Last evening’s class went very nicely. I was especially grateful for the very relaxed rapport that the 8th graders seem to have developed with me. They are upbeat and pleasant, smiling and talking with one another and with me. They genuinely seem to enjoy being there and we seem to be very comfortable with each other. With Advent beginning, our focus was on the theme of HOPE.
Because of the good vibes, we were able to accomplish quite a bit last night. Here’s the scoop:
- As they entered, I handed each of the kids a page from a daily newspaper with a “bad news” story on it.
- After welcoming them and engaging in a little small talk about Thanksgiving, I asked them to read aloud their bad news headlines and one by one I placed the pages in the center of the table.
- I told them that we sometimes use the term “dark times” to refer to troubled times.
- I explained that we have just begun the season of Advent – a season that takes place when all around us, the light is diminishing and the darkness is growing. Meanwhile, our Advent wreaths are increasing in light with each passing Sunday, leading up to Christmas when we celebrate the birth of the Light of the World. I said that the key word for today’s class is HOPE.
- To mark the beginning of Advent, we did a little ritual/procession. Each of the items for the prayer table was placed on another table on the other end of the room. Each of the kids took one of the items (purple cloth, wreath, candles, Bible, holy water, etc.) and one by one processed to the prayer table to hand it to me to arrange. We did this with lights out and an a cappella version of O Come O Come Emmanuel playing. It was very nice and the kids were nicely reverent (with a touch of adolescent giddy-ness).
- I lit the first candle and re-emphasized that Advent is a season of HOPE in which we look to Jesus our Light to overcome the darkness. I invited them to stand and we passed the flameless candle around as each of the kids mentioned what they were most thankful for during this thanksgiving “season.” They do this quite nicely now, mentioning family, friends, good meals, fun events, etc.
- I played our song of the week: HOPE by Twista. The kids very closely followed the lyrics I had printed out and really seemed to connect with the song. When it was done, I said that although they won’t hear that song in church, it is actually a good “Catholic” song because it places such emphasis on HOPE and we Catholics are called to be a people of hope. I read the prayer the priest prays at Mass that ends with, “as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.”
- Next, we moved over to another table to work on the Church history timeline I told you about yesterday. I tied it to the theme of HOPE by saying that it is HOPE, along with faith and love, that has sustained the Church for 2000 years.
- We actually made it through the Protestant Reformation before it was time for our sacred space which I had promised them! Along the way, they asked a number of very good questions, many of them surrounding the notion of different denominations of Christianity. They have trouble differentiating between different denominations (Lutherans, Methodists, etc.) and religious communities (Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.).
- One of the last events we covered was St. Ignatius of Loyola founding the Jesuits. I mentioned all of the schools and institutions in the Chicago area named after him: St. Ignatius College Prep (my alma mater), Loyola University of Chicago (also my alma mater!), Loyola Academy, Loyola University Medical Center, etc. One of the girls asked, “what’s so special about him that all these places are named after him?” This gave me a chance to expound a little on the contributions of Ignatius and the Jesuits and I emphasized that the sacred space (reflective prayer) that we were about to experience was promoted by St. Ignatius! I think they liked that.
- We had a good solid 10 minutes left for sacred space and the kids quieted down quickly as they spread throughout the room with the lights off and their little tea lights in hand. I mentioned once again the theme of darkness and how the light they were holding symbolized the light of Christ that overcomes the darkness. I played a recording of Psalm 27 and, in the silence that followed, invited them to silently talk to Jesus about any areas of darkness in their lives and to ask Jesus to be their Light. This took us right up to the end of class, ending on a very nice and prayerful note.
Sure, I wish I could have finished the last 400 years of Church history, but hey, we can’t do it all! All in all, I was very pleased with how the class went and I thank God for being my light to guide me through these lessons.