“How much can we really do with an hour a week?” laments the
parish program catechist. “There’s so much to teach. Where do I start?”
Start with prayer!
No part of any curriculum is more important than prayer. If
I teach my students everything there is to know about the Catholic faith but
have not taught them to be aware of God, to go to God, to talk to God, and to
listen to God, I have failed as a catechist.
Model What You’ve Been Taught
Education experts say that most teachers teach the way they
have been taught. In my case, learning by example has been a blessing.
Throughout my years of Catholic education—as a student and a
teacher—I’ve seen modeled almost every form of Christian prayer. Sister Joan in
eighth grade, for example, pulled out her hymnal and coaxed an awkward group of
teens to raise their voices to the Lord in song. Mr. Wagner, my high school
biology teacher, led us in the same prayer before every test—one that I memorized
and use with my students today. Mrs. Sinda, my fifth-grade teacher, led us in
call-and-response prayers that affirmed our goodness as children of God with a
How can you jump-start the prayer life in your classroom? Pray.
Pray with every class you teach, even multiple times during class.
Conversation and Presence
Prayer isn’t only for once a day or once a week. Prayer is
an ongoing conversation with God. When students arrive at my door, we pray. Praying
is a great way to focus students when they walk into your room; it prepares
them for what lies ahead.
Be sure your prayer is authentic. Don’t shuffle through
items on your desk, glance at the clock, or think about your lesson plan while
you or a student leads prayer.
Don’t begin prayer until the class is ready. Say, “Let’s
remind ourselves that we’re in God’s presence” (not “Let’s place ourselves in
God’s presence”—for we certainly do not shift ourselves in and out of the
presence of the Divine). Wait for silence. Then begin.
Forms of Prayer with Students
I have used a variety of prayer forms with my students:
spontaneous prayer, intercessory prayer, scriptural prayer, prayer using texts
from the Liturgy of the Hours or the Sacramentary, prayer with and to the saints,
prayer with music. (Yes, it takes some guts to sing, especially in front of
older kids. And yes, it takes a certain comfort level to get them to sing with
you, but if they think of it as prayer and not performing, it can be done—and
they love it.)
Once a month, my eighth-grade class does a guided meditation
based on the Sunday readings. Students relax, close their eyes, and place
themselves into the words and actions of Scripture. When students are unfocused
and your efforts to calm them are not working, let the Holy Spirit handle it
Don’t be afraid to use the traditional prayers of the
Church. But as they grow older, students should know the words to these prayers
and what the words mean. Pray. Don’t
simply “say” prayers.
Prayer: The Gift You Give
When you pray with your students, you send them a powerful
message: Prayer is an essential part of a life of faith. When you introduce to
your students a wide variety of prayer forms, you give them a great gift. They
can choose the prayer forms that lead them closer to God in their own personal
lives. They’ll thank you someday. Even better, they’ll thank God.
Seasonal Prayer in
During Ordinary Time, I often begin prayer with one of the
ancient greetings: “Blessed be the name of the Lord” or “Praised be Jesus Christ,”
and the students know to respond “Now and forever.”
During Lent, I end every prayer with the acclamation familiar
to us from the Stations of the Cross: “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise
you,” and the students respond, “For by your holy cross, you have redeemed the
On saints’ feast days, I read a short biography of the saint,
and we call upon the saint and our personal patron saints and parish and school
patron saints to pray for us.
During the Easter Season, an Alleluia follows every Amen, and a
“paschal” candle stands at the front of our classroom. Thus, connections are
made to the liturgy of the Church.
Eric Ruszala is a certified catechist and director of
religious education through the Archdiocese of Detroit. He is the Confirmation
coordinator and a middle-school catechist at Our Lady of Hope Parish in St.
Clair Shores, MI.