The Beatitudes, Marriage, and the Moral Floor

When I’m talking with older kids about morality, I try to emphasize the difference between the Commandments and the Beatitudes.

I observed a terrific lesson about this in a class at St. Joseph’s High School in Greenville, SC, several years ago – I just wish I could remember what texts they were using. I think maybe the Dominican Series from Priory Press. Anyway, the teacher explained to the class that the Ten Commandments are the “moral floor” that we have to stay above, while the Beatitudes are like the “moral ceiling” we should try to reach.

That's quite a ceiling

I talk about this in terms of marriage – if I really love my husband, how am I going to nurture our relationship? What does it take to live out my vocation?

Well, to start with, I’m not going to cheat on him, steal from him, lie about him, be jealous of him – lots of “shalt nots” included in the Recommended Daily Allowance for our marriage. But that’s not what makes a good marriage – just the absence of doing bad things to my husband. Same with being a mom – although I certainly have days when “kept children alive” is all that’s crossed off on my checklist. I really show my love through the things I do that go above and beyond not-sinning-against-them. That’s what the Beatitudes are akin to – how we really grow in holiness; how we really cultivate a relationship with God.

I find that kids just “get it” if I keep coming back to this idea. Plus, it gives me the chance to talk realistically about marriage as a vocation, which I think kids need to hear about; so many of them either feel like marriage is BS because they’ve seen so many marriages fall apart, or have this very unrealistic “marriage is for soulmates” idea that real love means never having to suffer because you’re so happy all the time.

The Getty Guide to Imagery Series: a Goldmine for Educators

We’re so fortunate to have a 2,000-year treasury of Christian art, and it would be a shame not to share it with our students, wouldn’t it? Art can point us towards a deeper understanding of Scripture or the life stories of the saints; it can move us emotionally in a way that words sometimes do not. You can pique kids’ curiosity and draw them into the story by sharing images with them.

Online, there are some terrific databases of images you can use in your class. Three of my favorites are:

  • Biblical Art on the WWW – searchable by topic, person, etc. Really cool set of images and links to images elsewhere
  • Olga’s Gallery – very comprehensive collection of images, often with annotation that can be helpful if you’re not familiar with the work or the artist
  • Web Gallery of Art – another very comprehensive collection, with links to the sites where the images are hosted.

While online sources are fabulous when you’re looking for a specific work of art, having books to flip through can give you a broader view of the life of a given saint or figure as portrayed in art. That’s why I absolutely love the Getty’s Guide to Imagery Series. I’ve reviewed two volumes of the series so far for Tiber River – Old Testament Figures in Art and Saints in Art. From the reviews:

Old Testament Figures in ArtWith its many notes as to recurring themes and connections to the New Testament, this would be terrific to have on hand for a Scripture class at any level, as it provides beautiful art to supplement a lecture or to examine in its own right. Each image is reproduced in full color and is grouped with similar pieces based on their correspondence to a particular event or figure in the Old Testament. Significant events in salvation history are presented in approximate chronological order, with notes as to the geographic location, relative time of their occurrence, Scriptural references, and the region where a particular image or event was most popular.

For example, the story of Abraham’s encounter with the king and priest Melchizedek is represented by two paintings, each with notes about the event prefiguring the Last Supper. The section on this event includes an explanation of the circumstances leading up to Abraham’s meeting Melchizedek, and points out that Salem is the ancient name for the city of Jerusalem. Each painting has multiple notes that point out significant figures and techniques used by the artist to create the work.
Read more about Old Testament Figures in Art at Tiber River


Saints in ArtThe images collected in Saints in Art are not intended to act as a hall of fame for the most widely venerated saints throughout the world, but rather serve to show us the symbols and stories associated with various aspects of Christian history. Each image is shown in full and vivid color, with notes around its perimeter that identify significant parts of the scene. We learn to look more closely at these works of art and to understand that there is meaning to every small detail, and to enjoy “decoding” similar images.

For religious educators, this book would be a great resource for discovering new and unusual facts about saints, and for sharing with students to help them remember what made each saint unique. Some graphic scenes of martyrdom and occasional nudity would mean that this isn’t a book you’d leave around for kids to page through, but there are many, many images that could be appreciated by even the youngest art aficionado. I think it’s great to use visuals like these in teaching and learning about our faith, because we can come to better appreciate beauty as well as having another way to remember important events in the life of a saint we’re studying.
Read more about Saints in Art at Tiber River.

It seems like they’re always coming out with new volumes in this series, and I can’t wait to add some of the other titles to my collection. I highly recommend that you check them out, too.

