responded brilliantly to my final question of Why do you think this saint chose you this year? I was quite pleased with their insightful remarks which ranged from:
"I don't go to church all the time, and I don't really help the poor, but he [St. Francis de Sales] was doing that stuff all the time. I think maybe he wants me to think about that more and be more active like he was."
"She offered all of her good works to the souls in purgatory and thought about her dead relatives a lot. I only have a few who have died, but now I think about them and pray for them. Maybe they needed my help to go to Heaven."
to, my favorite:
"St. Rita didn't smell bad when she died. She smelled really good because she lived such a holy life. She suffered lots of pain by an infected thorn in her head for 15 years all by herself and offered that pain for others. She wants me to live a holy life so I can smell good when I die, too."
Ha ha ha ha - seriously. My CCD time rivals my time with Vincent. I could just about explode from the pride and happiness I get from both of them. ♥
I cannot properly describe the depths of pride and tenderness I have for my class. I really can't. Their behavior Tuesday night astonished me.
Let me back up a bit.
Last week I had hoped to spend the entire class teaching them about Eucharistic Adoration (in preparation for last night). A scheduling conflict forced the entire Religious Education department to set aside lesson plans in lieu of Christmas Pageant practice.
As a result, I was left with 15 minutes of class time with which to impart to them the importance and value of this gift. After that, we had to make our way across the lot to the Church where Father Piotr patiently awaited our arrival so we could begin.
As my children found their seats at the start of class, they found their "prayer packets" waiting for them on their desks. I explained that they were my personal "Thank You" for their stellar and exemplary behavior during last week's rehearsal. I explained their uses and advised them to keep their Divine Praises handy for Benediction later on. Finally, I gave myself a few moments to delve into the purpose and privilege of Eucharistic Adoration.
A couple children thought the Eucharist was a representation of Christ... simply a symbol of His Sacrifice. Sadly, many adults misunderstand this as well, so I did my best to correct that. Next, I then asked them to really think about what it would be like to see God face to Face. What would they say to Him? What would they feel like? Would they want to hug Him? Would they want to ask Him questions?
They came up with some wonderful responses, all of which provided meditative materials for their first Holy Hour. Finally, when questions were answered and my points were made, we quickly made our way into the church. Upon seeing my class seated, Fr. Piotr began.
Oh, to see my class willingly take part in this expression of love! They participated in the prayers, listened patiently as Father lead us in meditative thanksgiving, sang the two hymns slated for the evening, and knelt upright in their pews, looking nowhere but upon the monstrance and our God encased within.
When it was time to relax in our seats to contemplate Christ through personal prayer, my class continued their participation. Each of them could be seen paging through their new Pieta books. One boy, in particular, almost brought tears to my eyes. He was repeatedly blessing himself, over and over. It took me a second to realize why he was doing that - he was praying the Prayer Against Storms. I actually do the same thing when I pray that prayer because of the little crosses that follow each line. I was never sure if that meant to bless myself or not, so I always figure "better safe than sorry" and bless myself. He was doing the same thing! My heart just about burst I was so proud of his humble effort to ask God's assistance with the horrible weather we were having that night.
Another young man had his hands folded in prayer for most of the time. As he knelt and looked upon the Host, his expression was... I don't know. I can't even describe it. This particular child is special, indeed. In my heart I can't help but wonder if I'm not looking at a little priest-in-waiting. His grasp of things theological astounds me. His questions are astute and his understanding of the answers speedy. Even with that knowledge, however, I was floored by his piety during Adoration.
One of my young ladies, too, made me smile (truthfully, all of them did!). Normally one of my "rougher" children (not abrasive or rude... just more willing to test the waters), she was surprisingly willing to let her guard down and emphatically take part in the prayers. You see, in the beginning of the school year, I had to address this very issue with her. She was too "cool" to pray. Prayer was something the other kids did... not her. Prayer - at least of the public, communal variety - was embarrassing.
