Tag Archives: matrimony

More perils of teaching 5th graders

For the second week in a row, we were hit with an awkward question during last night’s 5th grade CCD class. We had been covering the Sacrament of Matrimony. My co-teacher, Sherry, said she was anticipating and absolutely dreading a question about gay marriage, but that never materialized. Instead, the question originated in a passage in our text.

“The deacon or priest asks the couple three important questions…Will they lovingly accept children from God and raise them in the faith?”

“So Mr. Poolman, suppose it’s not a good time for a couple to have children? Like maybe one of them is in the military and is being sent away. What can they do then?”

I stammered and stuttered, and looked over at Sherry for help. She signaled that I was definitely on my own for this one. Thanks for the help!

There are two problems in trying to answer that question.

1. As I mentioned in a post last week, the students are 10 and 11 years old. We’re not sure what they have been taught about sex by their parents. I really don’t want to open things up to additional questions like, “Mr. Poolman, what’s a condom?”

2. And that is because we do not have a mandate or permission from the students’ parents to get into a discussion of sex. Personally, it wouldn’t bother me to have such a discussion, but absolutely not without the parents’ involvement.

So after thinking about it for a moment, I answered that the Church does not approve of artificial means of birth control, but there are other, natural means a couple can use. And then I said that we really don’t have permission from their parents to get involved any more deeply in that kind of subject, and strongly suggested that they talk with their parents.

It probably wasn’t the best answer, but it was the best I could come up with on short notice.

Fortunately, there were no additional questions on that subject. Whooo!

We are going to discuss the Ten Commandments for the next two weeks, so we should be safe. Oh, wait! They do include that adultery thing, and coveting your neighbor’s wife. Maybe I’m not out of the woods yet.

Talking God and religion with fifth graders

For eight months of the year, for the past seven years, I have spent nearly every Wednesday evening in the company of about two dozen 10 and 11 year-olds. I volunteered to teach the fifth grade CCD class at our church. This is a religious education program for the kids who do not go to a parochial school. In a Protestant church, it would probably be called “Sunday school,” except we have the classes on Wednesday evenings.

Mrs. Poolman is not at all certain why I continue to do this. I’m not really sure myself. I am a practicing Catholic, but I’m not a particularly devout or religious person. I do get some sense of satisfaction from filling a definite need in the parish. While I don’t think I’m a particularly good teacher, I do show up with some reliability and fill the space. Our CCD coordinator, Paula, is not overwhelmed with people knocking her doors down to teach a class.

I think I’m also providing a service to the students. It is been clear over the years, that for many of my students those Wednesday night CCD classes are the major source of their education / indoctrination in matters of God, religion, morals, ethics, values and life. My big question is: “How much of this is actually sticking with the kids?” I don’t have an answer to that. I suspect the answer is “very little.” We don’t have much time. Nor do we have the repetition to drive it home. Those 45-50 minutes a week are easily lost in the midst of busy lives of school, sports, school activities, dance, friends, and so on. I try not to dwell too long on that depressing note

Mostly, I think I like the kids and the discussions we have. The curriculum for this grade is to cover the sacraments.  It leaves us lots of time to talk about all kinds of subjects. Once they get comfortable in the class, fifth graders are not at all shy about asking questions and offering their opinions. I have a co-teacher, Sherry. Between the two of us, we try to get the kids engaged and maybe thinking about things that they haven’t thought of before.

By this point in the year, we have gotten to know the students fairly well, and they have gotten to know us. We know who is quick to raise their hand and those who we to be coaxed into participating in a discussion.

During our class this week, we covered the Sacrament of Matrimony. While this sounds innocent, it actually is fairly tricky. The Catholic Church teaches that a wedding vow is permanent, and divorce is not an option. (The issue of annulment is much too involved for this age group.) This fun part is to teach the kids that this is what they should seek to achieve in their adult lives, without appearing to criticize their divorced parents, cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles, etc.

The other interesting issue is we are never quite sure how much our students of this age have learned about sex from their parents, school, friends, TV and so on. If we were dealing with 13 year olds, we could be fairly certain they have at least been exposed to “Birds and Bees 101.” But for ten and eleven year-olds, we aren’t as certain. It makes it difficult to answer a question about a pregnant bride, which is one query we received last night. To make life very interesting, it just takes one student to ask, “What do you mean that they had sex before they were married? What does that mean?” Then we have opened a can of worms, and they are crawling all over the place.