I wrote these reviews of Old Testament Figures in Art and Saints in Art for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts. Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases. I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Catechist Chat: When you feel like a fraud

From your hostess: I have a terrific guest post for you today from Amy Giglio. Amy is Scott’s wife and mom to 2 boys, a girl, and a new baby due this spring. She’s been involved with religious education for 10 years both as a volunteer and as a professional. She hopes the Lord never lets her feel like a professional.

Fraud Protection, by Amy Giglio

Dorian asked me if I would think about writing a guest post for her blog, since she’s all like, moving and stuff. And at first I asked her to channel Linda Richman and give me a topic. She came back with: to write about CCD or not to write about CCD? And I quickly replied, I can’t write about CCD. I am a total fraud. Even after 10 years doing Religious Education, I am a fraud.

image from jdurham at Morguefile

Amy's advice is worth one MEEEELLLLION dollars

At the end of my second year of teaching 4th grade CCD (without any previous teaching experience), the DRE, C., was leaving and no one had been named to replace her. I think C. was getting nervous. Our pastor at the time was a wonderful man, but a big believer in serendipity. So there I was, 6 months pregnant, talking to C. about the job she was doing, and I start thinking, “I can do this.”

I discussed it with my husband, Scott. C. had told me how often I could work from home (lies!) and how easy it was (more lies!) and how I could bring my 2 ½ year old and my baby with me (true). It sounded good to me and Scott. I sat down to type a cover letter for my resume. I am still convinced that the Holy Spirit wrote it because I spelled “catechetical” correctly each time I typed it.

I wound up getting the job, kicking off what was truly the worst year of my life. Every day, I woke up knowing that I was going to be fired. Someone was going to find me out: I don’t have a master’s degree in theology, I am not the super-Catholic ex-nun my predecessor had been (she left the convent because, as an only child, there was no one else to care for her ailing parents.), and the daily work was MUCH harder than C. had told me.

I did nothing but flail around for that first year. I figured out just how wrong our parish had been doing certain things. I was recovering from my second c-section over Catechetical Sunday, and that October, in 2003, was the implementation of the Dallas Charter. There were updates to the way we were supposed to do things that came in almost daily and I wasn’t there because I was on maternity leave! At 27, I felt so much younger than all of the parents of kids in our program, and I didn’t feel like an authority figure for them.

I eventually did get my feet under me. I praise the Lord for every person He sent to me to encourage me on my darkest days (and He did send them-and they were dark days). The second year was much better, and every year after that has been better too.

But even after 8 years as a Parish Catechetical Leader, I still feel like a fraud. And today I realized that this is not such a bad thing.

You see, if I know that I don’t have all the answers, there is more room for the Lord to work. I don’t get in His way as much. When I give talks to parents, meet with families, or when I teach my 7th graders on Wednesday nights, I need the Lord to do the talking because if it’s all up to me, I will mess it up.

If I know I am a fraud, I am in my place as His instrument. That’s all we’re called to be as catechists: we are his mouthpieces. Our prayer before we begin any endeavor should be to let Him use us and to keep us out of his way.

How about you? Do you feel like a fraud? How do you keep yourself out of the way and let the Lord do His work?

3 Tips for Dealing with Classroom Discipline

Lisa Mladinich has an excerpt from her book up today at Patheos, and it deals with the number-one concern that many beginning teachers and catechists face: classroom discipline. She gives some terrific suggestions and I encourage you to read the column in its entirety. I’m having trouble posting a comment there, so I’m just going to throw out three things to keep in mind when dealing with behavior issues and teenagers.

1. Let them save face. Especially if you’re only seeing them once a week, building relationships with your students is of paramount importance. If at all possible, try to avoid dealing with one child’s behavior in front of the whole class. It puts you in the spotlight when you’re nervous about maintaining order in your class, and it usually means you’re going to alienate that kid in a way that will be very difficult to fix.

Try: moving around the room while you’re talking, slipping the student a note while you’ve got the class at work on another activity, moving the child’s seat – although I think it works best if you don’t do this in the middle of class but wait until next time around and rearrange several kids’ seats.

You don’t want it to appear that you are “out to get” the child who disrupted class. If you need to, pull the student outside while your aide monitors your class – but, to be honest, I haven’t had a lot of success with this when we’re talking about a once-a-week CCD class.  It’s okay to send a kid to the office, and if you think you’re going to need to do so, do it early in the year rather than waiting.

