How to lead students to an encounter with Christ in class
“You had one job” — a popular phrase and Internet meme that points out comical mistakes — showcases people failing to do the most obvious responsibility of their job. It is funny because it is so obvious to us as outsiders.
As catechists, we have one job: to help our students enter into a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s it. That’s our one job. Yet we get sidetracked by focusing on things such as getting through the chapter or teaching everything in the textbook. We get distracted by the fun activities we find online to keep our kids entertained in class. In the end, our one responsibility is to make sure our students have an encounter with Christ in class that helps them meet or maintain a relationship with our Lord.
At the end of every single lesson, you should be able to look back at what you did with your students and point to at least one experience in which the students had the opportunity to connect in a personal way to Christ.
How do we help our students encounter Christ in class? Here are five activities to try:
If you can’t take your students to a parish-based celebration of Eucharistic adoration, at
least take them to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. Take them to the
church or chapel for some private prayer before the Lord. You can structure this however
you like, sharing the basics of reverent behavior and “where” Jesus is found. But the best way to help them encounter Christ in the Eucharist is to model how to pray before the Lord yourself. Showing always works better than telling. Reflective reading of sacred Scripture
First, read the Bible with your students. Too many of us forget about the importance of doing this in class. Next, give the students a prayerful way to read Scripture by following the basic steps of lectio divina. Read the passage and help them understand what it literally means. Then help them think of personal connections to the passage. What does God want to say to them in this reading? After this meditation, give them the opportunity to respond in prayer either privately or in an organized way. Finally, give them some time to spend in silent, contemplative prayer with Jesus.
Do you teach students on Sundays before or after Mass? Do you ever get to have class in conjunction with the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation? Guide the students into an experience of an ancient form of mystagogy, the unpacking of the mysteries and symbolic actions we participate in through the sacraments. It helps the students slow down and reflect on a specific part of the celebration of the sacrament with an explanation and meditation on why we do it and what it means to them. Silent contemplation
Contemplative prayer is unique
Through meditative prayer, we actively connect our thoughts and feelings to an experience
of God. In verbal prayer, we express in words what we want to say to God. In contemplative prayer, we don’t have to think or listen — we simply spend time in the presence of God. There are no goals and no methods necessary. It doesn’t have to take long. It doesn’t even have to be profound. All that is necessary is the recognition of the presence of God. He will take care of the rest.
Encountering Christ in the truths of the Church
This might be surprising, but even teaching about those seemingly abstract theological
terms and concepts in your textbook can be opportunities to encounter Christ. Think of these truths in the same way as the connection to Christ we experience in Scripture. Use that same process of lectio divina to help students understand what the Church teaches, then lead them in a meditation to help them make personal connections to it. How is this teaching relevant to their personal lives today? Then, as a part of the learning experience, give them the chance to respond in prayer in creative ways. What prayer experiences relate to what they are learning? Have them actually talk to God about what they are learning through private prayer or in writing. Finally, give them the chance to sit in Christ’s presence to see if there is anything he is calling them to do differently in their lives.
Jared Dees is the author of Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind and the founder of TheReligionTeacher.com, which offers many resources for meditating on the Mass.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2019