Help this be a Lent that challenges and changes your students.
By Rachel Gleeson
Lent is just a few weeks away! This year the liturgical season falls at an odd time on our calendar. Ash Wednesday is February 14th, traditionally St. Valentine’s Day, while Easter is April Fool’s Day. The jokes and memes with the last coincidence are sure to abound and amuse.
Lent is a time to prepare our hearts for the events of Holy Week and Easter. As teachers, this is a great opportunity to help our students connect or connect more deeply with our Catholic faith. The three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Each of these helps guide our repentance and preparation during the Lenten Season.
Repentance is about turning our hearts back to God. Prayer goes hand-in-hand with this conversion. Lent is a great opportunity to incorporate prayer into the classroom and encourage our students to form a habit of prayer. Speaking with God and listening to him are essential to having a relationship with him. This is exactly what prayer is: communication with God.
Beginning the morning or class period with a prayer can be a great opening in your classroom. If you already pray with your students, consider adding to your routine. Perhaps ask students for any intentions they have or anything they would like to thank God for. There are many Lenten reflections available as well, or consider a short meditation on the Gospel of the day.
Last year for Lent, I had prayer cards available for students that included the Morning Offering. It was a small opportunity for students to consider praying on their own if they didn’t already, or to add to their daily prayer. Perhaps consider assigning a prayer journal exercise or finding short times during the day for students to sit silently and pray.
The question every year among students is “what are you giving up?” For many, there are a few go-to items. Chocolate is always popular, of course. However, as educators, we try to challenge our students. The spiritual life should be no different. Especially with older students, we can help them self-assess their Lenten resolutions.
I tell my students to ask themselves three questions about what they plan to give up:
- Will this help me become a better person?
- Will this be a challenge?
- Will it help me grow closer to God?
These questions are meant to help students (and even ourselves) determine if our plan for Lent will be the spiritual kick-start we hope it to be. If we really want Lent to be a time of change then it has to be a time of challenge.
Almsgiving is often overlooked but it is just as important a part of our Lenten observance as the other pillars. There are many ways to give. We might volunteer our time, donate our resources, or benefit others through using our talents. To live this out with your students you might find a program to donate to or a way to volunteer together.
For many students, it seems they don’t volunteer because no one asks them to or they aren’t given the chance to do so. Giving together as a class can be a great way to set an example of service for your students and provide them an opportunity. Perhaps organize a toiletry drive or volunteer as a class for a parish fish fry. Help students find ways to give back that show them how easy it can be. However, let these also show students how important their efforts are.
Lenten challenges and changes
As teachers, sometimes all we can do is provide opportunities and guide our students to learn and grow. With spiritual development this can be especially true. This Lent I encourage you to provide opportunities for your students to strengthen their relationship with God, grow through sacrifice, and give of themselves. Help this be a Lent that challenges and changes them. Perhaps, by doing so, it will be the same for you.
Rachel Gleeson is a middle-school and high-school theology teacher and liturgy coordinator at a PreK-12 Catholic school in Wisconsin.