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Father Rick Shaw used the term soul expansion at a Sunday Mass. The term inspired me. It’s a good thought for September, when you and your students start another year of learning. God wants you and your students to continue growing in knowledge, skills, and abilities—and in something even bigger and more important.
God is so great, so vast, and so beyond you, that your heart, mind, and soul must keep on growing to embrace more of who God is and who you are—God’s beloved child made in God’s own image. As long as you are on earth, your work and the work of your students is to grow and expand in knowledge, in ability, and, most of all, in soul and spirit. Your lifelong calling—and that of your students—is to grow in your deepest being where you meet and connect with God.
Connections at Table and Altar
Before Jesus was crucified, he prayed for us to be connected to God, to himself, and to all others: “…that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…” (John 17:21).
In prayer, these connections can take place at anytime. However, Jesus gave us a way to help the connection happen, to prepare us to be ready for it. At the Last Supper, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to his Apostles, and said, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in memory of me.” We follow what Jesus said and we do this at every Eucharist
Bread is a symbol of connectedness. It is made up of many separate grains and other ingredients that come together to form one loaf. What’s more, it is brought to the table by the hands of many workers—a chain of connections from farmer to transporter to provider to the person who places it on the table. Then, the table itself gathers people around it—family and friends—to share thoughts, love, food for the body, and connectedness with one another.
The Church altar is a table that gathers the faithful to share God’s words in Scripture and homily, and to share God’s love in the community’s unity of worship, song, and prayer. At the altar, Jesus gives food—his own body and blood, his presence—in a personal and intimate way. This spiritual food connects us to Jesus, to his Father, and to all those in heaven and on earth who live in him. We become part of Jesus’ Mystical Body, a spiritual reality great enough to hold us all in God’s love (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, 27).
Connections with Others
At the Last Supper, Jesus commanded us to “love one another, as I have loved you (John 13:34).” He calls us to expand our souls (soul expansion), to growth, and to connecting with others all over the world as our brothers and sisters.
We feel the greatest connectedness, of course, with those with whom we live, work, play, learn, and share. Interactions with these people are sometimes happy and easy, sometimes unpleasant and difficult. But all can lead to our growth—soul expansion—when we work to live out our Baptism in forgiveness, peace, and love.
Jesus is always with us, ready to help with our connection to him, to our heavenly Father, and to others. He is ready to help us especially with connections that are difficult, such as those with whom we share no common viewpoints. Your effort to keep or to resume connectedness during difficult times brings soul expansion! Count on Jesus to help you be patient, to see past differences, and to work together for the good of all.
Your connections to others, with opportunities for soul expansion, go beyond your immediate surroundings and the people you know. God’s family is worldwide. After all, the word catholic (from Greek) means “universal.” People of all races, nations, cultures, and personality types—from all over the earth—are our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Together we make up his Mystical Body.
All these millions of people are present to us in and with Jesus at the sacrifice of the Mass. Our openness to learn about them, our readiness to accept, love, and work with them, and our willingness to help them when they are in need keep us on the track of soul expansion as long as we are on earth. We know this oneness with them in Jesus, in the Eucharist.
That is why Jesus’ words “that they all may be one” (John 17:21) have wide applications that expand, as our souls must, to include people all over the world. It has been said that all heartfelt prayers and loving, unselfish thoughts benefit the whole world. A community coming together to celebrate Mass, united in wholehearted prayer, benefits people all over the world!
Say to the Children
Everyone stand and take a good stretch. Expand your arms way up over your head and then out to the side—don’t hit anyone—and back up to the sky. Doesn’t it feel good to expand and stretch?
There are other ways to expand. For example, doesn’t it feel good to know more, to be able to do more, to discover more about yourself and others? You come to religion class for one of the biggest expansions of all: soul expansion. You come to learn more about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit—your connection to them and, in them, to everyone. This is soul expansion.
As we start this new school year, doesn’t it feel good to reconnect with friends and teachers in places where our purpose is to learn and grow? At the beginning of the school year, you have the wonderful opportunity to make new connections, meet new people, and join different activities to expand your scope of the world.
As you get a fresh start in religion classes, you begin a time of soul expansion, when your love expands and makes important connections. You will learn more about Jesus. You will learn more about the Mass and how our unity in Jesus connects you to the Father in heaven and to everyone around the world.
You need these connections. You need soul expansion. When you recognize the real body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, you will see Christ in one another. If you can’t talk to Jesus, who can you talk to? As you receive Communion, talk to Jesus. Let go of all that holds you back—distractions, thoughts of lunch, worry about grades or homework. After all, you don’t just “go” to Mass. You participate in Mass and you connect to God through Jesus and so to everyone in the world. You proclaim to the world that “Jesus is Lord.” In praying with everyone present and all people around the world who are celebrating the Eucharist, you help to heal and lift up the world in the name of Jesus.