2. A good lesson plan prevents many a discipline problem. Oh, how I hate to be told that, but it’s often true. If you’ve come up with a lesson plan that involves a variety of activities (15 minutes of lecture/notetaking, 20-30 minutes of small group work, a quick quiz or review game, prayer session), you are more likely to maintain the flow of the class without discipline problems.

Try: Write the plan up on the board at the beginning of class so they know what’s coming. It’s okay to say, “hey, guys, hang in there for about five more minutes of me talking, you’re doing great.”

3. It’s (usually) not (just) about you. Look, a lot of times, our kids are worn out when they come to class.  You don’t know what sort of day they’ve had, what issues are going on at home, what someone said to them as they were walking from the car to your classroom. Try not to take it personally.

Try: Ask the child to stick around for a couple of minutes after class. “Hey, I just want to make sure I haven’t said something to upset you, because I feel like we keep having discipline issues and I’m concerned.” Teenagers want to be treated like adults. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t alert their parents if there are repeated or extreme disciplinary problems going on with that kid, but approaching them in a way that shows you respect their maturity (the maturity that may lie deep, deep down below the surface) can go a long way towards reversing a behavior issue.

Oh, I’m going to add one more. Do. not. stand in the hallway after class complaining about a kid to the teacher who had them last year. It can feel like such a relief to learn that you’re not the only one who had a difficult time getting young Percival to stop scratching his fingers on his slate during your lecture. But…don’t. Take it to prayer, or talk to your DRE and say, “can you tell me some more about what’s going on with Percival? He simply won’t stop calling Eustace a ninny.”

So – what’s worked for you? How do you keep your cool when dealing with misbehavior?

Jacob in 90…well, 107 seconds

I can’t seem to get this one just the way I want it.

I find that the life of Jacob is probably the most confusing of all the stories of the Patriarchs, for my students. Because he’s the scheming brother, and then he’s the guy who got married to the wrong sister, and then he’s really old and has 12 sons. Wait – those are the same person? Why is he called Israel in some places and Jacob in others? Rachel – that’s his wife, right? Or his mom? Hey, look, time’s up. Next week: JosephMosesJoshua!

That kind of thing.

So, I had originally hoped for this series to be “90-Second Scripture Shorts,” but I just can’t get this to be 90 seconds. I’d be interested in your feedback.

This is the third in a series of short “trailers” for Biblical figures I’ll be producing – Blessed Are They: 90-Second Scripture Shorts. You are free to use this however you’d like; please attribute it to me.

I’m planning to show this to my students as a preview before we talk about Jacob/Israel, to give them an idea of the overall story arc and the important themes associated with his life. I find that I can all too easily get into the juicy details of a story and leave my students overwhelmed with way too much information in a short period of time. This video series is designed to sharpen my focus in the classroom.

I created this using a Pro version of Animoto. There is an educational version of Animoto , and the regular free version allows you to create 30-second video clips for personal use. If you have access to a computer lab with your students, I think this would be a terrific project for them instead of PowerPoint. Since I teach CCD, my time is very limited, so that’s why I am producing a whole series that I can share in my classroom.

Please suscribe to my feed to follow along as I share more of the Blessed Are They: 90-Second Scripture Shorts series. You may also enjoy the Catechist Chat series of discussion posts about religious education, which you can follow on Facebook.

Sign up for my email list, and I’ll send you resources, including non-PDF versions of the activities I post (which means you can edit them in Microsoft Word to customize them for your own students).

Fine art images are from Wikimedia Commons. Image Credits:

Music: “Solemn,” by His Boy Elroy

Isaac and Rebecca in 90 seconds

This is the second in a series of short “trailers” for Biblical figures I’ll be producing – Blessed Are They: 90-Second Scripture Shorts. You are free to use this however you’d like; please attribute it to me.

I’m planning to show this to my students as a preview before we talk about Isaac and Rebecca. I feel like their story always gets a little bit lost among the more suspenseful episodes in the lives of the Patriarchs – plus, the students (and I) get Rachel and Rebecca mixed up. This video series is designed to sharpen my focus in the classroom.

Please suscribe to my feed to follow along as I share more of the Blessed Are They: 90-Second Scripture Shorts series. You may also enjoy the Catechist Chat series of discussion posts about religious education, which you can follow on Facebook

Sign up for my email list, and I’ll send you resources, including non-PDF versions of the activities I post (which means you can edit them in Microsoft Word to customize them for your own students).

Fine art images are from Wikipedia Commons. Images used incude:

Music is “Song of the Earth” by Michael Dulin & Chuck Offutt.
This video was created using Animoto Pro. Try Animoto for yourself  and receive $5 off an all-access account or a free one-month Pro membership with the purchase of an annual Pro membership.