Last night I had the privilege of serving as a last-minute substitute catechist at my parish for a class of about 20 young people in their first year of Confirmation preparation. The topic, from the Sadlier "One Faith, One Lord" bilingual edition, was loving and serving others (Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and Catholic Social Teaching).
I know from everything I have read lately and from a number of workshops on technology that teens these days learn better from visual media, but since I only had about an hour and a half notice and the parish is around 12 miles from my workplace, so I did not have time to prepare any of that - and, I was unsure if there was a screen available for projection anyway - so I went for life connections. The topic simply begged to be connected to the lives of the students. I downloaded a quick guide to the Corporal Works of Mercy from the Maryknoll missioners site and off I ran to take the class for my beleaguered DRE.
I mentioned the story briefly, then we read the scripture story. The discussion that followed clearly impressed the students - they were very engaged - appalled by the fate of the man for whom there had been no "Good Samaritan", who had died because he had tried to be one for someone else.
The lesson then referred us to Matthew 25 and the story of the Last Judgment, with the separation of the sheep and the goats. I had them recall the last part of the Creed thjey recite at Mass and how we know we believe there will be a Judgment. The "litmus test," I told them, was how we treat those who are less fortunate.
Next, we moved into a discussion of the Corporal Works of Mercy - I used the downloaded materials from Maryknoll www.maryknollsocietymall.org/studyguides/10447_112.pdf to provide statistics on how many people are hungry, don't have safe water, etc. in the world. The students were astounded by the numbers, and as I worked my way though these, connecting the social teaching of the Church to the current state of affairs in the world, I hope they were able to take away a sense of the connections between the content of the lesson and the reality of life in the world.
We spoke of the homeless, those who need clothing and shelter. They recalled an experience at a retreat about 10 days earlier with John Donahue-Grossman, whose "Ray, the Homeless Man" experience had taught them they should not judge people by their appearnces. Then, I told my story of encountering the homeless man (detailed in a prior post on this blog) who had been grateful for my alms, but broke my heart when he looked up to reveal a severe black eye. My story brought them to complete silence - then a gasp when I described the climactic moment. We talked about empathy for those with difficult lives, and the homeless in Illinois, many of whom, 40 years ago, would have had a home in a mental institution, but who are on the street because the state discontinued the public residential options.
We talked about human dignity and the welcoming of strangers and discussed the recently passed immigration law in Arizona. (When I had asked how many had heard about the news of the homeless man, no hands had gone up - however when I brought up the Arizona law, almost all the hands shot up. Obviously these students, all of Hispanic background, had heard about this at home. This hit them where they live, even though all of them were born here and some are 3rd generation Americans. I had them imagine how it would be to be suspected and perhaps stopped by police because of how they look. Of course they got the point about how unfair this is.
As we finished up (allowing for teen-aged restlessness during a 90-minute class) I felt sure I had made an impact. I had followed the lesson plan, but by connecting the material to the news of the day I had givne them an opportunity to take something with them - a memory of stories that matter.
Next time they hear the gospel narrative about the Good Samaritan at Mass, I would hope they might remember this time we spent together, and the stories that united us last night in empathy and compassion with the downtrodden.