Instead of singling her out, the class and I had the following discussion:
"Do you think Jesus is your friend?"
"Do you talk to your friends?"
"Would you ever be embarrassed to talk to a friend?"
"Is prayer a way we can talk to Jesus?"
"And Jesus is your friend, right?"
"So why are some of you embarrassed to talk to your friend, Jesus, through prayer? Don't you think that hurts His feelings? Please don't ever let me see any of you refuse to pray because it is embarrassing."
After that, I never had a problem with her participating with the class. However, I didn't expect her to participate with such gusto at Adoration. It truly touched me to see her kneeling with her Pieta book, looking for prayers and then casting her eyes upon the Host as she completed them.
At one point, another class came in to take part. They were loud... very loud... and I was surprised to see that only two or three of my students turned to see the racket. The rest simply continued on in their private conversations with Jesus. Again... I was astonished by their maturity and gentle love. I doubt even they realize just how astonishing they were!
The other class left within minutes of entering. I don't know if it's due to the teacher's time restraint or realization that the class was unprepared for the privilege, but I think the congregation felt relieved at the return of peace. I couldn't help but wonder what Jesus felt like as He watched those students leave after having spent only a few moments there. No doubt He was somewhat hurt by their lack of reverence, but even a parent who is upset by a child's actions doesn't want to love them any less.
Anyway, upon completion of the Holy Hour (which also completed my class time), my class stood up and exited their pews, each one genuflecting towards the tabernacle, where they now understood God reposed. As we made our way to the back of the church, another parishioner commented on how well-behaved and prayerful they were. I positively beamed for them, and graciously thanked her for complimenting them in such a way. A few of them smiled, too, proud, I think, to have been commended in such a way.
Oh my... I am so beyond grateful for that experience. How kind of God to grant me such a special group of kids. I am beyond blessed. I really hope they understand just how much I appreciate them. May God grant me the grace to repay their kindness (and His) by continuing to help them develop spiritually. Oh, that I may help them love Him more!
Here is the prayer packet that my kids are getting on Tuesday. I'm quite pleased with the fact that they all came in on time. I also included a print-out of the Divine Praises (clipped to the inside cover of the Pieta Book). I'm hoping Father can bless the medals on Tuesday night. Yay!
I realize it's not Saint Patrick's Day, but I couldn't find any other picture that expressed exactly how I feel right now.
I figured out the perfect gifts for my CCD class, and they're going to arrive in time for Adoration this week!!!
So yes, I am doing a jig. I'm doing several jigs. My jigs are doing jigs.
I was so ridiculously proud of them for how they behaved themselves in the Church that I wanted to make their first Adoration experience extra special. I couldn't quite think of how to do. Suddenly, my phone started ringing. I reached down into my purse to grab it, but for some reason, it wasn't in its normal side pocket (I'm nerdily organized like that). Instead, it was in the back pocket where I keep my prayer book.
The call ended up being a fluke (my name is not Martin and I do not need a rental truck), but I think that wrong number was meant to answer my query. Since I had to reach into my "prayer book pocket" I inevitably brushed against my Pieta Book (by far my most favorite, well worn and trusted prayer book ever).
So, as you probably guessed, I went ahead and purchased more than a dozen Pieta Books. However, upon entering the site, I saw a sale on Benedictine medals as well. Jackpot!!!
I am so excited for my class now! I cannot wait to arrange their little prayer packets atop their desks for immediate use at Adoration. I sincerely hope they get as much mileage out of theirs as I do mine. I'm going to ask our wonderful pastor to bless the medals as well.
How nice was the Holy Spirit to place that idea into my mind? Apparently He's a big fan of the Pieta Book, too. Ha ha ha. No doubt, considering how many beautiful prayers and meditations are contained within its pages.
For those of you unfamiliar with this incredible prayer booklet, may I direct your attention to this site which has many excerpts from it. If you'd like to purchase a copy for yourself, feel free to pick up a copy for yourself for a mere $2.50 here. Doubtful you could spend a better buck and a half!
