My students sat perfectly still. Every one of them was attentive, reverent, and engaged. And I wish with all my heart that they weren’t.
I wish it had been our typical class with its usual fidgeting and whispering. But instead, it was two days after the Boston Marathon bombings. Here in California, more than 2,000 miles away, we prayed for the people of Boston. I’d turned down the lights, and I put a pitcher of water and an earthenware bowl on a table. I invited the students to come forward and offer their prayer intentions—silently or aloud-by pouring a little water into a bowl. Sure, there were some spills, but everyone-even the rowdiest students—joined our simple prayer, each in their own way.
We all wish these horrific events didn’t happen—and that we never had to hold these prayer services—but thanks in part to social media, more students today are aware of tragedies like these. As long as bad things happen, it’s up to us to offer our students the opportunity to pray in communion with others, and to remind them of Jesus’ enduring love and mercy.
Most catechists and teachers aren’t grief counselors, so we need to use good judgment and be sensitive to what is age appropriate for our students. It is important to remember those who have died in these events over the past year and be prepared to pray at any time, in any circumstance. Here are some things to remember:
- We’ve all heard Fred Rogers’ advice about focusing on the helpers when discussing tragic events with children. Take this a step further by reminding them of our greatest caregivers: Jesus and his mother, Mary. One of my favorite Scripture references to illustrate God’s loving care for us is Matthew 10:29-31: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs on your head are counted. So do not be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.”
- Use tactile prayer experiences, or let your older students lead others. After the events in Newtown, Connecticut, my students wrote on craft-store foam stars how they would remember and pray for the families and children. They placed the stars on an Advent bulletin board in our parish hall to show the younger students how they might pray, too.
- Even if you hold a spontaneous prayer service, take a few moments to prayerfully plan what you will say. Jot down your thoughts to help you sort out your own feelings so you can effectively and prayerfully lead your students. You can even compose a personal prayer to help you stay focused:
Lord Jesus, these are trying times for our world. Help me put aside my needs so that I might speak to your message to my students today. Let me be an example of your love and mercy so they will remember to turn to you in times of pain, as well as times of joy. I ask this in the name of your Father, who makes all things ever new. Amen.
Connie Clark is a catechist at Saint Kilian Catholic Church in Mission Viejo, California. Her latest books are 12 Fun and Easy Plays for Middle Schoolers and 50 Prayer Services for Middle Schoolers (Twenty-Third Publications). Her website is connieclark.org.
Image credit: Chepearroyo, https://pixabay.com/en/child-praying-pray-religious-2974167/