Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pilgrimaging and Pillaging: Stories from an 8th Grade Catechist

"Wait, WHAT?  St. Helena went pilgrimaging?  Pilgrimaging?!  Isn't that what the Vikings did?"

"You're thinking of pillaging."


Last year the students studied Jesus.  Or they were supposed to.  I hear whispers from them that they "learned nothing."  This year we're studying Church History together.  Church History.  As my faith-filled, hilarious sister said when I told her, "Ughhhhhh."  I think my students had the same reaction.

I question the value of learning the history of our Church without knowing, really knowing, Jesus Christ but I'm trying my best to create opportunities for group and personal prayer during class time.  I try to stress that God knows them and wants them to use their talents and explore their interests - that Jesus is personally invested in them - that the Holy Spirit is ever ready and eager to guide them.

"Wow, I should pray more..."  someone whispers from the back of the classroom.

Now, I don't find Church History dull.  Our text book is dull, though.  It's this white-washed thing that strips much of the guts and glory from Christianity.  I'm always adding more to the text.  "Okay, the textbook says the Apostles were in the upper room - remember, they're terrified!  They're in hiding!  Jesus was killed and they're afraid they're going to be next..."

I share about St. Peter being crucified upside down.  That his remains are buried under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  Their eyes pop open.  I talk about St. Ignatius being fed to the lions and how St. Perpetua was a young mother.

"That is so sad," one girl says.  She lowers her voice, "I heard a lady was shoplifting the other day and when the security people opened her bag, they found a dead baby."

My heart constricted.  A month ago, I was terrified that I would have a militant, athiest student who would grill me and disrupt class.  Instead, I see my students are open and interested in the faith, but their instruction has been so bland they have not taken it to heart.  They see and hear much of what goes on in the world.  It's hard to shelter teens these days.

"Why do scientists keep publishing these books like, "Proving God Is Fake?" another boy asks. 

I try to answer as calmly and fully as I can.  Sometimes I have to say, "I don't know."  But I never stop encouraging them to take heart that our Church is Apostolic, that God wants us to be the best-versions-of-ourselves (thank you, Matthew Kelly), that death has been destroyed through Jesus Christ, and that the graces to handle whatever we come across are available to us.

Thank you God for the gift of learning with these students!  Please help me to better handle the next time a student says "genitals" instead of "Gentiles."  (I laughed and laughed.)


  1. Oh man I know what you mean about those dull textbooks..I'm always looking for other resources to make it more interesting...because I know if I an adult practicing catholic think it's dull it's going to be 20x more dull to a 14 year old...with way more energy than I.

    I'm glad to hear things are going well for you!!

    1. Thanks so much! That is what I'm always thinking regarding the textbook, too!

  2. Oh my goodness too funny! Oh to be a fly on the room in your classroom :)

  3. Good for you, Trista!! This is awesome; and since my last (and only) Church History class was in the 8th grade, it is time I revisited the topic!

    1. It's a good topic! I'm eager to read the early Church Fathers soon!