At the behest of my dear spiritual director, I will refrain from detailing my reasons for being miffed. May it suffice to say that I was a witness to a litany of travesties from which I was unable to extricate myself. Instead, I'll focus on the reasons my heart swelled with so much pride that I was sure it'd burst into a confetti of hugs for my dear CCD children.
In the midst of absolute chaos, my class remained a tranquil pond of calm. Instead of talking to their friends, calling out to other children across the aisle or thumbing through their cell phones, they recited their rosaries. Instead of slouching in their seats, pulling their hoodies over their heads or constantly excusing themselves to "use the bathroom," my angelic little cherubs knelt reverently, hats off and hair tidy, to acknowledge the One for whom the tabernacle light flickered.
On top of that, as we practiced songs that I knew they regarded as childish and stupid, they hung in the pocket and offered that mortification for whatever intention they deemed important.
Dearest Lord, You understood the grief I felt at such negligence before I had the occasion to experience it. In Your Wisdom and Mercy, You gifted me the most resplendent class as consolation. No teacher has been more blessed than I in that paradoxical moment. I cannot possibly express the depths of my gratitude for so extraordinary a grace. Bless those children in so gracious a way as to enable them to always feel such love for You. Bless them to spark in them the desire to witness in such a gentle, brave manner.
I thanked my class before they left for the night. I wanted them to understand my appreciation for how they acted. It took a lot of courage to go against the tide and do the right thing. I am beyond proud of them. I honestly pray that some of the other folks there took heed of their golden example.
To all my blogger friends... keep these kids in your prayers. May they always enjoy the protection of Our Lady. No doubt they made her smile brilliantly :)
Congratulations. It appears that you are reading this. That can only mean one thing... the world did not come to a fiery end in a blaze of God's anger on account of this new translation being an affront of all things holy and good.
With all the back and forth regarding these new translations, you'd think they sky was falling and God was preparing to smite any of us who thought this was a good idea.
A friend of mine, seeing all the "hullabaloo" on Facebook and whatever RSS feeds she's attached to, asked what it was all about. She hasn't confirmed this yet, but I am fairly confident she picked up the confusion through a mutual friend of ours. He's of the mindset that these translations are horrible, the Church is horrible for attempting to institute them, and anyone who accepts them as valid simply doesn't understand how the Church works.
Anything that's aimed at refocusing, preserving and highlighting the sacred mysteries of our Mass is A-OK in my book. So far, that's my understanding and experience with these translations.
Take, for instance, "And with your spirit." Some folks are so irritated by that, and I still don't grasp why. I remember when we were first introduced to these changes, the gentleman explaining them was bombarded with questions like "How is that a response?" "Whose spirit?" "Isn't that the same as saying 'And also with you'?"
Unable to ferry the questions to their proper destination (not due to his own intelligence, mind you. The room had gotten a bit rowdy over these four words and side-chatter was implosive), he tabled the discussion until after we got through the Gloria. Poor guy never had a chance to cycle back...
Anyway, I wanted to prepare my CCD kids for the upcoming changes, and since this'd be the first line they'd encounter, I went with it.
"And with your spirit" is the response all other non-English speaking countries have been using... we're only now catching up. The spirit we refer to is the priest's spirit... but more concretely, the part of the priest's soul that Christ, Himself, dwells within upon marking that priest through Ordination. Christ is the spirit that animates the priest's soul and thus makes consecration possible.
(Some of you may remember my "Do Animals Have Souls?" entry... that deals very much with the above idea, so it might help to gloss that over for the biblical explanations of soul / spirit and how they are, in fact, separate from one another.)
That being explained, someone asked "Well, why would we wish peace to Jesus, then? Isn't He already Peace?"
Aside from being ridiculously proud that this young man understood that Jesus is the Fountain of all Peace, I explained it this way...
