This article was contributed by Adam P. Zoeller, theology department chair of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, KY.
In December 1997 the experience of a Christian Awakening Senior Retreat in a Catholic secondary school sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville provided the opportunity to deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ. On this particular retreat program, the first witness talk was called Life Graph and was presented by my Jewish English teacher. This witness talk focused on the importance of faith in God and was demonstrated through stories of the highs and lows of his personal life. Although not fully aware of the depth of this core Christian belief until many years later, this Christian Awakening retreat program laid the foundation for my understanding of the Paschal Mystery.
Storytelling is at the heart of catechesis. This instrument of teaching the Catholic tradition is relational at its core. It aids in bridging the gap between theological concepts from a textbook that may seem abstract, foreign or unimportant into the lives of students. Careful selection of stories that inspire and/or challenge delivered from the catechist to the student is a reflection of reading the “signs of the times” and meeting students where they are on their spiritual journey. In addition to personal stories, the inclusion of media in the form of contemporary film invites students to study the Catholic faith while analyzing main themes and character development. This form of student engagement centered on film can validate abstract theological concepts as truly relevant.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises presents a story not typically shown in a theology classroom, but a story that can be used to demonstrate the Paschal Mystery as a central theme. Death and resurrection themes, hope versus despair, and the main character being transformed through suffering are all present in the journey of Bruce Wayne to embrace his calling. Likewise the book, Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom explores the story of highs and lows in the life graph of Pastor Henry Covington. His journey teaches us how God is present in the darkest moments of our life even without our awareness of His presence. These contemporary stories help illuminate the theology curriculum and open the door for the opportunity for young people of high school age to personally reflect upon the presence of God that carries them (through difficult times) when they only see one set of footprints in the sand.
One of my favorite stories from the Gospels introduces Jewish scholar, Nicodemus, and his questioning of Jesus as to how a person can be born again (John 3:1-9). Nicodemus is presented with the inability to fully grasp the concepts of new life in the words of Jesus Christ because of his literal interpretation. Likewise adolescents in high school with their brain continually developing may be similar to Nicodemus in their literal nature when it comes to comprehending the truths present in the Bible. Thus identifying correctly the Paschal Mystery as the Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ is truly only the beginning for the student. The analysis of these events in light of sacred scripture and the application to an adolescent’s life is imperative so that faith develops and even endures through the spiritual challenges that life presents. Therefore, the recognition of dying and rising with Christ daily is essential for spiritual growth.
The Paschal Mystery is the main theme of the story of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Jewish English teacher leading a retreat focused on Christianity or an adolescent who is questioning faith and trying to process all of the experiences that are presented in high school, the power of story can inspire introspection and plant a seed for faith to blossom. Embracing the highs and lows of life with courage and conviction through the lens of the Paschal Mystery while witnessing this mystery in lives of others provides an awareness that all of our stories are connected through the cross of Christ.
About the Author
Adam P. Zoeller is the theology department chair of Saint Xavier High School in Louisville, KY. He earned his B.A. in religious studies and B.A. in clinical psychology from Spalding University (Louisville, KY) and his
M.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH).
Adam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Albom, Mitch. (2009). Have a Little Faith. NewYork, NY: Hyperion.
Doctrinal elements of a curriculum framework for the development of catechetical materials for young people of high school age. (2008). Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
New American Bible. (1991). New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing Company.
Nolan, Christopher, Thomas, Emma, and Roven, Charles (Producers). Christopher Nolan. (Director). (2012). The Dark Knight Rises. Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, DC Entertainment.
Stevenson, Mary. (1939). Footprints in the Sand.