It was, however, kind of exciting to see two of my own students amid the congregation. It was even nicer that each one approached me with his family after Mass to say hello. One of my students, in my sophomore New Testament class, asked me with a wry smile whether I realized that the passage of scripture I had assigned as the basis of the weekend's writing assignment was the same passage that had been proclaimed that day.
The assignment is what I've called "Sermon from Your Seat." The students are asked to write a 1-page, typed, double-spaced reflection on a passage from Scripture...which, it turns out, is the Sunday Gospel reading from the liturgical cycle! Their prompt is to write a mini-homily, or sermon, addressing an audience of their peers: what, in essence, does another sophomore need to hear from this piece of scripture?
The point is twofold. In a course on the New Testament, I'd be remiss if I didn't encourage them to read the Bible (prayer each day, I might add, is taken from the Gospel of Mark which we are slowly working our way through). Second, I know that kids are easily bored at Mass. I figure, therefore, that if they've already prayed over and thought through the Gospel reading that listening to the homily will be more engaging. Think about it: students will come to Mass already having an idea about what the Word of God means and, as they listen to the homily, will (hopefully) be engaged listeners trying to see how closely their reflection matches the one given that day.
By helping students to raise even the simplest question, "Will Father/the Reverend preach on the same thing that I did," I hope to facilitate a more engaged listening to the Gospel each Sunday. Ideally, the student will wrestle with the homily as he hears it, trying to see how his insights and the priests resonate with one another. Better still would it be for the student to engage his parents afterwards, saying how close he and the priest were that day or, perhaps, why the preacher was dead wrong in his interpretation....a potentially sophomoric sentiment appropriate for sophomores!
Anyway, I was thrilled that at least ONE student out of nearly SIXTY seems to have gotten the point of the assignment. Heck, I'll be happy if 30 of them realize that the passage they were assigned is the one that was read at Mass. But I figure that if I can help to encourage an encounter with the Word of God, prompting the students to think deeply on how the Word enters into and affects their lives, I will be making my own contribution to the formation of Men for Others.