What Child Is This…December 2006
Within days of my writing this article, we will no doubt know exactly how many shopping days until Christmas! We all complain about the consumer-driven aspect of this wonderful holiday yet not too many of us post “how many days to pray and reflect until Christmas” on family websites or the refrigerator door. The mounting stress of our holiday season impacts each of us. How about giving your students a gift of silence, a gift of holding the baby Jesus, a time for reflection in the busy days leading up to Christmas? Set up a manger scene in your classroom arranged in such a way that students can see it from their desks or where students can easily go and spend a few moments before the manger. Suggest that they keep an Advent journal to record their prayers during this holy season of watching and waiting.
The tradition of the nativity scene dates back to the 13 th century and St. Francis of Assisi. Your students may enjoy looking up the history and sharing it at home with their families. Our nativity scenes typically draw upon more than one nativity story from scripture. Ask your students to compare the stories of Matthew and Luke paying attention to whether or not the star is mentioned and whether shepherds and angels were present in each. How about sheep or oxen? Quite often families even add figures to their nativity scene such as a dog or wild animals. Have students share their stories of putting up the manger scene in their family home. What do they call it? A crèche, a manger, the stable? Does Baby Jesus get put into the manger right away or on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Who puts him in the manger? What else is included in their family display?
Is it a decoration or a quiet place for reflection? Both? How might the manger scene help us prepare our hearts for the birthing of Jesus into our lives, into this world, today?
One of my own favorite Christmas carols “What Child Is This” provided the inspiration for this particular article. While thinking of children living in poverty, sickness and in abusive situations—in picturing children at war as child soldiers, or hungry, thirsty and looking into my heart from the depths of their big eyes—I asked myself “what Child is this?” And as answer, I found myself looking into the eyes of Christ. Explain to your students that the manger scene in your classroom will be a focal place for prayer where we will look for Christ in the children of our world and where we will pray for the children of the world that all might see and know the image of God within them and work to make our world a peaceful, safer, life-giving place.
Dorothy Day referred to the poor and marginalized as “icons of Christ.” Where in the world are children suffering? Where do children today face hardships, violence, lack of shelter, food, clothing and water? Are they icons of the suffering Christ for us? What does it mean to be made in the image of God? How might we help prepare the hearts of all people to recognize, accept and work toward protecting the human dignity of all? How can we help birth Christ anew in the many hearts of this world?
Explain that we will be creating Advent Journals this year in which we will address several questions raised in class as well as any personal reflections we wish to include.
The basic questions will be:
1. Where do we see Christ suffering in children today?
2. What shall we call the baby?
3. How can we help birth Christ anew in our world?
4. What is my prayer for justice this Advent season?
Before beginning, have students list the seven core values of Catholic social teaching. (See the resources for a link to descriptions of each value.)
Life and dignity
Call to family, community, participation
Rights and responsibilities
Option for the poor and vulnerable
Dignity of work and rights of workers
Care for God’s creation
Next have the class create a list of some areas of concern regarding children of the world. Reexamine issues that you and your students have covered in class discussions this year, or consider the following list and choose one or two for class discussion or for students to consider for individual reflection:
Access to affordable health care
Where do we see Christ suffering in children today?
What is the state of children in the world today? Do you find yourself drawn to one particular issue? Encourage students to choose a topic that touches their hearts and to reflect on that issue and those children involved thoughout Advent. Consider the answers to this question using the seven core values of Catholic social teaching and several issues that you have explored with your students so far this year. For instance, in looking at the value of human dignity, where do you find the life and dignity of children threatened in our world? It may be in your own community or school, it may be in the greater community of our global village. How might you bring about a greater awareness of this child’s or this group of children’s dignity?
