Martha + Mary (a Year Five Perspective)


Tonight was our performing arts evening (our Celebration of Learning). It was absolutely epic. The kids wrote and performed their own ballads as well as a rap about the Black Saturday bushfires. A saltwater crocodile and box jellyfish battled it out in verse on stage not to mention the beautiful contemporary dance about bushfires and the dance they created set on the goldfields. In between most acts we had multimedia projects playing and one of my favourite parts of the performance was the kids rocking out backstage whilst one of these played before the curtains parted for the final medley of songs. So much fun.

But in all the craziness and stress leading up to the big night, our classroom prayer was not always being prioritised. So today, on the most stressful of days, we took time out to sit and pray together.

We listened to the story of Martha and Mary. I explained that I had chosen it because I had let prayer fall by the wayside in all the busyness. Mea culpa. Before reading it, we talked about what it feels like when someone else doesn’t seem to be doing anything and you’re left to do all the work. I think most ten year old kids with siblings can relate to this!
We talked about something of the things that Martha may have been busy with in her preparations, such as cooking.

After listening to it a few times, the kids shared their thoughts.

One girl said that Mary is listening to the Word of the Lord but Martha is choosing to work instead of listen. That one really hits home. We talked about how sometimes we can be so busy ‘saying prayers’ that we forget to listen to the Lord. I gave an example of how when praying the Rosary, I’m sometimes thinking about what other prayers I’ll pray afterwards.

I think it was following on from that thought when a student said that Martha cares about impressing, Mary cares about listening. Ouch. So true.

Something one student said absolutely went straight to the heart. I wish I’d been able to record what she said word for word because it was so profound. The following is my attempt at remembering and paraphrasing what she said:

This girl reminded us that Jesus is the Supper of the Lamb. Mary and Martha and the apostles didn’t actually need anything, Martha didn’t need to prepare a meal, because Jesus – the Supper of the Lamb – is already there. He brings all that you need. God Himself provides the Lamb.

It is to such as these…

Jesus Blesses Little Children

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

(Mark 10: 13 – 16 NRSV)

I love my job. I hate the marking and report-card writing, enjoy the holidays and don’t overly mind lesson planing but what I love most is the students. I love the glimpses I receive into their faith life. God uses them to teach me many things. An overaching idea of the curriculum in my year level is understanding what strengthens the faith of a community. Without a doubt, working with my students strengthens my faith.

Lasset_die_Kindlein_(Uhde) - let the children come to meHere are some questions I put to the students in my grade recently and some of their responses. It is a kind-of 7 Quick Takes as I’ll give 7 of my favourite answers from each question!

What are our shared beliefs?

  1. Jesus is the messiah who came to save us from slavery
  2. Jesus rose from the dead
  3. Jesus came to give us great joy
  4. The messiah came to earth
  5. Mary was God’s mum
  6. The angels informed the shepherds that Jesus was born
  7. Catholics believe in the Trinity while Jews only believe in God the Father. They don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the messiah. Our shared beliefs are Jesus is a historical figure.

Who and what strengthens the faith of our community?                                                 (I couldn’t keep this at seven so made a list of seven Whos and a list of seven Whats!)

  1. Families of the Catholic Church
  2. Mary mother of God
  3. People who go to church
  4. Seminarians, priests, sisters, nuns
  5. Angels
  6. Pope
  7. Saints
  1. Having school mass
  2. Lent
  3. Rosary
  4. Confession / Reconciliation
  5. Readings from the Bible
  6. The Psalms
  7. Hymns

How does our community reach out to others?

  1. Charity, almsgiving (spelt armsgiving – cute!)
  2. Donate: food, toys, money, to the parish, for people
  3. Giving orphans a home that is safe
  4. Vinnies, Vinnies Christmas Appeal, Vinnies Soup Drive
  5. Say something when you know it was wrong
  6. Show them that we follow God
  7. Prayer

Why do Catholics celebrate Eucharist?

  1. It’s Jesus’ Soul, Divinity, Body and Blood
  2. We praise and glorify Jesus
  3. To thank Jesus Christ for what he did for us
  4. To remember all his glory
  5. It’s a way of talking to God
  6. To understand what Jesus’ mission was and to know what he did to help others
  7. Catholics celebrate Eucharist as a symbol remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross (that came complete with its own cross out!)

How does the Eucharist benefit Catholics?

  1. It cleanses them from sin
  2. Their hearts fill with joy
  3. Always there to protect us from harm
  4. To share the Body and Blood of Christ
  5. Leads you away from sin
  6. Fills us with more of Christ’s love
  7. It makes our souls stronger. Jesus is giving us his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

I see why we need to become like a little child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

7 Quick Takes: My Heavenly Friends

May I introduce you to my collection of saints, these heavenly friends who intercede for and inspire me?

