Here’s some of my favorite online articles from this past month:
Dorothy Day on Abortion and Mercy
“The image of the seamless garment like the image of the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head, is a hierarchical image. Abortion, the willful termination of human life, is simply not the same moral act as capital punishment or even economic exploitation. Rather, such a vision requires the careful and precise distinction evident in Evangelii Gaudium, when Pope Francis explained why the protection of the unborn takes primacy of place in the Church’s teaching on human dignity.”
The Secret History of Father Maloney
“Lloyd explained to us that Father Moloney used his privilege as a white man and as a Catholic priest in a heavily Catholic area to break down barriers of injustice. He started a federal credit union to help blacks who couldn’t get loans from local banks. He started a bus service to take poor black workers to and from the Avondale Shipyards, 70 miles away, so they could get good industrial jobs, and not have to settle for low-paying farm jobs. And he worked to undermine the plantation system, which played on the ignorance of poor African Americans to cheat them.”
Why Can’t We Do Catholicism Well?
“I do my best to wrench my thoughts back to what matters most—to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—to the beauty in the church’s architecture, the priest’s vestments, the poetry of the liturgy, and these things are all very good. But there’s something to be said about the beautifully vested priest mumbling the prayers or the fact that the liturgical motions—themselves richly endowed with meaning—are performed haltingly, truncated.”
Fourteen Tips for New Catholic School Teachers
“4. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the students. So learn how to spell the word ‘concupiscence’. Concupiscence is a tendency to put yourself first. Only divine grace enables us to rise above it.”
A Divine School of Solidarity: The Hours
“The gift of the Liturgy of the Hours as a daily practice is that the Christian is schooled in the fullness of the spiritual life as we meditate morning after morning, night after night upon the Psalms. And these Psalms are given to us. We do not get to choose which ones we pray. We do not simply praise God with timbrel and harp but must also acknowledge our deep woundedness, the injustice of the world, and the sorrow that comes with hearing only silence in the midst of our prayer to God.”
Our catechetical office recently learned that we will be moving into a new office suite in a few months. Our existing suite is being converted into new meeting spaces that will be larger and more convenient for people meeting at our pastoral center.
With this move we have the opportunity to design our new offices (within some constraints, of course) and I’ve been giving some time to thinking about how to arrange and design this space to both maintain and build upon the great collaboration we currently enjoy.
Here are a few of the ideas I’ve come up with:
Increased artwork – Currently our walls are pretty bare. We have some small religious artwork and posters from past diocesan events, but nothing that really fills the space or inspires greatness. I was already considering purchasing some new art for the office; now I consider it a “must” for the new space.
Green plants – I’m a big believer that having living things around makes any space more welcoming and inviting. In fact, I just bought a fish for my office! With the move to a new space I’m looking at various office-friendly plants to add some green, help purify the air, and add a friendly atmosphere.
Comfy meeting space – One of the things I love about our office is the level of collaboration we’ve achieved, especially as an office that covers parish-based religious education, Catholic schools, and youth ministry. Having a large, open space with comfortable chairs encourages good collaboration and communication, both for internal meetings and when sitting down with DREs, pastors, principals, and others.
Those are some of the issues I’m wrestling with in our new space. Do you have any advice on creating a great office space?
Margaret Felice is the feistiest Bostonian religion teacher/opera singer I know. Granted, I haven’t met any others, but I can’t imagine any would top her. Her reflections on faith combine theological reflection with poetic vision and always challenge me to think deeply about my relationship with God. I’m grateful for this guest post she has offered.
Not long ago I had the pleasure of accompanying fifteen eighth-grade boys to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. As a religion teacher in the middle school division of a Jesuit high school, I spend a lot of my days talking about sports and Pop-Tart flavors, but I also spend my days exploring faith and the world alongside my students.
On this particular field trip day my advisory group really shone. I swelled up with pride when they explained to the docent some of the episcopal imagery in a portrait of an early American bishop. I knew that would be hard to top, but they made me prouder when we got to modern art. With each painting – some of shapes, some bright swaths of color – they explained not only what they saw, but what they thought it might mean.
There was one dark, apocalyptic scene, deep reds and oranges with black. There was a mound-like shape in the middle of the scene: was it a cave or a mountain? Was it a black hole? The kids sensed the terror of the landscape. One described a big oven, and the words “frightening” and “end of the world” were thrown around.
Then one student announced “I see a loaf of bread.” For a split second, I did too. You see, we were way overdue on lunch. And who’s to say that that painter hadn’t been hungry too?
There is a lot of pressure in religious education to “meet students ‘where they are at'”, whatever that means. I have seen enough well-intentioned catechists rhapsodize ineffectively about the joys of Marian devotion to know that there is some truth to that idea. We have to know our audiences, but I worry that we often slip into “lowest common denominator” catechesis and formation, assuming that students know nothing and have no interpretive skills.
On the anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birthday I wrote his famous “Lord God, I have no idea where I am going” prayer on the whiteboard in the classroom. I asked my group of 12-year-olds to read it over and write on a sheet of looseleaf what they thought the author was trying to get across. A few minutes later when we shared what we had written, I heard a series of heartfelt prayers that clearly represented what was going on in the student’s lives as much as what they read into Merton’s reflection. Who would have guessed that a 20th-century Trappist monk would be ‘where they were at’?
There is no way of knowing where students are at. I try to keep up on March Madness and Gatorade flavors in order to join their daily conversations, but most of the time where they are at encompasses much more than the trends that creep into their every day chatter. Where they are at may be their mother’s illness, or parents’ divorce, or tests for a learning disability. Young people have interior lives. Any effort to “meet them where they are at” needs to take that into account.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t “make the Gospel relevant” – another big temptation with youth work. I can’t improve on the Gospel, which has been making itself relevant throughout history, in times much more challenging than ours. What I learned with the Merton prayer, and with the MFA painting, was that if I can expose my students to something inspired, they will see what they need to see.
So I’m done with the isolationist mentality that insists making the Gospel “cool” is the only way to work with youth. To do that is to sell it – and ourselves – short. The good news of Jesus Christ is transformative and sublime, not cool. When we assume the worst of those to whom we minister, of any age, we deny the Gospel’s transformative power. We do this by assuming only our manipulation or dilution of the message will hold anyone’s interest, and we do this by believing that to hold someone’s interest is the same as encouraging their spiritual development.
I don’t advocate dropping the Bible on a teenager’s desk and walking away. Those of us charged with forming young people – parents and teachers alike – can guide them toward a certain passage, ask the right questions, tell a related story or give historical background. We can create a time and space for silence and prayer, we can introduce them to counter-cultural role models who will inspire them (and who will hold their attention).
In the end, it is the young people themselves who will bring it all up-to-date. They are the only ones who know where they are at. They will see what they need to see if we put holiness and beauty in front of them, then get out of the way and allow them to explore it. Sometimes they will see consolation, sometimes they will see their vocation, sometimes they will see a loaf of bread. That’s fine, as long as they learn to keep looking, to see beyond “where they’re at” and be drawn into where they could be.
Margaret Felice is a religion teacher, opera singer, choral conductor and loud-laugher who blogs from Boston at felicemifa.wordpress.com.