As we’ve seen so often, the values of Catholic social teaching are interwoven, looking at specific issues, what value or values come to mind as you reflect upon the situation of particular children? For example, in analyzing the impact of immigration issues on children, consider the case of the little boy in Chicago whose mother is fighting deportation and has been seeking sanctuary in a north side church. Her son, a citizen of the United States, met with officials in both the United States and Mexico trying to find a way to remain in the United States with his mother. What do the values of dignity, family, community and participation add to our analysis of immigration laws and practices in this country? How has the community (churches, local neighborhood, and the global community) shown solidarity with this family?
Or, looking at migration in global terms, how do environmental issues affect migration? Does our lack of concern for God’s Creation in our lifestyle and business practices impact the environment and others who rely on it? Do our rights come with responsibilities? Do our foreign policy and our international corporate sprawl exhibit concern for the poor and vulnerable? Do the environmental ravages of war impact the dignity and lives of those living in war zones even after the bombs stop falling?
What shall we call the baby?
The pending birth of a child is an exciting time in a family. Families wonder if the baby will be a boy or a girl. (In many parts of the world and in the United States, boys are often preferred over girls.) They pray the baby will be healthy. They ask, who will this baby resemble? What shall the baby’s name be? Which name for Jesus in your prayer life draws you closer to Jesus in your search for justice and relationship with God and God’s people? What names of Jesus do you find yourself calling out in your prayers for the children of the world and for those whose hearts you would change this Advent season? (Students could research names for Jesus from scripture and from our Tradition. Or help them out and if they need suggestions give them names such as Comforter, Immanuel, Teacher, Friend, Son of God, Lamb of God, Good Shepherd, The Way, etc.)
How can we help birth Christ anew in our world?
Thirteenth century mystic Angela of Foligno once cried out, “This world is pregnant with God!” Where are we looking for God now? Where do we need Christ be born anew in today’s world? Where do we see Christ waiting for birth? What difference might this make for children around the world? How might we prepare our own hearts for this birth and how might we share this good news with others? Do any of the students recognize a call from God to work for social justice now or in the future? Can they think of any actions they might take to make a difference? Can they envision a project that they could work toward implementing either as an individual or with the help of their class or larger community?
What is my prayer for justice this Advent season?
Encourage students to compose prayers for children this Advent by naming Jesus; acknowledging who he is, what he does and can do; asking his help for children; and ending with the truth of who he is. As an example:
O Bread of Life for all who hunger and thirst, move the hearts of the world to alleviate the famine in Darfur so that your suffering children might go to bed with full bellies. We ask this in your holy name Jesus Christ, Amen.
Jesus, you who had no bed when you were born but slept instead in a manger, fill our hearts with compassion and our minds with wisdom that we may find ways to house the homeless and welcome them into our communities. We ask this in Jesus name, Amen
Schedule reflection periods into your schedule this Advent, play quiet music, perhaps an instrumental version of What Child is This or Away in a Manger and give your students a chance to sit quietly before the manger scene. Keep the focus questions for the journal displayed throughout Advent and give them time to journal. Collect articles on children’s issues from current magazines or journals, invite students to bring them from home, and put them where students can share them. Invite them to enter deeply into their reflections and to trust where their prayer leads them.
At the end of each week perhaps some students might want to share their reflections either aloud or by putting them in a folder or binder you provide by the manger scene.
Encourage them to bring their journals home over break and to continue their reflections. Perhaps their prayers could be part of their family gathering.
-Have students collect photos of children in the news and use them to make Advent collages or to add to their prayer journal.
-Use the COC resource below and create a classroom Advent Calendar
-Make a gratitude list as opposed to a shopping or “what I want for Christmas list.” Put it on a large poster board, perhaps a tree shape or an ornament and invite students to add their own gratitude statements through out Advent. Or create a wish list for justice and have students list their wishes for a better world.