A mother is waiting up for her son until midnight. He's usually home by now, but she knows he stays out studying late sometimes. He called and said, "Hey Mom, I'm coming home in a few minutes, I promise." She's a little less worried, but still wants to be sure to see him walk through the door before resting. As soon as he comes into the house, she kisses him and, relieved, heads to bed.
The mother in the story understood that her son expected to reach home shortly and would likely make it home unhurt. However, the mother also understood that there are dangers in the world that sometimes cannot be accounted for... so until she saw him safe and home with her own eyes, she would not be able to rest properly.
This is true of Jesus, too. He knows that we all have our good intentions... that we all want to reach Heaven. We've all sent up our prayers which act as short phone calls to our Lord letting Him know we're thinking of Him and attempting to do right by Him. However, until we walk through those Church doors into His Home, He worries for us. He understands the evil and temptations of the world and He longs to have us near Him. Thus, upon responding in this fashion, we do bring Jesus peace. We bring Him the peace of knowing that our souls are yearning for Him... that our souls are trying to get back to Him as best we know how.
Another hand shot up. "Yeah, but if Jesus knows everything, wouldn't He already know that we wanna get to Heaven?"
I smiled. That whole "God knows everything, so what's the point?" sentiment is a very typical one... even among sixth graders.
So again, I explained it with a story.
Two girls grew up next door to one another. They were best of friends from kindergarten straight through until 8th grade. In 8th grade, however, one girl moved away and attended a different high school. Sure, they wrote to each other now and again, and they'd call each other once in a while, but pretty soon, one girl stopped calling or writing. The other friend was really sad, but she knew her friend still cared about her. She knew they would eventually have time to talk and hang out like they used to when summer rolled around. Even though she knew that, it still hurt her feelings not hearing from her best friend. It still made her feel kinda rotten when she'd be missing her old friend and her old friend was doing other things.
So I asked the class, "What, then, should the friend who moved away do?"
All of them agreed that she should try to see her best friend more often. I questioned, "Why? They'll be able to hang out over the summer, right? Why is it important to see each other a few times during the school year?"
I could see some lightbulbs going off. They were understanding.
"Because it'd make the other girl happy to see her best friend. She wouldn't miss her as much and she'd still feel like she was loved."
For the holdouts, I explained:
We are like that best friend who moved away. We left Heaven to come to Earth for a while. Jesus misses us terribly, though, and wants to see us. Coming to Mass is our way of showing Him we care. Coming to Mass is our way to see Him! We're all friends of Jesus, right? So imagine how happy He must be when we come into His House to visit Him! Imagine how much peace and joy fills His Heart!
I really hope they took something from that and kept their ears perked up for it. I know by the 3rd recitation of this particular response, folks were grinning as they let the words become familiar to their lips. I hope my children did more than grin. I hope they truly wished Jesus peace as they felt happiness at sharing their souls with their Best Friend. :)
First things first - I found this letter while attempting to locate a graphic for today's entry. Upon reading it, I was forced to simply meditate on it for a few moments. I couldn't do anything else!
How humbling... how painful. The truth of those words weighs heavily on me. They should weigh heavily on all who acknowledge their part in the Church of North America. I wanted to share it with you because of how much it touched my very core.
Anyway, onwards to my original topic - Thank You Letters to Jesus!
Last night for class, I had my students write Thank You cards to Jesus. I requested that they express gratitude for at least five things they are thankful for this season. Before they began, I had them do a brief exercise. The exercise was as follows:
Close your eyes and think of the Blessed Mother. Really picture her in your mind. What is she wearing? Where is she? Is she standing, sitting, kneeling? What is around her? Has Jesus already been born, is she pregnant, or is she a young girl in the Temple?
Now that you have her image, imagine that she is writing a Thank You letter to God. What do you think she'd thank Him for?