1. St Margaret of Scotland: a mother and queen, she and her husband King Malcolm both prayed together and fed the homeless together. One of her sons became St David (my second youngest brother is a David). She is my Confirmation saint. My ancestry is part Scottish (even if St Margaret herself wasn’t). She had eight children and took seriously their religious education. Beauty in churches, beautiful church ornaments and beautiful priestly vestments were very important to her as was good education.

2. St Martin de Porres: humble of heart, one of the least in God’s kingdom, he was a lay Dominican. He loved animals, helped orphans, planted fruit trees and fed the homeless, treated the sick and longed to win the crown of martyrdom. My school is named after him. Becoming a teacher and being at that particular school parish played a big part in saving my soul. In our school parish, his statue gazes at the crucifix and so he reminds me to keep my eyes fixed on Christ crucified.

3. St Catherine of Siena: a Doctor of the Church, an example of the feminine genius, she had more than twenty siblings born before her. She was a lay Dominican. I share her name, being named after my great-grandmother Catherine. My great-grandmother’s son was born of the feast of St Rose of Lima and died on the feast of St Martin de Porres (St Rose of Lima was another Lay Dominican). Almost every work day for almost six years, I have seen the Siena Centre across the road. I would like to know St Catherine better. Her nickname meant Joy.

4. St Catherine del Ricci: another lay Dominican, she was also a mystic. Her feast day is nine months before my birthday. I was given her as a patron saint after I prayed for someone who would help me with my illness and my vocation.

5. St Therese of Lisieux: not a lay Dominican but a Carmelite! Who can’t love St Therese? I fell in love with her when I read Story of a Soul. She wanted to be all things and have all vocations but in the end realised that her vocation was to be love in the heart of the Church. Her parents both desired to be religious but in the end, their call to holiness was through the vocation of marriage. They remind me that the vocation of motherhood is to be love at the heart of the domestic church.

5. St Gianna Beretta Molla: a wife, a mum, a doctor, ardently pro-life. Becoming pro-life also played a huge role in helping save my soul. A recent conversation reminded me that several years ago she had been given to me as a patron saint. In that same conversation, it was highlighted to me that parents are the first teachers of the faith. She was mentioned in a talk I listened to recently on the feminine genius.

7. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: if you do not know this saint-to-be, you really need to read about him. He exemplifies the Beatitudes. He loved the Rosary, the Eucharist, the poor, his friends, his family and Jesus. He struggled with his vocation. He was also a lay Dominican. He is the patron of Frassati Australia, including Frassati Youth, and Frassati has played and is playing a big part in my walk to holiness. Pier Giorgio never lost his baptismal grace and when you look at photos of him, you can just see the beauty of his soul shining out. He loved mountain climbing. Verso l’alto!

In the end, it’s not that I’ve collected these saints; rather, they have collected me! It’s comforting to know that they pray for me even when I forget to pay them attention. God, I think, has also given their friendship to me as a gift to help me work out my vocation. It’s something that I think about, the common themes that run through their many of their stories.

Please comment and tell me who your heavenly friends are!

A pearl of great price – treasure hidden in a field

BibleOne of the many exciting discoveries I have made over the past few years is the Scripture. Particularly in the last year, the discovery of how the Old Testament helps us understand the New Testament has been transformational. Listening to Scott Hahn dive into typology is more than just a pleasant way to pass the almost half hour drive to work.

Reading the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, “discerning in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son” (CCC 128), is not just for modern scholars and armchair enthusiasts but reaches right back to the early Church and even to Christ himself.

When the risen Jesus apears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:27).

I also particularly love the way in which God uses physical realities to teach us supernatural realities, as recorded in Scripture. In the back of my mind are ideas about sacramentality and the Incarnation which have to do with this but I don’t yet know how to express it. But layers upon layers of meaning can be found in so few lines.

The other day I talked about the shepherds in the opening chapter of Luke. Let us return now to them:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.” (Luke 2: 16-17)

Two short verses but so rich in meaning. Take the child laying in a manger:

“Augustine drew out the meaning of the manger using an idea that at first seems almost shocking, but on closer examination contains a profound truth. The manger is the place where animals find their food. But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bread come down from heaven, the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves.”  (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 68)

And that of all places, Jesus was born in Bethlehem which in Hebrew means “House of Bread” and in Aramaic means “House of Flesh”.

