Yesterday was my first religious education class. I've never taught fifth grade before, and frankly I was a bit nervous about my ability to keep this age engaged and interested.
I started out the class by passing around my father's old tobacco pouch, and asking if they knew what it was. They passed it around. "Incense?" "Rose petals?" "Cinnamon?"
Nope. Good old Walter Raleigh, thirty years stored away in a small pouch of leather. "Now, you all know that smoking is a bad, unhealthy habit. But when I was little, my father used to come home at night and light up his pipe . . . He'd sit in his chair and read the paper and smoke his pipe, and we knew that the evening had officially begun.
"Just as I left home, my father's doctor convinced Dad that he needed to give up his pipe, and I asked him if I could keep his tobacco pouch. I traveled all over the world with it - Africa, Europe, Mexico, all over the United States. Whenever I felt homesick, I'd inhale the aroma of that tobacco, and thought of home. It always reminded me of my father who loved me.
"The sacraments are a bit like that old tobacco pouch; they are a tangible reminder of the unshakeable and unconditional love of the heavenly Father. But they are also something more: they are a visible sign of invisible grace, the divine life of the Spirit poured out upon us through those signs, strengthening us to live the Christian life.
"This year we're going to be learning about the sacraments, and about prayer, so you can start to formulate for yourself why they are important to you. You are soon going to be starting preparation for Confirmation, when you begin to use your gifts in the Church as young adults. So it's important that you have a grown-up kind of faith, the kind you hold on to not because your parents tell you to, but because it's real."
I then explain that they will be doing a couple of independent projects on the sacraments and prayer, including a weekly prayer journal in which they record their experiences of talking with God.
I can hardly wait to see what they're going to come up with!