-Challenge students to come up with a service project for later in the year based on some of the insights gained through their reflection journals. (See the Citizens 4 Change website for inspiration). Perhaps theirs was the voice crying out in the wilderness this advent and preparing the way…
-Tie in a discussion of children’s rights with Human Rights day observed on Dec. 10
http://www.paxjoliet.org/justeach/justeach2.htmlThe Joliet Diocese Peace and Justice site lists the seven core values of Catholic social teaching.
http://www.paxjoliet.org/justeach/justeach_archive.htm Check out the archives of the JUSTeach articles for other activities and possible resources for discussing children’s issues.
http://www.richmonddiocese.org/cst/ This is the Richmond Diocese Peace and Justice Office page. You’ll find resources relating to children ranging from child soldiers in Uganda to statistics on children in the United States to the World Health Organization’s site and stories of six mothers and their babies from various parts of the world,
http://education.crs.org/stories_photos.cfm Catholic Relief Services offers stories and photos from around the world as a way to enter into deeper reflection on many issues impacting children of the world.
http://education.crs.org/educational_resources.cfm Catholic Relief Services page with background, lesson plans and prayers regarding several issues.
http://education.crs.org/newsletter_archive/ The archives of the Going Global With Youth e-newsletter put out by CRS
http://www.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Advent/ Creighton University’s online ministries offers some wonderful Advent resources. While aimed at an adult audience, you might find much of it adaptable for your classes. And of course, you can have the added benefit of making your own Advent a more spiritual journey while keeping an eye out for classroom resources.
www.coc.org If you or your parish are a member of the Center of Concerns Education for Justice, check out their Advent project for creating an Advent Calendar of Global Solidarity in the section for educators. Also on the education pages you will find a guide for discussing the Amish school children who were killed and the Amish community’s incredible gift of forgiveness. The site’s “Justice Topics” also offer background on various other issues impacting children.
http://www.coc.org/bin/view.fpl/1422/article/2771.html Another offering from the Center of Concerns for those with access to their education pages, this page has a list of justice topics pertaining to children. For instance, students can take a “Youth Around the World” quiz or you can download one of the many units and use it as a classroom teaching aid.
http://www.citizens4change.org/global/rights/children_rights_story.htm the story of Craig Kielburger and the children whose forced labor inspired Craig to found Free the Children while he himself was still in elementary school. A good story for students who might feel they can’t make a difference as well as for those who are looking for inspiration because they feel they can make a difference.
http://www.stopthetraffik.org/downloads/youth_group_session.pdf A European site devoted to ending human trafficking, this site might contain information inappropriate for younger children. Be sure to check it over before giving it as a resource for your class.
http://www.wateraid.org/ The Long Journey available through this site portrays a women’s grueling daily walk to obtain water for her family. The site has other materials useful for discussions.
http://www.usccb.org/cchd/adventcalendar/ Catholic Campaign for Human Development Calendar
http://www.usccb.org/cchd/povertyusa/edcenter/index.shtml Poverty USA website. Have your students start with the “tour” in the right hand column to learn how a family of four living in poverty is forced to make decisions to eliminate things others consider essential.
Magazines and newspapers can be a good resource as well showing how children may be negatively impacted by issues but also offering a sign of hope by showing how people are working to remedy the situation.
December Calendar (adapted from the Center of Concerns calendar www.coc.org )
1 World Aids Day
2 International Day for Abolition of Slavery
Anniversary of deaths of Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan (whose murderers included graduates of the School of the Americas)
3 International Day of Disabled Persons
1 st Sunday of Advent
7 Gaudium et Specs
8 Immaculate Conception
10 2 nd Sunday of Advent
Human Rights Day
12 Our Lady of Guadalupe
14 St John of the Cross
17 3 rd Sunday of Advent
24 4 th Sunday of Advent
26 Feast of the Holy Family
26 Kwanzaa begins
29 Hajj (Islamic annual pilgrimage to Mecca begins)
31 Eid-al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice, Islam)
31 Last day of UN Decade for Eradication of Poverty
May you experience the true peace of the Christ Child this Christmas season and may your waiting and watching for him to be born anew in your heart bring you unexpected spiritual gifts throughout the season.
Blessed Christmas greetings to each of you and to your students,