One of the many things I love about working with upper primary students is uncovering just a little of the treasure that is Scripture. We read the story of Abraham and Isaac. They draw the connections between the son who carries the wood upon his back up the mountain for the sacrifice and the Son who carries the wood of the cross upon his back up the hill to sacrifice Himself. We read how God himself will provide the lamb and I remind them of the words of John the Baptist, the words of the mass: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (Jn 1:29)

And the look on one student’s face when those words are said — that is joy. Joy for her as she encounters Christ, the Son of the Father, the Lamb of God, in scripture and liturgy alike. Joy for me as those in my care come to understand a little more of what they are reading.

I am reminded of the words exchanged between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot:  “So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”  (Acts 8: 30-31)

Such joy for the eunuch who desired baptism straight away — the ultimate RCIA experience? — and went on his way rejoicing and such joy for Philip who was able to proclaim the good news about Jesus.

The Scripture is both a pearl of great price and treasure hidden in a field.

Mary: the original stumbling block

???????????????????????????????Even in the time of Our Lord himself, Mary was a stumbling block.

“Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mk 6: 2-3 RSV)

Yet rather than a stumbling block, properly understood, we realise that Mary wants nothing more than to take us to her Son.

A commonly heard phrase in Catholicism is ad Jesum per Mariam or to Jesus through Mary. Without fail, by developing a relationship with Mary, our Blessed Mother, we will be drawn closer to her Son.

This idea that we go through Mary to Jesus is found in the Scriptures. Today I’ll focus on two such Scripture passages.

In Luke’s Gospel, we read how Mary visits Elizabeth who is also with child. Elizabeth cries out in recognition that this wasn’t just Mary her relative but that this was indeed the mother of her Lord. Through Mary, Elizabeth encounters her Lord, even whilst he is still a helpless babe in the womb. Moreover, her own child, John the Baptist, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing Our Lady’s greeting for he too, through Mary, encounters Jesus then recognises Him.

A little further on in Luke’s Gospel, we hear of the birth of our Saviour, of Christ the Lord. An angel of the Lord brings this good news to shepherds in the nearby fields. Deciding to go to Bethlehem and see this Lord, who do they encounter? We read, “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (Lk 2:16 NIV)

So they hurried off and found Mary – it was through Mary first that they came to find Jesus. Imagine this new mother, so tired, her heart flooded with joy at the safe arrival of this new born boy when a group of shepherds rush in, not so clean, not so reputable, hardly able to contain their excitement and puzzlement alike. She wonders at the things they say. How easily she could have had St Joseph send them packing but instead she welcomes them and takes them to see her little son, Emmanuel, the new born babe who lies in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths.

To Jesus through Mary!

What Maths can teach us about learning to pray the Rosary

My favourite subject to teach at school is Religion, followed very closely by maths so it works out well that one of my favourite ways of explaining how to learn the beautiful prayer of the Rosary incorporates maths.

Praying the Rosary can be seen analogous to teaching number work in primary school.


1. Maths: Make sure you know how to work out single digit multiplication facts e.g. 3 x 7. Eventually, you need to make sure you know your times tables fluently. It’s not essential to know them for grade five maths but it’s a lot more difficult if you don’t have instant recall. It’s important to also know what 3 x 7 actually means as opposed to just being able to figure out what the answer is.

1. Rosary: Have access to the actual words of the main prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be) and learn them by heart as quickly as you can.  You’re going to be frustrated very quickly if you don’t know the words. Of course if you begin praying the Rosary, even a decade a day, you’ll learn the words very quickly! Make time to learn what the words to the prayers actually mean as opposed to just knowing what they are.

2. Maths: Learn how to carry out two by one digit multiplication. It’s laborious to begin with if using a written algorithm but you’ll increase in speed and eventually be able to carry this out with a mental method.

2. Rosary: This is knowing the order of the Rosary, being able to identify which prayers are said when. It won’t take long until it’s automatic and you can stop looking at that “How to pray the Rosary” card.

3. Maths: Transfer your understanding of two by one digit multiplication to three or four by one digit multiplication. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

3. Rosary: Knowing the names of the mysteries off by heart. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

4. Maths: Making the leap to two by two digit multiplication is necessary but so difficult for some kids. They really struggle with it. A lot of work is needed in building conceptual understanding of what is happening. Teach two by two digit multiplication using a variety of methods and by continually reinforcing said methods and concepts.

4. Rosary: Up until now, the Rosary has been words but it’s time to make the leap to the meditations. The first step in this is knowing, truly knowing, the Scripture that goes with each mystery. Read them, know them, love them. Read them even if you aren’t praying the Rosary daily. Read them before praying the decade. Try finding a Scriptural rosary guide to use for awhile. Find beautiful artwork of the mystery to look at while you pray.

5. Maths: Be able to apply your knowledge of multiplication to various word problems. Sometimes you need to do some trial and error. Sometimes you can correctly determine the solution but need to find a faster, easier and simpler method.

