A Light Shines in the Darkness

teaching eighth grade
Happy Advent! I hope that your Thanksgiving weekend was an opportunity to enjoy family, friends, and some recreation and renewal! Well, it’s back to “work” for me tonight, wrapping up the short unit on Church history. Here’s my plan:

  1. As the kids enter, I’ll give them pages from daily newspapers and set them to work finding examples of “bad news.”
  2. Each of the kids will share their examples of bad news stories with the group and I’ll talk about how we use the term “dark times” when referring to bad news. I’ll turn the lights off and talk about how, as little children, we were afraid of the dark…we can’t see…we need light.
  3. I’ll introduce the season of Advent as a celebration of the light of Christ coming into our world, dispelling the darkness. We’ll do an Advent procession. I’ll have all of the items for our prayer table lined up on another table in the far end of the room. Each of the kids will slowly bring one of the items to the prayer table (purple cloth, Advent wreath, four candles for the wreath, holy water, Bible, etc) to the sounds of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”—a beautiful rendition done by none other than Linda Rondstadt!
  4. Once we’re all in place, we’ll pass the candle (flameless, battery-operated) and pray for that for which we are most thankful during this Thanksgiving season.
  5. I’ll turn on the lights and talk more about how Advent is a season of hope, reminding them of the prayer the priest says at Mass after the Our Father: Deliver us Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ!
  6. Next, we’ll listen to our “song of the week” by rapper Twista, a song titled Hope.
  7. I’ll emphasize how hope, tied closely with faith and love, is what keeps us Christians going and has kept us going for over 2000 years!
  8. Next, I’ll introduce the Church History Timeline that I created a few years ago. It is a horizontal timeline that follows exactly the PowerPoint presentation that we did in our last class two weeks ago. I created this timeline (pictured below) in the following manner:

MHR history timeline 001

  • I got a long roll of paper—about ten feet long and three feet high—from an office supply store. To make it more durable and to last longer, I reinforced the edges of the paper with clear tape (allowing me to use it year after year without tearing).
  • I ran a strip of blue painter tape down the middle of the length of the paper.
  • I printed out the slides of the five time periods (8 x 11) and glued them along the timeline (and reinforced with clear tape) and added milestone centuries on the blue tape using a thick black marker.
  • I then printed all of the slides from the PowerPoint (37 of them) in miniature (business-card size) and “laminated” them (covered them with clear tape, front and back, to last a “lifetime”).
  • Finally, I placed 37 small pieces of Velcro along the timeline (as well as on the back of each card) and numbered the spaces and the backs of the cards to correspond.

I’ll distribute the 37 cards randomly, making sure that each of the kids has three or four, and then I’ll call the numbers (1 through 37) and have each young person read their card and afix it to the timeline. I’ll comment on the events as we go along. When we’re done, I’ll ask each of the kids to pick the one event on the timeline that they find most interesting or have a question about and to share it with the class.

To conclude, we’ll experience our sacred space for ten minutes or so, beginning by listening to a song based on Psalm 27. After the song, I’ll invite them to talk to Jesus silently, telling him what darkness they need him to dispel.

Come, Lord Jesus, and be with me as I teach tonight!

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.


  1. Joe,

    Thank you so much for the great idea of the light in a time of darkness. I realized on Sunday how little my 7th & 8th graders knew and understood about Advent and Christmas. I will be using your candle prayer service this Sunday! Thank you for posting such wonderful suggestions!

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