We are fairly certain one girl was trying to “work us” last night with this exchange.

Her: I see all the pictures of the brides here are wearing white dresses. Why do brides always seem to wear white?  

Me: It’s a tradition, but you can wear whatever color you like.

Her: Even black?

Me: Yes, even black.

Her: But why do they usually wear white?

Me: It symbolizes purity or innocence.

Her: Innocent of what?

Sherry (jumping in to help out): It symbolizes that she is a virgin.

Her: A virgin? What’s a virgin?

Sherry: You know the answer to that.

Her: No, really (laughing). I don’t know. What is a virgin?

Sherry: Ask your parents.

We have just a few more weeks of class remaining for this year. This has been a good group. I’ll miss them when we break for the summer. Then I’ll take my chances with a fresh class in the fall.

Entering the home stretch

Our CCD season is in the home stretch, and it isn’t coming any too soon. I think both the volunteer teachers and the students are starting to burn out.

I was a little concerned about how last night’s class was going to go, but it worked out fine. We covered the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony. Each year, I worry about teaching the Church’s position on marriage. Officially, the Church looks at marriage vows as a life-long commitment, and does not sanction divorce. The trick is to get this idea across to my 5th graders as something they should strive for without seeming to take any  shots at their possibly divorced parents, siblings or other relatives.

At the beginning of the year, I sent a note home to all the parents, asking them to advise me of any family circumstances of which I should aware, so I did not say anything to present a difficult or embarrassing situation to one of my students. I mentioned that we would be covering both the Ten Commandments (ie: adultery, coveting your neighbor’s wife, etc) and the Sacrament of Matrimony.

One mom sent me an email saying that she was relatively recently divorced and remarried and she had some concerns about the effect of those class sessions on her son.  We communicated back and forth throughout the year. Last week, I sent her an email to advise her that the class on matrimony would be this week. She would be most welcome to sit in on the class, or alternately to hold her son out for a week. I was really very flattered when she responded that, based on the information she had received from me and her son, she would be comfortable having her son participate in that class.

In any case, we got through last night’s class without any major bumps in the road.

We have one more regular class session, and then an end-of-the-year party. It’s too bad 10 and 11 year olds can’t drink margaritas. I think we’ve all earned it.

Married forever, or not

The issue of marriage and divorce seems to be a very delicate subject in Catholic circles. Fortunately for us, Mrs. Poolman and I have been married just once and to each other for 33 years, so we haven’t had to deal with the issue personally. Officially, the Church doesn’t recognize divorce. However, there are plenty of divorced Catholics out there. I see them receiving and distributing the Eucharist at Mass on Sundays. And again, fortunately, I’ve never needed to figure out exactly how that whole annulment thing is supposed to work.

Although, I don’t have personal experience with divorce, I do encounter the issue from time to time. As I mentioned before, I have been teaching 5th grade CCD (religion) classes at our church for the past four years. The 5th grade curriculum deals primarily with the seven sacraments and the Ten Commandments, with a few side excursions towards the Apostles’ Creed, the story of Creation and other material. You would think this would be fairly harmless, vanilla religious material. Mostly that’s true, but….

10-commandmentsOne of the seven sacraments is matrimony and we cover the Church’s teachings on the institution. Also, among the Commandments is that “Thou shalt now commit adultery.”  (“No, young 10-year old, adultery isn’t something that adults do. Or, well, maybe it sometimes is.”)

There is hardly a child there who doesn’t have a friend or a family member affected by a divorce. Some of the students’ parents are divorced themselves. So the challenge is to teach the Church’s views on marriage without seeming to condemn the students’ parents, relatives, family friends, or whomever.

Knowing this can be a touchy issue, I always let the parents know that we will be covering this subject, and ask them to advise me if there is a family situation of which I should be aware. I have already heard from one divorced and remarried mom who is concerned how we would treat marriage and divorce in class. We will talk before we get close to that chapter.

Interestingly, the Gospel this past Sunday was directly on-point to the Church’s position. In Mark 10:2-12 Jesus is asked directly about divorce.

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Not much ambiguity there.

Our pastor was presented with a very teachable moment, but, for whatever reason, decided not to pursue it in his homily (sermon.) Interesting. I wonder what his thinking was.