I am a Carmelite Sister who teaches 200 high school students daily during five class periods beginning at 8:00 a.m. and ending about 2:30 p.m. Each of my classes has forty students. Each student is a cherished, never-to-be-repeated, unique human person. Each one of them has an immortal soul, so I can truly say that there are 400 souls in my care during a school year, because my religion class is only a semester. That makes 200 souls the first semester and 200 new souls the second semester.
Now, we are all composed of body and soul. We can see the body, but we can’t see our soul. So as people progress through their lives, it is easy to forget about the spiritual component which makes them who they are. Words are only words until they penetrate into the very soul.
That’s why it is sometimes very difficult to teach teens. Why? Their minds and hearts are filled with so much—friends, activities, sports, clubs, schoolwork, and often a part-time job besides. It is hard for them to calm down enough to learn. For example, they come from a P.E. class into mine and then off to one of their favorite elective classes. Their bodies may be present, but their minds are most of the time very far away.
I suppose each teacher deals with this “bringing them in” to the present moment in the classroom. Each tries to find a way. Some have just given up. Others become extraordinarily animated as they teach, but who can teacher deals with it in their own way. I would like to share with you my way and I think families can also do this within their homes.
Upon arriving in the classroom (a little early) I take some holy water and sprinkle it lightly on each desk and chair. I find some beautiful music—usually praise and worship music—and have it playing softy when they come in. Then I begin class with the sign of the cross and play the music for the day with printed words if possible. This introduces the lesson of the day.
The name of my class is “Sacraments and Worship” and I teach juniors at a Catholic High School in southern California. Twice in my high school teaching career, I used a teaching strategy that was extremely different and at first I wasn’t sure whether to use it or not. But the nudging to use it remained strong, so I changed my lesson and did something very new.
You see, it was a very important lesson. Both times I used this new approach, it was for very important lessons. This is what happened. I was scheduled to teach that Jesus Christ is the son of God, not symbolically or figuratively, but really and truly. And that is a mighty awesome concept to teach to someone who comes in thinking about their date that very evening.
I had already prayed in the classroom that morning and sprinkled some holy water. Praise and worship music was playing as they students entered. Our classes are fifty minutes in length, so I told them to clear off their desks of everything and wait.
Then I told them that I wasn’t going to talk at all that class period. One of them muttered, “Well that’s a first-class miracle!” Others laughed. Then I put on a recording of the outtakes of testimonies of some people. This took about five minutes.
Then I said, “And you aren’t going to talk either. We are going to meditate.”
I didn’t define what meditation is.
Next, the praise and worship music began playing and I began writing on the board a sentence from the Mass of Our Lady. It is also found in the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Slowly, I wrote the words slowly, deliberately, respectfully, and in large letters.
“Blessed is the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary
which bore the Son of the Eternal Father.”
For the next thirty-five minutes, we listened to the music and looked at the board. The bell rang. We finished the class with a prayer. One student lingered behind and asked me, “Do you really believe that?” I replied, “Yes, I do. It defines who Jesus Christ is—the son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. Both.” He just shook his head and said, “I never knew. This changes everything.”
The second time I did this, I followed the same format, but with a different quote. It was the day I was scheduled to teach about the True Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I wrote,
“Jesus Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
That is why we call it the Real Presence.
This is not a symbolic presence.
He is really and truly present in each consecrated host
and in each particle of the consecrated host.”
Again, no one talked. Praise and worship music played softly in the background. After class ended, a young man came up to me. He was one of our top football players. He said, “Excuse me, Sister, but is what you wrote on the board true?” I said, “Absolutely, 100% true.” He looked up until we were face-to-face. With tears in His eyes, he said very quietly, “Thank you. I didn’t realize.”
There are so many days when after you teach, you come home tired and a little down, asking yourself, “Is it worth it?” Little positive feedback finds its way back to the teacher trying his or her best.
Yet, once in a while it happens. The light dawns in such a powerfully tangible way that you can see it and almost touch it.
Thank you, Lord, that I am a teacher.
Sister Timothy Marie, O.C.D.
This story and many others are found in the Carmelite Sisters’ short-story book called “Moments of Grace.” If you wish to obtain a copy of the book, please visit: https://carmelitesistersocd.com/product/book-moments-of-grace/.
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Alhambra, California 91801