Upon opening their eyes, I had them begin. Their ideas, so innocent and sincere, astounded me. Everyone was generally thankful for the basics: family, friends, food, homes, etc. There were some gems, however. One kid was thankful for his ability to play soccer because he was able to meet friends that way. Another was thankful for his grandmother's illness because it gave her a chance to say goodbye to her. Still another was thankful for being able to share things with siblings ("even though they're really bad and annoying sometimes" - ha!).
I can't wait to read through the rest of them. For homework, they'll be reading their Thank You Letters at Thanksgiving (as well as choosing a prayer for Grace). I'll collect them during our next class. Oh, my heart swelled with so much pride and love for them. :) In my own letter, I thanked Jesus for my awesome class. Really... they are fabulous. :)
With all the talk of redemptive suffering I've encouraged amongst my CCD kids, you'd think I wouldn't have to keep repeating this to myself. Unfortunately, knowing the truth of those words and accepting the truth of those words are two VERY different things.Three years ago, I was involved in a car accident (on election night, actually). I was rear-ended by a young driver who was watching another car accident across the road. He didn't see me stopped in front of him, and never had a chance to break until his front end was in my trunk.
Anyway, as a result of that, I've suffered from a herniated disc in my lower back. It is incredibly painful at times. Most times, actually, especially when you're a mom attempting to chase down your super active toddler who is bigger than kids twice his age. My pregnancy was difficult (I got pregnant about a month and a half after the accident), and lugging around a baby, in a car seat, plus diaper bags, toys, etc for the first year didn't help matters.
Bathing, changing diapers, picking him up and moving him from place to place (car seat to shopping cart, floor to high chair, ground to stroller, etc, etc, etc) are all extremely taxing on my back. Even simple things like throwing him up into the air, letting him "superman" on my legs, or picking him up so he's able to reach a basketball net are painful gestures. Bathing is still the absolute worst, and only gets worse as he gets bigger.
Anyway, I had to stop going to the chiropractor about a year ago because finances got tight. Insurance refused to pay out since I was "as good as it gets" and litigation won't finish for God only knows how long with the guy who smashed into me. I'm basically on my own for pain management, and over the last few months, I've become increasingly aware of the fact that I simply cannot manage anymore.
I've put pressure on the lawyer to get things wrapped up faster so the insurance company is forced to begin paying for treatments again. Since they request up-to-date check-ins with doctors, I've had to begin going again. Yesterday was the first time I'd seen the orthopedist since I was pregnant. He went over my charts and asked me questions. He did a quick battery of tests and announced that there was simply nothing that could be done for me short of invasive surgery. He also openly doubted that I'd be able to get insurance to pay for any of it due to the time-lapse. He also informed me that the defense lawyer's doctor was attempting to blame the disc herniation on a lumbar puncture I had received prior to the accident (I was tested for meningitis).
I asked if that was even REMOTELY possible and he laughed it off saying, "Dear God, no. Not even a little bit. But that doesn't stop lawyers from convincing people who don't know any better otherwise."
I was absolutely deflated. Any hope of finding relief from this incessant (and increasingly problematic) pain went up in flames. The doctor could tell I was upset, so he quickly left the room so I could compose myself in peace. I hate making folks feel uncomfortable, so I made a rather quick exit, myself, and attempting the consolation dance in the privacy of my car.
I immediately dove head-first into the pool of misery I created for myself. I felt guilt for not being an "unbroken mom" who could happily toss Vince into the air a million times. I felt shame for relying on John to get Vince out of the car or lifting him into his high chair when I simply cannot. I felt overwhelmed by the thought of enduring this pain - as it worsens - for the rest of my life. Future pregnancies and children... could I handle them? Or would I be even more broken by the time they came into the world? Guilt doubled over my lack of parenting for children who didn't even exist yet!
Then a thought occurred to me. Jesus must've felt WAY more freaked out than I did at the knowledge of what He was going to be experiencing. Torture and crucifixion are way worse than any amount of this back pain, and yet He accepted it without a word of complaint to His Apostles. He understood it was meant for salvation. My guardian angel must've been the one to whisper "It's redemptive suffering" into my ear, because I was hit with the realization that pain, too, is a blessing if only we open our hearts to its merit.