5. Rosary: Meditate on the Rosary as you pray. There are lots of ways to do this and you might need to do some trial and error to find what works for you. This is both in terms of bodily posture whilst praying – I always find it easiest to meditate on the mysteries when walking – and in terms of how your heart and mind engage with the mysteries.

Of course we would never leave word problems until the end when teaching maths but introduce them from the very beginning. In the same way try to have little moments along the way of thinking about these mysteries. It could be spending 10 seconds meditating after announcing the mystery or, if you’re right in the first steps, thinking about the words to the Hail Mary as you say them.

The month of the Rosary starts tomorrow on 1st October. If you haven’t started praying the Rosary yet, why not give it a go with a decade a day?

He bears us on His shoulders

By Titian

Christ Carrying His Cross by Titian

I love to read and I love to buy books. Sadly, I am lacking considerably in the virtue of persistence so I have more than a few books that I have bought, started and never finished even though they are good books not to mention the books that I have bought and not started even though they look like good books!

Quite some time ago, I purchased a hard-copy soft-cover edition of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on The Joy of the Gospel. I started reading it and I was highlighting and underlining and loving what it said. I never even finished Chapter One.

Recently, I joined a reading group with Fr Jordan SJ since they were tackling Evangelii Gaudium, it was a night that I was free, and since Fr Jordan is the bee’s knees.

One sentence particularly struck me: “Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders.” This sentence is found in the context of a reminder of God’s tirelessness in forgiving us and it brings to my mind two key images.

First, Jesus bears the cross on His shoulders.

“Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.  So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol’gotha.” 

(John 19: 14 – 17 RSV)

We are the ones who send him off to be crucified. Every time we choose the prince of this world over the prince of peace, every time we choose an opportunity to develop in vice instead of virtue, every time we try to justify ourselves rather than allow ourselves to be justified by him, we join those who say, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!”

The idea comes to mind that we are Christ’s cross itself. But instead of spurning us and turning away from the cross, He picks us up, embraces us, and bears us, in order that we might, through the mercy and saving action of God, share in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity.

In private revelation, St Bernard of Clairvaux learnt from Our Lord that His most painful wound was the wound He received carrying the cross on His shoulder. “I had on My Shoulder while I bore My Cross on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound which was more painful than the others, and which is not recorded by men.” Startlingly, Padre Pio also had a shoulder wound, in addition to the stigmata, and he stated that this was his most painful wound.

St Augustine talks about how, to the profane world, the cross is a laughing stock. And without the eyes of faith, surely it stretches incredulity. A king – one who the faithful claim is God Himself – carries his people on his shoulder, carrying them unto his own death that they may live? But out of Jesus’ great love for us and out of Jesus’ desire that we would be reconciled to the Father, it is precisely this which he does. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders.

The other main image that comes to mind is, of course, the Good Shepherd who carries us on his shoulder.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.”

(Luke 15: 4 – 5 RSV)

This is a beautiful image for the sacrament of confession, where Jesus absolves us of our sin and reconciles us to the Father. It is an image of the whole Christian life where we wander off, searching for “something other than God” until we are lost, seemingly without hope, but with infinite patience Jesus goes out and searches for us until He finds us, a reminder that it is always, always,  God who initiates. Having found us, if we let Him, He bears us upon His shoulders and carries us home.

And of course, “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:7) which brings us back to the cross. Having laid down His life, the Good Shepherd has the power to take up this same life again which He does, carrying us on His shoulders as He does so that we have share in his divinity.

Pope Benedict XVI talked about this in his homily at the mass of his inauguration:

“The first symbol is the Pallium, woven in pure wool, which will be placed on my shoulders. This ancient sign, which the Bishops of Rome have worn since the fourth century, may be considered an image of the yoke of Christ, which the Bishop of this City, the Servant of the Servants of God, takes upon his shoulders. God’s yoke is God’s will, which we accept. And this will does not weigh down on us, oppressing us and taking away our freedom. To know what God wants, to know where the path of life is found – this was Israel’s joy, this was her great privilege. It is also our joy: God’s will does not alienate us, it purifies us – even if this can be painful – and so it leads us to ourselves. In this way, we serve not only him, but the salvation of the whole world, of all history. The symbolism of the Pallium is even more concrete: the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. For the Fathers of the Church, the parable of the lost sheep, which the shepherd seeks in the desert, was an image of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The human race – every one of us – is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way. The Son of God will not let this happen; he cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition. He leaps to his feet and abandons the glory of heaven, in order to go in search of the sheep and pursue it, all the way to the Cross. He takes it upon his shoulders and carries our humanity; he carries us all – he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.”