Jesus, the Lord, wants you to be in harmony with all people. In him you are one with all God’s children on earth.
ACTIVITY: Connections Craft for Soul Expansion
* map of the world (printed, handmade, atlas pages collaged together, or a world globe)
* photos or drawings of students (photos of themselves that the students bring in or photos you take of them); or clippings from magazines and newspapers that depict people in other lands/cultures, flags, or symbols (or have students draw images to depict these things)
* stickers or construction paper or craft foam shapes that depict happiness, faith, joy, and love (such as suns, stars, candles, hearts)
* scissors, pencils, markers, construction, cardstock as needed
* fasteners (push pins, plastic mounting material, double-sided tape, etc.)
1. Hang the map of the world where everyone can see it.
2. Have students cut out the pictures of themselves or prepare small images of themselves and/or children of other nations, or faith and unity symbols.
3. From construction paper or craft foam, create shapes that depict happiness, faith, joy, and love.
4. Fasten the people and images to places all over the world map during the Connections Prayer for Soul Expansion.
Connections Prayer for Soul Expansion
Each child should have a photo or drawing of himself/herself and at least one shape that depicts happiness, faith, joy, or love.(See Activity above.) You may also have ready to add to the map, before or after this prayer, small images of peoples around the world (see Ritual below). You may want to have the children add images to the map throughout the year, during prayer times, to celebrate going to Mass or special good deeds they do.
Be sure the map of the world can be reached easily by all students. Have fasteners on hand (push pins, plastic mounting material, double-sided tape, etc.).
Opening Song: “Companions on the Journey” © 1985 Carey Landry (Glory & Praise, Classic Edition) or “We Are the Body of Christ,” Jaime Cortez and Bob Hurd, text and music. © 1994 Jaime Cortez (Breaking Bread, Music Issue). Both published by OCP.
Opening Prayer: Loving Creator, you call us into oneness in Jesus, your Son. He came to connect us to you in his Mystical Body, and to connect us with all those everywhere who also live in him. Show us how to relate to all people with your kindness and compassion, and to increasingly love them as you do. Help us to open our hearts and to allow you to expand our souls so that we can receive your love. We ask this in Jesus’ name.
Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, 27 (we are one in Christ); John 17:21 (Jesus prays that we all may be one)
Commentary: We are part of Jesus’ Mystical Body—great, deep, wide, and wonderful. The Mystical Body of Jesus holds us and all our brothers and sisters all over the world embraced in God’s love. Each of us can be an expression of God and God’s love to others when we allow Jesus to expand our souls.
By his presence to us, especially in the Eucharist, Jesus makes this happen. He connects us to himself, to our heavenly Father, and to all God’s people near and far. When you hear the words of Jesus as he broke the bread saying, “This is my body, given for you,” focus on the Body of Christ. We are called to know ourselves, universally, as one Body of Christ. Even in our diversity, Jesus’ presence brings us into connection, unity, and oneness—which is a foretaste of heaven.
As we experience more connectedness, we become a way for the love of God to be experienced by others—regardless of their country, culture, race, or personality. The differences between us enrich us, balance out our own gifts, and expand us further to embrace more of God, life, love, and happiness. As we grow in knowledge and ability, and as we stretch ourselves to live in harmony with others, we experience soul expansion.
Ritual: As a sign that you are connected to Jesus and our heavenly Father and to others throughout the world, fasten the image of yourself and a symbol of happiness, faith, joy, or love to the map of the world. (Optional: Throughout the year, you can bring in more to add to the map whenever you go to Mass, pray, or do a good deed. Look for small photos, clippings from magazines of flags from other countries, or make your own drawings that show the peoples, nations, and cultures of the world. I’ll collect some for you, too. This will help us all to appreciate and celebrate our place in God’s great family of love all over the world.)
You may want to play soft instrumental music as children attach their items to the map or globe.
Remember that the Mass is celebrated all over the world, in every country, in every culture. We are one with all these people every time we go to Mass. We are all connected through Jesus.
Closing Prayer: Lord God, we have said “Yes!” to soul expansion, to growth in our connectedness with you, Jesus, and all your family. Help us to love all people, to see the goodness and beauty in all people, and to be happy in our great and holy connections in Jesus your Son, in whom we pray.
Closing Song: “They’ll Know We Are Christians.” Peter Scholtes © 1966 F.E.L. Publications, assigned to The Lorenz Corp., 1991. Hymns for a Pilgrim People, GIA Publications.
Jeanne Heiberg is the author of Advent Arts & Christmas Crafts (Paulist Press) and Advent calendars (Creative Communications). She has taught art, writing, creative catechetics, and meditation, and has directed parish catechetical programs.