So I forced myself to stop crying... to ignore the thoughts of self-pity from my mind. I succeeded in refusing to feel sorry for myself, but I didn't quite accept that the pain was redemptive. I couldn't open my heart to that just then. I'm simply not mature enough spiritually, I guess.
I prayed. I'm driving down 295 just praying that Jesus will open my heart to the merits of such pain. Knowing I'm a logical little bugger, I think the Holy Spirit was kind enough to show me the humility I've gained in suffering through this debilitating injury. Ever-independent, I've prided myself in "not needing anyone." Now, however, I willingly acknowledge my inability to do even basic things. This humility, I realized, hasn't just effected things like asking John to help with the baby... the humility I gained from this injury (and continue to gain) is probably what opened my heart to "reversion" in the first place. I'm not all-powerful. I'm not so arrogant as to think I can handle everything and anything on my own. Such a realization is a death knoll for Pride, and though that vice still has its claws dug into me, its grip is slipping.
Now I'm not claiming that this epiphany has somehow lifted my desire to complain, self-pity or get angry at how "unfair" things are... I no doubt will fall into that countless more times. It is important to recognize, however, that there is truth to the blessing of redemptive suffering. I think God granted me this reminder so vividly because of all the discussion we've had in class. Plus, He probably realized I was getting a little too whiny and needed to knock me down a peg or two (okay, more like 20).
In conclusion, I am blessed to have a Father so kind as to remind me of the lessons I seek to teach others. In the process of making me a better teacher, He makes me a better person. :)
Jesus reminds me of my cousin here.
During a meeting the other night, someone was lamenting the fact that many parents of CCD students don't care about bringing their kids to Mass. It's not seen as something important. To an extent, I would have to agree. I don't understand it, myself. Parents who have been away from the Church for years suddenly rush back to demand baptisms for their children then aren't seen until Penance / Communion rolls around, etc.
Same for folks looking to get married. They don't attend Church for years, barely have a grasp of the faith, and don't really care one way or the other about it, but force their way into a parish in the hopes of obtaining a Nuptial Mass. Why?
Is it because there is a feeling of obligation? Is it a superstitious "just-in-case" comfort? Is it a nagging conscience that finally has a point based on tradition alone?
I really don't get it. But I digress...
Anyway, as folks began agreeing with her, adding their two cents to the "CCD parents kinda suck" fest, I pointed out that children could very well be the key to reversing the apathy of their parents.
For example, one of my students burst into class on Tuesday night, barely able to contain his pride at having completed his homework. What was their homework assignment? Well, for All Saints Day / All Souls Day, I required my children to not only say St. Gertrude the Great's Purgatory Prayer (found here), but teach it to their families.
One of my students took that and ran. He was so proud to relay that he was "a magisterium," and that he'd helped save some 6,000 souls... he simply couldn't wait to share it with everyone at class. It melted my heart and reminded me of the value of a child's enthusiasm.
After class, I spoke to his mother who told me exactly how he taught them, too. He explained the significance of the prayer, how St. Gertrude got it, and why it's important to pray for the dead. Then he repeated the prayer for them, had them repeat it back, then they all said it together as a family.
RIGHT?! C'mon and tell me your heart didn't just turn into a puddle in your shoes.
I think I was given that special blessing so I could share it with these understandably jaded parishioners at the meeting. While I surely understand their frustration, we can't simply complain about the parents. We need to reach out to the children and harness their natural love of God and their desire to do good. That good will rub off on their parents. We can encourage these children to find God in their daily lives. We can and we MUST plant those seeds for them, because who knows where those roots will end up reaching? Who knows what souls their flowering trees may end up shading? It's our job as teachers to do the best with the children we've got, regardless of the parental support (or non-support) we get. All we can do is sow the seeds of God's love and leave the rest to Him.
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