Helping young people discover silence and sanctuary
St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence …” Her concluding statement got my attention both as a parent and a catechist: “We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
A catechist I know makes time in every lesson to practice silent prayer with her sixth graders. For instance, using the large crucifix that hangs in her classroom as a focal point (or a statue of Mary, a saint card, or another religious image), she prepares them by talking about the image and its meaning for their lives. Then she dims the lights and has them close their eyes and pray for a timed minute before going on with the lesson. As the year progresses, she gradually increases the time. She reports that, for her students, what first begins as an awkward pause in the lesson soon becomes a haven of intimacy with God.
To prepare your students for this kind of reverent meditation, make it clear to them that they are not stepping into empty space when they are silent. God fills that space when we make room for him. In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, quiet prayer time can be fruitful and even transformative, awakening a tender repentance of sin and a hunger for holiness. Whether at Mass or Adoration, “this focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self” that “teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men” (CCC, 2715).
A teen once told me that he’d been raised by religious parents, but his faith had not truly been his own until a very special encounter with Jesus Christ. He was on retreat with his youth group, processing up a mountain trail with candles, following a priest who held a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament exposed. They sang hymns as they walked until they reached a place with an altar and a beautiful candle stand, where each of them placed their candles in rows. As darkness fell, they adored Christ in silence. And there, in the candlelight, this young man felt the presence of God in a new way that was personal and life-changing. He said from that night on, his faith was no longer borrowed from adults. It was his own.
Sacred Scripture is the living Word of God; therefore, a few minutes of lectio divina can attune students’ hearts to God’s voice. Have students copy a short Bible verse that you supply. Then read it through, slowly, at least three times, letting it sink into their minds as they relax in their chairs. Provide prompts to help them reflect:
✱ What words seem to jump out at me or are most meaningful to me?
✱ What is God telling me about myself or others?
✱ Is God asking me to change my behavior or take some kind of action?
Encourage your students to memorize each Scripture passage, perhaps offering end-of-year rewards for those who can stand and recite at least five verses.
SUGGESTED READINGS FOR LECTIO DIVINA FOR STUDENTS:
God’s plan of salvation: John 3:16
Take up your cross: Matthew 16:24-26
Be kind and avoid malice: Ephesians 4:31-32
Young people can set an example: 1 Timothy 4:12
Finding peace: Philippians 4:6-7
Beautiful thoughts: Philippians 4:8
Be generous to the needy: 1 John 3:17-18
It’s also important to teach children that sometimes a moment of inspiration can become lost in the stress of our hectic lives. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) recognized that she could be lifted to great piety during morning Mass but feel utterly defeated within a few short hours. Her solution, even in the midst of great busyness, was to retreat into a peaceful place in her soul, where she met Jesus. She understood that, through the sacraments, Jesus dwelt within her. By reaching for him, she received “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
As Elijah discovered, God’s voice does not shout to be heard over the cacophony of a noisy world (see 1 Kings 19:11-13). It’s up to us to train young minds to seek God’s love in the sanctuary of reverent silence.
Lisa Mladinich is the founder of AmazingCatechists.com and the author of Heads Bowed: Prayers for Catholic School Days.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, February 2017.
Image Credits: MOSTOVYI SERGII IGOREVICH/SHUTTERSTOCK